should I meet with the person who replaced me at my toxic job, what to say to plagiarists, and more

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

1. Should I meet the person who replaced me at my toxic job for coffee?

I spent 18 months working in a very toxic workplace and when I finally left, my self worth and dignity had been totally destroyed. In the 18 months I was there I never did a single thing right according to my managers (there was three of them in that time period) although my work was highly regarded externally. I work in digital marketing so my work is very visible.

Three months after I left I landed my dream job, my own growing team to manage, a 25% raise, the right title and an amazing boss plus a 10 minute commute, not to mention challenging and autonomous work. I had and still have serious imposter syndrome but I work at it every day and I’ve come a long way, I no longer have panic attacks when my boss enters the room. Yes it got that bad.

Today the person who replaced me reached out to me today via linkedin. She was diplomatic in her words but did mention a toxic workplace and wanted advice on her career and how to move forward.

I would love to meet her for coffee or lunch to help her through this as I know how hard it can be to move on from this situation. My friends are amazed she reached out and told me to be wary. I can’t think of too many reasons why it would be bad, unless she was sent on a fishing expedition by the company to get me to say something they could act on legally. I would not discount them from doing this but I can’t see what they would gain as I left over a year ago. Am I being naïve and too nice?

I wouldn’t be wary of legal issues, but I’d ask yourself what good will come of this. You’re out of there; you’ve escaped. Wouldn’t it be better to keep it a clean break, rather than getting emotionally sucked back into any of it?

This person is a fully-functioning adult. She can navigate this without needing to pull you back into it. I’d tell her you wish her the best of luck but that you want to make it a clean break, and leave it at that.

2. What to say to a job applicant who plagiarized a cover letter

Since you posted the question about the stolen cover letter on May 5, I’ve received that same cover letter, too. There are a few tweaks, but it’s nearly identical.

I’d like to let the candidate know her plagiarism was discovered. She applied through our applicant tracking system, so we haven’t been in contact before. I’m comfortable giving candidates feedback, but I can’t figure out how to contact a stranger for the sole purpose of telling her she effed up. Email? Phone? What’s a way to phrase it that’s direct, but not overly punitive or condescending?

As an additional note, she’s completely unqualified for the position she applied to. Even with a perfect cover letter, I’d reject her.

I’m glad you’re going to call her out on it; this really pisses me off.

In the past when I’ve had a similar situation, I’ve sent an email saying something like: “This cover letter appears to be pulled from (URL). Can you shed any light?”

I include that last sentence because (a) I find it fascinating to see what people say, and (b) I am horrible person who wants to see them squirm.

3. Why didn’t I get an “exceed expectations” rating on my performance evaluation?

I work for a small department at a large state university. The only way for us to get raises is through our performance review “categories”; each category allows for a different raise percentage.

My boss ranks me extremely highly in her comments, and on the form for specific ratings on each part of my job notes in each part that I exceed expectations or at a minimum successfully meet them. More of the “exceed” expectations boxes are checked than “meet.” However, they also have a box for an overall “grade” and there she checked that I meet all expectations, not exceed, despite her gushing comments elsewhere.

What can I do about this and how can I address this with her? This is my first review here and my colleagues say she’s fairly arbitrary with this stuff, but that one box affects my raise significantly and I feel like considering her other comments and boxes she checked it should have been an overall “exceeds expectations.”

I don’t believe it’s a budget issue, as we’re privately funded and she does not have a great understanding of HR. Overall, she’s a wonderful person but a pretty bad manager. I work mostly independently and am the most senior employee in terms of rank other than herself.

Just ask her. For instance: “I wonder if you can tell me more about my overall rating. You scored me as exceeding expectations on the majority of of the elements above, but only meeting expectations overall. Could we talk about what it would take for me to exceed expectations overall?”

4. Consequences for missing too much work

I work for a school district as a bus driver, and have been asked by my boss to make a list of recommendations as punishment for those who miss too much work. We have a 180 day school year, and some have missed 30 or more days. What can we do?

Warn them after X missed days and fire them after Y missed days. And let them clearly know ahead of time that that’s your policy.

This isn’t about punishment; it’s about creating logical consequences when people don’t meet the bar you need them to meet.

5. Do phone interviewers usually schedule the next interview at the end of the call?

I had a phone interview today that went pretty well, though just a bit shaky. I did note to them that I was very flexible schedule-wise so that I could be fit in wherever they need someone most. I felt that was a big plus. After she finished answering some questions I had like, “What direction is the company headed, i.e. new services/member perks” (they are a fairly new startup) and “How would you describe the company culture?”, she asked if I had any other questions. I didn’t. She let me know she had all her questions answered and that I would be hearing from their hiring team early next week.

So here’s my question: do employers typically schedule the next interview in that same call (phone interview) if they want to move you on to the next phase? I know that it may vary company to company. Is it possible I could still be contacted for a second interview?

It varies. I won’t usually schedule the next interview on the spot; I want to process my thoughts, compare the person to other candidates, etc. If I’m very sure, I might say something like, “I’d love to set up an in-person interview and will email you later today about scheduling,” but I’m just as likely not to do it on the spot. So I wouldn’t read anything at all into the fact that a second interview wasn’t scheduled right then and there.

That said, you’re far better off moving on mentally rather than trying to read tea leaves and wonder if you’ll be called. Let it be a pleasant surprise if they call you, rather than something that you’re worrying about.

{ 262 comments… read them below }

  1. CanadianWriter*

    Plagiarists are the worst. THE WORST. No good, dirty rotten thieves!

    I fully support Alison’s suggestion to make them squirm.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      I don’t get it. Do people think that they’re the only ones in the world with an internet connection?

      1. Totally Anon*

        Seriously! I do fact-checking for magazines and it’s crazy what some of these PROFESSIONAL WRITERS try to get away with. It’s like, I can find the exact site you’re “paraphrasing” in less than one second. Do you really think our readers can’t see through that? You’re not a real journalist. (It mostly pisses me off because they’re paid a lot more than me, and I end up either re-writing their stuff or finding unique content from actual sources.) Grrrrrr.

        1. Totally Anon*

          PS: I always call this out to the editor, hoping they won’t renew the authors’ contracts. My comments: “Hey! It’s so refreshing to see that you’re actually using a local blogger for content instead of someone who just looks stuff up online from afar. … Wait, you’re not? You’re working with who? Nope, I’ve worked with her; she’s definitely not based there. Funny, because THIS is the exact same paragraph from someone who actually lives there and has a blog on the topic….”

        2. Katie the Fed*

          I used to have a food blog and I spent a lot of time and effort writing good posts and taking really well composed pictures in good lighting. You wouldn’t believe how many people just straight up stole pictures and content. I would write them and ask them to take down the stolen material and you wouldn’t believe how many would indignantly respond with something like “don’t put things on the internet if you don’t want people to use it.”

          It’s unbelievable. I also think colleges should expel students who plagiarize. I’m pretty zero-tolerance on this subject.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*

            When I was teaching university students I always pushed extremely hard for disciplinary measures for plagiarists. It was awful to see profs who erred on the side of “well, teach them what plagiarism IS and then have then write a new draft” because four times out of five, the new draft was plagiarized from a different source

            I used to print out the plagiarized source, highlight the offender’s words, then hand them to the offender side by side and watch them squirm.

            1. ella*

              What? They’re university students, they should know what plagiarism is by the time they get there. I’m pretty sure I was explicitly told in high school. (Maybe middle school? But I have a definite memory of being told in high school.)

              1. De Minimis*

                I wasn’t. I went to a rural high school and got a rude awakening in college when I found out you couldn’t just paraphrase research material.

                I eventually learned the right way to do it, but did end up failing a class at one point during freshman year [my fault, completely.]

                Of course, this was before the Internet was widely available and you more or less had to do the actual research even to plagiarize, it was more about how you attributed it.

                1. Diet Coke Addict*

                  That’s exactly it, actually–at the university, a large group of students came from rural, poor high schools all over Eastern Canada, and plenty had never been exposed to a formal research paper before and were genuinely unfamiliar with plagiarism.

                  Of course, plenty WERE familiar and were just lazy idiots, but there were some from both camps.

                2. Calla*

                  I had a prof tell me I was plagiarizing because I didn’t have the page number. As in, I said who said it, and I cited it properly on my references page, I just didn’t have the exact page number in the in-text parenthetical. Which I still don’t agree with BUT that’s done and over with. Basically, yeah– I think everyone knows straight-up copying and pasting word-for-word is plagiarism and there’s no excuse for that, but in higher-level academic settings (college, publications, etc) there’s a lot more nuance that may not have been taught in high schools.

                3. De Minimis*

                  See I knew plagiarism was wrong, but I defined it as copying the exact writing of others without specifying that I was quoting the material of others and not giving them credit. My mistake was in thinking you could just paraphrase the writing and as long as you cited the works you were paraphrasing at the end you were okay. I never had an issue with it again after the first professor called me on it.

                  I think it should be part of freshman orientation, and then profs can deal with it however they need to. Not everyone had the same quality of education in high school, but just because some did not doesn’t mean they aren’t college material if they can otherwise do the work.

                  Of course, I know things are much different today. Very little material was available on the internet when I was in college, so I can see maybe being a little tougher on students now.

              2. Whippers*

                No, I never knew plagiarism was a big deal until I got to university. I suppose because we never actually did essays which required academic reading in school, with quotes from various sources and whatnot. Rude awakening once I got to university.

                1. Chinook*

                  “No, I never knew plagiarism was a big deal until I got to university.”

                  I weep for you and the lousy teaching you got. When I taught high school students, I often required them to write essays that used other sources. I also went over in detail how to quote sources. When one student gave me a copy and paste essay from the internet (notable due to the word usage not being typical for him), I googled a phrase, printed out a screen shot and then congratulated him on his research abilities and pointed out that he still needed to finish his paper. Ironically, this was for a religion class (which truly was a “do the work and you pass” course) and he didn’t think I would care.

                  Plagarism and how to cite work should be taught in grade 7 earlier just so the students get used to it.

                2. De Minimis*

                  We didn’t have to write our first research papers until grade 11, then once more at grade 12. I think that was fairly standard in our state at the time.

                  Things may be more rigorous now, I don’t know.

            2. April*

              Oh, yes, I agree with Katie the Fed and Diet Coke Addict entirely. Yes, in college, definitely students should experience the full extent of discipline for plagiarism offenses. The students at that level are expected to know better. If they don’t, it doesn’t mean the college is responsible to teach them, it means they are not ready for college.

              If a prof just can’t bring themselves to enforce the rules without some attempt to be kind and helpful about teaching the right way to do things, the time for that to happen is *before* the plagiarism occurs, not after. For example, s/he should include an appendix at the back of the course syllabus reminding students of the basics and directing them to come and talk outside of class if they aren’t sure they fully understand. Could even verbally explain this at the start of semester. Then, having done that, if/when plagiarism occurs no need for prof to in any way shape or form feel guilty about strongly enforcing the rules against academic dishonesty.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            My BIL is a professor at Georgetown. During his time there (15 years I think), I think 5 of his students have been expelled for blatant plagiarism (papers they “wrote” for his class). Interestingly, they have all been middle aged women going back to school (it’s a masters program). I don’t know if the younger kids are better at not getting caught or what the deal is. One threatened to kill herself because she didn’t want to shame her family (he said it was obvious she was just trying to get him to reconsider), and he called her bluff and told the Dean, who sent the police to her house for a wellness check. Ouch. And when expelled, they don’t get reimbursed for tuition and are out more than 40K. It’s just not worth it.

