my former boss emails me daily, I’m being fired for writing in wet cement, and more

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

1. My boss left the company but still emails me daily

My boss left our company almost 3 weeks ago. Since then, he has been emailing me almost every day. We were on friendly terms from start to finish, though towards the end (unbeknownst to him) I found his presence extremely irritating. Our company experienced some serious problems that jeopardized everyone’s jobs, got some people laid off, and majorly set our branch of the company back. Unfortunately, everyone in our small office recognized that he had everything to do with it. Though we all liked him as a person, his failings as a leader were glaring (long story short). Happy to bid him adieu, I am now haunted by near daily communication with him — friendly letters, general questions, inquiries about how this or that played out here, pictures of his plants, hey look he got a dog, etc etc. I’m not the only one he emails, either. For example, he asked me today if another coworker went on this other interview, and sent a separate email to that coworker asking him directly.

This is my first full-time job out of school and I know that he valued me very much, so I’m anticipating having him as one of my top references in the future. Am I obligated to respond to all these emails to keep the relationship friendly? I wrote back a nice response to one of his first “what’s up” emails, and since then have been giving short but friendly responses to only some. If I start ignoring all of them, am I damaging our relationship? If I keep answering, will they never end? I know it’s only been three weeks; he could be having a hard time adjusting and the emails could eventually dry up on their own. I would like to ignore all of them starting now, but I also don’t want to spoil a reference or be flat-out rude.

I think the only person you’re obligated to respond to daily social emails from is your significant other, and even then I’m not sure it’s really obligatory. So no, you do not need to enter into an intense pen pal relationship with this guy. I’d ignore the work-related questions (not his prerogative anymore — and not in his best interest to stay emotionally involved like that anyway) and reply the rest at a rate of one response per every three he sends (or once a week, whichever you prefer), as long as his rate is this frequent. And your responses don’t have to be long, either; “cute dog!” and “glad you’re doing well — too swamped to write much!” will suffice.

It sounds like he’s having a hard time accepting things have changed, but I think these will trail off pretty soon.

2. How can I avoid candidates shopping our offer around?

My company recently made an offer to a candidate. The candidate took our offer to our major competitor and got them to match it. Fortunately for us, she decided we were a better fit for her, and a bidding war was averted. It got me thinking, though: is there any way to avoid this situation in the first place without being heavy-handed? What could we have done better up front to keep her from even thinking about shopping her offer around?

Be the better place to work, and do a good job of illustrating that — which gets into culture, benefits, and who else you have working for you. (High performers want to work with other high performers, and you can involve your great staff members in helping to woo candidates you’re really interested in.)

That said, you don’t really want a candidate who’s making a decision solely on money, when the numbers are relatively close. Money matters, obviously — but assuming that your offers aren’t wildly different, you really don’t want someone who bases their career decisions on that alone.

3. My manager got upset that I asked a mutual contact about a job candidate

My department is hiring a part-time person, preferably a student, and my supervisor has been very informal with the hiring process. We do not have a formal search committee, and we’re only doing one round of interviews so we can quickly hire someone. I must admit, I’ve never been on a hiring committee before and am fairly new to my profession, so I’m not sure how this normally works.

One of the candidates worked for a friend of mine in another department at our institution, and I emailed my friend to ask about the candidate’s skills and personality. This was before we had made a decision on who to bring in for interviews, and I thought my friend’s feedback could save us some time, in case the candidate wasn’t right for our position.

My supervisor was upset that I did this on my own and proceeded to give me a lecture about the confidentiality of applicants and how it’s not fair to contact supervisors who are not on the applicant’s reference list. My supervisor and I worked this out. It was partially a miscommunication issue because we never set a schedule for our next steps, and she never made it clear what she would be doing as the manager, such as contacting the applicants’ references. But I’m wondering — did I do something wrong? Is it unfair to a job applicant to informally contact a friend who knows the applicant, especially before interviewing them?

No. This kind of informal checking happens all the time, and it makes a lot of sense. If you know someone who worked with the candidate and trust their judgment, of course you’d want to get at least their quick take before deciding whether to move forward with the person. Not only is it fair game to contact mutual acquaintances, but it’s ludicrous to think that you’re confined to the candidate’s reference list — you’re absolutely not, and a good reference-checker will go off list as a matter of routine. (The exception to this is that you’d never contact someone at their current employer without their permission, because that could jeopardize their job.)

