a stolen cover letter, an invitation to my boss’s spouse’s birthday party, and more

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

1. My manager wants to groom me for more responsibility, but I don’t want to move up

I like my current manager, who I have worked with for one year now, but she tends to “mother” me, for lack of a better word. I can’t blame her for this too much as I am the same age as her daughter (26). She is great at providing feedback and I know she believes in my capabilities and is impressed with me, which is great! However, I feel like she sees me doing greater things than what I see myself doing. I don’t like to have too much responsibility and I frankly never really envision myself being in her shoes (as in, managing a marketing program with a team of direct reports).

I am quite content to be a team member. I don’t want to be as busy as she is or to be that stressed all the time! I am very happy with my salary and am happy with “moving up” through merit raises, horizontal moves, and tenure rather than vertical moves. She often pressures me to take leadership classes, even those that are only for managers, because it will be “so good for my future,” and she often subtly pressures me to travel more and go to lots of conferences despite the fact that she knows I hate to travel (I have a fear of flying and a disabled spouse at home). I sometimes get the feeling that she is living vicariously through me or like she is projecting her own ambitions (or her regrets) onto me. Where is the line?

It’s great that she’s taking an interest in your professional development, but why not talk to her candidly about where you do and don’t want your career to go? Rightly or wrongly, people do tend to assume that everyone wants to take on more responsibility or eventually manage a staff, so if you don’t, it can be helpful to be explicit with your manager about that.

Of course, when you do this, framing it as “I want to focus on being awesome at what I do currently” is better than “I hate responsibility,” because the latter can come back to bite you in unforeseen ways. It’s also important to make sure that the stuff she’s pressuring you to do is really just “if you want to advance in the future” stuff. It’s possible that it’s actually “if you want to do well in your current role” stuff, and if that’s the case, that’s important for you to know. So talk to about this whole topic and see where that takes you.

2. My employee is interrupting me and overstepping his role

I was recently promoted to supervisor of my department over another person who very much wanted the position. We’ve been working together well for the most part but there are occasions where he oversteps his role and I am finding it difficult to handle. For example, I called a meeting with he and two other of my employees (whom this person is senior to). During the meeting he spoke over me several times and at the end I said that I would send out meeting notes and follow up with other teams on Monday. I checked my email later that evening to find out that he had taken it upon himself to send out meeting notes and assign himself all of the action items we’d discussed, including ones I had asked others to handle and one that I took on.

Being a new manager, I am uncertain how to address these instances. It seems that when we are in meetings with our subordinates, he feels the need to assert his dominance. How do I request that he take a step back without being similarly aggressive?

By being clear, direct, and calm and letting him know what you want him to change about his behavior: “Bob, I noticed that in the meeting this afternoon, you spoke over me several times. Please don’t speak over me or your coworkers.” (Or, better, in the moment itself: “Excuse me, I’d like to finish what I’m saying.”)

And about the notes: “As I said in the meeting, I planned to send out the notes and follow up on action items. What happened?” … “I need you to focus on your own work and leave items I’m handling to me.”

3. I’m invited to my boss’s spouse’s birthday party — do I have to send a gift?

I received an invitation to the birthday party of the boss’s spouse. It is being held during a holiday weekend. I already have plans and will be out of town that weekend, so I am able to gracefully turn down the invite without a lot of office politics backlash. (Not to get into too much detail on the office, but it is fair to say the place is highly dysfunctional and turnover is very common. I have read many letters about horrible managers and bosses on your blog, and I can very much relate to them.)

However, while I can get out of attending, the invitation has more than just an RSVP contact. It says that no gifts are needed, but since the boss knows how generous we are, we should instead donate to the spouse’s favorite charity. If I was attending the party, I might feel obligated to provide a token donation, but since I am not even attending, should I or am I obligated to send a donation? And there is the nagging feeling that by not donating or not donating enough, I will get a black mark. I don’t object to charitable donations, although this feels coerced. I just have no ties to this charity and would like to spend my limited free money on other causes I do take part in.

So, am I obligated? Should I make a token donation just to avoid backlash? And should bosses be inviting the entire staff to what is a personal family event?

No, you’re not obligated, and you shouldn’t worry about needing to make a token donation. You’re never obligated to give a gift, and that’s even more true when you’re not even attending. An invitation is not an invoice to submit a gift.

I also wouldn’t worry too much about any backlash. Even if your boss is horrid, it would take a very specific and unusual kind of horrid to look into whether or not you donated to a charity (and while charities will usually send a “a gift was made in your honor” note, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone is going to track those, and there’s also nothing to say that you didn’t make a donation without earmarking it as specifically in the spouse’s honor — so there’s really no way for your boss to know anyway). And no, it makes no sense that your boss to inviting your entire staff to a family member’s party, unless you’re all close to the spouse. That’s bizarre. (And why would the spouse want that?)

4. My manager won’t manage and only cares about people getting along

What does one do when the manager just wants everyone to get along? A few of my officemates are so sensitive that they can’t bear any criticism whatsoever. No constructive criticism, no compliment sandwiches, no cc’d emails, NOTHING. This makes it hard to train them on new tasks, or to retrain them on tasks that they haven’t mastered for whatever reason. If you say anything at all to them, they go running to our manager that you’re being rude. Major mistakes, or tasks left undone that could cause a large problem, cannot be pointed out at all without a “you need to get along” with so-and-so. It’s gotten to the point where nobody bothers to correct anything anymore, because it will only reflect negatively on the person finding the mistake. Even our performance evaluations focused 99% on our ability to be nice to everyone, and only briefly glossed over our actual work.

This has caused our entire department’s work output to suffer immensely. Files are sloppy, items are entered incorrectly, but even mentioning that to our manager will only cause her to ask “why does that matter?” I’m at a total loss, because at some point HER boss (who is very detail oriented) has got to wonder what is going on down here. Any suggestions?

Change jobs or resign yourself to your work life being like this. Your manager sucks in a profound way and isn’t going to change. She doesn’t know what’s important or how to manage or what her job is. And her boss probably suffers from a version of the same. When you’re in that spot, there’s nothing you can do except accept it or move on. I’m sorry.

5. A job candidate stole a cover letter from Ask a Manager

I’ve been a reader for a few years now and while searching for jobs I’ve turned to your articles on cover letters for much needed advice. A long time back I read this article on your site and as you will soon find out, it struck a cord and I never forgot it.

My company was seeking a marketing manager and my boss sent over a great looking application. I read the cover letter and felt like I had read it before, but didn’t think much of it. That is until I got to the line that read “I know what you’re thinking, you can’t afford me…” I immediately knew that was from your site and headed over to find that article. The applicant had copied that cover letter on your site word for word! I shared the link with the hiring manager and needless to say we never contacted the applicant. We were disappointed that for a position that required writing skills somebody would plagiarize their cover letter and not make even the slightest attempt to change it.

This is one of the frustrating effects of sharing great cover letters — people steal them. I’ve also had multiple hiring managers tell me that they’ve received versions of the cover letter here too — and I even received it from an applicant myself once!

Is it too late to write back and call the person out on it? They suck.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

  1. jesicka309*

    I live in the hope that one day someone will plagiarise the Daenerys Targaryen CV and do a really hack job of it. Like, leaves a reference to dragons in there kind of hack job.

    One can only hope.

    1. Poohbear McGriddles*

      That will be one really disappointed hiring manager when they realize that the candidate in fact doesn’t have the ability to control dragons.

  2. PEBCAK*

    #2) A task like writing meeting minutes is actually something that you should delegate, in many instances. You shouldn’t let him make inappropriate changes, but the grunt work of taking notes and typing them up? You should let him have that, as you have more important things to do yourself :-)

    1. Artemesia*

      LOL. That works but only if they are submitted to the OP for her editing and circulation.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        True. I wouldn’t assign notetaking responsibilities to the guy who already has delusions of grandeur – who knows what’ll end up in them. (Actually I guess we do know what’ll end up in them!)

        If anything, I’d assign notetaking to the most junior person, or pull in an assistant.

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      Eh, I don’t know. My boss takes the notes at our staff meetings. It makes more sense because the rest of us just need to know in general what our coworkers are doing, and focus on the action items that we personally need to do. I think it would actually be inefficient for one of us to take notes in that type of meeting.

      In other meetings, I am the rapporteur, and it would annoy me if someone started sending out notes/report drafts, no matter who they were. Obviously if it was the boss I’d have to let it go, but it gets too confusing for everyone if more than one person is the designated note taker/rapporteur.

      1. GoodGirl*

        I lead several meetings and take notes as well. I’m able to handle these tasks pretty well, but I’m a journalist so I need to be able to write, talk and listen at the same time. :)

  3. Artemesia*

    The story of the worker usurping the supervisor’s role made my neck hair stand up — that is VERY insubordinate and VERY destructive especially with a new manager promoted from the ranks. This person needs to be set down immediately and I would tackle the notes/assignment of tasks head on and quickly. This person has simply assumed the supervisor’s job in a very F U way — it isn’t even subtle. It is okay to start with the ‘I told you I would be circulating notes and tasks, what happened?’ but after the predator gives his defense, the OP needs to make very clear that he is to never do this again, that it is not his role to assign tasks but yours. I would certainly remove those tasks he assigned himself from his plate and would be prepared to escalate this to putting him on notice if it continues.

    Re stolen cover letter. I used to teach college students including grad students and resisted providing models of good papers, analyses or proposals, because so many students simply substitute a few nouns and verbs and essentially never learn to write, just to elegantly plagiarize. The model letters here are very useful — alas, having job applicants copy them is inevitable.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      he had taken it upon himself to send out meeting notes and assign himself all of the action items we’d discussed, including ones I had asked others to handle and one that I took on.

      This is most disturbing – giving out assignments that conflict with what the lead already assigned. I wouldn’t play nice here. I’d very plainly tell the person that they are never to do job assignments again, and they are never ever countermand an order ever again.
      Do this without emotion and you won’t be “aggressive” . You’ll simply be letting him know who is in charge. You are drawing boundaries because he has clearly stepped over them.
      Oh, and if he argues you can let him know that what he did was insubordination and that there will be Consequences next time, such as a write-up.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Personally, I would have him recall the message. My second-in-command pulled a stunt like that once, making a decision and announcing it to the team before talking to me, and I had her recall the message and apologize for the confusion. She was a royal pain in the ass.

        1. Julie*

          This is a great idea! This way, the manager doesn’t need to email acorrection to everyone

          1. Kay*

            And perhaps give the Note-Taker some much needed humility. He needs to accept his role, whatever it may be, or find a new one.

          2. Diabetic cat mom*


            I’m commenting here hoping that you will be notified you have a reply. You disabled comments on your Sheba post. I just wanted to comment on your 25 pound big-bonded orange kitty, formerly allowed to graze on dry food. I likewise have a formerly 20 lb orange kitty that could eat all the dry food in the world. He would find the bag, eat a hole in the side and eat half a bag. He ended up diabetic and was likely pre-diabetic then. Big orange boy cats are apparently very prone to diabetes. Mine is on (very expensive) human insulin twice/day and rx cat food. If yours doesn’t yet have diabetes switching to a high protein low carb wet food and keeping him on a diet, no matter how much he protests, can prevent it! We had to get a baby gate when ours was on a diet because he would cry so much for more food in the middle of the night. He is completely used to his diet now but will likely need the insulin for life. If you see him extra thirsty or over using the litter box or getting skin sores or weakness in the hind legs he needs a trip to the vet. You can also check his blood sugar with a human glucose meter. You prick the little vein in the ear. Instructions are online. Whatever you do, avoid ever giving him steroids. Before ours was diagnosed he was put on steroids for a skin sore. We believe that is what triggered his diabetes.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Thank you! He is now on a nearly-all-wet food diet, with no grain. It’s good to know to keep an eye out for these symptoms!

        2. Vicki*

          You do realize that “recalling the message” doesn’t actually do anything useful? Anyone who has read it can’t “unread” it. Anyone who has downloaded it to their computer (which many people do) will keep their copy.

          The one thing that recalling does is to tell people who didn’t really pay much attention the first time that Something Is Up. The recall notice draws more attention than you might actually want.

          1. LBK*

            I think drawing attention to it is the entire point. Maybe if the employee’s mistake is made very visible and he’s the one that has to clean up the confusion about conflicting messages between himself and the manager, it will nip this behavior in the bud.

      2. Sunflower*

        This is important especially since it involves him taking over other employees duties. They are probably as pissed as you are.

        1. Marcy*

          And they are watching to see how the OP will handle it. If this guy gets away with it, they will soon be walking all over the OP, too.

      3. TrainerGirl*

        I worked with someone once that couldn’t stand to work for or with women. We were reorg-ed to report directly to the group head, and one day in a meeting, this guy was given an assignment by the director and proceeded to reassign it to us! The director had to say, “ummm….guy? I asked YOU to do that. I’m the one who gets to delegate.” After that, I was never surprised by coworkers’ actions. In the case, the guy really wanted the job, so OP needs to deal with him pronto. He needs to understand that she is the supervisor, and if he can’t deal he can go elsewhere.

    2. Chriama*

      It can be really dangerous to have someone on your team who thinks they should be leading the team. They will undermine and usurp your authority in so many little ways. You need to have a single conversation with this guy – I’m in charge, get on board or get out – and then accept no further slips (the meeting minutes were overt, but even things like trying to lead a meeting or trying to delegate small tasks to team members).

      However, I’ll also say that this guy is going to be looking for evidence that you’re not “good enough” so you need to be even more meticulous about keeping your word. For example, while you said you’d send out meeting minutes, did you give a deadline? Or add a qualifier like “don’t do any work until I’ve confirmed your action items”? I only say this because so many people have a habit of being a little late – by an hour or a day. Nothing critical, but for someone who’s looking for every opportunity to “take initiative” it’s a million little chances to show you up.