    2. Purple Dragon*

      I’d love to know what they come back with when Allison asks for an explanation !

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        One person gave me some convoluted answer about how it was intentional and she thought I’d be flattered, which made no sense. One person said it was a letter that represented well what he wanted to say (!). And once I called someone out for copying something different (for a written exercise he was doing as part of the hiring process), and he just flat out denied it, even though it was word-for-word the same.

        It’s interesting to me that people write back, rather than just skulking away in shame. I think the same thought process that led them to plagiarize in the first place leads them to think they can talk their way out of it.

        1. Random concerned citizen*

          Have you ever had any one apologize to you? Or has it only been excuses or no replies?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Never an apology!

            And actually, my content here and on U.S. News gets stolen ALL THE TIME — as in, the whole article reprinted word for word on other sites. I write to them and explain copyright law and tell them they need to take it down, and you wouldn’t believe the responses I sometimes get back in return. Some people are very nice and are apologetic, but some are total asses. One guy running a recruiter’s site the other day wrote back, “We are sorry that you do not want to help the unemployed.”

            1. Joy*


              I’m glad you write and ask them to take the content down, because I’m sure you end up educating a few people on copyright basics. But that kind of rude response is jaw-droppingly awful!

            2. Lizzy*

              I am not shocked by the lack of apologies. I have done a lot of research on cheating in both undergrad and graduate school. There seems to be a lot of theories as to what causes cheating, but one thing that remains constant is a cheater’s willingness to fight tooth and nail to defend his or her’s decision to cheat. Many cheaters go as far as to blame outside factors and will do as much as possible to rid themselves of accountability.

                1. Lizzy*

                  Ugh, this just pisses me off. I am sure there are many aspiring writers here (myself included) and I also know many in need of a big break. To see someone like this get everything handed to her, blow it, and yet refuse to take responsibility is just frustrating.

            3. Ruffingit*

              Actually, HE doesn’t want to help keep people employed by paying for the work they do.

            4. Not So NewReader*

              “We are sorry that you do not want to help the unemployed.”

              Here is a person who has no clue what you do, Alison. Absolutely, no clue.

              You probably help more people in ONE day than he has helped or will help in his entire lifetime.

              Going one step farther, he can’t do what you do- he admitted it when he stole your work. (“My stuff isn’t that good, I’ll just help myself to Alison’s because hers is so much better.”

        2. Anna*

          Where I work we do drug screenings on incoming students. If they test positive, we test them again in 45 days. If they test positive again they can’t stay in the program. Your plagiarism excuses remind me of the ONE excuse we get every. Single. Time. the 2nd screening comes back positive. “I didn’t smoke, but I was hanging out with people who were. It must be a contact high thing.” Sure! If you were locked in a car for six hours with four other people smoking constantly, then MAYBE it would show up as a positive!

          1. J-nonymous*

            If I had a nickel for every time I was locked in a car for six hours with four other people smoking constantly…

        3. manybellsdown*

          I’ve seen people respond to being called out on it by “doubling down”. They will insist they are the original author and they, themselves placed it on the internet using a pseudonym. Even in cases where they would have been 3 or 4 years old when it was written.

          Especially entertaining is when several people plagiarize from the same source and all insist they’re the original author. Those *OTHER* people are lying, but you should believe *ME*!

          1. Artemesia*

            Of course it is also plagiarism if you plagiarize yourself. If it has been printed before, then it has to be cited. I have written books which cite other work I have done; I don’t just cut and paste from this other work.

            Not that these people were telling the truth of course but even if they had been, what they did was a violation.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      Of course if you do it over email, they may just not write back. I’d almost want to do it in person :)

      1. Dang*

        I was thinking the same thing! I seriously doubt you’ll get a response. But if someone does something this blatant, they lack many things and shame is probably included.. so there’s a chance :)

      2. Graciosa*

        Done properly, this could completely crush someone who believed they were being called in for an interview while also letting you see them squirm. ;-)

  2. A Teacher*

    So last year on the college level final I gave, open note essay, two students cheated. They used Wikipedia and then one student handed her essay to the other to copy. I actually had to have a meeting with a parent (dual credit in a high school setting) that wanted to defend it. Call them out on it!

    1. A Teacher*

      Clearly on reflection this should say they plagiarized. Call the plagiarist out, I guarantee it not the first time?

      1. A Dispatcher*

        I’m dying to know what the parent’s defense was… So many parents seem to always side with their perfect little angels who couldn’t possibly do any wrong thinking they are protecting the child, when it fact it does a great disservice to the child which could follow him or her far into adulthood.

        1. Ethyl*

          I do not understand this. My mom would have been SO ANGRY and I would have been grounded and had all my privileges revoked basically forever. Gah.

          1. Ruffingit*

            I would have felt incredible guilt and shame had I done something like this and if any child of mine did it, I’d feel the same. I just don’t get it.

        2. LizNYC*

          My husband teaches 11th graders. A few years ago, he had kids copying stuff for reports directly from the internet, like word for word. He caught them and called them out on it. Most of the kids squirmed and the parents were horrified. Except for one. The father insisted (in succession) a) his daughter didn’t understand what plagiarism was, b) it’s just how the internet work and kids these days, c) she’s been sick for two weeks during the assignment’s duration (she had 10 weeks to do it total), so she should get some slack, d) my husband was ruining her future by holding her accountable during her junior year, didn’t he know it was an important year for colleges?!, e) his daughter should be allowed to make up the assignment and turn it in at her leisure — but this was not an admission of guilt.

          1. Vicki*

            “my husband was ruining her future by holding her accountable during her junior year, didn’t he know it was an important year for colleges?!”

            And because this is an important year for colleges, your husband is, in fact, helping her wake up before she gets to college and is expelled for doing this.

        3. Artemesia*

          I have seen a lawyer father try to defend his child from a semester suspension for an act on an internship so egregiously awful that if he were an employed lawyer when it happened he would have been disbarred. It was horrific and it was hard to imagine anyone with the brains god gave a goose thinking what he did was okay. The father was in there swinging with multi page justifications for ignoring the behavior and giving the kid an immediate other chance so he wouldn’t lose the semester and graduate late. If it had been up to me, he would have been expelled. I can’t imagine doing this for my kids.

  3. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: Even though your intentions are good, I agree with Alison on this. No good will come of it, and it would be way too easy to get sucked back into the drama and vortex of negativity.

    1. AMG*

      I have to say, I don’t agree. Think of how hard it was for you to be there; she is likely going through something similar and is extending a lifeline. You don’t have to be sucked in all over again. Meet, tell her your experience, and then wish her the best of luck. Walk away after that. Done and done.

      1. Sharon*

        I’m in the middle between you two. If she agrees to talk to the person, the only really helpful thing she can say, since it sounds THAT toxic, is to do whatever she can to get the heck out.

        1. AB*

          I’m with you. The person is new, and may be wondering if the situation is really that toxic or if it’s somehow her. It wouldn’t hurt to meet with her to let her know that it’s not just her and it would be best if she just got the heck out. It kinda sounds like that is the confirmation the employee is looking for by reaching out.

          1. Anonie*

            +1 I thought the same thing. I once had a job that I didnt think I could handle because of all the chaos going around. I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for this type of environment. After a month, I talked with one of my co-workers and she said don’t worry I felt the same way when I started. I was so relieved because I had confirmation that I wasn’t the only one who felt the place was chaotic. Maybe the girl just wants confirmation that it is not her and her perception of the place is valid.

            I don’t think it could hurt to meet her or if the OP is uncomfortable meeting. Talk to her on the phone. If the conversation goes left you can always end it right then an there.

          2. ZSD*

            I agree. I was in a toxic workplace before, but it was my first job out of school, so I didn’t know if it was really a bad situation or if that was just what the working world was like. Talking to someone who had had multiple jobs and could assure me that not all workplaces were like that helped me SO much. I think the OP should meet with the new person and help her understand that she has options and can leave.

          3. CC*

            This is an excellent point. Doubly so because many people (especially women) are systematically told that they’re overreacting and need to grow a thicker skin and learn to deal with things that are a genuine problem.

            Only do it if you can do it in a way that keeps you safe and makes sure you don’t get sucked into the toxic stuff again, but if you can, let her know that no, she’s not just oversensitive, it really is that bad.

          4. DD*

            +1 to this. I was in the OP’s position several years ago, as I was contacted by my replacement at a toxic company. Meeting him for drinks was the best thing thing I ever did, as it validated my perceptions of just how bad things were, and gave him the confidence to get out. He remains a good contact for me to this day (since we work in the same field).

            1. LaSharron*

              +1. I has in a situation like this as well, and after I left, I was contacted by my replacement and afterwards, her replacement. I have to say it did a world of good for me, as I struggled for a long time believing I was far too sensitive to criticism and I was the only one who felt the situation was toxic.

        2. Ruffingit*

          She can also tell her the best ways to work around some of the toxicity as well. Clearly, getting out is the best option, but until then it can help to have someone who’s been there say “Don’t approach boss X first thing in the morning. He’s always a jerk before 11 a.m. Also, he sees his mistress in his office every Wednesday so don’t even bother knocking on his door that day because he’s too busy knocking boots on the corner of his desk…”

          Tips for making it through as unscathed as possible are invaluable when you’re working at Chernobyl ‘R Us.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        My hesitation just comes from past experience. Not with a situation like this, but just in general. Career-wise, any time I’ve ever stuck my neck out for anyone, or gone out of my way to help someone out, it has just backfired on me.

        My other concern is that the OP doesn’t know this person at all, and doesn’t know how discreet she is. What if the OP meets with her, and then she later tells one of the managers, “Well, I had lunch with OP a couple weeks ago and she told me this is a horrible place to work,” or, “Yeah, OP told me to expect this kind of treatment from you,” or any number of other things.

        The OP is still living in the same city, presumably still in the same line of work. Professional communities are small, and people talk.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          For these reasons, you list, Ann, I am very happy to see that Alison is saying no do not do this.

          Of course all the OPs do as they want in the end. If I was going to meet with this person (because I might consider it) I would have to tell her over the phone, what we will be discussing and not discussing. “Okay, you are interested in career advice. I will do that. I will not discuss my former employers with anyone. Do not come to this meeting expecting to get any discussion on your current work place setting. If you are agreeable to these conditions, then let’s set up a date to meet.”
          I would make it sound like it is my SOP not to discuss previous jobs and that point is not negotiable.

          That still leaves plenty to discuss. I can say how I found this new job (ad, referral, whatever). I can talk about what I am seeing going on in our industry, continuing ed, desirable skills and so on.

      3. Cath in Canada*

        I agree with AMG – a one-time contact could really help the new person, even if it’s just by email. She may just need reassurance that it’s not personal and that yes, it is indeed a messed-up situation – and one that can be survived.

        Of course, only the OP knows how this might affect her own recovery from the toxicity of the old workplace. If this might genuinely set you back, then you do need to put yourself first – but it sounds like you’re in a good place and doing great, so you may decide you do have enough emotional resources for that one-time contact.