That said, since you’re not the person leading the search, it would have made sense to check with your manager before reaching out to your friend to see if she wanted that input at this stage. But that has nothing to do with the general propriety of doing this sort of informal reference checks; they’re fine to do.

4. My company wants to fire me for writing in some wet cement

I’ve work for a city for 30+ years in a garage. All of the other departments come to us for repairs, including the police department, and every one uses the F-bomb, managers also. They poured a little concrete in our work area and it shouldn’t have gone there. I wrote in it, “no balls f-u Tim” as a jest. He and I are good friends and he would do the same to me. But now one of the employees (who is trying to go off on stress leave and they found out it was fraud) took a picture of this and went to HR and they want to fire me for this. I’ve been a perfect employee, and this was not where it would be seen by the public and also I scratched it out and it’s gone. Shouldn’t they give me a some kind of warning first? Like I say, it goes with the culture and we don’t deal with the public.

It sounds like an overreaction to me. People sometimes do stupid stuff, even otherwise good employees, and if it’s out of character and an aberration, you don’t fire a 30-year employee for that.

You work for a city, so there are probably loads of regulations on what they can and can’t fire you for, and what does and doesn’t require a warning first. I’d take a look at that — but I’d also plead your case with your boss and HR. Be contrite, say you realize it was poor judgment, and that you’ll be on your best behavior in the future.

5. Ridiculous interview instructions

I just got offered an interview for a program manager job in a county-run library. My excitement was slightly tempered by the very brusque email (e.g., “If you are unable to keep this appointment, please notify our office at (phone #) immediately. It is unlikely that we will be able to re-schedule your appointment.”) which also included an attachment called “Interview Guidelines.” In it, they specify that my application materials will not be taken into consideration during the interview. They also instruct candidates not to take notes during the interview.

I’m a bit flummoxed. I’ve worked in government jobs before, and don’t recall anything like this. I can’t see any benefit from their perspective. And I can’t imagine being able to give enough information in a 25 minute interview to completely outline my work history, education, accomplishments, etc. Can you shed any light on this technique, and help me prepare?

Terrible interviewers, probably being directed by a terrible, terrible HR department suffering from a terrible, terrible misunderstanding of what it means to treat job candidates fairly. Brace yourself for major bureaucracy if you take a job there.

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    The only possible reason for the manager’s attitude in #3 is turf. She wants to micromanage the behavior of everyone on the search committee. I would be more sympathetic — it is not unreasonable to want to coordinate this sort of informal outreach and to keep the process appropriately confidential — if she had not said ‘it isn’t fair to ask references not listed by the applicant.’ That is totally looney toons.

    The best possible reference checking is with people you know and trust who have direct work experience with the person in question. I have had several experiences where this information made a huge difference — both positive and negative in the process. We once avoided a major mistake by checking with another department in the company who had done some contract work with the applicant; their experience was exactly what we didn’t want.

    I hope the worker in #4 learned his lesson AND is successful in saving his job. It is truly ridiculous to let something silly and stupid have this consequence and to reward an employee who is already a problem. Unfortunately spineless lawyer driven operations often operate this way.

    1. HR "Blessings"*

      #3- Artemesia got it totally right on you checking with your contact. That is the best reference check you can have. Don’t know what the issue is with your manager other than she’s not confident in employment law or procedures.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Or she’s not confident in the OP. After thinking it’s an overreaction, my next thought was, “I bet this manager had someone leak who was applying to an applicant’s current supervisor at some point in the past, and is touchy about it.”

        Not that that excuses jumping down the OP’s throat, but if they do not have that level of familiarity and trust, and the manager has been burned by something like that before, it’s at least understandable… or who knows the manager may just be very twitchy in general.

    2. Stephanie*

      Eh, everyone hates lawyers until she needs one. If this is something out of character in a 30-year career, yeah, I think it should just be a reprimand. Perhaps this is the former fed in me, but I can imagine a slow news day and a story about a “boys’ club culture” if this did leak. Minor stuff can get out.