      If you want to soften the blow, you could have a frank conversation with him about the promotion. Something like you understand that he’s disappointed but he’s going to need to accept direction from you and not consider them suggestions from a colleague. He needs to acknowledge that you’re the boss. If he has a concern or an idea, he can email or speak to you in private, but he can’t contradict you in front of coworkers or clients because you’re the boss.

      I would honestly only go with that conversation if you think his ego can handle it. Many, many people will say ok and continue to go their own way, and you’ll find yourself fighting a thousand little battles a day while he chips away at your ability to do your job. So I think this guy is on his way out already, but you know your situation best.

      1. Artemesia*

        I think this guy may well need to be fired. I would document this issue of the assignments that countermand the OP’s and I would be inclined to have a discussion about the ‘problem employee’ with the manager. Let her know what action you are taking i.e. making this clear to the usurper. But if this sort of thing continues, then this guy should be gone.

        Be very calm and businesslike in discussing it higher up, and frame it as ‘Joe is upset with your decision to not make him team lead and seems intent on taking over and undermining our processes. For example, after our first meeting I indicated that I would get notes out and summarize task assignments made during the meeting. He then sent out his own minutes and reassigned tasks, mostly to himself including tasks I indicated that I would do as well as tasks given to others on the team. We really cannot have this ongoing insubordination and I have made this clear to him, but I wanted to give you a heads up in case he continues to undermine the team’s efforts. I don’t want this to be a constant problem and damage our team’s productivity.’

        No ‘nice’ here. Temperate, but not nice. This was not a mistake or over enthusiasm or whatever — what makes the insubordination clear is the re-assigning of tasks. Don’t let this guy operate the death of a thousand cuts to your leadership. And keep meticulous records and communication with the idea that dismissal is a likely outcome.

      2. Sammy*

        Hi! I submitted this question and your advice (as well as many others’) really struck home. The previous supervisor left the position partly because relations with this person were difficult. I had worried about that and talked it over with my boss before accepting the position. Things have been going 75% well, 25% difficult. Your point of him constantly being on the look out for ways to prove I’m “not good enough” is a revelation.

        1. Marcy*

          25% is still way too much. Start documenting the behavior now, even if he seems receptive and apologizes when you discuss this with him. He may improve for a little while but will probably slip back into this behavior and your HR may want to see documentation before they will do anything.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Yeah, I am extremely easy-going, but this guy needs to be given a smack-down or he will just get worse and worse with his undermining.

      1. Rat Racer*

        Is it possible that this guy is an over-achiever who is trying in a mis-guided way to be helpful? I know that’s not how it comes across in the OPs letter at all – but I’m just going to put it out there that when you’re worried that your direct report is vying for your job, it’s hard not to see any action they take through that lens.

        I totally get it because I am in a similar situation (although my direct report isn’t trying to take my job, but he’s totally qualified to have it). He once sent out a team meeting agenda before I had the chance to do so, and put in items like “discuss PTO schedules,” which is CLEARLY in the realm of the manager’s responsibility. I felt totally undermined and upset, but after I sent the “in the future, please wait for me to send the agenda” e-mail, he was highly apologetic. And since then he’s totally backed off.

        You’re the boss, so you can totally take him down a peg and there won’t be any negative repercussions. But, if he’s a good worker and valuable to you as a member of your team, taking a “benefit of the doubt” might get him out of your swim lane without any hard feelings.

        1. fposte*

          I think Katie the Fed’s suggestion of having him retract the email is also a useful maneuver for indicating his motives and difficulty level. The overeager guy will be “Oh, sorry,” and send out an apologetic email with no problem, where the “You’re not the boss of me” guy is likely to balk at at.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            in the case when I had to do it, I basically told her “you can either recall it and say it was a miscommunication, or I will respond to it and tell them to disregard what you wrote. The first option allows you to save face with the team, which I think we’d both prefer. Regardless, I want to make sure you are completely clear that you don’t issue instructions to the team without talking to me first.”

          2. CEMgr*

            Agreed; the retraction sent by the overstepper is the perfect solution from every possible angle.

    4. Biff*

      I don’t think I can encourage this manager to slam the usurper into his place enough. This behavior isn’t just annoying to the manger, it’s annoying to the staff. We’ve got some issues with wimpy management where I am, and we’ve broken in fiefs so I never know WHO to go for issues. Who wrangled control of that? Does Stan the Man still have control of that, or did Dan the Deskjockey wrestle it free? I should just be able to ask my boss questions.

  4. TCSeattle*

    I loved this cover letter when shared as it demonstrated how to effectively integrate personal details, enthusiasm, and experience into a stand-out cover letter.

    Plagiarism is a risk, but I for one appreciate opportunity to see an actual versus theoretical example of how to effectively personalize. Rebecca Z deserves a standing ovation.

  5. kas*

    #5: Cover Letter

    I get nervous using the most common phrases and people are really copying entire cover letters?

  6. Apollo Warbucks*

    #5 I love the fact the article about the covert letter starts with a very clear warning not to copy the letter and that it’s for inspiration only. Good to see if was spotted as a copy and the person that submitted didn’t get anywhere trying to steal it.

  7. Chocolate Teapot*

    3. The cynic in me wonders whether there aren’t enough guests, so by inviting employees, it will make the party venue look fuller?

    1. Pneia*

      I am the OP for this question. Probably it is more that the boss loves having an entourage…or just has to prove that they know a huge number of people who would come to the party.

    2. danr*

      I thought of the opposite situation… It will turn out to be a heavy-handed sales pitch for the charity and folks will be ‘encouraged’ to donate more on the spot.

      1. Pneia*

        No, at this office charity appears are done here and involve arm twisting…a great deal of arm twisting. The concern about the charity issue is because the boss and spouse have very close ties to the charity and could check who has and has not given. And some of us suspect they would check.

    3. BB*

      My mom works in a very small office(5 people) and the entire staff gets invited to lots of events and birthday parties. My mom insisted on inviting everyone to my sister’s wedding and while there were maybe 2 people who definitely should have been invited my sister was livid about having to invite this one guy. But my mom said ‘well I couldn’t just NOT invite only him’ So maybe it’s an office like that where if you invite one, you have to invite all.

        1. Pneia*

          If this office were that small, I could see it…maybe. But we are bigger and for other events that have happened, while the entire staff has heard about it, but the entire staff has not been invited.

  8. EngineerGirl*

    #1 – I understand that you don’t want to move up, but that may cause a problem. Most managers want to see growth in their employees. They want to get more and more out of the employee as they give the employee higher wages. Not growing is setting yourself on track for a layoff because a new person can do the same job cheaper.

    1. Rayner*

      Not necessarily. If the OP shows continued committed enthusiasm to the job, and grows professionally in other ways – taking on more responsibility, learning new skills – then it’s perfectly legitimate to not want a management or senior role.

      The OP has said that they’re happy with lateral moves, possibly to other departments or areas to keep up their professional growth, and if a manager can’t respect that, and only wants to see upward progress, it’s their problem.

      Wanting to stay and do the same job, day in and day out with no change, for years, is a problem. Not wanting a bigger title and more responsibility over people is not.

      1. PEBCAK*

        Unfortunately, lots of organizations do not provide a reasonable career path as an individual contributor. This is a shame, because it undervalues BOTH individual contribution and management skills.

        1. Rayner*

          I’m not understanding your point.

          Are you saying that companies won’t reward people who don’t want to advance up the ranks, particularly at an express pace?

          My understanding is that’s not so true. Employees may not get rewarded extensively for remaining at their current level, but advancing through lateral moves, and other professional development is not prohibited or marked against.

          If it is, then it’s the wrong field for the OP, and she’ll know very quickly about that.

          Companies needs laymen. They need workers on the floor, or in the bullpen. While they cherry pick talent and shove them up the ranks, they can’t do that for everybody, or they’d have 1000 middle management people, and nobody to manage.

          1. Anon333*

            Not every business is large or complex enough to have a career path except “straight up”. In those cases, if you stay in a role for long enough, your wages will suffer, and your option will be to leave for somewhere else.

            1. Headachey*

              Not every business is large or complex enough to have career paths at all. Many, many small- and medium-sized companies offer no opportunities for advancement, allowing (or forcing) employees to remain in their current positions or move on to advance.

              1. BB*

                This so much. I know lots of places where people say someone would have to die if they want to move up.

            2. De Minimis*

              It really depends on the company and its particular business model. Some employers are okay with people staying in positions long term–and even then people may be required to expand their skillsets and scope of responsibilities. I think about the only places where it’s totally okay just to just do the same thing long term are certain lower level government jobs, and even then I don’t know if that’s always possible.

              High-turnover companies are probably going to be more interested in the “up-or-out” mentality.

      2. FD*

        Wanting to stay and do the same job, day in and day out with no change, for years, is a problem. Not wanting a bigger title and more responsibility over people is not.

        While this is certainly true, I think in a lot of cases, it’s rather poor planning on a company’s part. If a person is really good at their job and are happy doing it, why push them to do something else?

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Jobs and business needs change.

          If you only do one job, and make it clear that you only want to do one job, and that job is changes, folds into another job or is eliminated entirely, the chance of you getting eliminated with the job is great. The flexible, cross trained person stays.

          1. #1 OP*

            Just chiming in, the company I work for is in a state of constant change. We have gone through several acquisitions and a huge merger in the 5 years I have been there. I have survived multiple rounds of “restructuring” layoffs already and am in a constant scramble to continue to prove the worth of myself as well as my team. So far we, and I, have executive buy-in for our team and have just received a new C-level leader that we have never had before, so it is an additional person to advocate for us. I wear many hats already and about to put on a few more, which I’m more than happy to take off and pass to others as needs change. If I were doing the same one thing that I was doing when I was hired in 2009, I would have been gone long ago. I enjoy learning new things and receiving training, but I prefer to do it in my home office location or online whenever possible.

            1. AVP*

              Hmm. I wonder if your manager is trying to look out for you in the sense that she’s trying to keep you from getting laid off in the future? My mom’s company is like that, always in flux and going through restructuring every other year, and she’s also in the situation where she’s sort of hit the top position she’ll have there until she retires. So she’s constantly taking on committee positions and leading advisory panels and whatever else so that they see her as someone who would be harder to lay off than the people down the hall who don’t get involved in anything. Of course, she’s only trying to hold out for 5-10 more years, not a whole career length.

              Either way, a frank conversation with her should clear a lot of that up for you and give you the ammo to make a good decision.

          2. Heather*

            I might be reading the OP wrong, but it sounds like she just doesn’t want to manage people. That’s my situation – I’m good at what I do, but I would suck at being a manager and I would be miserable every day. I have no problem with taking on more complex projects as an individual contributor, though.

            I can think of a good number of people who were really good at their jobs and got promoted into management as a result…and it was a baaaad idea. Being good at making chocolate teapots doesn’t always = being good at supervising other people who make chocolate teapots, or strategizing ways to sell more chocolate teapots.

            1. LBK*

              Seriously, being a great invidual contributor shares almost no common skills with being a great manager (except really general stuff like being self-motivated and positive). Pushing a fantastic invidual contributor into a management position they don’t want is a recipe for disaster. I saw it happen once and the guy crashed and burned and eventually had to step down. Just embarrassing and frustrating for everyone involved.

        2. fposte*

          I think that’s fine, but I also think that the OP may be overoptimistic about the benefits of merit raises, horizontal moves, and tenure. In a lot of places, what she’s describing would really mean having the same job for the rest of her life with a salary whose raises might not outstrip inflation. And that may be okay with her too (though as Wakeen’s Teapots notes, it leaves you very vulnerable if there’s org or industry change), but it’s not quite the same as the picture she presents.

          1. The IT Manager*

            This! No matter how good the employee becomes at her job there will be a point that she’s at the top of the pay scale for her duties and she won’t even be getting merit raises any longer. And the thing is, I would be willing to bet she will hit that point fairly quickly in the next couple of years.

            1. #1 OP*

              You both make a good point here – I recognize that there is a level at which I cannot proceed without crossing the Management barrier in terms of financial increases. That said, I am already making a very comfortable salary for my age and financial responsibilities. More money is always good, and I have received a substantial raise this year from my new manager, in fact, who came in and saw that I was not making the industry standard, from our company’s point of view. We have been trying to hire new team members (non-manager level) from inside the company and continue to “not be able to afford them”, which tells me that I am not even making near what these folks are making. If my team ends up not able to afford me at some point, then I will have to move on. Or my team’s headcount budget may have to be re-evaluated. We have been doing the work of 20 people with 1-3 people since 2006. That can’t last much longer.

              1. Jamie*

                I was thinking the opposite – I’ve never worked anywhere that did COLAs – all raises had to be justified based on merit.

                Could just be my industry, though.

          2. Jamie*

            Yes – this.

            Also, and this is a huge ymmv thing, but some companies taking a hard line like this about a path that doesn’t include upward movement you run a great risk of not being offered the same again, should you change your mind down the road.

            I’m not saying the OP will, but things change and what I want in my career isn’t the same as what I wanted 5 years ago…and if she does decide down the road that she’d like a shot at a position which is a move up she could have a lot of damage control to do.

            I guess I’m just not a big fan of making absolute statements, if it were me in my talk with the boss I’d focus on what I did want at the present time and not shut the door on anything in the future.

            And I can’t agree with Alison enough on the point to couch this in what you do want to contribute and stay away from what you want to avoid. Especially in terms of responsibility.

            And just because I feel the need to point this out, just because your boss is stressed, etc. doesn’t mean all management positions are like that – or that even what stresses her would stress someone else. And that’s not a shot, some of us (and I am absolutely including myself in this) tend to operate under more stress than other people. I kinda like it.

            I am not pushing anyone to management – it’s not for everyone and I think it’s great when people know what they want and follow their own path. But it’s important to know that it’s not a one size fits all proposition either.