        1. KrisL*

          Just make sure that if you send an e-mail, you don’t put anything in the e-mail that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.

      4. Ruffingit*

        I’m with AMG because I was once in the shoes of the new person and I reached out to the person who had the job before me. It was a toxic work environment and it really helped me when he replied to my email and said “No, you’re not crazy, the things you’re experiencing really are weird and happened to me too. Hang in there, update your resume, there is life after XYZ Corp.”

        Just hearing from someone who had been in my exact shoes was tremendously helpful and I really appreciated it. Still do and it’s been almost 10 years now.

  4. KarenT*


    I might actually meet with her. She may just wants to learn more about your career trajectory or advice on applying for jobs in your industry. Toxic workplaces can really do a number on a person–she’s probably feeling dejected and wants to speak to someone who can relate.
    That said, I’d absolutely avoid talking about your old workplace or saying anything negative about your old bosses. You never know how that could bite you in the butt!

    1. IronMaiden*

      On the other hand, she might want to meet someone who walked away and lived to tell the story.

      1. Anonna Miss*

        I did this, early in my career. I was suddenly struggling after I’d switched offices within my company, though I’d excelled in the previous location. An admin told me that the person I replaced had had very similar issues, so I reached out. I didn’t want anything, other than validation that it wasn’t me, it was the new managers that I was working for.

        I’m sure it was a little presumptuous on my part, but they were kind enough to respond, and we became friendly email pals for a while. Just hearing that it was possible to leave those managers and find an equivalent position (minus the insane micromanagement) at another company stiffened my resolve to get out, which I did a few months later. Ironically, I now work for the same company that my predecessor went to, though they’ve since moved on.

        1. Feed Fido, Feed Fluffy*

          References go both ways. I think they deserve to be presented honestly, but I understand about burning bridges or rather stirring hornet’s nests. It doesn’t sound like you’d get a good reference from them, BUT do you want to piss them off?

          You could reply in a short manner implying no good came from the experience and an ironic reference to a self-help book on PTSD.

    2. OP #1*

      Thanks – I felt validated when I received her email, it wasn’t just me and I wasn’t crazy, although I know that now but it has taken almost a year to get there.

      I feel compassion for her situation, that role put me through hell and if she is in the same position then I really do feel for her.

      I really want nothing to do with the company but I understand the despair of feeling you will never have another job because you feel you are not good enough and don’t deserve it.

      1. long time lurker!*

        I was in a sort of similar situation once, and the person who replaced me reached out as well, and didn’t last long. (They didn’t get anyone in the role who stayed until they hired a man. Let’s just say there are very good reasons for that.)

        What I might do is be similarly diplomatic in your reply to her, if you don’t want to meet with her. One of the worst things about a toxic workplace is the gaslighting; you start to really wonder if there IS something wrong with you. A carefully worded reply in which you acknowledge that it’s a difficult workplace and that you’d really rather have a clean break for that reason could go a long way towards validating her concerns while keeping you out of it. You could even offer to meet up with her once she’s no longer with the company, should she choose to leave.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          Exactly. You begin to wonder if you are the problem when stuck in a toxic workplace for any extended length of time.

      2. Elkay*

        The nicest email I ever got was one that said “I’m beginning to understand why you left”, as awful as a situation is it’s great to know you’re not the only one.

        I think I’d email her back and if possible let her know that it’s not just her, it happened to you too (in non-specific language). You don’t have to meet up with her but I think it would be nice if you can give her the validation she gave you.

      3. fiat lux*

        OP #1, you sound like a kind & compassionate soul, and I can understand the temptation to help your replacement. However, I agree with Alison’s advice to leave this in the past. The old job destroyed your self worth and dignity and caused you to have panic attacks – I think it’s wonderful that you made a clean break and I would keep it that way. I understand why your replacement reached out to you, but she presumably has other mentors and confidantes that can help her through this situation.

      4. John*

        Far too many of us have been where you were. It destroys one’s self-esteem. So glad to hear you are on the mend and in a great situation.

        Think of it this way: how can you really help her? It’s too late to warn her off and it’s not as though she needs help trying to figure out what is wrong with the environment; she has indicated that it’s toxic.

        If you were to the point of panic attacks, keeping that experience in the distant past is a good goal. Is there anything she could say that will help with your PTSD? Probably not.

      5. The Other Dawn*

        I’m thinking she’s looking for the same thing: validation for what she’s seeing and feeling. She might be wondering if she’s being too sensitive or if it’s just new job jitters. I personally would meet up with her, but be careful about getting sucked into the drama.

        1. AMG*

          precisely. She’s not meeting up with the old coworkers who belittled her; she would be meeting with someone who is probably as desperate for help as she was. Give her the validatation, tell her what you have learned, and then go on with your life. It’s good Karma.

      6. Bend & Snap*

        Honestly, given how hard it is to shake off an environment like that, I wouldn’t do it. It won’t help you. You know it’s toxic, you know it wasn’t you, and that’s all you need.

        Keep moving forward.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          I agree with you, Bend & Snap.

          If the new employee puts a little thought into it, she’ll realize that OP left because of the toxicity of that workplace.

          OP, don’t get involved with this. You’ve worked so hard to get over all the emotional crap from that place. Meeting with this girl will set you back who-knows-how-far. Just tell her to think about looking for another job and call it quits.

      7. Gilby*

        I actually did this.

        I worked at a “toxic” place as well. They hired in a gal that was just out of college for a position not the same as mine but same basic dept. ( I was cust serv she was sales and we worked together all the time).

        She figured out how bad it was pretty quick. I didn’t say much at that point. When I left we briefly kept in touch by email and she asked to meet with me. No problem.

        She vented, expressed her frustations and already had a plan if she left. She just needed to vent and probably have someone who gets what she is saying.

        I met with her only that one time. Got an email later ( within a week or 2 if I remember correctly) she walked out and never looked back. Moved back home and got a new job.

        Granted I knew this person so that made it a little easier but still I could have just said no to the coffee.

        OP, certainly it is up to you and I am not saying you should or shouldn’t.

        I personally had no problem encocuraging the gal I spoke with to do what she felt she needed to do. If I at all helped her get out of a situation she was miserable in then my hour of time was worth it.

        If you meet with her, stay on track for advice on career stuff. Don’t get sucked into dogging on the company ( OK maybe a little chuckling here and there on how they sucked) and also have a timeframe to end the conversation. That way, you can keep it short sweet and to the point.

        Either decision you make, to meet or not is up to you and no one will judge you either way.

      8. TP*

        OP #1, I found your situation inspiring. I left a very toxic place only to walk right into another. After only 9 months, I’m already looking and hoping to find what you described with your current job. One can only dream! In any case, I once had my replacement reach out to me and while I agree that mentally it may be best to move on, I was more than happy to speak with said person to give some perspective. I am always appreciative when others listen and help me navigate tough situations so I looked at it a way for me to do the same. I also found it helpful for me too as a way of seeking closure and like others said, validation of knowing that it was not just me.

      9. T*

        I’m on the side of those who think it would be kind of you to meet with her, but I would strongly encourage you to set boundaries. One option would be to refer her to today’s post. You haven’t said anything here that would get you in trouble as you have not spelled out specifics, but what you wrote in your original question to Alison is enough to get the point across that the situation is really bad and there’s no saving it it.

    3. Jess*

      Yeah, I am in the boat that it would be a kindness to respond to her – and I would do coffee rather than email if possible, just so there isn’t a trail.

      I agree that a bad job, like a bad SO, can really do a number on your psyche and self-esteem. It’s true she’s a grown woman , but even grown women could use a sympathetic ear and some good advice from someone who’s been there once in a while.

      I don’t see her ratting you out to the former employer, honestly, though I guess it could happen. In this case I think the potential for doing good in this situation outweighs the potential for bad things happening by quite a bit, but it’s your call.

    4. Chris*

      Similar to Karen T, I am wondering if she might be hoping to network or get help finding other jobs in your industry. It might be possible to discuss those issues (if you feel up for it), but avoid talking about your old workplace.

  5. Esra*

    I include that last sentence because (a) I find it fascinating to see what people say, and (b) I am horrible person who wants to see them squirm.

    100%. I’m so horrible, I want the letter writer to call them out and report back.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Look higher in the thread – Alison answered a similar question and gave a few examples…

  6. Pizza Squared*

    #5 Maybe it varies by industry, but in all my years I have never had a company schedule the next interview at the end of a phone interview. At most, they’ll give guidance on when I’ll hear from them about next steps. But even that I take with a grain of salt.

    1. Neeta*

      I’ve never had it either. Or at most, I got sent preliminary online test and was told that if I passed, I’d be contacted within a week (and they contacted me the following day).

      Bot other than that, everyone told me some variation of we’ll contact you if you move on.

    2. Betsy*

      I’m in the same position. I have more than once been told, “someone will be in touch to schedule a follow-up”, but in my experience, the person doing the phone interview is never the only person involved in an in-person interview, so even if they absolutely 100% know they want to interview you in person, the logistics aren’t something that can be settled without talking to some other people.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It depends. I do phone interviews a lot where I’m the sole decision-maker of whether they’re moving forward to an in-person interview. But either way, the point is the same — which is don’t read anything into it.

    3. Graciosa*

      I actually have two variations of closing. One is a more generic thank-you-someone-will-be-in-touch. The second gives a lot more detail about the steps (there are a lot for our company, and I don’t like surprising people) while still preserving the IF-you-are-selected wording. However, I almost hate to post this because there is no one magic code or secret decoder ring that works universally – this one only works if you happen to be interviewing with Graciosa, and doesn’t mean that someone else on the panel won’t change my mind after you’ve gone home.

      I did once have a morning interview and receive a phone call at the end of the same day to schedule a second interview. I am sure what the interviewers did was wait until they completed the full day of initial interviews and decide who to move forward, but they were trying to move unusually quickly. That’s the fastest I’ve experienced.

      1. Sarahnova*

        I once had a F2F interview for an internship and got called and offered the role while I was waiting for the bus home! That was pretty sweet.

    4. Felicia*

      The first couple phone interviews I had, they scheduled the in person interview at the end of the phone interview. Then suddenly I started encountering companies that didn’t do that, so I was convinced I didn’t get it because I didn’t realize it varies. In my experience anyways, scheduling the in person interview at the end of a phone interview happens about half the time with entry level jobs here. Depends on the company. But if OP had only encountered companies where they schedule the in person at the end of the phone interview and this is their first one that doesn’t, it makes sense they’re worried. A lot of phone interviews, for me anyways, end with you’ll hear from us either way, which usually means no.

  7. bob*

    Question about #2 for Alison: Is it okay to use the modified cover letter with a really small footnote at the bottom for credit?

    I’m (mostly) joking because you guys blame me for everything!

    Actually I used your advice on my cover letters and tidied up my resume a couple of years ago after being out of work for 2 1/2 years and scored 4 interviews in 2 weeks which was actually more than the previous 2 1/2 years combined.

  8. LAI*

    #3 Do you work in my office? My supervisors have a policy of giving everybody “meets expectations” on their first review because “everyone has room to improve”. This is despite comments that literally say “this person has exceeded our expectations” or “extraordinary” or “outstanding”. This doesn’t make any sense to me – of course everyone has room to improve, and maybe it’s fair to say that no one should get the highest score in every category, but I don’t really see the point of a performance review if you’re just going to arbitrarily mark everyone down. It destroys morale, and then I have no idea which areas I should be working on improving but everything’s the same. Good luck OP! I definitely agree that you should ask your boss. I wish I had asked when this happened to me but it didn’t affect my salary so I just let it go.