      1. Anonymous*

        That’s exactly what I thought, too. There’s already a photo. It could be posted on social media or emailed to anyone.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Or VIPs (city politicians) could walk through, and there’s no chance to clean the concrete the way you would clean up your language or appearance. Besides, creating easily documentable evidence of something inappropriate like that is just begging for problems, IMO.

    3. A Dispatcher*

      I wouldn’t say “turf” is the only reason, particularly due to the explanation she gave, “My supervisor…proceeded to give me a lecture about the confidentiality of applicants and how it’s not fair to contact supervisors who are not on the applicant’s reference list.”

      I think supervisor was misinformed somewhere along the line about this from what she believed to be a credible source and it stuck. Much like how many people believe it’s illegal to give anything other than dates of employment as a reference, which stems from company policies versus any type of law. It’s not “looney tunes”, it’s just misinformation or misunderstanding of the law, which we have seen many, MANY examples of on this site. I wouldn’t at all have been surprised to see a candidate ask Alison if someone contacting people outside of their given reference list was violating their “right” to privacy to be honest.

      1. FiveNine*

        There’s this, and there’s also the possibility that the supervisor — from the way I read the letter — might have been made uncomfortable with a situation she took to be bordering on casual gossip about an applicant student. But who knows.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, it sounded to me like the supervisor has an old-fashioned idea about hiring and hasn’t gotten the memo on this more modern way of thinking about the hiring process.

          If it were me, I would just check in more often with the supervisor until I got a feel for how she wants to handle things. “Jane, I would like to help with X. I was thinking I could do a, b and c, how does that mesh with what you are thinking?” I would not check in so frequently that I was annoying, but I would check in on stuff that was not the usual part of my work. It could be in a while that the supervisor changes her mind and decides that the OP has a good idea about reference checks. People change.

    4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’d go softer on the manager in #3. The OP meant well, but the manager has to hire on tight time frame, the OP has no previous hiring experience and I can see the manager wanting the OP to not take independent reference checking actions without coordinating them first.

      While the manager isn’t right about who you can and can’t contact, I don’t think it is control freaky to ask the OP to check with her before acting.

      1. LeeGee44*

        She shouldn’t have done it since she wasn’t on the hiring committee. She took time from her duties and responsibilities and reached out to a friend. The candidate may have checked the box stating “do not contact current supervisor / employer” The LW just violated that.

        If I was a candidate and was interviewing; and found out that the future employer’s office reached out to someone in my office when I clearly checked that box I would have concerns that they couldn’t keep things confidential.

        It could also be that I may not want that job at all … but because my boss found out because of that person’s call … I may be forced to leave because it made a bad situation worse.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          The way I read it, there was no violation. #3 stated that the candidate worked for a friend, past tense. Your post brings up great concerns about why there needs to be coordination in reference checking though, so situations like the one you described can be avoided.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Yeah, I mean I’ve been in situations where one of the principals of the company knew somebody who knew the candidate and the principal didn’t act unilaterally without coordinating.

            1. bee*

              Yep. By calling around you may spread the news the candidate is looking to their employer. I think it is inappropriate to unofficially call around. I wouldn’t do it. Between an interview, references, and experience, and background check I think any employer has enough information.

              You wouldn’t call their friends or family for references, but when you call anyone they knew you really have NO IDEA who you may be calling. Perhaps, they were lovers….who the heck knows…

              1. Colette*

                In this case, the OP was calling someone she personally knew – not someone at random – and I think that’s both fine and expected. If one of your friends was thinking about hiring your former coworker who missed every deliverable and slept at her desk, wouldn’t you want to warn her?

                1. Amanda*

                  I wouldn’t ask a friend about a candidate unless we were taking the candidate seriously – i.e. interviewing him/her. There’s no point in investing reference check efforts to those you will not be taking further in the process.

                2. fposte*

                  @Amanda–I could see making a pre-interview call if it was an applicant who otherwise might not be moving ahead in the process. “The resume’s not remarkable, but he worked for Jane, who has really high staffing standards–let me see if her opinion suggests we should interview him anyway.” But you’re right that I wouldn’t just call supervisors I knew at the pre-interview stage just because I knew them.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m a huge fan of informal reference checking when you know and trust the person you’re checking with, as long as it’s not the person’s current employer. It’s smart to call when you know someone they worked for, even if only to ask, “Would we be making a huge mistake by passing on Jane Smith?” or “Can you give me a quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Jane Smith?” The former can keep someone in the running who otherwise might not have been, and the latter can save everyone time if she’s not right for the job — if she’s not great, might as well find it out now than wait until the very end of the process.