          3. Cassie*

            My boss asked me last year (performance evaluation time) what my goals are. It was the first time in the 5+ years that I’ve known him that he ever asked me this, and I think it’s because I was involved in some major projects last year. I was completely honest with him and told him that I’m not ambitious. If a higher position opened up in my dept, there’s a chance I would apply, but otherwise, I’m not going job hunting.

            And yes, I know that changing jobs and/or depts is basically the only way you can get a pay increase – as long as I can afford to live a middle-class life, money doesn’t really matter to me. My coworker friends think I’m crazy, but that’s just how I am.

    2. KellyK*

      There’s a difference between not wanting to be a manager and not wanting to grow, though. The OP hasn’t indicated that they don’t want to develop their skills and become more useful to the company—they just don’t want to do it by managing people.

      I think companies do themselves and their employees a disservice when things are set up so that “growth” automatically equates to moving to a supervisory position. Managing is a separate skill, not something that should always be the logical next step for a software developer or a financial analyst or a chocolate teapot tester. If someone wants to be an individual contributor and is good at it, and always improving, why push them into management?

      1. Shana*

        This! I recently took a new position, and to me the biggest benefit was I now have zero direct reports. It is a considerable promotion, although in a slightly different career path than my previous role. I had spent the last five years with 5-10 direct reports at any given time, and know that managing is not my strong point. I joke that if you need someone to come in and get things done, I’m your person. If you need someone to come in and get other people to get stuff done, I’ll get you a referral.

      2. fposte*

        Maybe the OP can clarify, but it didn’t sound like it’s just management she’s seeking to avoid. Conference-going isn’t a management thing, for instance, but she’s averse to that, which in some industries will be a real problem.

        1. #1 OP*

          Hi fposte – I attend around 3 conferences per year, one of which is internal-only and another which is our company’s annual customer conference. The third is usually for training or education for myself and my team. I don’t mind taking the train for day trips into Chicago a million times a year, but planes aren’t my cup of tea. Neither is being away from my disabled spouse for a week at a time. My manager has been on a jet-setting bender so far this year (from my point of view), travelling for work 7 times within a 4 month period. That is WAY more than I ever want to do, but every time she returns from a trip she is gushing about how much she wishes I would go with her next time. No thanks! I also question the value (thousands of dollars in hotel and airfare and conference attendance fees) of some of these trips when similar educational value might be had from a free or low-cost webinar.

          1. Us, Too*

            #1 – I’ll reiterate that there is very likely to be a salary cap you’ll hit if you’re unwilling to move “up”. It may not be for some years, but you will hit it in almost all industries.

            1. Scott M*

              A lot of people don’t need to continue getting merit raises for the rest of their career. It’s entirely possible to live within your means, hit your salary cap for your job description, and just live with cost-of-living increases.
              There may be some extra effort in continuing to be outstanding in your job, so you can show that you deserve the top of the salary range. But it’s certainly less than learning to be excellent in a entirely different position if you are promoted.
              Not everyone needs more, more , more money for the rest of their lives.

              1. fposte*

                If you get genuine COL raises, I would agree (so long as kids don’t come into the picture, anyway). However, those aren’t a given, and I know many people, including me, whose salaries have lost buying power.

                1. Scott M*

                  It’s perfectly possible to raise kids without a management salary, if you save your money, live within your means, and make other compromises.

                2. fposte*

                  I didn’t say it wasn’t. But you were talking about a salary that remains unchanged in real dollars, and I’m pointing out that adding kids to the mix means a hike to the expenses, so it’s not just staying where you are. The OP is talking in terms of staying where she is. It may be that she’s getting an awesomely high salary that could easily pay for a passel of kids for twenty years even if it’s not changed (and it may be that she’s not planning on kids anyway), but it’s important to be aware of what the status quo can cost you in a lot of different ways.

                3. fposte*

                  Correcting myself–the OP has since clarified that she’s okay with movement, just not management, but I was still in the conversation about it being okay never to bring in more money in real dollars.

                4. JC*

                  Yes to what Scott M said. I’ve read that it’s prudent to assume that you’ll never earn more than the salary you make in your mid-30’s to early 40’s; if you don’t move up where you are, that’s likely true. That doesn’t mean that you need more of a salary for kids or other expenses, it just means that you need to be cognizant that kids/other expenses need to come out of that same salary. Most people have kids and most people aren’t managers.

                5. fposte*

                  I’m not talking about management–I’m talking about staying at the same real-dollars salary you make when you’re 26. It’s not a recipe for disaster, but a lot of people do take on additional ambitions for their lives after that, including kids and houses, and thinking about whether they can handle those possibilities at the current buying power or are willing to do without some things is important.

                6. Scott M*

                  But if you are in a job that has a pay range of, say, $50,000 to $100,00, then you can have significant movement in your salary within that range. If you earn at the lower end when you start, then it’s not inconceivable that you could support a family with the upper range when you are ready later in life. And that’s not even taking into account cost of living raises.

                7. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s very unlikely that mere tenure in a job will raise your pay by $50,000. You typically need to bringing additional skills/expertise/responsibility.

                8. fposte*

                  The scenario you offered is that somebody would be okay not getting anything but COL raises. I’m pointing out that there are things that need to be thought about in terms of long-term buying power and needs before they accede to that on the assumption that if they’re okay now with that income, they’ll always be okay with that income.

                9. Scott M*

                  Allison – I was assuming that over the years a person would usually gain additional skills/expertise, and perhaps some responsibility, even in the same job. The salary would increase via merit raises in that case. Eventually you would reach the top of your range and not get much more. But you could get that increase within your salary range without moving up to a new position. It’s happened to me but I may not be typical.

                10. LBK*

                  First off, $50k – $100k seems like an extremely wide salary range for one job grade. A $20k difference from top to bottom of a range sounds more reasonable to me, but maybe that’s just my org. Second, if we assume a 5% annual raise (which would be very generous from my perspective, but again that may be different elsewhere) it will take 16 years to cap out from a starting salary of $50k to $100k. I can’t imagine what new responsibilities and skills you would still be gaining after, say, 8-10 years in the same position that wouldn’t include at least some aspects of management. There’s only so much you can do from an individual contributor spot.

          2. fposte*

            I speak as a phobic flyer who really would be career-limited if I couldn’t do conferences (thank you for my career, Xanax); you know your own industry better than I do, of course, but I echo Alison in the importance of articulating this as a positive focus and not a negative one.

            I also think some of the way you’re phrasing your concerns sound like it’s not just the management that you’re not interested in–you don’t want more responsibility, you don’t want greater things. Which again is fine if that’s your choice, but if you genuinely don’t want to tackle anything bigger that’s going to limit salary growth in most places even with tenure and merit. So by all means clarify with your manager for the short term, but think about framing to yourself too about what it is you want for the long term, and understand that “this but with more money” isn’t generally something to count on.

          3. neverjaunty*

            The value of those conferences is networking, which you don’t get from a free or low-cost webinar. Also, the subject matter and value of classes at a conference are often more in-depth and of higher value, in the ‘you get what you pay for’ sense.

            OP #1, maybe I’m reading too much into your comments, but I’m getting the sense that you have a very firm comfort zone and you are prioritizing that over your career. Keep in mind that it’s not an either/or thing: you can travel more without being a jet-setter like your boss, you can take management classes without jumping on the CEO track with both feet.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The value of those conferences is networking, which you don’t get from a free or low-cost webinar. Also, the subject matter and value of classes at a conference are often more in-depth and of higher value, in the ‘you get what you pay for’ sense.

              Yeah, OP, this makes me worried that in your zeal to defend a status quo that you’re comfortable with, you’re not doing a truly accurate assessment of some of what your boss is suggesting.

          4. businesslady*

            to piggy-back on what others are saying–I’d also caution you against making sweeping generalizations about what you would or wouldn’t be up to, career-wise, that may work against you in the long term. there’s a lot about my current job that I might not’ve found appealing five years ago (when I was 26 myself), but if I’d’ve ruled it out entirely, I’d be in a much less comfortable & fulfilling position today.

            keep this in mind too: you can ALWAYS back away, start saying no, etc., if you learn from experience that certain things don’t fit well with your lifestyle. but if you dismiss them out of hand before even trying them out, you may risk shutting yourself out of valuable opportunities.

            then again, I do admire your willingness to draw a hard line between your job & your real life, & I’m sure that assertiveness has helped you avoid some of the “working too hard/unappreciated” traps that a lot of people (myself included) fall into earlyish in their careers.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      I don’t agree at all. I have turned down two promotions at my current job and I still get fantastic reviews and got a great raise this year. I was honest and told my boss that I like my position and that I had to follow my gut, which was telling my I would not excel in these new roles (I am just not passionate about what we do here, and I know myself well enough to know that it would not have worked out in the end). Boss was so grateful that I was honest – he said he didn’t want me to do anything that I wasn’t sure about and he promoted people who really wanted it.
      My dad retired a few months after accepting a promotion he didn’t want (he was only 42) and after seeing how unhappy that new role made him, I followed my gut and don’t regret a thing.

      1. Joey*

        Be careful though. Frequently its just a matter of time before they get frustrated by someone who, in terms of skill and salary is ready to take on more, but doesn’t want to.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Honestly, I don’t think it is something that happens frequently. Why wouldn’t someone be happy to have a content employee who does their job well and doesn’t complain constantly about not getting promoted? Maybe it’s just the atmosphere here, but we have people who get promoted and then start angling for yet another promotion in 6 months. My boss is constantly hounded by his project managers and I know it drives him nuts.

      2. BB*

        So are you happy in your current role for the long term or are you job searching elsewhere? It would be one thing if you turned down the promotion because it meant moving into a department or role you weren’t comfortable in and you wanted to wait until something else came along. I’m not saying everyone needs to be passionate about what they do(a lot aren’t) but saying you aren’t into the company enough to take a promotion- it just feels like putting a bit of a target on your back.

        1. Scott M*

          You can still be passionate about your company and job, while not wanting a promotion.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          I am happy for now. The promotions would have meant a move to our marketing dept, and there are many reasons it wouldn’t have been a good fit for me. I’m an executive assistant and I think that matters. It’s not like I’m on a promotion path and am turning down the next step up the ladder – it would be a move to a completely different ladder. My boss assumed that all admins want to get off the admin track and was trying to keep me happy because I’m a valued worker. When I’m not happy, I’ll leave. It’s as simple as that. There’s no way in hell I’ll get fired unless I do something terrible. But that would be ok too because I would get 6 months severance.

    4. Jen RO*

      As others have pointed out, not wanting to be a manager != not wanting professional growth. I told my boss very early that I do not ever want to manage people, but I do want to become a better individual contributor. Over the years, this meant that I got more responsibility and more tasks. For example, in my previous I started out with very small projects. When I left that job, after three and a half years, I was handling bigger project, I was doing admin work for the team, I was handling all tech support for the software we used, I was editing coworkers’ work and I was training new joiners. I will be returning to that company after time in another job, and I will now be on another team, which needs my knowledge and technical skills. Still learning new things, still not managing, still happy!

      1. #1 OP*

        This is great to hear! I’m pretty much in the same boat – I am eager and willing to learn and do new things, I just do not see myself being the manager and travelling more than 2-3 times per year. I have been with my current company for 5 years, and my job responsibilities are constantly changing and adapting to the company’s vision and needs over time. I know I’ll never be bored here!

    5. #1 OP*

      Hi there, I’m the OP for #1. You’re right, companies and managers want to see increased productivity in return for increased wages, and I have zero problems in that regard. I have taken on multiple new projects this year alone that are outside the original realm of our team, and we have lots of plans to build our team’s size, footprint, and areas of expertise over the next 5-10 years. There is no shortage of interesting, accessible project work for me in my team and I am ready and willing to take it all on. I just don’t want to be the manager in 10-15 years, that’s all.

      1. fposte*

        Okay, that’s clearer to me than in your original post, and it’s a good way to talk to your manager because it articulates what you’re excited about expanding to be a part of.

      2. neverjaunty*

        There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can still take advantage of opportunities for growth without signing on for management. Leadership classes, for example, are going to be useful to you in dealing with large projects, since you will have to work with other people even if you don’t formally manage them. Conferences and networking, also, and you can certainly limit the ones you go to instead of traveling all the time like your boss.

      3. Windchime*

        This is how I feel as well. I have no desire to manage people because I see what a huge pain in the butt it is, most of the time. I’m fortunate to be in a company where there is room to advance into roles that don’t require management. Lead roles,yes….I have done (and am doing) that right now. But I really don’t want to deal with the constant disciplinary issues and trying to stay on top of the constantly shifting priorities of the organization. And all the meetings……have you ever looked at a manager’s calendar? At our organization, it’s nothing but meetings from 8 till 5, day after day. No thanks!

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Maybe I am off-base here, OP, but here goes. Anytime I have had someone at home that I am taking care of the last thing in the world I wanted to do was take on a heavy responsibility at work. I would define that responsibility as supervising more people or a lot of travel for my job. I relate to what you are saying because I have had those days that never end- sure, it’s a 24 hour day but it feels like 32 hours by the time I hit the rack at 1 or 2 AM. Okay, maybe you are not up that late, but still. I know what it is like to have the on switch in the on position all the time. I never sat down to watch tv or look at the internet or even read a book. No time.
        My thought as I read your letter is that you know how much load is enough to carry and how much load is too much. I can totally hear myself saying the same things you are saying. As others have said though, be careful how you frame this to the boss. You can say something like “this is not what I am looking for right now (or for the immediate future).” And be sure to emphasize the parts of the job that definitely interest you.

        And yeah, these types of decisions do come with a cost and it is very, very difficult to recoup what has been lost.
        On the plus side, you sound like you are in a good spot and quite content. A lot of people do not have that much. So that is a good thing.

        If I am on the wrong track here just ignore me.