    1. Joolsey woolsey*

      I couldn’t agree more! On my first review I was given ‘meets expectations’ for almost everything even quantifiable things like attendance. I had never missed a day or been late once and when I quried it I was told that I couldn’t have exceeds expectations and that no one can have a exceeds expectations because everyone’s got room to improve. So when I asked what I could do to improve my attendance I was met with a blank stare and my boss just kept repeating ‘you can’t have exceeds expectations’ .

      Talk about demotivating!!!

      1. CAA*

        Some appraisal forms are not well designed. If the basic expectation for attendance is that you come to work on time every day, then the only valid ratings for that item are Meets Expectations or Needs Improvement.

        The problem is when the form has the same rating scale for everything, even where all values are not applicable.

      2. LQ*

        My boss has a blanket policy on things like attendance. If you show up when you are supposed to that meets expectations. You can’t really exceed expectations on that.
        Honestly I think that makes a lot of sense. I can’t show up any harder than I already do. If you show up late a lot that is subpar. But there isn’t really an above par on this metric. I should be expected to show up every day, call in when I’m sick, and plan vacation time ahead when possible.
        It isn’t that there is room to improve, it is that the expectation is that you do it. If you didn’t show up you’d be failing at that one.

        I’d focus a lot more on how to exceed expectations on other things that should matter more to your boss like how you performed when you were there. Because there are plenty of people who just show up and think that’s enough, not saying that’s you, but saying that that is where you can set yourself apart from others. We all show up but I just do the minimum and you go above and beyond helping customers? That’s the thing to try to highlight.

        1. OP #3*

          I can very much understand that you can’t exceed expectations with categories about being on time, but these are all categories that are more subjective in my situation. Unfortunately this form is pretty bad, and it’s given to people both at entry level positions and people like myself in senior positions.

          So frustrating as it’s not a ranking/budget issue either–I’m senior enough to know if it was. Just a frustrating boss issue!

          I will certainly be asking her about it in a “how can I exceed expectations” way, just wanted a sounding board to make sure I wasn’t nuts for bringing it up at all. :)

          1. LQ*

            I think asking how you can exceed expectations is a great idea. As is making sure that the expectations for the coming year are clearly laid out (so you can better know how to go above and beyond).

            I’d definitely ask it in a way of really trying to find out how to do better, how to be exceptional.

          2. KrisL*

            Asking how you can exceed expectations is usually a good thing, at least if you can say it in a way that indicates that you are eagerly looking for ways to improve.

      3. Gussie Fink-Nottle*

        I had a similar experience in my last performance evaluation :”you do this job better than anyone else, but doing your job well is meeting expectations. You can not ever get exceeding expectations unless you save the company from disaster.” It took me a long time to realize how ridiculous that blanket statement was, especially as a measuring stick for someone in an entry-level sales position. It was very, very demoralizing, even though it didn’t effect my compensation at all.

    2. Judy*

      I actually think that is corporate policy here. The first year, you have to have “Meets Expectations”. I believe the rationale is that you shouldn’t give “Needs Improvement” to a new person, but they worded it badly.

      1. A Dispatcher*

        What if the new person actually does need pretty massive improvement (beyond the normal learning curve of course)? Or is your company actually pretty good at weeding out those who aren’t quite cutting it before they make it a year?

        I have less of a problem with the mandatory first year scoring as long as the comments are reflective of performance issues and/or areas where the candidate excels than I do with the curving system mentioned below (MaryMary’s comment – that bothers me to no end). After all, it’s the content of the critique that matters more than the mark, but it can still be very demotivating to an employee who really puts the effort in to receive the same “score” as one who is thiiis close to being fired tomorrow.

        1. Judy*

          I believe that they can put someone on a PIP within the first 90 days, but beyond that, they protect the new hires. This is also about forced rankings, because I’ve heard that managers would hire people specifically to have someone to give the low rankings to.

      2. Youth Services Librarian*

        At my library, to get a small (1 to 1/2 percent) raise, staff have to have all 4s or all “exceeds expectations” on their evaluation. The problem is, we are NOT supposed to give out all 4s. We have to add up all the scores, so we have to keep the evaluation low, but if your supervisor doesn’t have to add them up, just put in an arbitrary number, she may be giving what she thinks is an accurate evaluation and then putting in a lower final number.

    3. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I’m not surprised to hear this because it seems to be the trend that nobody is going to get A+ reviews because that might mean you’d be eligible for a raise. It has nothing to do with you, it’s office policy/money saving crap again.

    4. AMG*

      We can’t have any because it goes back to bonus payouts; the company doesn’t want to do that.

      1. TBoT*

        This. My company has bonuses and raises as a zero-sum game based on everyone getting an X percent raise and 100 percent of their target bonus. Higher performance ratings come with an automatically bigger bonus, which means taking money away from someone else. If everyone is being awesome, there is no one whose bonus deserves to be lowered so that someone else can get an Exceeds Expectations.

        It sucks and I hate it.

        1. TBoT*

          (It sucks and I hate it as a manager of amazing people. I don’t care much that I’ve never gotten an “exceeds expectations” myself because I know it would come at the expense of one of my own manager’s other direct reports. )

    5. Noelle*

      I got a “meets expectations” on an evaluation once and I was pretty upset because my boss had told me numerous times I was one of his best performers. When he gave me my evaluation, he even said that it wasn’t fair, but the company had a policy that only two or three people could “exceed” expectations, and the CEO had picked those people (shockingly, the people who exceeded expectations were the ones the CEO liked the best, and not the best workers).

      1. Bend & Snap*

        My company does this too–only certain people can get the highest marks. Ditto the “meets expectations” for the first year.

      2. Graciosa*

        This is horribly unfair, and you had every right to be upset. The only glimmer of a silver lining is that your boss was honest with you about what was going on so that you would know what you were dealing with and could make the decision to move on.

        I hope you did. Companies that behave this way don’t deserve to employ top performers.

        1. Noelle*

          I actually did end up leaving a few months after that. It was partly because of this issue, but also because my job completely changed and I was expected to run a department even though I was hired as an assistant. The job experience was great, but they refused to promote me or give me a raise, so I left.

          I really liked my boss at that job, and he was a nice guy. But he wouldn’t ever stand up for me or any of his other employees.

      3. AdminAnon*

        My organization uses a 1-5 scale, but on the evaluation sheet there are guidelines and percentages of the workforce who typically recieve each level. For instance, 5 (Distinguished) is described as “exceedingly rare” and “showing an unusual level of initiative and leadership.” That score is listed as including 2-5% of the total workforce population. 4 (Commendable) is 10-15%, 3 (Competent) is 60-80%, and from there it goes back down. 3 is not a bad score, but for someone who was always a straight A student, it sure felt like a slap in the face until it was explained. And honestly, the description of competent performance sounds pretty darn good.

    6. Dan*

      I learned over the years to not get personally “invested” in the performance reviews. They are a game that you have to learn how to play. They are about politics. Seldom are they about your performance in a vacuum.

      I show up, I do my job, I get my paycheck, I play the game. If I get raises that I like, I stick around. If I don’t, I leave. At my last job, I had to go three years before getting any raise whatsoever. My second review was pretty decent. I told my boss that “no raise and no bonus” send a loud and clear message though.

    7. Dan*

      Speaking of performance reviews, at a recent interview that I had, the interviewer asked me what my areas for improvement were on my last review. I listed a bunch of technical stuff that I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to. (At that company, we had to do a “self review” which was more or less for the managers to copy and paste from. I became quite good at filling out the “needs improvement” section ;) It’s the grown-up version of the “biggest weakness” question.)

      The interviewer looked at me and said, “Those don’t sound like criticisms to me.” I said, “Who said they had to be? Areas for improvement are just that — things to grow and develop.” He didn’t argue the point.

      The guy was otherwise such a dick that I really wanted to tell him to STFU and walk out of the interview. My favorite was him spending a fair amount of time pointing out that I don’t have finance experience. (Well yeah, it’s not on my resume, and if it’s a deal breaker, why didn’t you phone screen for it? It’s one thing to lie about it and get caught, but when I never advertised it in the first place…) I told him I wasn’t going to apologize for not doing something my government client specifically told me to avoid.

      He also demanded to know why I got laid off from a government contractor. Like I know. He point blank asked me, “If you’re so good, why did you get laid off instead of someone else?”

      The problem in my field is that I do a fair number of out-of-town interviews, so walking out of interviews generally means I get more time to do nothing at the airport. And probably have to pay for my own taxi ride and lunch…

    8. Gail L*

      I don’t mind if they have to bend to some bureaucratic rules too much, and end up having to change how many people get certain scores. What does bug me, though, is that anyone who “has room for improvement” should have a definable pathway to achieve it. It drives me bonkers if the manager says you can improve but won’t tell you how!

      1. OP #3*

        Absolutely, and that’s the situation here. All the comments are glowing, there are projects we want to start this year, etc. but no comments on *how* to improve or even that improvement is necessary. So frustrating!

    9. Layla*

      This is so funny because at our orgainzation, in order for a manager to give a exeeds expectations or needs improvement, it has to be signed off on by the director of the department. A role model or below expectation rating has to be signed off on by the director and the vice president. Fortunately, my manager in my division will judge fairly and will get them signed off, but the manager in the other division refuses to give anything above or below “meets expectations” because she doesn’t believe a director or vice president who doesn’t see the day to day workings of employees can validate a high rating or low rating, even though she has some pulling 80% of the load and some only working 10% of the time.

  9. Jeremy*

    I have issues with the phrasing of the response to #1. While I agree that OP might be better off not getting sucked back in, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a “fully-functioning adult” seeking career advice.

    That person is trying to navigate a tough situation, and going to those with prior experience is one of the best ways to do that. That’s the crux off career mentorship, and I think dismissing it with comments like this is a problematic stance.

    Again, doesn’t mean OP should necessarily meet with her, or that OP would be wrong to turn her down. But the person wasn’t wrong to reach out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My point is that the OP doesn’t need to feel guilty if she decides she doesn’t want to get involved / wants nothing more to do with this place. This isn’t like refusung to offer a hand to someone who’s drowning; it’s okay to decide she can’t help here.

      1. BCW*

        But she CAN help. Its her choice not to, but its not like she can’t do it. Of course she doesn’t have to do it, but if it really was that bad, I would think as a human you could empathize, and would want to. Its like why they have people who have survived cancer or abuse work with others. (I’m clearly not trying to compare a bad work situation to those things). But once you have survived something that, as the OP said, psychologically affected her, you look for help to someone who had the same experience. People all the time ask others the best way to handle manager Jane, etc. This is no different.

        1. KellyK*

          I think Allison means “can’t” as in “doesn’t have the emotional resources to be risk getting sucked back into that,” not literally “can’t.” Which is a valid decision. It’s not that she’s just saying “Meh, I don’t want to spend free time talking to this person when I’d rather play Angry Birds.”

          1. Colette*

            Exactly. One of the first principles of first aid is to make sure that it’s safe for you to help – the same thing applies here. If getting together with her replacement is going to cause the OP distress that she isn’t able to deal with, she is not obligated to do it.