  9. Adam*

    #4. Run. As. Fast. As. You. Can.

    This is borderline situational comedy ridiculous. If the office culture is treating everyone like they’re made of glass people on the outside are going to see through to the mistakes. Get out now before it starts reflecting badly on you, even if it’s not your fault!

    1. Ruffingit*

      THIS! Seriously, this is going to reflect on you. Start job hunting like your life depended on it because your professional life does!

      1. Megan*

        OP #4 here. I’ve been sending out resumes and getting some good responses. The tricky issue is that my organization has traditionally been a coveted place to work, with insanely excellent benefits and time off. My last interviewer was baffled as to why I would want to leave and go to work for them!

        1. Adam*

          Is it all possible for you to move laterally to another department? From your letter it sounds like the problem is contained locally to your area (which sucks, but at least the whole organization isn’t mired in this).

          1. Megan*

            I have been working on that as well. A few others in my department have been applying for any lateral transferrs that come up, and they have a few years’ seniority.

    2. Sunflower*

      Yes this sounds just like something out of the Michael Scott Book of Management.

      ‘Would I rather be feared or loved? Umm… easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.’

      1. Jamie*

        To quote Michael Scott: “Both. I want them to fear how much they love me.”

        Which is one of my favorite lines ever.

        1. Jamie*

          Never mind – I had the quote close but wrong and didn’t see what you did there.

          Disregard me. :)

  10. T*

    #2 I’d also send a follow-up email to the one the usurper sent out. Otherwise you appear to condone his action in contrary of what was established at the meeting. If you want to be polite, you may phrase it as a misunderstanding expectations following the meeting and include the correct action items for each person.

    I think half the problem is that he disrespects you and half is that other staff members see you take his disrespect, which suits his agenda.

    1. Vera*

      I disagree with this. If I were one of the other employees, a second email would definitely indicate there was something going on in the team. It also seems like a less direct way of handling the situation, almost passive aggressive.

      I’d handle it by speaking to the key players in person and making sure they all understand the action plan for them specifically. Generally, I don’t care who is doing something as long as it gets done. If it’s a problem for a specific team, they can handle it on their own without involving other employees.

      Maybe the only exception would be if this were a very large meeting. In that case, I would ask the employee to recall his email and replace it with the corrected notes, AFTER having sat down with the employee about why sending out his notes was not okay.

      1. Lizzy Mac*

        I feel like any team member paying attention during the meeting already has a sense that something is up seeing as the wannabe manager re-assigned tasks to herself. I would notice if a task my manager gave me suddenly belonged to someone else. There is obviously the large issue of dealing with the wannabe but the OP also needs to make sure the project discussed in the meeting is taken care of. Some sort of follow up on that is required.

      2. Chinook*

        I think that an email has to be sent out immediately with OP #2’s assignment requests ASAP, preferably as a reply all to the ursurper’s email so that readers can see the change. I don’t see this as being passive aggressive but as clarifying who is assigned the tasks. As an employee, I don’t care who wrote up the notes, I may think that the ursurper’s had been delegated to do do because the boss was too busy, but task assignments matter and need to be clear. Right now, the other employees are probably confused because of the conflicting information.

        1. Vera*

          Ah- I missed the part that said the ursuper had assigned tasks to himself that were for other people even outside their team. That definitely requires some sort of follow up.

      3. Algae*

        I don’t know; I think that she could send out a follow up stating “There seems to be a mistake here in the action items! Just to be clear, Mary is covering Task A, Lydia is covering Task B and Collins has Task C. See me if you guys have any more questions.”

        And definitely speak to the employee.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          Someone has been revisiting Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie Bennet?

  11. Editor*

    Copying the cover letter: Just because you are alone in the room when you are reading on the Internet doesn’t mean other people do not read the same things you have read. Google might be your friend with benefits, but the relationship isn’t exclusive — what search finds for you it will find for someone else who uses the same words, too.

    1. manybellsdown*

      I’ve noticed that same thing. Some people seem to think that no one else will possibly be able to find the same thing on Google that they did.

      I remember entering an online writing contest, let’s say the topic was Walruses. Anything you wanted to write about walruses; poem, short story, fake news article, etc. Literally DOZENS of people typed “walrus poem” into Google and posted the first or second hit as their entry. Sometimes the same poem was entered in two or three successive posts. When called out on it, several of them insisted they were the original author.

      Typing two words into Google and using the first thing you find is NOT the height of internet espionage.

  12. Rayner*

    #2, I would be even more forthright than AAM suggests.

    This guy isn’t just overstepping boundaries. He’s looked at them, and decided that he’s not okay with them, and then just launched himself over them with a hang-glider. He may be outwardly okay with you running the department, but it’s clear that he still feels that he’s got more power than you.

    Whether he’s doing it in a negative way, power grabbing out of spite, or whether he genuinely thought that he was doing you a favour, you have to get him to cut it out. Or he’ll continue to undermine you, and it’ll only get worse once he finds a lack of resistance.

    Addressing it in the moment like AAM said is good but so is being proactive about it.

    You should meet your problem employee in person, and outline your expectations going forward. For example, “I know that you wanted to help by sending out tasks and such, but that needs to stop. It’s not appropriate for you to do things like that, and it creates confusion for everybody. Going forward, I need you to wait for me to assign work so everything moves smoothly.” Outline consequences as well, if you feel the transgression was big enough, or just mention that next time it happens, the meeting will be more formal and consequences might happen.

    My issue is that if he senses that you won’t push back, as a new manager, he’ll simply step forward to fill the role he sees as not being used effectively. Right now, he’s an employee with a problem. You don’t want him to escalate to being a problem with a pay cheque.

    1. TychaBrahe*

      Here’s the thing though: the employee didn’t want to help, and saying so might give him the idea that he’s pulled one over on the manager. The manager needs to make it clear that she’s the one in charge, she’s the one who delegates tasks, and employee plays good team member or gets cut loose.

      1. Rayner*

        That’s what I’m saying. Because the OP doesn’t say definitively if it was done maliciously, there’s a danger of her trying to stake her authority either too meekly, or charging in there, stomping all over the joint and coming across not very professionally.

        She needs to tread that line carefully, but be forceful. Hence the “you may think you were helpful, but don’t do it again.” and the discussion of consequences.

        1. fposte*

          Right–she needs to rein him in but preserve the future working relationship if possible (and it often is possible).

          1. Rayner*

            Exactly. Coming at this from the perspective that it was malicious, and she has to come down on him like a ton of bricks makes her work with him twice as hard, and puts them at opposing corners when its entirely unnecessary. If it comes to that point, then she could (although it shouldn’t), but if she starts out with it as a conversation about boundaries and respect, then it gives the employee a chance to back off and save face.

  13. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    1. My manager wants to groom me for more responsibility, but I don’t want to move up

    Do you work for me? ’cause, you pretty much just described me, minus the suspected vicarious/mothering motivations.

    I *absolutely* push people that I see capability and potential in. I lived through 2008 and I never want to be there again. We laid off people who had been with the company 10 to 20 years (how awful is that) because we had to downsize and could only afford to keep the people who were capable of growing, changing, adapting.

    My industry in general was hard hit. Friends of mine who had careers of 30+ years, never got another job. Do you know how many 50+ year olds are still jobless in their chosen industry?

    You. Have. To. Be. Ready. To. Adapt.

    Please don’t confuse growing & learning with having to be in management and flying on planes to conferences. Why don’t you go to your boss and say, I’m not really interested in management track at this point in my career but I’m definitely interested in growing and developing, what else can I learn to be of help?

    More skill sets = more better

    1. Rayner*

      But the OP said that in her letter.

      I am very happy with my salary and am happy with “moving up” through merit raises, horizontal moves, and tenure rather than vertical moves.

      So they’re happy doing the lateral thing, and growing in other ways by learning new skills. They just don’t want to go UP, and pushing her to go that way is a recipe for disaster since it involves doing things that she can’t or won’t do.

      At least that’s the impression I’m getting from her.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        The circumstances that allow for this mind set as a lifetime plan:

        I am very happy with my salary and am happy with “moving up” through merit raises, horizontal moves, and tenure rather than vertical moves.

        Pretty much evaporated in 2008 when the OP was just 20 years old.

        I believe to pull that off for a lifetime career, you need a highly specialized and valued skill set, or, a very very broad one.

        Agree completely about not needing to move UP, but even staying at the same level requires continued development.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          I Absolutely agree. Since 2008ish static employees became unemployed AND unemployable. I was laid off thereabouts and it took a few months to get another job in a related but different field. At outplacement training (which I considered to be a joke because it was more like a group AA meeting than anything (my name is Cautionary and I’m out of a job)) a person kept repeating that he was an expert in java programming but nobody wanted a programmer that could only do java programing. I got my new position and moved on while the other person was still crying the same story and unable to move anywhere.

        2. rando*

          I agree with Wakeen. I don’t see OP being able to stay at the same level indefinitely (even growing and developing in other ways) while receiving merit raisers. I just don’t think it’s possible.

          I like Wakeen’s phrasing – “I’m not interested in management right now, but how else could I develop my career?” Of course, OP also needs to accept that in many places, you’re moving up or out.

    2. Celeste*

      I think that if you’re the sole earner caring for a disabled spouse, you need to do whatever it takes to keep the income. It’s time for a chat with the boss about these issues. If they think that the occasional conference will help you do your job better, I’m not sure you can say no to that.

      I understand that you have issues at home, but I feel like we all need some kind of backup plan for situations where we can’t be available, whether it’s personal like surgery or a death somewhere else in the family, or the odd bit of work travel. I would be careful about making myself look disabled on the job, if that makes any sense.

      1. Rayner*

        But that avoids the point, and profoundly places the blame for being in this situation at the feet of the OP, not at the feet of the manager who is trying to make the OP do things she doesn’t want to.

        The OP doesn’t want to move UP. Becoming a manager of people, which is almost certainly where she’ll end up is stressful and draining if you don’t want to do it.

        Disabled spouses can’t often need more intensive assistance, and it can be costly to hire nursing staff or it can strain family and friends if they have to be called in to help with the spouse while the OP is travelling.

        It’s not about taking one on the chin because ‘it’ll help you do your job better’. It’s about being made to change the job you signed up for in a way that you aren’t looking for, that could be detrimental to health and mental stability for not just yourself, but your partner too.

        1. Celeste*

          A lot depends though on whether you feel able or willing to find something else if the job changes. If you feel you need to gut it out, and the travel is a dealbreaker for the workplace, then alternate care is something to consider. Of course it costs money to hire help. Of course it might mean finding out what your network can bear. I get caregiver responsibilities, both from aging parents and young children. Providers who are caregivers can’t be in two places at once, and sometimes something’s got to give. That’s all I’m saying. There is absolutely nothing wrong with contingency planning.

      2. OhNo*

        “I think that if you’re the sole earner caring for a disabled spouse…”

        Woah, let’s not make assumptions about people with disabilities. All the OP says is that she has a disabled spouse. There is no mention of the spouse not working, no mention of her being the sole earner, and no mention of her being a caretaker/caring for her spouse. While any of those things MIGHT be true, it is offensive to assume those things simply based on the statement that her spouse is disabled.

        Speaking as a person with a disability, assumptions like these are extremely harmful. Be careful with what you presume about people with disabilities.

        1. Celeste*

          I only said it because it was a big reason for her not traveling. I am aware that disabilities vary in intensity, but if you are saying you can only be away from home for what, a 10 hour stretch…that is something you need to address for either job fit or Plan B.

          1. Rayner*

            Not really.

            But for example, if you had a spouse with a condition like cancer, who required regular treatment, transportation to the treatment place, hospital appointments, help around the house surrounding those times, etc, although you could probably be at work for the day but need to be there for them in the evening.

            And even if they didn’t, you might not want to fly lots of times to be away from them, especially if it’s a long way and you can’t just abandon work to fly back.

            They might not need baby sitting but extended periods of days or even weeks might not be a good plan.

          2. OhNo*

            You’re assuming that because she doesn’t want to travel for long periods that she can’t be away from home for more than a X-hour stretch. There are a lot of reasons she might not be comfortable traveling for long stretches that have nothing to do with needing to care for someone on a daily or even weekly basis. Things can happen unexpectedly, like a wheelchair breaking or falling/injuring yourself or any one of a million things that mean you need help NOW and can’t do anything until you get that help. That does not mean that someone needs to be around all the time, just that you need an emergency person available. If OP doesn’t have trusted family or friends in the area, that means it’s going to be her and only her available if her spouse needs help.

            I get what you’re trying to say, I do, and I know there are people who do need to care for their spouses/family members in the way you describe. But we don’t know that that is the case here, and making those assumptions automatically just because someone is described as disabled is damaging.

            Moving back to the context of work: the OP’s letter says that these trips are not required for her job, merely encouraged by her boss if she wanted to move into management, so it’s not a really job fit problem. There is no aspect of her job that requires her to take long trips, they appear to be entirely optional, so she should definitely be able to say she doesn’t want to go.

    3. Scott M*

      To sort of go off on a tangent, I’d like to address the “mothering” issue that the OP mentioned. Wakeen also mentioned it when he said “I *absolutely* push people that I see capability and potential in.”
      For some reason, this really rubs me the wrong way. I’m an adult. I don’t need to be ‘pushed’ or ‘mothered’. It’s not my boss’s job to encourage me in my career because they see ‘potential’ (unless I ask for it). If I want to grow slowly in my career and accept less money, that’s my choice.
      Sure, if there is a specific job you need me to do, and I need some training to do it, then assign me the classes and send me to conventions. But do it for a specific work-related project, not because you think it will help my career.
      It’s not the boss’s job to decide what’s best for someone’s life, unless they ask for the advice.

      1. Jen RO*

        I disagree with both of you. For me personally, the best approach would be a conversation initiated by the boss: “Jen, do you want to move into management? If so, here is what I think you should do. If not, here are some other things you should focus on.”

        1. Scott M*

          I agree with that approach. Many managers probably assume that everyone wants to move into management, which is may not be correct. But if the manager asks that question first, and the employee say’s ‘yes’, then I think its OK for the manager to ‘push’ the employee out of their comfort zone. Then the manager is doing it because the employee said they wanted it.

          Otherwise, the manager is just assuming what the employee wants and what’s best for him.

          1. Laura2*

            Yep. It depends a lot on how it’s said. “I see so much potential in you” sounds a lot different than “If you want to move into management, you should consider attending these conferences and other management/leadership opportunities.”

          2. Jamie*

            Depends on the company and the position. Some positions in some places, in order to stay long term you need to be progressing. That doesn’t necessarily mean management, but learning forward, training applicable to your job, conferences, etc.

            Most managers assume that their reports want to keep their jobs until told otherwise, so what could be seen as pushing could just be the assumption they want to stay and these are the kind of things you need to do before stagnation is an issue.

            And sometimes it has nothing to do with moving up or changing positions – for example I have strongly suggested specific training in the past because it would improve how people did their current job. The amount of discussion and cajoling it took to get people to do this was certainly noted. (In my case all local or done electronically on work time – so the travel issues weren’t in play.)

            1. Scott M*

              Yes, if they needed to take specific training for their current job duties, that’s different.

              But in that case, it should NOT have been ‘suggested’. They should have been told “You need to take this training and show X amount of improvement in your job or else your performace review might suffer and you might not receive your expected raise this year. In addition, if anything happens with the company or economy, you might lose your job”. Or possibly present it in a more gentle, but no less clear manner.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Mmmmmm, let’s divide this up a bit.

        I don’t push people toward management. Management is a pain in the ass. We have a relatively flat structure, one of the reasons being I don’t like to see a lot of people caught up in the management merry-go-round.

        I do push people to stretch their skill sets, their knowledge bases and to try things that they are hesitant to try. Someone who doesn’t like being stretched or pushed-to-stretch isn’t going to be happy working with me or our company and that’s ‘soaky.

        Live example from today:

        I was talking with a couple of my people about a duty switcheroo we’re doing that involves four people, each one picking up/learning duties of the next one, and leaving duties for the person behind. I told Jane and Alice to figure out how to train Ted to pick up Alice’s duties.

        Alice says, “Jane is the best trainer , she should do it. She did such a great job training me.”

        Jane and I burst out laughing.

        I said, “Jane, what did you tell me the first time I told you you had to train somebody to do this job?”

        She said, “I told you that I couldn’t train anybody, that I’d be terrible at it.”

        “And what did I tell you?”

        “You told me to suck it up, that I had the skill set and I could absolutely do it.”

        Now, out of the four newish people who are round robining on new-to-them job duties, there might be at least one I have to tell to suck it up about learning how to do something new…and so I will. They can all do it.

        1. Scott M*

          I think I’m getting caught up on the language used. A lot of what I’m hearing is taking on the tone of ‘suggesting’ or ‘coaxing’ employees into accepting new responsibilities. That’s what I hear when I hear the words ‘push’ and ‘stretch’. It’s not just that the boss wants the employees to do new things. It’s that they want the employee to WANT to do the new things. I think that’s the wrong way to go about it.

          Going back to the OP’s words, the boss was stating that the training would be generically ‘Good for her career”. She “subtlety suggested” that the OP travel more and go to more conferences without giving her a specific reason to do so.

          Bosses should not be ‘subtle’. The boss tells the employee what to do. In return, the employee can voice clear, specific concerns (goals, knowledge, resources). Hopefully the boss will listen and provide the additional clarification, training, and resources for the employee to do the job. But the boss needs to have a clear task in mind and tell the employee what is expected. The boss shouldn’t “push” the employee (which gives me the impression of gently coaxing the employee towards something). The boss draws a line in the sand and says “Come here and do this.. here are your tools and instructions”.

          I’m just uncomfortable of this idea that the boss ‘sees potential’, then somehow manipulates the employee to ‘believe in themselves’ so they end up wanting to do what the boss thought they could do all along. Just feels.. icky.

          I dunno, maybe I’m just weird.

          1. Prickly Pear*

            I have the opposite view on this- way back when I first started at my job, I had to be coaxed every step of the way to the next step. “You have so much potential” should be on my gravestone, because so many people over the years have given me some version of the same speech. In most cases, it really paid off big to listen, career-wise. And once people realized that I really did want to learn more and was pretty much willing to pitch in anywhere, I got to do so many cool things. I’m older now and a little burned-out of where I’m at (I admit that having no where to aim at anymore has a bit to do with it- like some others mentioned, someone would have to die for me to move up again.)
            Maybe it was my very blue-collar background, but my bosses explained why they wanted me to try these things, and I never felt smothered, but just nurtured, and the more I get past that I realize just how absolutely lucky I was.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              There you go. That’s part at least of what I’m talking about. I could use the word “coached”, because that’s more acceptable business speak, but “pushed” is more accurate for my style. (Hey! I’m from Philly.)

              One of the reasons it works for me is I’m pretty accurate at predicting outcome. If I tell somebody they can do something, they can, and they land safely on the other side. I’ll also ask people to try things if I’m not positive it is in their wheelhouse but we want to stretch — that’s a coax more than a push, with a safe exit planned if it doesn’t work out.

              There’s another part, pushing people to do soft things that are important for their career or for the company that just don’t register as important to them. I get a lot of young folks, so things like, not solely hanging out with your work social circle but being friendly to other people OR not being a doofus and declining a business dinner with people who can help your career because it doesn’t sound like a fun thing for your Wednesday OR prioritizing a report which is boring to do but makes you visible and being visible is a good thing *pushes you on stage*.

              Hmmm. Sounds as if I put a lot more time and effort into this than I do. I don’t really. It’s mostly naturally occurring with the people in the org who catch my eye as having potential and done in the course of daily transactions or planning.

              1. Scott M*

                Sounds like it works out for you and your employees. Thats great.

                I was coached early in my career also. One of my first managers really taught me a lot. But it was more about how to handle my current job and work environment, rather than how to ‘move up’. So, for example, if I was having trouble getting someone to respond to emails, he would give me insight on how to write my emails in a more concise manner. Or how to deal with particular people. Or how to run meetings. Stuff like that. I really appreciated that. And I never felt pushed to advance or do things to help my ‘career’. I don’t remember, but perhaps I told him early on that I wasn’t looking to move up into management and he listened.

  14. Lizzy*

    4.) Reading that gave me the shivers. It sounds like the perfect work environment for manipulators, underachievers and passive-aggressive types. Run. Just run.

    5.) Glad you could catch that early on. From personal experience, plagiarists make for such unreliable workers and they spend more time covering/concealing up their incompetencies than anything else. They can also be very manipulative. Perhaps you should recommend applying to workplace #4 as a consolation for not preceding with his or her candidacy?

  15. Rayner*

    Reading number five, the plagiarist should probably be called out for it. I’d love to hear their explanation for it. They’d probably back peddle SO fast, it would be unbelievable.

    However, reading the cover letter, it definitely wouldn’t be one I’d have picked. Aside from the fact it’s so attuned to one person and one job so repeating it time and again would be a bad idea, I don’t like it, and feel it’s too….familiar. Casual.

    Perhaps it matched the job ad, or whatever, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t put it at the top of my hiring pile, that’s for sure.

    1. FiveNine*

      There were two things that struck me about it: It really seems awfully long and repetitive for a cover letter, especially from someone who in the first graph is highlighting writing skills, and twice the writer asserts she is the “perfect” candidate to fill the role.

    2. TeaBQ*

      Yeah, I can’t imagine the “you can’t afford me” line would work except in very specific circumstances.

      1. Rayner*

        Because we don’t know the OP, it’s hard to judge if it fits their style and if it fitted the job – obviously, it worked, because they got it – so it’s quite subjective. Me? Wouldn’t fit. It would make me appear arrogant and too outside the box.

        But it is very distinctive. You’d have to have confidence to back up that kind of cover letter.

        1. fposte*

          And if you’re not confident enough to write your own cover letter, that’s not likely.

          1. Rayner*

            Pretty much. And it also means that they aren’t fit for that kind of job in the first place. If you can’t even scrape together a cover letter, then what good are you going to be at the job?

      2. Meredith*

        IIRC, the OP came back and said that she was taking quite a pay cut for the position, and basically, it was appropriate to address it in that way. But that’s kind of the point – the letter was SUPER specific to that position, company and applicant.

    3. LBK*

      I like casual cover letters. I want to sense someone’s personality. It’s not unprofessional written – there’s not really slang or inappropriate content. I write emails like that at work, where I get my point across but not in stuffy, overly proper wording.

      I want a cover letter to be a small snippet of what it will be like to work with that person. I get a very strong sense that this person is friendly, driven, comfortable speaking to different people and different levels, knows what they want, understands businesses, etc. If you send me a really, really dry cover letter written in the most formal language possible, I’m going to assume you are a very by-the-book person that might lack the people skills to jive with a highly interpersonal, fast-paced role.

  16. AnyoneButMe*

    #1 I too am perfectly happy with the job I have, I like what I do. I am not thrilled to death with the micromanagement or the choices Congress makes that affect me. My manager is always trying to get me to promote myself as well. I don’t mind the extra details (jobs) nor do I mind the periodic teaching moments, but I do not want to move elsewhere. The only difference between me and the OP is that I am 30 years older and I no longer care to play the political games.

    #2 My initial reaction to reading this was outright anger. Why do all the new managers worry so much about steeping on toes to the detriment of their own responsibilities? This person was not promoted, you were and if you do not step up very quickly and do your job, you will lose any credibility you ever thought you had. And honestly, I would probably be none to PC with this person as he knows exactly what he just did and showing any passiveness will only invite him to continue what he is doing to undermine you.

    1. Artemesia*

      My reaction exactly. This is a very clear shot across the bow and if the OP wusses around worrying about stepping on this predator’s toes she is done. He will most likely need to be fired down the road; she needs to be prepared to assert her authority, authoritatively or lose it. If she dithers or obfuscates here, she is unlikely to succeed in her new role. She should have done this when he took over the meeting but it isn’t too late now. It will be too late in another couple of weeks.

    2. AVP*

      That’s an interesting question though. I think this is a common pitfall new or young managers have as we’ve always been taught that being “nice” and getting along with people is one of the most important things in life, and obviously as employees you always want to bend over backward to get along with your own manager, so it’s hard to flip into a different mindset to go along with the new role.

      I’ve been thinking about this as the CEO of my company recently told me I wasn’t being hard enough on my direct reports and I was being too lenient with them. My first thought was “but they’re my friends…oh wait no they’re not.” I have so much empathy for them, but being “nice” and sugar-coating things and not working them hard enough can be more detrimental to people in the long run of their careers.

      1. AnyoneButMe*

        Totally agree with you on this …sugar-coating things and not working them hard enough can be more detrimental…

        An example: I had a manager that hated confrontation and really had no business being in a technical field. She was unable to give correct answers to technical questions, didn’t do supervisor calls on time, didn’t hold the team accountable, etc. When she left, I found out about all kinds of things I was doing wrong and had no idea and I told her she did us a disservice by not addressing those things.
        The first 6 months with the new manager were really rocky as she took no prisoners, it was her way or the highway. Anxiety level on the team went through the roof as we were held accountable for things we hadn’t been trained on or ever done before thanks to the last manager tiptoeing around these issues.

  17. Hugo*

    #1, good for you knowing that you don’t want to assume more responsibilities, stress, subordinates, headaches, etc. You’re doing your company a favor by letting them know that. If you take on a role you hate, not only will that be bad for you but it won’t serve much of a purpose for your company either.

    Our corporate culture is already obsessed with the “norm” of moving up up up no matter the “cost” to your personal or professional life. Then you get people like Sheryl Sandberg who go around assuming that every woman wants to be a CEO (I am inferring from your letter that you are female?). But, you know what is best for yourself. You are young and still have time to decide, down the line, if you’d like to move up or not. With a disabled spouse at home, you also have an added stressor that others do not.

    Don’t feel bad about not wanting to progress “up” the chain. On the same token, don’t get taken advantage of if in a few years you are seen as a “de facto” leader due to your years of experience in your particular role and given responsibilities that you feel are not commensurate with your title or compensation.

    However, if you do not feel like you want the responsibility of leading, are you interested at all in being a trainer? Is that a role at your workplace where you can assume some additional leadership and “value” without the burden of having an actual team under you? It may be a way for your to frame yourself more positively, along with what Alison said about having the discussion with your manager and telling her that you want to excel in your current position.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Elysian*

      Indeed. I think there’s a problem in a lot of companies where they funnel people are who good at their jobs into management roles, just because its “up.” But not everyone who is good at their job will be good at or will want to be managing people in that role.

      I seem to remember someone telling me about a tech company (was it Sun? I forget.) who had special non-management paths for growth for software developers who didn’t want to manage. They were eventually acquired and the conquering company had no idea what to do with these dual-paths during restructuring. I think we need more companies to find ways for high performers without a desire to manage to be able to grow in their roles.

      1. Judy*

        Yes, many, many companies that hire engineers have had the “up or out” requirements for years. And they don’t seem to think that the institutional knowledge means anything. It’s like someone believes that you can’t have a career doing lots of different challenging projects.

    2. Jen RO*

      “However, if you do not feel like you want the responsibility of leading, are you interested at all in being a trainer? Is that a role at your workplace where you can assume some additional leadership and “value” without the burden of having an actual team under you?”

      This is a very good point. OP, I am another “never-want-to-manage” person, but I absolutely enjoy training people. I did get burnt out once or twice (sometimes it’s like trying to train a wall!), but I do get a lot of satisfaction from seeing new employees turn into valuable contributors.