          2. Dan*

            We overuse the word “can’t” in this society — far beyond its dictionary definition. “Won’t” or “don’t want to” are far more accurate wordings in most situation.

            It’s like saying “I can’t afford that.” In reality, I can afford just about any one thing, but I can’t afford everything. I have to pick and choose what I spend my money on. “Not a budget priority” is a far more accurate statement.

            1. LQ*

              We overuse the word because we don’t accept “I emotionally don’t have the capacity to handle this right now” as an acceptable reason to not, so people say can’t. People see everything as a negotiation and so saying can’t is like starting at a higher salary amount that you would really accept. If you want people to stop using the word “can’t” we have to as a whole start accepting “no” the first time everyone says it, no qualifiers, no pushing, just accept it.

            2. samaD*

              I have to disagree.

              “won’t” indicates you wouldn’t even if the circumstances changed and “don’t want to” indicates that no matter what the circumstances it’s not something you would choose to do (though potentially you might be swayed on that, depending on the tone of the statement).

              “can’t” indicates that you’ve looked at it and determined that it is something you might do if the circumstances changed but that currently you are not able to for some reason. If you “can’t afford that”, then you’ve determined that while this is something you might choose to spend money on, given other circumstances, you are not currently able to do so. If you “can’t go” it could be because you don’t have the money, don’t have permission, don’t have a way to get there, or any number of other reasons.

        2. Bend & Snap*

          How much value is there to really add here? Polish up the resume and start looking. There’s no navigating an insane workplace or making it better. You just have to get out.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Exactly. I don’t see any way this meeting ends up not being more drama for the OP (and the replacement, frankly), and there’s no need for it. The OP could certainly write back something to validate the person’s concerns — like “I found it to be a very difficult environment and I’m so glad to have moved on that I don’t think any good would come from me revisiting it now, but I wish you the best of luck with it” — but actually meeting up is going to result in rehashing and drama and it’s unnecessary for both of them.

    2. John*

      Just because OP had the job before her doesn’t mean OP is obligated to play Designated Savior. In fact, having been psychologically damaged by the situation, OP is probably pretty poorly equipped to be much help and only risks further damage to her psyche.

      If OP’s successor realizes it’s a toxic atmosphere, the only thing that will help is for them to get the heck out of there. That person certainly needs a support system, but friends and family are better positioned to do that.

      1. Jeremy*

        “That person certainly needs a support system” is exactly my point. It’s ok to need a support system, and it’s ok to reach out to OP in this context. It’s also ok for OP to politely decline.

        It’s NOT ok for a third party to discourage OP from helping on the premise that this person is a fully functioning adult who can solve it alone. That’s nonsense.

  10. Neeta*

    I include that last sentence because [..] I am horrible person who wants to see them squirm.


    … sorry I couldn’t help myself, but I totally pictured a mad cackling following that phrase.

  11. Felix*

    Regarding #1, the good that could come of it is that they could help out another person in a difficult situation, one in which the OP is likely specially positioned to help due to having had the same job. They’re not obligated to do so and certainly should be aware of the possibility of getting emotionally sucked back in, but the OP says she wants to help and is in a much better space now. They should also be careful not to pre-judge the situation and assume that the problems the new person is dealing with are the same as those the OP was, because they may or may not be. But if the OP thinks they could handle it, then this could be an opportunity for both parties to learn.

  12. Chocolate Teapot*

    3. I would ask for clarification between “Exceeds Expectations” and “Meets Expectations”. It can be the difference between getting a bonus or not!

    (Obviously, you don’t want to sound as if you are only interested in the additional cash, even if it is true).

    1. majigail*

      One nice thing about where I work is that each level is defined on the form. However, what I don’t like is that there are 5 levels and Meets Expectations is in the middle. Some people really get upset when they don’t get Exceeds or Distinguished performance because they still think that the thing in the middle equates to a C and the thing at the top is an A. The thing is that sometimes, you’re doing a good job at doing the job you signed up for. That’s meeting the expectation and that’s still good. To get to the next level, you have to be firing on all cylinders and looking for additional things outside of your job description to exceed at.

  13. Hugo*

    #4 – people missing 30 out of 180 work days and they still have a job?!? I take it these are completely unexcused absences on top of any authorized sick days or vacation time?

    1. A Dispatcher*

      It seems crazy to me too, although I must admit I have zero familiarity with school bus drivers schedules and policies. I have to wonder with such a high rate of missed days, if maybe these aren’t missed scheduled shifts, but rather if it’s a type of on call/substitute situation and employees who are supposed to be able to cover shifts for others aren’t coming in.

      1. RG*

        As someone familiar with the school bus industry… If they were excused absences, it could be the employer trying to work with an otherwise good employee. Unexcused absences – we’re usually 3 and done. Not having a consistent driver on the route becomes a safety issue (knowing the route, the students, where the hazards are, who the troublemakers are).

        The demographic for drivers really depends too – our urban terminals are route with 20 to 40+ hrs a week during the school year, and are largely staffed by drivers for whom this is their primary job – it’s largely a younger/middle age crowd, probably with families. The more rural/suburban terminals tend to have fewer hours available and are staffed by retirees (maybe some parents with school aged children) and are more solidly a part-time gig.

        1. Michael*

          Most of the jobs at our location are considered “full time” (30 or more hours per week), and are the drivers’ primary jobs. Some of them just know that they can take a day off here and there and get away with it. My intention is to come up with a plan that would alleviate the easy time off. (Warning letters, route times cut, and eventually termination.) Right now there’s no deterrent.

    2. Jennifer*

      I feel like there should be some sort of Ferris Bueller joke in here, because 30 times?!

      1. Graciosa*

        But Ferris was smart enough to alter the records – by the time the principal called home, he no longer had an unacceptable record of absences.

        Now if the 30 absences were to attend computer science classes, maybe they deserve to keep their jobs? ;-)

    3. sunny-dee*

      Or abusing FMLA. I did some contract work for a hospital vendor who mentioned in passing that over 40% of their workforce (housekeeping) was on FMLA on any given day. Mainly, when those days were sunny or bad weather or there were events going on that people wanted to go to.

      They were taking steps to correct that.

      1. De Minimis*

        We had a lot of that at a former workplace, but I think some of it was due to the environment and the management’s attitude toward use of leave that encouraged abuse of FMLA and of sick leave in general.

    4. Michael*

      What usually happens is that the driver accumulates sick time, then conveniently gets “sick”, usually on Fridays or Mondays. Bus drivers don’t have Vacations other than the periodic breaks that the students get.

  14. FiveNine*

    With the tweaks the OP said we’re in the cover letter, at some point isn’t the base letter a template? Especially when it had been promoted among and on HR and job hunting sites as an example of an outstanding cover letter (which I strongly disagree with, but that’s another matter).

    1. NW Cat Lady*

      Why do you strongly disagree that it’s an outstanding cover letter? I’m genuinely curious.

      1. FiveNine*

        I personally thought it was exceedingly long for a cover letter — especially for someone who in the first sentences highlighted her skills as a writer — and that it was repetitive, and that its tone or language was somewhat off-putting (I think she twice insisted she is the perfect candidate for the job, for example).

        I know it’s all highly subjective, but I would never advise a job-seeker to use that particular letter as any kind of model. But I’m sincere in my question about distinctions between a template and accusations of plagiarism and taking glee in confronting a job applicant about “plagiarism” in a letter that has been tweaked. (Not that I would hire that person, but I’ll just say it now: With that letter being all over the place as some sort of model, people are going to be seeing variations of it now for probably at least the next half decade.)

        1. Blue Anne*

          Yeah, I can understand that. I’m a bit ambivalent on that style.

          On the one hand, I don’t think that I would use such a “casual” and outgoing style in a letter to an employer I really, really, really wanted to work for.

          On the other hand, I might be convinced otherwise over time, because a while ago I wrote a cover letter in that style to send to a recruiter, sent it off in the evening, and got a call at 9 AM the next morning. Before that I hadn’t gotten any calls at all. So I’m definitely using it for recruiters at the moment.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t want to rehash this here as it was discussed to death on the original post, but the point wasn’t that it was a perfect cover letter with zero flaws; there are things I would change about it if I were writing it. But this is missing the forrest for the trees; overall, it worked incredibly well for her particular context.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            I didn’t realize cover letters were still much in use. I wonder if they’re more prevalent in particular industries or roles…

            I’ve never used one when job searching, nor I have seen them from candidiates I’ve hired..

    2. OP #2*

      The tweaks didn’t add any new content. It was more like mad lib style tweaks– insert job title, etc.

      The candidate’s background and the position’s requirements are so different from the original LW’s situation that the cover letter makes no sense now. Like ending with “I’d never be late” when this candidate delete the earliest sentence about living nearby, and would in fact have an hour commute. And the fact that the many hats this candidate says she wore (same as the original) are 100% unrelated to this position. And on and on…

      1. fiat lux*

        Mad-Libs-style tweaks? Yikes! Please call her out and report back, I’ll grab the popcorn ;-)

      2. My Scintillating Pseudonym*

        Please tell me she left in the “She Who Must Be Obeyed.”


      3. John*

        That’s like the emails I receive from college students who, in their opening line, invariably say that their life-long career goal has been to work as [BLANK]. And since what I do is very specific — not lawyer, doctor, accountant — I find that really hard to believe.

        1. My Scintillating Pseudonym*

          I read that wrong at first and thought they actually left it so it read [BLANK] and was obviously a template they were working from.

          I’ve actually seen a variation on that, sadly–someone writing that they’d heard about the job from (website). Just “website” in parentheses.

    3. fposte*

      The places that promoted it as a template were also plagiarizing, though.

      Alison offered it as an example, not a template.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, the sample letter isn’t a template. I don’t know how loudly I can say it, but it’s absolutely not a template. It worked for a very specific set of circumstances. It wasn’t intended as a template, nor would I ever provide a template. It’s an example, and there’s a difference, and I’m very comfortable holding it against people who try to make it their own rather than simply using it for inspiration.

      1. Dan*

        A lot of people probably don’t know the difference. I know that when I’m first learning how to do some math or software thing that I don’t know how to do, I will piece together some code from the internet to help. I can “tweak” it to do what I want, but it still very much looks like the original code that I grabbed. It’s hard to use it just as “inspiration” if I truly have no idea how to do that.

        There’s some pretty cut and dried rules about what constitutes appropriate use, so simply reusing found code doesn’t automatically make it plagiarism. Bonus points if it’s released under the GPL, which is always acceptable for my purposes.

          1. Dan*

            Depends on how you look at it, and what the purpose for whatever it is you’re doing is.

            Point being, in my world, the finished product is what counts. How it got there, not so much. When you have people who “train” with that mentality, it wouldn’t surprise me if they are the first to copy/paste something and turn it in… like a cover letter.

            While that may be a poor example, job hunting for something that doesn’t require my degree is actually a foreign experience. Sure, a cover letter helps me and all, but it will not make up for a poor resume. My degree and experience really matter, and really do form the base of initial selection criteria.

        1. LQ*

          I do coding too but this is a universe of difference from coding.

          This would be like taking a book and going well 50 shades of grey worked great for someone else so I’m going to change out the names to be Bella and Edward.

          Totally ok to take a piece of code and drop in your url as you work something together because that snippet worked. There are only so many ways to make code work. Entirely NOT ok with something like this.

          1. Felicia*

            I laughed at your example because 50 Shades of Grey went from fanfiction to a book by changing the names of Bella and Edward. Presumably you example was on purpose, but you also basically described how bad fanfiction is written.

            1. LQ*

              Exactly what I was going for ;) It would also be hilarious if someone didn’t know and somehow did that. (Especially since EL James is apparently really harsh on those who write fanfic in “her” universe which is disturbing and amusing.)

  15. MaryMary*

    #3 Absolutely talk to your manager, but keep in mind that when performance evaluation categories are used, managers are often limited by how many people can be placed in each category. It could be that at your organization, only 5-10% of employees receive an exceeds expectation rating. Some organizations rank performance like a professor would grade on a curve: if there were only four people in the organization who recieved a needs improvement, then there are only four exceeds expectations. You could be doing a great job, but receive a “high meets expectations” because you weren’t in the top 5% or 10%.

      1. OP #3*

        To my knowledge we have no system like this, but since so many people here seem to have such a system maybe I need to dig into this further to make 100% sure…

    1. Steve*

      I worked at a place that graded on a curve. They adjusted ratings until 68% of people got a 3 out of 5 – exactly the percentage within one standard deviation. 14% got a 4 and only 2% were allowed to get a 5 rating (and similarly for 2 and 1, respectively). It’s like stack ranking but more bureaucratic.

  16. The Other Dawn*

    #2: Alison’s comment: (b) I am horrible person who wants to see them squirm.

    Yeah, I’m a horrible person, too. I love to call people out on crap like that. If you have the balls to do something like that, I’m going to put you under the microscope and watch you squirm.

    1. Jennifer*

      Sadly, I think if you write them about this, they’ll either just not write back or make up lame excuses. But probably the former.

  17. AdAgencyChick*

    Dear Hiring Manager (actually, Dear Alison):

    You are a tease. Please tell us about the reactions you have gotten when you have called people out on plagiarizing cover letters. Or do they mostly just slink off into the night, never to be heard from again?

    AdAgencyChick (who did not plagiarize this letter)

    1. Bryan*

      What about a top list (I love when everybody comments with their best story on the topic) of finding out how candidates lied ?

    2. H. Vane*

      I think it’d be fun to call them for an interveiw to confront them. It would be a public service and it would cut down on the people who slink away.

  18. TotesMaGoats*

    #3-Unless a new hire has radically distinguished themselves in the first year, they’ll get “meets expectations” from me. I actually just did my annual evaluations. Had a new employee, only been with me for 5 months but I was on maternity leave for 3 of those months. Also, given the learning curve for the job, it would take at least a year to get to the point where you knew enough to “exceed expectations”.

    I do take issue with things like attendance being on an annual evaluation with anything other than “pass/fail” for lack of better wording. Either you show up on time when you are supposed to be there or you don’t.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      It’s hard with people coming from college, because they’re used to a pretty inflated grade system and they often view appraisals the same way. So for someone to get “meets expectations” they often view that as equivalent to a “C” grade, which is pretty shocking for a good student. So for my folks transitioning from college I explain to them that this is a very different system in college, and that “meets expectations” is very good because our expectations are high and we expect good work from people. But I do try to lay out what an “exceeds expectations” will look like.

      But trying to get them away from thinking of it compared to grades in school is generally helpful, especially to the overachievers. My first “meets expectations” I was thinking “OMG what do you mean I’m not a special and wonderful snowflake anymore? I’VE FAILED!”

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        In this particular case, the employee was a “seasoned” (if you’ll pardon the term) person. He understood my rationale on his ratings and agreed. I also know he’ll be exceeding expectations next year.

        But you are right Katie, those special snowflakes don’t understand that meeting expectations isn’t failure. Someone needs to teach a class on that at college.

        1. FiveNine*

          Additionally, though, there’s the very real issue of some workplaces — both in government and private sector — truly not giving raises based on the company’s or government’s own skewed accounting of what deserves a raise, and a simple “meets expectations” often does equate to if not failure then something kind of close to it (nothing at all). So while for many new workers there may be misunderstanding about the rating of “meets expectations,” there’s this other distinct matter of an employee’s compensation.

          1. TotesMaGoats*

            Yeah, compensation isn’t tied to our evaluations. For good or for ill. Actually, this year for the first time in about 8 years, we are getting merit and COLA. It’s a miracle. And everyone who got meets expectation or higher is getting merit.

            1. OP #3*

              I can certainly understand that perspective and would be completely fine with it if that was the policy and explained. But “exceeding expectations” in individual categories, yet getting an overall ranking (which theoretically is supposed to reflect the categorical rankings) of “meets expectations” is very puzzling.

              I’ve been out of school for a while, so I understand that meeting expectations isn’t a bad thing! It’s just the discrepancy that is frustrating in addition to the fact that here “meets expectations” vs. “exceed” can lower our one chance for a yearly raise quite a bit. We’re a state university for more context.

              Wish my boss was as upfront about that as you!

      2. ArtsNerd*

        Hehe I had the same reaction.

        It didn’t really help that my boss was just like “hey, you’re in competition with everyone else for that ‘exceeds expectations’ and they’re really experienced.” I really didn’t have the same context I do now, and without concrete direction on how to reach that “exceeds expectations” level it all seemed like such a cop-out to me.

      3. Lucy*

        This is so true. It also explains why a lot of people (myself included, when I first started out) believe they should be rapidly climbing the ranks just because they are competent at their jobs. You’re expected to be competent at your job! I think it can be jarring to people to realize that while you move up in school every year, that mentality doesn’t necessarily apply at work.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          Which is a good argument for why students shouldn’t be promoted in grade school just because. Make them stay back.

      4. Dan*

        The important thing (in the private sector) is what kind of bonuses/raises get paid out to “meets expectations.” If the company policy is that those ratings get jack squat, it doesn’t matter how nicely the manager puffs up “meets expectations.” At my last job, I went three review cycles to get my first raise. It doesn’t matter what nice things you say about me, at some point, literally no raises means I can no longer afford to work there.

        Folks at my current employer told me to expect consistent 2%-3% raises outside of the rare level increase. I told them after getting the bagel for two straight years at my last job, 3% consistently is quite welcome.

      5. Nichole*

        At the risk of being labeled a spoiled 80s kid, I’d say I view my reviews from this perspective. If I get a “meets expectations,” I wonder what I did wrong. I was an “exceeds expectations” kind of student and now I’m an “exceeds expectations” kind of employee. Now, in some jobs there is other context that colors it, but in an evaluation where I don’t know of any political or procedural reason why the numbers might be slanted, getting a C is exactly what it equates to in my mind. It’s “fine,” and I know I’m capable of better than fine.

        Disclaimer: I don’t get all pouty and have my mom call my boss if I get a “meets expectations.” I review the feedback and look for areas to improve so that I meet my own expectations.

  19. Joey*

    #1. I’m seeing a potential candidate here. I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to someone at my former company that was unhappy. Potentially their loss and my gain

  20. Joey*

    #3 the only logical explanation is that your boss is weighting the meets expectations performance expectations as more important. You might ask this specifically

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a really good point — if the “exceeds” were in stuff that aren’t the biggest priorities of the job, that could explain it easily.

      1. Dan*

        The other thing is that “overall” isn’t necessarily an average of the individual pieces. It’s almost a “big picture” rating.

        1. OP #3*

          True, although interestingly in my situation the “exceeds” categories are actually in the more important categories. The “meets” in my situation are more along the lines of the more generic things like getting along with others, etc. Those also have no comments, whereas the “exceeds” all have gushing comments.

          I just wish these were used as an opportunity for actual feedback on how and where to grow but it seems that is a rarity these days!

          1. Joey*

            I would ask anyhow. You’d be surprised at how important those things are. Many managers believe you have to exceed in those character/value type areas to be a top performer.

            1. Joey*

              I’ll revise my suggested wording to “can you give me some feedback on what’s holding me back from an exceeds rating”. Or “can you give me some examples of the types of things people did beyond what I did to achieve exceeds”.

          2. majigail*

            The thing is that a lot of times when someone meets expectations, I have no comments for them. How they go about exceeding them is up to them. For your example, getting along with others, I’d think that you do get along with the rest of the staff and customers. There have been no problems. No one’s been in my office crying. This is my expectation and you’ve met it. However Susie comes in every day with a big smile, greets everyone, is genuine and helpful and is always encouraging to her teammates. This would probably exceed my expectations. You’re doing nothing wrong at all, you’re just not blowing my mind on how great you get a long with your team.

            I could give you feedback, but it would end up being really generic. My favorite example of trying too hard comes from my little brother’s 7th grade social studies teacher who wrote on his report card, “he’s a good boy, he never hit anybody.”

  21. Darcy*

    #3: Another thing to keep in mind is that there is frequently a disconnect between performance definitions and employee expectations. Business Week did a study a few years ago and asked people if they were in the top 10% of performers at their job, and 90% of the people said they were. Most of us come to work and do the job that’s expected of us. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and meeting expectations is solid performance. Too many people equate this to the grading scale in school and since they were A students, they expect to always get the highest rating on the performance review form.
    Talk to you boss about the performance definitions so you’re on the same page. I also think it’s important to understand that most people solidly meet expectations overall, while exceeding expectations in areas of strength.

  22. Sunflower*

    #1- She is probably wanting both validation that she is right in her thoughts and also maybe tips on how to handle the toxicity.

    The other thing I would worry about is this probably isn’t a one time thing. If you offer to meet with her once, it could turn into once a month and then before you know it, she’s emailing you everyday to complain or ask for advice. I would be wary for this reason. You want to leave the bad workplace behind and I would maybe offer to keep in touch with her and throw some jobs her way if you see anything she could be a fit for.

  23. Lily in NYC*

    #5 – we never offer second interviews “on the spot” because we will meet as a group to discuss candidates after the first round and decide together who will be invited back. I wouldn’t worry about it.

    #3 – I used to work at a place that only allowed bosses to give “exceeds expectations” to one employee each review cycle because our raises were tied to them and they were cheap.

    #1 – I don’t see anything wrong with a call/coffee. Wouldn’t you have been grateful for the same opportunity when you were struggling there?

  24. Graciosa*

    To OP#3, please be very careful how you present yourself in this discussion. It would be very easy to convey an attitude of entitlement which could damage your relationship with this manager.

    I can’t speak for your manager, but I put an enormous amount of thought and effort into employee evaluations. I have had employees who received high rankings with only a few exceeds expectations, and employees who had mostly exceeds expectations and received mid-level rankings. This isn’t a matter of scoring a multiple-choice test where all you have to do is count.

    The difference for me comes in a couples areas. The first is the relative importance of the various goals and the impact to the business. Someone who did a mediocre job on a core responsibility did not exceed my expectations just because they did a fantastic job organizing the company picnic and planning an outing. Someone who did one extraordinary project that will forever change the way we do business may have exceeded my expectations even if they were only able to keep up with the rest of their work. The actual goals and the impact matter.

    The second factor is that yes, I do grade on a curve. The easiest example I can give you is that in a booming economy where the worst salesman exceeded his quota by 50%, exceeding by 52% doesn’t impress me. Top marks go to top performers, and individuals may not always have an accurate perspective on how their performance compares to that of their peers.