      1. GH*

        Yes, this is what my Mom did! After 5 or 7 years of excelling at her job, she was asked to get an additional degree (she went to Night School while I was in High School) so that she could be promoted to train others in her area of expertise. She didn’t have reports — she was an MSW in an office full of lawyers. She was “technically management” on paper — i.e., exempt, and no longer on a labor union contract as she’d been when she started. She was highly respected there, and stayed for a total of 38 years until retiring in 2012. She never got huge raises but the money was enough for her needs, and she loved accruing more and more vacation days as she accrued seniority.

    3. Nerdling*

      That’s an excellent suggestion. My boss has set me up to do just this over the past year and a half, and it’s been an excellent experience. I’m developing subject matter expertise in a specific niche for our work, and I’m being set up to manage a program that should help me move up the ladder without having to move into a true management position.

      I will say that curriculum development is a very different beast than I ever dreamed it would be, but it’s worth it to me to get to teach.

  18. Anonymousforthiscomment*

    #4: My boss isn’t quite this bad, but does just want ‘everyone to get along’. The phrase I hear a lot is “you need to pick your battles”. An issue came up a few weeks ago regarding required documentation of a work process. The onsite coordinator had explained clearly how it was to be done, and several workers came to me to ask if they could ‘just do it the way I/we want to’. I backed up my administrator, as I should, and then got the ‘pick your battles’ comment from my boss. I had to bite my tongue to keep from spitting out ‘I did, I picked this one.’

  19. Rebecca*

    #4 – another Kumbaya boss. I’m surprised my manager hasn’t made us all hold hands and sing together. We have periodic meetings where she brings us all together, tells us how she thinks of us as a family, and how we need to care for each other, blah blah blah. It makes me want to barf.

    I’m going to show this to some of my coworkers who are 100% frustrated with feeling like we are back in grade school. As Alison said, nothing can be done, so either accept it or move on. It’s no secret in our office that the top performers are looking for other jobs. I just hope I’m not too far down the list finding my new position.

    1. Cautionary tail*

      Last Friday was an episode of the TV show Grimm that focused on a group of non-related people who were “family” and prayed together holding hands around the table. I won’t spoil it for you but if you know Grimm then you know something spectacular happened.

      1. Chinook*

        Whenever a boss tells me we are family, I have to bite my tongue to keep from asking if we can call ourselves the Bordens and I will be Lizzie. Not all family relationships are healthy, after all.

        1. Jamie*

          I just did an actual spit take and had to clean up my desk.

          If my water had landed on my lucky keyboard you and I would have had issues, missy.

          And I’m SO stealing that. I like my employers a lot, but I never got the family references either. They pay me to show up and no one here looks like me – so I’m beginning to think I’m not actually related to the people I work with. Hmmm.

    2. Anonymint*

      Ugh, I once had a director who would call out individuals to get up during all staff meetings and do a presentation about themselves – everyone on staff had to do it at some point. It was awful, but Director thought it would be good “bonding”. We actually had to sit through coworkers singing songs they wrote about their lives in order to be seen as “creative” and therefore be more popular with the Director.

      My partner is a local “celebrity” in our region, and when I gave my presentation, my Director kept asking for details about him and our personal life. I refused to answer and instead gave what she considered to be a “disappointing and impersonal” account of how much I love to cook and how awesome my cat is. Not appropriate at all.

      1. Biff*

        Ugh, that’s awful. I mean, you understand why someone is doing a knockout performance, and I’m sure you feel bad for them, at the same time…. that must breed all kinds of resentment.

    3. Jamie*

      Good luck finding something new. I’m with you, this would drive me to look elsewhere immediately.

      I don’t understand those who mistake correcting errors and opportunities for improvement with uncivil behavior. You can be nice to people and still point out issues.

      Sad thing is those managers aren’t doing those employees any favors. Few of us stay with the same company for 40 years as they did in generations past, and these people will be in for an unpleasant surprise when they move onto a company that expects accuracy and holds people accountable for their work product.

    1. Elysian*

      Sadly, I don’t think they would get it. I’d like to hope that regular reader wouldn’t just copy AAM’s sample cover letters. I think it’s more likely that someone stumbled upon the letter when googling “great cover letters” or something.

      1. fposte*

        Agreed. I’d probably just send a rejection notice that included a link to the source material. “Unfortunately, we are moving on to other candidates because LINK.”

  20. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – In addition to what Alison said, you might want to make sure the others know that you’re dealing with Bob, especially since he’s challenging you in meetings. At the end of the meeting I would say “Thanks everyone. Bob, can you stay behind for a minute?” They’ll probably infer that you’re dealing with it. It’ll engender more respect that you’re dealing with the problem.

    #3 – your boss is tacky as all get out. Mentioning gifts on an invitation (even charity gifts) is incredibly tacky. If you really think he’s petty enough to check on it, then make a token donation and send your regrets that you can’t attend. I feel like you’re entering an etiquette minefield.

    1. Sunflower*

      I don’t think it’s necessarily tacky to write ‘no gifts’ but it’s weird(and kind of tacky) to mention no gifts but request a charity donation? He’s essentially telling people to donate to a charity. Just really bizarre.

    2. Artemesia*

      I know you are not supposed to mention ‘no gifts’ but when you have a birthday event people feel compelled. I just gave a big milestone birthday party for two people — we didn’t want to put people in that situation so when I emailed the invitation attachment, I put in the body of the Email ‘this is not a gift occasion, we just want a chance to raise a toast to X and Y’. The result was a few bottles of wine and two small gifts from a group of 35 guests. I would have been embarrassed to have everyone bringing a gift and felt like this notice was the right approach etiquette or not. The charity thing was a bit tacky but I’d give them a pass on this for trying to do the right thing.

      1. BB*

        Maybe I take things too literally but when people say ‘no gifts’ and then bring a gift it’s confusing and I find it a little rude. I take it literally, don’t bring a gift, and then when I’m the only one without, even though I listened to the host, I’m the one who ends up mortified

        1. Artemesia*

          Bringing a bottle of wine when you come to a party is so the norm in this culture that I didn’t feel it violated the ‘no’gifts rule although I would have been happy without. One gift was from a relative and modest — the other notecards or something from a friend. Without the ‘this is not a gift occasion’ on the notice, I am sure we would have had a pile of tacky little gifts tht people felt compelled to provide. At least that was averted.

          In similar circumstances without notice of gifts, I have either given something very modest like a small nice candy gift or else a gag gift. It is awkward with adult events that include anniversaries or birthdays.

        2. Jamie*

          Technically it’s a pretty big fauz pas to indicate “no gifts” on the invitation – because you aren’t supposed to be thinking of your guests in the context of gifts – even if it’s with good intentions.

          And I personally wouldn’t show up at someone’s house for dinner or a party empty handed unless I was sending flowers the next day as the hostess gift.

          There is a misconception that wine given as a host/hostess gift is to be served that night. There is nothing rude about putting it away for later.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I think it’s ok to say no gifts. Not ok to say “please donate to charity X”

        In generally gift information should be pull information – people ask what they can bring. Not push information – telling people what they can bring/donate.

        1. Pneia*

          Hi, the OP here. I would have had no issue with a no gifts statement of the invite, even though technically one shouldn’t
          do it. It was the asking for a donation after that really put many of us off…not to mention that we are being invited to a personal event, not a work-related event. The whole thing just assumes too much.

          1. fposte*

            It’s kind of a muddle–both the no gifts request and the charitable request are dubious from an etiquette standpoint, but the combination makes it all “no gifts but gifts.”

  21. JamesS*

    #1. When I was 26 I didn’t think that I would ever want to be in management. Now, at 46 I’ve been a manager for 3 years and I’m glad I made the move. Something to keep in mind.

    1. Scott M*

      That’s great that it worked out for you. Do you think you can tell us what changed for you?

    2. #1 OP*

      Thanks JamesS – I am sure I will have a different perspective in 20 years, or even 10 years or less. At the moment though I feel strongly about a work-life balance and keeping my own needs in mind. I am not opposed to training of any kind, but I am also 100% not gunning for my manager’s job. The field we are in is not something I ever saw myself doing, and the core of it is not necessarily something I care deeply about in a way that I think I would be able to “give a hoot” enough to do a management role any justice, at least not at this company. Perhaps somewhere else. I am feeling very fortunate to have the opportunities and support that my manager gives me, especially in training for development that is not managerial. I know I can use some of the experience on new projects and training in new areas to branch out into other areas of my field (Marketing) in the next few years, and I have a lot of options before me. But you make an excellent point that we never know where we will be in 2 years, let alone 20, and to never close the door on something when you don’t know how you will feel about it later…

  22. Ali*

    #4 vaguely sounds like my boss and team, minus the part about all of us being too sensitive and unable to handle criticism. I mean, part of the reason why I got promoted is because I saw people getting promoted ahead of me and made sure to apply every piece of feedback I got so when the budget opened for me to move up, I got that role.

    Anyway, I definitely can relate a little to OP4, as my boss is a good guy, but sometimes he glazes over big issues while focusing too much on smaller ones. He just made a new schedule (again) and now has some of us resenting a junior coworker who is taking ideal days off for his wedding planning. This was mentioned to the boss, but he glazed over it and offered up a weak excuse. He’s also not made a meeting day and time with me despite requests and his promises to do so.

    For as much as he avoids the big issues, though, he has all the time in the world to make up a getting to know you game that we have to play on conference calls. You can’t get out of it either because he decides when it’s your turn and tells you ahead of the call. Meanwhile, the rest of our calls are spent rehashing topics we’ve gone over 100 times that people are still confused about or don’t seem to be resolved.

    I honestly cannot wait until the day I can hand in my two weeks.

  23. Ruxin*

    You know, I’m going to be a little easier on #5 than a lot of people will. I don’t condone plagiarism, however this isn’t just about getting a better grade in school. This to me is more a sign of desperation of someone in a really bad job market. I know how hard it can be to even get a call back when applying to jobs, so maybe the person just wanted a better chance to get noticed after trying to months or years. They may have kids to feed and no money for rent. At least they are trying to get a job and not resort to theft. (Yes I know this is intellectual property, but to me there is a difference between copying a sample cover letter and actually stealing).

    1. fposte*

      There’s a difference, in that for a job this could actually more problematic–it’s functionally fraud, not just theft. The person is misrepresenting herself as somebody she’s not.

      Many people hunting for jobs are desperate. Most of them don’t lie about who they are by presenting other people’s work as their own.

      1. Ruffingit*

        AMEN. And really, no matter how desperate you are, it’s not that hard to change some words, make new sentences out of the same ideas, etc. Particularly since this person was applying for a role with a focus on writing skills, they could have at least made an effort.

          1. Artemesia*

            Exactly. If the person has used this as the skeleton for her cover letter, the OP would probably have laughed to recognize it but not necessarily dinged her for it. Copying a cover letter without re-working it and making it specific to this job and this person’s experience is lazy and incompetent — two things you don’t want in an employee.

            1. Jamie*

              Exactly. And a collateral benefit of a cover letter is a little window into how their written communication skills.

              Even jobs that don’t require prose need good communication skills and if you lifted this in whole cloth then you’re telling people you don’t have those skills…or you wouldn’t have needed someone elses writing.

              1. CEMgr*

                Stealing a cover letter….it’s not just the dishonesty, it’s the way it makes clear the candidate’s inability or refusal (which?) to read the content, think about whether it applies, and reach the inescapable conclusion that the letter, verbatim, doesn’t make sense except in its original use.

    2. Colette*

      Maybe they are desperate – but there are lots of desperate people who have the integrity to apply for jobs on their own merits.

    3. H. Vane*

      Eh, I disagree. I consider plagiarism a pretty big deal. I’m not going to immediately jump to the idea that this guy’s a Jean Valjean type, ripping off a cover letter to feed his family – I’m much more inclined to believe that he’s a jerk who thinks he can get away with it. That’s been my experience with plagiarists in the past anyway.

      If he really really needs to feed his kids/pay rent, he needs to be applying for jobs that he can get on his own merits. Even if that job is way below the level he believes he should be at.

      1. fposte*

        And Jean Valjean couldn’t create bread out of his own brain for free. You can create a cover letter out of your own brain for free.

          1. Laufey*

            Only one day more until the application window closes?

            Applicants in their multitude shine, scarce to be counted, filling my e-mail with bad cover letters?

            1. Heather*

              You know nothing of my life; all I did was plagiarize! You know nothing of job markets; you would sooner see me unemployed, but not before I get this teapot job!

              1. Laufey*

                I used to think that I’d get my dream job, but god almighty, have you seen what’s happened since? Masterful dream job? Isn’t worth my spit! Underpaid, overworked, manager’s a sh–.

    4. The Real Ash*

      You’re jumping to crazy conclusions and bringing up werid strawmen in an effort to elicit compassion for the applicant. You’re trying to imply that they will have to resort to theft if they don’t get a job, come on. That is just bleeding heart crazy talk.

    5. In progress*

      But if his situation really was that desperate, there are others who act ethically that he would be taking that job from. Plus, he could get what he wanted and end up in a job he is totally unqualified for. Once he was found out, he’s nuked all of his future chances too.

    6. Aunt Vixen*

      a) Kids? Rent? Objection, assumes facts nowhere near in evidence.

      b) It wasn’t a sample. It was an example, created by a real person for her sole use, presented as a read-only for others to consult for ideas about how to write a good cover letter, not for ideas about what to write in a cover letter.

    7. Ruxin*

      Look, I’m not saying I would have hired the guy. I absolutely would not have if I found that out. All I’m saying is I’m not going to assume he’s this horrible guy either. Who knows why he did what he did. Maybe he’s desperate, maybe he is just lazy. No one knows. I just think I’m a bit less quick to judge than others are.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But no one is saying he’s going to burn in hell or anything. The condemnation is confined to “this is disqualifying and lazy and should be called out.”