    This is why you have a conversation with your manager, and ask what you can do to improve your performance. Please, please, please do not approach this from an attack position and demand that your manager justify how he or she could have given you anything other than the best possible score. People who do this rarely absorb the answer and miss out on an important learning opportunity.

    You need to enlist your manager as an ally in your battle to move your performance to the next level, so go into the conversation with an open mind, a genuine desire to understand, and a little humility. I love helping people, and an open-minded request for guidance on how to improve performance is Christmas for me. I give regular feedback and look for ways to develop everyone on my team, but I admit to being moved to do more for those who have shown that they want – and will use – the extra help.

    Good luck.

    1. Robin*

      These are all good thoughts, and the OP’s contempt for the manager comes through so clearly in the letter, that I wonder if it isn’t showing through to the manager, too, and influencing the assessment.

      1. OP #3*

        Contempt is a pretty harsh word. We actually get along very well and have a great working relationship.

        Just *as a manager* she is not effective, which is something that frustrates everyone in our office on a daily basis. Think not answering important questions, making us wait around for her for hours for a scheduled meeting, etc.

        Graciosa, thank you. Yes, I absolutely want to address this with her as a “how can I exceed your expectations” conversation, not from a place of attack. I am mostly just confused with how these ranking worksheets work, I have worked my entire career at small non-profits where reviews were not standardized forms with check boxes. She also does not plan to have a sit down with any of us regarding our evaluations which is another problem altogether…but that’s for another day!

        1. Robin*

          Okay OP#3, maybe I overstated, but it still might bear some examination whether the manager can sense how you feel. Sometimes bad managers will penalize you for that more than good ones!

    2. MaryMary*

      Many times a performance evaluation that contains lots of praise and positive feedback but still ends with a meets expectations rating means that your manager went to bat for you, but couldn’t get your final evaluation moved up a level. Don’t assume that a rating of meets expectations means your manager isn’t on your side.

  25. Robin*

    OP #1, I feel your pain. I had a toxic job, and as part of not burning my bridges when I left, I agreed to help with the hiring of my replacement. Any time there was a candidate I liked at all, I had to do everything I could to not yell, “Run while still can!”

    You know best what you can handle, but if you think you can, I would meet with her. If there’s any way you can give her advice or support without getting sucked in, then there’s a person in your field who owes you one. You never know when that might help you down the line. If she already recognizes the toxic nature of the workplace, and you can validate her feelings, she probably won’t be there too long, either.

  26. Dang*

    #5- most of the time when I’ve had phone interviews, it’s with an HR rep who asks me very general questions about my experience and gives me an overview of the job. Then (s)he talks to the hiring team, tells them about the conversation, and gets back to me to schedule an in-person interview. Sometimes it’s the same day, sometimes it’s a few days later, but I don’t think it’s ever been on the spot while we’re still on the phone.

  27. OriginalYup*

    #1 – I was contacted once about a former job/boss. It turned out the other person wanted tips on how I’d survived so long in the position because none of my successors lasted a year. We both had to be very diplomatic in how we navigated the conversation, but I was able to give her some practical advice on how to handle a few recurring problems. It certainly wasn’t anything eye-opening but I think it helped her to hear me say, ‘Yes, ExBoss is always extremely demanding, that’s not something that will change.’

    Obviously you don’t have to talk to this person if you’d rather keep a clean break. But if you feel like it, offering a phone call or 30 minutes over a cup of coffee is probably the maximum time you’d need to allot.

  28. Joey*

    Could someone explain to me where the line is on plagiarism?Obviously I consider stealing a cover letter and just changing a few words here and there as plagiarism, but where do you draw the line? Is it okay if people take whole sentences, strings of sentences, etc? And what if I give permission for people to use my work? Is that plagiarism too? Also isn’t thought stealing plagiarism also? So if someone steals my method for interviewing is that plagiarism? Again, I’m not trying to question the issue in the ops case, I’m just trying to see where everyone draws the line. And how in the hell does self-plagiarism make any sense?

    1. De Minimis*

      I admit I’m a bit confused by the concept as it applies to things like cover letters too. Of course, wholesale copying of entire paragraphs and using the exact same wording is obvious, but I’m not sure where the line is drawn either, especially in cases where the purpose of the material is for others to be able to adapt it to fit their needs.

    2. KellyK*

      Self-plagiarism only makes sense in an academic or paid writing context. If I use content on, say, my blog that I’ve already used in the AAM comments or in a college paper, there’s no plagiarism. But if I’m recycling content and providing it to someone as if it’s new and original, that’s when it becomes a problem.

      As far as how much you can lift from another writer, I don’t think it’s a question of quantity but of uniqueness. There’s a lot of difference between a fairly generic sentence like “I’m really excited about [Company Name’s] opening for a [Job Title].” and a more specific one like “Whether it’s promotional work for external clients or internal corporate leave behinds, I pride myself on my ability to recognize and articulate a distinct voice for every project.”

      With the latter, I think even grabbing a particular distinct phrase (like “recognize and articulate a distinct voice for every project”) is plagiarism. With the former, I think it’s too generic to matter.

      1. Joey*

        So if I use those 9 words that someone else thought of in my full page cover letter I now lack integrity in a hiring manager’s eyes and am unworthy of being trusted? Good luck finding anyone to hire with those standards.

        1. EmilyG*

          Those nine words would certainly have been considered plagiarism where I went to college. I meet those standards and would expect people I hire to meet them, too. Also, someone who plagiarized those nine words would like have picked up phrases elsewhere from the letter they found online. If you are a decent writer AND are doing your own THINKING, it is not hard to come up with your own words.

          1. Joey*

            That’s the thing though. The bar for plagiarism in the work world isn’t what it is in college or for most non-journalist and academic jobs. Most bosses expect you to plagairize sooner or later. Training somebody? Find something someone’s already done and make it fit. Need to write a memo? If there’s a good example use the same work and pass it off as your own. Need to write just about anything to help you get your job done? Copy best practices. This usually involves only modifying research to the extent to make it work best for you.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          This is the part that scares me. If one person can think of a clever phrasing, in all likelihood so can someone else. (It happens at the US Patent Office all the time- multiple submission of the same idea.)

          My college was tough on plagiarism. Which is fine, but I wondered how people discerned sheer coincidence from actual theft. What if you are that unfortunate person who thinks of a clever turn of a phrase and the prof finds it on the net? It would be impossible to prove you did not lift it. (They said all it took was one phrase… sigh.)

          The whole thing made me very nervous about writing. In the end, I realized I could not google everything I wrote to see if someone had already said it.

    3. KellyK*

      As far as work you give others permission to use, that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to pass it off as their own. A cover letter is expected to be your own writing, because one of its primary purposes is as a writing sample.

    4. AVP*

      For a cover letter, I’m generally interested to hear about the writer from the writer’s perspective – so if you’re copying someone else’s thoughts, even with their permission, to me that’s a missed opportunity. The counter-argument to that is that the cover letter is their chance to get in the door, so a job applicant should do whatever they can to get there and get the HM’s attention, but to me the risk is in mis-representing yourself in a way where you won’t excel at the rest of the process, or the eventual job.

      1. Joey*

        But aren’t most of us misrepresenting ourselves since the majority of folks don’t excel. I don’t really come across anyone who touts themselves as average.

        1. Kay*

          I guess I don’t think that the majority of people don’t excel. Maybe they don’t excel at EVERYTHING they do, but they are really good at a few aspects of their job. A cover letter and resume are not meant to be a factual list of every job and every skill a person has or does not have. They’re meant to be marketing documents. And I don’t think you can effectively market yourself from someone else’s cover letter. Every cover letter should be tailored to the job and how you meet their criteria especially well. A cover letter someone else wrote for a different job won’t get that information across.

          1. Joey*

            You can’t believe that tons of people don’t overstate their abilities, can you?

            See I disagree. If I’m a chemical engineer with oil and gas experience you can bet I can certainly pull very useful marketing info from a fellow colleague who is currently employed as a chemical engineer at an oil and gas company I want to work at.

            1. AVP*

              I can see that. My industry is way more heavily based on soft skills and personality than something like engineering where you’re hiring for a very specific set of measurable skills. So when I read a cover letter, I’m not reading for someone to tell me how good they are at a particular skill, I’m looking for who they are as a person and if I think they would fit into what I need them to do. Which is why, if they’re borrowing from someone else, it’s not going to match up and is ultimately pointless.

              Hard facts would be a different story, but there’s a reason I don’t work in science.

              1. Joey*

                It even applies to soft skills. Sales for example is heavy in persuasion and getting results in part through developing relationships and building trust. You can bet sales people absolutely copy each other’s resumes. The name of the game in most hiring is trying to replicate successful hires. That’s why candidates copy. You really think people would rather reinvent the wheel and create original work than use what’s been successful for someone else? Honestly, I think a lot of hiring managers would look at it as a negative if you took the time to create original work instead of replicating what’s already out there.

    5. Graciosa*

      First, there is no “self-plagiarism” as plagiarism involves claiming credit for stealing another author’s work. Some people use this as a shorthand way of saying that they are reusing their own material rather than creating it anew, but you can’t really plagiarize yourself very well – I suppose you could violate rules for an assignment that specified it had to be a *new* original work, but it’s not really a traditional plagiarism issue although it certainly has the same implications for integrity. I may need to reconsider this one.

      The foundational concept is that you should always give credit for anything you take from another author – there is no quota or bright line rule that says it’s okay to pretend it’s yours and not give any credit if it’s less than X words or Y percent. A test like that would allow someone to take the most important phrasing or key content on the grounds that they didn’t include other material.

      As an example, using only “My dear, I don’t give a damn” without attribution would bother me even if these were the only seven words taken out of more than 420K in Gone With the Wind (the book version, as “Frankly” was only in the movie).

      Unlike copyright infringement (a legal issue) plagiarism is more of a moral / ethical problem, as there is a lack of integrity in pretending that a work (whether journalistic, academic, or whatever) is the product of the plagiarist’s own efforts when it is not. *Everything* you use to create this type of work is supposed to be properly cited and credit given. – even if you have permission – as the point is to clearly identify what is original work and what is not without deceiving the reader.

      The plagiarist knows what they used – and they were supposed to have shared this information.

      Perhaps the more interesting problem is the evidence one of determining when it is clear that the person plagiarized. Could an innocent somewhere with no access to any form of Gone With the Wind, raised in isolation and left to write having learned English from a dictionary compose the same line as Margaret Mitchell? Of course. That wouldn’t actually be plagiarism by definition.

      However, the chances that this line would be included at the climax of a long coming of age story set in the Civil War are pretty slim.

      The line I think you’re looking for is not about the actual plagiarism, but rather when do I (the reader) no longer believe that the individual actually produced the work and the minor similarities are no more than an unhappy coincidence? That will be a matter of judgment rather than a definitional test.

      Personally, I tend to be pretty skeptical, and a few phrases in the right circumstances could certainly convince me that the so-called author was claiming more credit than he or she was really due – which answers my question on integrity.

      1. Joey*

        Well that’s debateable. Isn’t self plagiarism passing off your old work as new work?

        So are you sayin pulling a somewhat unique phrase from Alison’s cover and passing it off as your own without a citation is plagiarism? That seems a little unreasonable- that people can’t use a good phrase that applies perfectly to them without citing the source. In that case you might as well as throw out all resumes and cover letters because I can guarantee you most of them have phrases from job descriptions or phrases that they’ve seen somewhere else and have very little original content.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          So are you sayin pulling a somewhat unique phrase from Alison’s cover and passing it off as your own without a citation is plagiarism?”

          Yes, that is plagiarism.

          In that case you might as well as throw out all resumes and cover letters because I can guarantee you most of them have phrases from job descriptions or phrases that they’ve seen somewhere else and have very little original content.

          I’ve never done that, and I’m quite sure that many other people haven’t either (unless we’re talking about very basic/generic lines like “Thank you for considering my application,” which you can simply pull out of your head without needing to consult a reference source for the wording once you’ve seen it).

          I 100% echo what Graciosa said here: “The foundational concept is that you should always give credit for anything you take from another author – there is no quota or bright line rule that says it’s okay to pretend it’s yours and not give any credit if it’s less than X words or Y percent.”

          1. Joey*

            Do you really think most cover letters and resumes are original? Sure some are, but most probably have a number of phrases or sentences that aren’t original.

            Given your view on plagiarism I’m a little shocked you put the sample up at all. Did you honestly think no one was going to take phrases or whole sentences from it?

            1. businesslady*

              I absolutely think they should be original, & if someone’s composing from scratch there shouldn’t be any worry about unreasonable similarity to another source.

              even if you’re using another text as a guide, it’s not hard to reframe the language to make it authentically yours. for example:

              I’m of the opinion that cover letters should be in the applicant’s own words, & if an applicant is drafting their own I don’t understand how they could inadvertently end up replicating someone else’s language.


              My feeling is that job candidates should write their own cover letters, & if that’s what they’re doing it seems unlikely that unintentional plagiarism would end up happening.

              …see? that’s two different ways of restating my first point, & neither one of them could be considered a ripoff of the original sentence.

              I realize that writing isn’t everyone’s forte, but it’s not impossible to find new ways of expressing the same ideas–provided, of course, that you make an effort to do so.

              (& yes, there are probably some phrases that are in almost every cover letter–“I was thrilled to see this job posting,” “I look forward to hearing from you,” etc.–but those aren’t really the content a hiring manager is going to be paying attention to when evaluating a candidate.)

            2. manybellsdown*

              But in a cover letter, you’re writing about YOU. Anything that’s not directly related to YOU can and probably will be generic. “I was excited to see [Job Opening]” while the part about you are specific to you “because I have many years of experience working with were-pterodactyls.”

              The original parts need to be the parts about you. For example, the original letter reads: “From e-blasts, public relations and web marketing to copywriting, video and print production, you name it, I’ve done it.” I’ve never done a single one of those things. Stealing that for a cover letter about me would be stupid, even if they were relevant to the position. That’s a specific. Almost every part of that letter is incredibly specific to the person and the job.

              So when I apply to, say, a theater summer camp program that letter is hardly going to show them what a great candidate I am to teach drama to 8-year-olds. I can say I’m excited to see the opening. I can say “Thank you for your consideration”. Everything in between needs to be about me and how I’m good for it. How can I steal that from someone else? They’re not me!

      2. De Minimis*

        I think that’s the root of my confusion here, to me there is a fundamental difference in something like a cover letter and the types of writing you would see in an academic publication, newspaper article, or novel to where I’m not sure where just following the advice given here ends and plagiarism begins.

    6. Anonymous Educator*

      For the purposes of a cover letter, “stealing” thoughts or ideas is not plagiarism, but copying and pasting whole sentences or even phrases is plagiarism.

      For an academic paper, not acknowledging ideas as being from others (and thus passing them off as your own with proper attribution) is plagiarism, in addition to wholesale copying and pasting of sentences and phrases.

      Never copy and paste unless it’s your own writing.

      1. De Minimis*

        That’s kind of where I draw the line. I think it’s okay to paraphrase and adapt the language to my own situation and experience [as I learned the hard way as a freshman, paraphrasing can cross the line into plagiarism in academic research.] Of course, I’ve never really had trouble writing cover letters on my own so it’s not something I would have been tempted to do anyway.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Ahhh… this is different from what I was taught. I was told that even if you do not use the same wording, stealing thoughts and ideas is also plagiarism.

    7. Dan*

      In my line of work, it’s a bit different. I get paid to get a job done, and the quicker the better. Since I work in research and development, my end product is always some new thing that can’t get copied and pasted.

      But I write a lot of software code to help me do my job. I grab tons of it off the internet. In fact, my old boss told me that the hallmark of a good programmer is someone with effective google skills.

      Software development has gotten to the point where many projects (and the code base) are published for free on the internet, with the expectation that people will use whatever parts of the code that they want. They can even charge for it.

      There’s an entire business model built around companies releasing public software and source code but then charging for consulting services.

      1. Joey*

        I think this is the view most people have. That copying what’s successful and getting the job done well is all that matters. I haven’t really seen anyone outside of writers and people in academia that care about citations or if their work on the web is copied. ..unless its is things like patent infringement or lots of money was used to develop ideas, products, or business models.

        But a short phrase from someone else’s cover letter? Most people don’t equate that with being unethical.

        1. Dan*

          TBH, if the cover letter “works” (ie gets you the job) I’m not sure how much I’d care. I think it really comes down to 1) Am I hiring for original thought, or 2) Am I hiring for results?

          The tough thing for my field is that the *resume* is what stands out, and I don’t know that a cover letter can get you the job if your resume can’t on its own. Cover letters in my field work when they can tell *your* story, above and beyond the resume. By definition, those can’t be copied/pasted. I’d have to say that if you can copy/paste a cover letter, then you probably shouldn’t even bother.

          I.e., when I apply for jobs in “my” domain, I have a cover letter that works for me and only me. Nobody else can use it without being liars. Outside of my domain, my cover letters are bland and generic and I should probably skip them. You either want the technical skills I have or you don’t (and you don’t have a line beating down your door that I need to differentiate from). Cover letters don’t help me here.

          1. BeetsMe*

            I don’t understand how this relates to cover letters. There is absolutely an expectation that an applicant write his own cover letter without plagiarizing it. And it’s a very reasonable expectation. Cover letters just aren’t comparable to software code or to internal documents/processes. A math problem has one correct solution. Internal documents are essentially owned by the company and reused in that context.

  29. Blue Anne*

    #5 – I think it’s very much the norm for follow-up interviews to be scheduled after the interviewer has had time to assess the conversation and maybe discuss it with co-workers. Don’t worry! Not having a follow-up scheduled while you’re still on the call doesn’t mean you haven’t made it through. :)

  30. Gail L*

    #1 – Aw. I would meet with the person. My husband reaches out to former employees of companies he is interested in all the time, including people he “replaced” at jobs. It’s a great way to learn how other people have dealt with things, make connections, and just be a good pay-it-forward networker as well. The new person is just trying to navigate a difficult situation, and could be a really great connection in the future. Especially if you can give her some advice based on your own experience as well – not to trash talk, but to be a bit frank about what problems you encountered and what strategies you tried at the time.

  31. Jon*

    Regarding the #2 post concerning the plagiarized cover letter, I’m not sure I like the idea of pointing out the plagiarism and inquiring about it just to see someone squirm (unless you that’s part of the evaluative process—“Whoa—good squirming! Now I want to hire you!”

    Instead, I’d probably point it out and say something like “thank you for your interest, but that’s enough to make us want to look for a different candidate at this point”.

      1. Jon*

        I gotcha. Matter of taste, I s’pose! I feel that the consequence is you don’t get the interview and someone points out your lack of integrity.

        The “can you shed light?” question isn’t really sincere, since we’ve already concluded and shared with the applicant that we know the letter text was copied.

  32. K Too*

    OP #1, I’m curious about where your former employer is located because it sounds like a digital agency I worked at 2 years ago and left after 4 months. I had a similar experience with management.

    Since you are still traumatized from your experience AAM does have a point about not being sucked in for the sake of your mental health.

    However, the new person is most likely noticing some behaviors from management and is curious to know why you left so they can decide whether or not they should make a move as well so I see no harm in having a chat to see what her concerns are about.

    1. CAA*

      Every time I read one of these questions about a digital agency, I think it sounds like the one I worked at for a year before returning to the relative sanity of an ordinary software development shop. I’ve decided there’s just something about that industry. It’s on the edges of advertising and technology and often seems to combine the worst of both.

  33. StillLAH*

    OP1 I know where you’re coming from with wanting to help out the person who replaced you, but I think Alison is right…your best bet is to move on a wish the new person the best of luck. My husband wanted me to warn my replacement at my last job about her new boss’s micromanaging, untrusting tendencies but it just didn’t seem to serve a purpose besides hurting something I’d already moved past.

  34. Jackie*

    #1. Please do not meet with this person. She has to do the work herself to move out of a toxic environment, just as you did. Meeting with her will only rebuild the synapses in your brain that you have retrained to move on from this experience. Please don’t look back now. It’s past and that’s where it needs to remain.

  35. OP #1*

    Thank you Alison and all the posters for their thoughts and comments.

    I agree with you entirely that I will not do anything that will jeopardise my well being or my current job. I do not want to talk about the place at all but I am curious, how does she even know about me?

    I emailed back and found out she had left the company two months ago and was struggling to get interviews and move on.

    She had reached out to me in a sense of desparation I guess.

    I offered to have a look at her resume and cover letter as mine works well in our industry, I averaged an interview a week while unemployed and had two good offers in six weeks so I like to think it worked.

    Hers is quite bad, just lists of tasks with no sense of how good she was at each one. For me I like to see grew twitter followers from x to x in x timeframe, not managed company twitter.

    So I was able to give her some practical advice there and how to handle references which is what stressed me out when I left. I ended up using the excuse that I’d had so many managers I didn’t think they could accurately recommend me and put forward a sympathetic manager from another division who I had worked closely for but didn’t report to.

    This was in construction.

    I’m glad she is out of there although I know she has a hard road ahead of her.

    I don’t intend to continue any real communication with her, I know now how to set boundaries.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Nicely done. I am glad you talked with her. You took a chance and it worked out well. I hope she finds something soon.

  36. Isabelle*

    #1 I have first hand experience of this situation minus the panic attacks. It would be a nice thing to do to validate this person but I don’t think it is the right choice given the circumstances.

    Everything associated with your old toxic workplace is best left in the past for your own healing and peace of mind. It’s time to put your self-interest first. You owe this new employee nothing and you don’t need to reopen old wounds.

    In my case the new employee wanted me to be a witness for him in an industrial tribunal in a case he was taking against the company. Not my battle anymore and not interested in career suicide, thank you.

  37. Cassie*

    For performance evaluations, I sometimes feel like it should be a simple yes/no scale – the same way there are true/false questions on a test. We use the exceeds / meets / partially meets / does not meet expectations scales on our evaluations. To me, if you partially meet expectations, it’s the same thing as not meeting expectations (because part of my expectations is that you would be meeting the standard most – if not all – of the time).

    And maybe because I’m in academia and recently got involved with learning outcomes and all that jazz, but I really wish there would be rubrics and metrics to help staff understand what is expected of them, but also help their supervisors (some of whom are faculty and are generally clueless about managing people) understand what they are evaluating.

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