      2. Colette*

        I don’t see anyone saying he’s a horrible guy (or even that he’s a guy). What are you trying to argue with here?

        1. H. Vane*

          Well, I did call the plagiarist a jerk, but I’m standing by that. Stealing intellectual property is a jerky thing to do.

      3. fposte*

        Most people who do something unacceptable aren’t horrible people, though. You’re considering that because you can understand why somebody would do this that doing it is less of a problem–we also can understand why somebody might do this and don’t think it means the writer is morally bankrupt, but it’s still a big problem.

    8. Elizabeth*

      Why is plagiarism so awful?

      Well, ask Cassie Edwards. She built an entire career on it (http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/blog/state-of-the-plagiarism). She doesn’t have a career anymore.

      Or, ask Nora Roberts. She had to go to court to get a settlement from Janet Daily over the latter’s plagiarism. (http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20122941,00.html) I would say ask Janet Daily, but she’s deceased.

      Plagiarism is theft, just as if the perpetrator walked into the corner grocery store and shopifted a bag of grapes.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I’d argue plagiarism is even worse than stealing items from a store because you’re stealing the hard work of a person who did the research, the reading, the late nights writing…and here comes someone who just copies and pastes and tries to pass it off as their own. For me, there is a special kind of side-eye for that sort of behavior. That could be because I’ve worked as a writer and I know the effort that goes into it. Plagiarism is one of those hot button issues for me.

    9. Eden*

      To me, this is just so weird, because the original letter is so SPECIFIC. I can see a desperate candidate working from the text and changing things to mirror their experience etc., but that letter talks about how close the office is to her house and stuff (IIRC). If the letter was used verbatim, it’s just bizarre.

      1. Mints*

        Yeah, the whole point of the AAM cover letters is that the candidate perfectly matches the job. Like, how could you even use it as a template if you’re not applying for that same hotel job? It’s not just “this is why I’m great” / “these are my strengths” which might be generic, but “this is why we’re a perfect match.”

        Here’s a litmus test: are you copy and pasting the example, or are you reading it, then writing your own?

  24. Sunflower*

    #1- This can be tricky because you need to know your company. There are certain companies that unless you’re moving up, you’re not moving anywhere. I interviewed once at a company that it was obvious how most people’s career paths went and unless you wanted to move into management, you were probably going to get axed.Are you sure there are opportunities here for you to make lateral moves? If not, you should still a conversation with your boss about other ways to enhance your skills but, as with any job, it’s always good to at least look elsewhere to advance your career.

    I’m 25 and not sure if I ever want to be a manager. I think, for me, it’s more based on being in a bad work environment and seeing how miserable the managers are here. I definitely don’t want to be a manager here but feel only after I’m in a different work environment that I’ll be able to make the decision to say no to management all together.

    1. Jennifer*

      At my employer, if you want to make a non-managerial leap, you just have to get a job doing something else and make a move. Though at this point, you literally cannot get past the HR software unless you can prove that you’ve done the job before in the past, so “lateral moves” have kinda flushed down the toilet as an option. Grrr.

      Believe me, I’d like to get a job trying something else–I know what I’d like to shoot for–but since I haven’t 100% done every aspect of other jobs before, I’m stuck.

    2. #1 OP*

      You know, it’s funny – at this company, I think my job is more secure as a non-management-level employee than it would be if I were a manager. We are a very VP- and manager-heavy company. Lots of fat around the middle and not enough “boots on the ground”. I firmly believe I am doing much more good for the company as a “do-er” and “worker bee” than I would as another manager. There comes a point to me where it seems that management can sometimes spend too much time busying themselves with the business of managing rather than actually getting anything productive DONE. I want to be the change I hope to see at my company, and feel strongly about staying out of management here. At another company, I’m sure it would be completely different, though.

      1. Jamie*

        This isn’t a comment about what you want, because of course not wanting to manage is a valid choice – but I wanted to point out that managing properly is productive and it is getting things done.

        Not every critical work task will have a tangible output – but managing properly enables the work of the company to flow smoothly.

  25. BadPlanning*

    On OP #1 — I have been advised to take our management course as well — not because I have any strong interest in being a manager but because it gives you insight on the management side of things, looks like you are taking interest and the “you never know” factor. I have not done so yet, but I think it was still good advice. I know people who actually became managers for a couple years, decided it wasn’t for them and went back to the technical track (IT). It give them some good insight “on the other side” that I always found interesting.

  26. Wapunga*

    I get the impression from your letter that you work in academia. If that is the case, there is a possibility that your boss is trying to “push you” for reasons she can’t divulge to you. Something similar to what you are going through happened in the department of a campus where I work.
    Our dean began to push the department in new directions. He was encouraging us for more training, setting up workshops, getting people to apply for “higher” positions. Honestly, most people in the department just thought he had read some new management book and was implementing what he had read. Luckily, we all went along with his vision.
    Now, we work at a satellite campus of a major university. Turns out our dean knew that the main campus powers that be were getting ready to swoop in and strip almost all the power away from our campus president…which meant everything would be shaken up in every department on our campus. He couldn’t share what was happening with us, but he wanted to make sure that we were all seen as “valuable.” Thank goodness he did that because after our department’s inspection we were passed by for budget cuts and staff trimming.

  27. fiat lux*

    ‘…framing it as “I want to focus on being awesome at what I do currently” is better than “I hate responsibility,” because the latter can come back to bite you in unforeseen ways.’

    This bears repeating. OP#1’s personal circumstances could change, or circumstances at her company could change, or both. You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself.

  28. Mimmy*

    #1 – Manager grooming me for management, but don’t want to move up

    One thing I’ve been taught is to praise things in terms of preferences, rather than “I don’t like…” or “I’m not comfortable with…”. I’m struggling with coming up with a script to offer because I’ve run into this dilemma while finding a job. Most suggestions I’ve gotten were managerial/supervisory positions, and that’s just not the direction I want to take.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      Maybe phrase it as your skill set? “I find that I contribute best in x role and that others are better suited for Y than I.”

  29. neverjaunty*

    OP #1, it sounds like what you need to do is redirect your boss. She seems to be very interested and proactive in wanting to mentor you and develop your skills – this is GOLD in a boss (assuming she is not being creepy or obnoxious, which it doesn’t sound like from your letter) and you should encourage it.

    That doesn’t mean that you need to meekly do everything she says, of course, but instead of saying no, try working with her directly to find alternatives. For example, you can’t attend 4 conventions this year, but you could likely manage one; can she suggest where you should focus your efforts? Two leadership classes a month is a busy schedule, would it be possible for you to space them out more so you could focus more time on each class?

    You can always turn down a promotion you don’t want, but acquiring skills and accepting her mentorship costs you nothing.

  30. pizzagrl*

    Is it okay to copy the general format and outline of the cover letter? That’s what I’ve done. I’ve stolen like three sentences, but everything else is my own.

    1. fposte*

      General format and outline is okay. Actual sentences, not so much, unless they’re “I look forward to hearing from you” generic.

    2. LouG*

      By “stolen”, do you mean copied word for word? If yes, then that is still plagiarism. If everything else is your own, why not rework those sentences as well so the whole cover letter is truly your work?

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No. You absolutely can’t copy sentences word for word (or even very closely), and you shouldn’t steal the general format and outline of it either — that was a very specific letter for very specific circumstances, it won’t work outside of those, and if it’s recognizable (and it will be to anyone who has read it), it will count against you. These letters are here for inspiration, not to become your own in any way.

      1. fposte*

        I was thinking “format and outline” as along the lines of “I talk about your job opening first, my experience in the middle, and close with something compelling,” and I think that is kosher to extrapolate from somebody else’s letter.

        However–after going back to look at Rebecca’s letter, I think she is taking her conclusion somewhere more unusual, so that would be more of a problem to emulate (it also isn’t going to serve most job-seekers). I also think since pizzagrl has not got the feel for what’s over the line yet that it’s likely she was more imitative than what I think of as “format and outline” and would serve herself best just to start fresh.

        And that might be a good general takeaway–if you’re leaning too heavily on the model, assume you should be working without one.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, totally agree — it’s that Rebecca’s letter has a very unusual structure, so copying it really would be crossing a line. But something more like “I talk about your job opening first, my experience in the middle, and close with something compelling” — sure.

    4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      You probably won’t get caught, but I personally think that’s still morally shady. The general format and outline – well, cover letters in general do have a pretty standard outline, so as long as you really do mean *general*, I think that’s fine. Similarly, if you read an example cover letter and a word or common phrase jumps out at you as applicable to yourself, I think that’s also reasonably fine. An example from that cover letter might be the phrase “my bread and butter.”

      But if there are three sentences in your cover letter that closely resemble sentences in something you used for “inspiration,” that’s not inspiration anymore. That is plagiarism, and in an academic setting those three sentences would be enough to bring you up against serious disciplinary action. Change it up. Everything in your cover letter should be something you can honestly call “my own.”

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        Funny you should pick out that phrase – shortly after I discovered AAM and started inhaling her archives, I notice that TWO of her example great cover letters use it. I always assumed one borrowed it from the other. :)

  31. pizzagrl*

    These are the sentences I use:

    “I hope you will consider me for the position of ”
    “I was particularly excited to see a position open”
    “Reading over the job description for the position, I recognized myself.” BUT altered to read “Reading over the job description for the position, I recognized much of myself and many of my future goals.”

    1. fposte*

      The first two are on the generic side, but if they’re both in the source letter and you’re using them both in yours, that’s pushing it.

      The third one isn’t generic, and I would count its use against you if I knew the source material.

    2. Shell*

      Honestly, you can reword sentence #3 very easily to convey the same meaning and have a cleaner, shorter sentence.

      I think the first two sentences are generic. If you rewrite the third sentence to convey the same meaning without the same words, I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow…but I’m not management so my opinion might not be worth much.

      But the takeaway here isn’t so much specific wording (other than using your own words!), it’s that your cover letter should be consistent in style and tone–if you take too much from Rebecca’s wording and the rest of your cover letter doesn’t match, even if it passes the plagiarism test it won’t pass the “good writing” test.

  32. Graythan*

    Can we look a little more at some of the assumptions made by OP#1 into her manager’s motives? She says her manager “tends to “mother” me” presumably because “I am the same age as her daughter” and at the end of her letter says “I sometimes get the feeling that she is living vicariously through me or like she is projecting her own ambitions (or her regrets) onto me.” Setting aside the rest of her note, which folks have already commented on in some great and helpful ways, this bothers me. OP, why do you think this way? A good manager will push reports beyond their normal comfort zone if they think they see potential; it doesn’t mean they are trying to live through them or are trying to mother them. It is actually a pretty disrespectful way to look at your manager. Is it warranted?

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      It might or might not be. I don’t think we have enough information to know, and since the OP’s question was focused specifically on the question of “moving up,” I think it was reasonable not to go into detail about the “mothering”. In my first job I definitely was on the receiving end of some mothering from a woman who was my sometimes-manager. She talked about her son a LOT while I was around (not in a “I want to set you up with him” kind of way, but in a “you and he are in the same place in your life!” kind of way) and got overly-solicitous about me in weird ways. For example, I once stayed late to work with her on a project and then gave her a ride home – and she was so, so anxious about whether I’d “be safe” driving from her house to mine because it involved some slightly windy country roads. No ice or rain, just a couple miles of not-a-highway. She made me call her when I got home so she “wouldn’t worry.” I seriously doubted that she would have done the same if I’d been 42 instead of 24. It annoyed me, frankly, even though I know she meant well.

      1. #1 OP*

        Elizabeth, this is the case with my manager. She has a tendency toward over-sharing and being very personal, which I have come to recognize and try to re-direct in recent months after learning some personal things about her that I would really rather not have learned. She invariably asks me to “check in” when I get home from a flight so that she knows I’m alright, etc. It’s a really weird grey area that I’ve discussed with a therapist, actually. I want to have a good working relationship with her, but I also don’t want things to get weird.

        1. Graythan*

          Ah, thanks for the details. Okay in that case, I’d agree that she’s the one being somewhat disrespectful of you. I’d be careful to step lightly so you can try to keep your working life clear of these personal touches (even though she isn’t exactly doing the same), without hurting the overall relationship between you and your boss. Maybe think of it as more annoying and unnecessary than anything else, and do your best to ignore it when you can? And redirecting the conversation is a great tool (one I have to learn to use better, I must confess). But it sounds like you’ve got some trained help giving you advice on that front, so that’s great.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I hope it makes you feel better – my boss will ask me to call her when I get home sometimes… and I am 50 something. Hopefully, your boss treats others the same way and is not doing this in a condescending manner toward you.

        yeah. I call her when she asks.

    2. Rayner*

      It depends how she’s going about it, to be honest. If she’s pushing other members of staff in the same way, and treating it very professionally, then it’s definitely not okay for the OP to say that.

      But if she’s getting constant comparisons to the manager’s daughter, being told “I would have loved to be management at your age, so go for it!” etc then it’s definitely a grey area.

    3. Scott M*

      Maybe it’s just me, but I would resent being ‘pushed’ past my comfort zone because a manager thought he had seen ‘potential’ in me, UNLESS he had talked with me about it and we agreed on a course of action.
      Because then the manager would perhaps find out that I didn’t want to be ‘pushed’ in that direction.
      Managers aren’t parents. It’s not their job to decide what’s best for an employee. It’s their job to get work done by assigning the right tasks to the right employee and make sure the employees have the resources and training to do it.

    4. Jamie*

      I’ve definitely seen the mothering thing happen with people, but without details (and I understand why she didn’t include extraneous information) there is no way to know.

      The pushing out of the comfort zone isn’t mothering in and of it’s self – it’s managing and trying to help someone with their career even if it could be done with more conversation and less pushiness.

      But yes, the ages alone don’t indicate a manager is mothering. I work with someone who is not only within weeks of my eldest son age-wise, but they went to high-school together and were on the same sports teams (and his younger siblings went to school with my younger kids) so I would assume if my mommy instincts could be triggered at work he’d do it.

      But apparently mine need an actual mother/child relationship to kick in. Yes, when my daughter temps here on occasion I bite through my tongue to hold back the mothering…but other people’s children will just never be my problem.

      So the takeaway is not to assume mothering just because you’re the age of one of her kids, but to be alert to it and try to stop it when it happens – because that’s creepy.

      And weirdly, sometimes younger people can have really weird issues with age. I knew someone once who was 30 and called everyone in their 20’s “kids” and another manager had to actually call them out on it – because they were less than 2 years apart in age and they were being treated like they were at the kiddy table.

  33. mel*


    Ooh… so if this has been going on for some time, it really makes me wonder about the occasional commenter who claims that the advice on AAM never worked for them.

      1. A Bug!*

        I’m sure it’s comforting to think that the world works in a very simple input-output manner, and that you can find success in anything as long as you have access to “that one weird trick” that’s really easy, never fails, yet somehow isn’t common knowledge.

    1. Meredith*

      I’d be surprised if someone who copied the letter word-for-word was a regular reader/contributer. Probably just someone googling “great cover letter.”

  34. Beti*

    #2 – “including [tasks] I had asked others to handle and one that I took on”

    This stood out to me. I’m wondering if the OP purposefully didn’t assign work to the other person – consciously or unconsciously? The other person might read it as “not only did I not get promoted, I’m also being kicked to the curb”.

    In the future, making sure to assign this person tasks might help in two ways – serving as a reminder that the OP is the one assigning work, i.e., being a manager, but also to make sure the other person isn’t feeling like s/he is being pushed off the team.

    Making the transition from line employee to manager isn’t easy. Good luck!

    1. Elsajeni*

      I don’t see any sign in the letter that Bob was being left out of the assigned work, though — he moved a bunch of tasks from other people’s plates onto his, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his plate was empty to start with.

      1. Beti*

        Yeah, I thought about that after I posted my comment. Rereading that part, “assign himself all of the action items we’d discussed, including ones I had asked others to handle and one that I took on.” does seem to imply that he initially got some and then took everyone else’s, too. (Just another reason I’m with #1 – I don’t have any desire to move into management!)

  35. Tiff*

    #2 – I’d reply all with: Whoa there, we were a tad premature in sending this list out. Use *this* version going forward.

    And just to the Guy Who Wasn’t Picked for a Promotion:

    Bob, thanks for stepping up to take notes at the meetings. However, there were a few mistakes in the version you sent out. In the future have the meeting notes to me by Friday for review. I will have them approved by Monday for distribution.

    To my way of thinking, that gives a heads up to the rest of the team that Bob’s antics aren’t going to be tolerated and puts Bob on notice that he needs to play his role. Bonus, you’ve documented your correction and Bob has time to get himself together in private after he reads the email.

    But really, I’m not as concerned about this as some of the other commenters. I think that Bob needs a serious attitude adjustment, but his hurt feelings are understandable. Only HE can make himself feel better though, so I’d just keep him in his lane and see if he can adjust. If not, adios Bob.

    1. plain jane*

      The problem is when Bob is very popular among other circles. In which case you’re in an unwinnable position. :(

      You might want to discuss/validate your approach with your manager/more broadly.

    2. Vera*

      I’m still not a huge fan of the reply-all e-mail approach, except that the other team members need to be notified they are still responsible for action item 4 even though Bob says he was. I’d probably phrase it more like:

      “Bob, thanks for sending out your notes on the meeting. I have some corrections based on our discussion, see attached for official minutes. One major change is that the correct parties are now listed for action items, so please take a look. To reduce confusion in the future, please wait for my official minutes to be sent to the team and let me know if there are any corrections or additions.”

      And yes, absolutely address the action items directly with the employee, “We agreed that Suzy would take on action item 4, but in your notes you listed that as being assigned to yourself. What happened?”

      1. Colette*

        I like this approach.

        The issue with giving him direction about getting approval before sending the minutes out is that he wasn’t supposed to be sending them out at all.

      2. Rayner*

        I wouldn’t thank Bob in the email, to be honest. Because that might make it sound that something negotiated between the OP and her subordinate, instead of the fact that Bob took it upon himself to do it (badly.)

        I’d just stick it as, “Please disregard the previous minutes of meeting X. Here’s everybody’s assignments etc,”

        1. Marcy*

          I agree with that. By thanking him, OP would be sending out mixed messages and Bob will continue to do that sort of thing because obviously the boss appreciates it because she/he thanked him for it. Bob will just think it was this particular thing that he should have waited on and that he can takeover anything else he wants to in the future with the blessings of the boss.

  36. unsan*

    As someone who is frequently involved in the hurling process (IT field). I can honestly say a cover letter is a waste of my time.

      1. HM in Atlanta*

        Sometimes, like now, I love autocorrect. It certainly feels like a hurling process.

    1. Jamie*

      This is a huge ymmv issue – because I’m in IT too and lack of cover letter is a red flag for me.

    2. BB*

      This conversation happened a couple days ago on a thread about cover letters I think and it was determined, based on field and industry, cover letters can go either way but most people should just err on the side of caution and write a cover letter since it can only help you. By not writing one(unless the directions state to note write one), you can hurt yourself big time.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. And a good one can hugely help you with many hiring managers. Given the sea of competition out there, it makes no sense for candidates to squander that.

    3. A Bug!*

      That’s your prerogative, but surely you don’t count the presence of a cover letter against a candidate?

  37. EmmBee*

    OP #1:

    I can’t help but wonder if you’re selling yourself a little short here.

    Not to be condescending, but you’re only 26. You’ve *barely* begun working. What you want now is, I promise you, going to be different from what you want in 5, 10, 20 years.

    From a personal perspective, I hate seeing young women refrain from taking opportunities (or even *potential* opportunities!) based on what you think you’ll want your life to be like down the road. I saw someone call out Lean In (disdainfully) in a comment above but I think what a lot of people fail to grasp from the Lean In messaging is that it’s not about forcing every woman to want to be a CEO; it’s about reminding women to NOT turn down opportunities because of what they think they might want sometime down the road. (Ie, don’t turn down a job offer that includes travel because you think in 5 years you’ll want a kid when you don’t have a kid yet! Or don’t not apply for a promotion because you think you’ll be moving cities in 2 years due to your husband’s job, or something.) (These are all real things women have done, and it’s harmful.)

    Obviously, only you know your life, but I feel a sense of fear coming from your letter. I’d encourage you to really ask yourself, what are you afraid of when it comes to this idea of moving up? Why wouldn’t you want to manage people? (When you have a good team, it’s loads of fun and really forces you to grow as a person!) Your boss sees potential in you. Why not try to see what she sees? Who knows where it could lead you!

    1. Jen RO*

      I agree with the general sentiment (‘things change’), but why would this be restricted to women? I don’t see anything gender-specific in the examples.

      1. Jamie*

        Ditto. I applaud the sentiment, but this isn’t a gender issue to me at all. No one knows for sure what life changes are ahead of them or what they will want in 5-10 years.

        1. Ruffingit*

          True. At the same time though, there are people who know themselves well enough, even at age 26, to know that management just isn’t for them. I knew that well before that age and now closing in on 40, it has remained the case for me. I do think it’s fair to ask yourself why you don’t want to manage and whether it’s coming from a place of fear or a place of “I just don’t care for that kind of responsibility, etc.” But, it’s also important to realize that management and moving up just isn’t the thing for everyone and that is totally OK. They are not selling themselves short if they’ve done the due diligence in their own minds about why they don’t want to do it and then lived that choice.

        2. EmmBee*

          Sure it is — the Lean In aspect in particular. It’s documented that women, much more often than men, hold back in their careers because of what they picture themselves doing with regard to family obligations years down the road. Ie, if a woman sees herself raising a family full time, she tends to stop promoting herself at work years before she’s even trying to have a child.

          No one’s saying men don’t hold back too, but a simple look at the executive board of any big company will tell you they certainly don’t hold back in the numbers that women do.

          (Disclaimer: the glass ceiling is real, so part of it isn’t women holding themselves back, of course. But this is a perfect example where it seems like a woman is doing exactly that.)

    2. Rayner*

      There’s also a lot to be said for the OP recognising her strengths and weakness, and how they change her goals in her career. She might already strike managing people from her career path, but decide she wants to focus on learning programming to make a leap into IT or learn how to do design work.

      Managing people is NOT the only way to advance, and if the OP feels she’d not be successful at it for specific reasons – doesn’t like people, doesn’t do well with juggling so much serious stuff, doesn’t do the office politics well etc – then it’s perfectly acceptable to decide to advance/reroute her career in other ways.

      For someone who doesn’t want to manage, it’s not ‘loads of fun’ for her or the subordinates who have to report to her. It risks demotiviting the manager and her reports, creating a huge issue. It risks her disappointing or ruining her job prospects in the eyes of her bosses if she fails, or doesn’t do anything more than scrape through. It risks her wanting to leave the company before she’s ready, because she can’t do the job she didn’t want, and didn’t ask for.

      I find it unfair that people assume that because she’s young, she doesn’t know where she wants to go, or what’s best for her and her family, and her career. People get a sense where their skills are in different places in their lives. Not a bad thing.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You’re not. Occasionally the spam filter will grab something incorrectly (or sometimes it just malfunctions for a few minutes and sends everything to moderation).

          1. Rayner*

            Ooooh. I was looking back through my post going, “Did I say a swear without noticing?”

    3. Scott M*

      “Your boss sees potential in you”

      One must remember that bosses are not always right.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Okay, come on — I think you’re taking your opposition to this a little far. Most people appreciate when their boss sees potential in them, even if they don’t care to pursue it.

        1. Scott M*

          I like it when my boss sees potential in me… for a good reason.

          But when someone say’s they see potential in you, and you ask them “really? Why do you think so?” and they look flustered and can’t really come up with any good reason… well I tend to take those words with a grain of salt. Then you realize that sometimes (just sometimes) those words are just a standard pep talk.

          But yeah, it’s great when the boss sees potential, for real and specific reasons. But then they can state those specific reasons and not ‘push’ or ‘suggest’ you do certain things to further your career.

            1. Rayner*

              I think it’s also frustrating when the boss believes they see potential in you but you don’t want to move in that direction, or you see it in other ways – e.g. your talent for organizing isn’t management skills to you, it’s big project skills.

              What the boss sees is potential but it doesn’t mean they have to act on it, or to embrace it the way the boss chooses to.

    4. aebhel*

      I don’t know, I’m only a couple of years older than the OP, and the only way I would willingly move into a management position is if I experiences a wholesale shift in personality. Everything about it sounds absolutely hellish. Fortunately for me, I’m in a field where there isn’t an automatic expectation of moving up into management. I have no idea where the OP works, but she may be in a similar situation.

        1. aebhel*

          Public librarian. I guess there is a certain amount of management track in larger libraries, but my library (and all the libraries in the local system) is small enough that the management structure is extremely flat; there are librarians who are more senior to me, but they aren’t my managers, and the only person who actually works in a management capacity is the library director.

          It was pretty hilarious, actually, when our old director moved on, because the board tried to get one of the senior librarians to take the director’s job, and all of them were like, NOPE, NO THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

  38. KM*

    #2 — It sounds to me like Usurper is less concerned with dominating the OP and more concerned with differentiating himself from the junior employees on his team, since he feels rejected and maybe embarrassed by losing out on the promotion. Whether or not he’s dealing with it in the right way, one of the most effective ways to help him is probably to reassure him of his value to the team and, if possible/practical, find an assignment to give him that he would be more qualified for than the junior team members.

    From the way the question was phrased, it wasn’t entirely clear to me if he actually has any authority over the other team members (if he does, maybe give him a heads up about what you’re planning to say in the meeting before you’re all in the room). If he’s on the same level of the other team members, then I had a similar situation happen to me once — I was put in charge of a project and the other person who wanted it suddenly got really pushy. I saw it for what it was, though, which was him trying to bounce back from disappointment by over-contributing and trying to make sure that all of his ideas were still heard. I found an area of the project that he was uniquely suited to and put him in charge of it. It worked out well for the project and well for him, and, although I made a very concrete plan for how I was going to respond if he kept trying to control the meetings (by politely interrupting and taking back the floor — I won’t get into the details), he stopped on his own after he’d had a little while to calm down and to feel like a piece of the project was his.

  39. TychaBrahe*

    You want a trip? I pulled two phrases from that cover letter: “As a freelancer I’ve run the marketing gamut” and “never had a dissatisfied client;” and ran them through Google.

    147 matches. Only one of which is Alison’s post.


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I just emailed 5+ people who used whole paragraphs of it in their LinkedIn profiles or on their websites, and one marketing firm that used it in its staff bios, because screw that.

      1. Rebecca Z*

        I feel like I should be letting them all know they have stolen my work. Wow.

      2. De (Germany)*


        Though it’s kind of amusing to spot where they screwed it up Like: “(…) in reality I was known as the person who could do everything. Hats I wore there included copywriter, researcher extraordinaire, PowerPoint We were a small company where everyone had to pitch in, and I thrived on the excitement of being involved at every level of every project.”

      3. Jessica (the celt)*

        The sad part is that some people are still using it as part of their LinkedIn accounts. Now I feel as though I need to Google parts of people’s cover letters or LinkedIn profiles to see if they have stolen it from another person. Sheesh.

  40. Jay*

    A quick Google search of “As you will see from the attached resume, I’ve worn a lot of different hats” shows that there are hundreds of people who have plagarised the cover letter, most of whom have used it for their LinkedIn blurb, including a great deal of people in marketing jobs. Sigh.

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