        2. fposte*

          I think the OP is actually on the hiring committee (she says she hasn’t been on one “before,” which suggests she’s on one now), but I also agree with not spontaneously doing this before it’s coordinated with the rest of the committee. Aside from the gossip-stream issue, there’s the possibility that several different people could call the same reference, and that some applicants are treated to an examination of their supervisors from ten years back and some aren’t.

          1. OP #3*

            I’m the one who asked #3, and a few clarifications: I am on the hiring committee and the candidate no longer works at my organization. While in school, the candidate did a project for my friend, then worked for my friend part-time for a few months. (And my friend works for my organization in another department.) I believe my supervisor was trying to treat each candidate equally and was more upset by the fact that I contacted my friend early in the process, before everyone on the committee had a chance to look at the candidate’s resume. I took responsibility for that, and from now on, I will let the lead on a hiring committee set the schedule for contacting references. However, I’m glad to hear I wasn’t wrong to contact my friend and to hear that it’s a pretty common practice.

            1. Artemesia*

              This was almost exactly my situation mentioned before. We had a candidate with good enough credentials to advance to the phone screen pool; the candidate had worked elsewhere in the organization. I called someone in that department and got an earful; it wasn’t all negative but the negative issues were EXACTLY what we were trying to avoid in this very tricky position. It would be nuts to not use the information available in your own organization to get a better picture of the candidate.

              I was chairing the search process though and I can see that coordinating with the search director might and perhaps should be policy. So yes, don’t call without coordinating with the manager but certainly don’t pretend you are only fair if you ignore information or potential contacts because you don’t have them for everyone.

            2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              Vendor industry contacts call me *all* the time before making sales rep hires. I’ve been in the industry forever, I know “everybody” and (this part is important), I’m known for giving straight input and keeping my mouth shut.

              I think that considering the ability of your contact to keep the conversation private is important.

            3. Vancouver Reader*

              I think your manager overreacted in her response. Ideally she would’ve thanked you for taking initiative (because I think it’s important to reward your employees for positive actions) and then explained why she would’ve preferred you didn’t contact your friend.

              But in the end, at least you’ve learned a good lesson.

            4. Scmill*

              I used to work with a manager whose motto was that if you made a mistake with an internal hire, it’s your own fault because you didn’t talk to enough people.

  2. MW*

    #4: Writing something crass *in concrete* seems like a fireable offense to me. Especially when it was done on the taxpayers’ time and dime. Sorry, but that’s part of the deal when you work for a public agency– all it would take was one tip to a local investigative journalist about the situation for the agency to have mud on its face, pissed off constituents, and other public employees who become the scapegoat for frustration about screw up civil servants.

    1. Chrl268*

      The way I read it was someone put concrete in the wrong bit, the guy wrote a crass note in the concrete that wouldn’t be seen by others as a joke then scribbled over it so that the general public wouldn’t see it – to me its not a fireable offense because it was relatively private, he should get in trouble, but not fired.

      I agree with someone above saying that all it does is reward the dude who is mistreating stress leave.

    2. Chloe*

      That seems like a pretty harsh reaction to me. The OP said it wasn’t visible in public, it probably took about a minute (so not really a huge waste of taxpayer money) and it has been scraped off. The target found it funny too – where is the harm? Misjudgement, yes, fireable offence, no. Surely humans are entitled to make small mistakes that in reality have no real consequence without being fired?

    3. Cat*

      Can you imagine that headline? “Guys in city shop joke around using 30 seconds of taxpayer time and concrete that had to be discarded anyway!” Somehow I don’t think I’d be writing my elected officials about that one.

      1. LQ*

        Yeah but that’s not the headline. The headline would be “Throwing your tax dollars in the trash! City employees think your money is a joke, tonight at 9.” It would be accompanied by a trash bin and dramatic music.

        1. fposte*

          It would have to be part of a larger picture with other incidents, though, because waste concrete getting written in isn’t even enough to make the news in my small town.

          1. LQ*

            Depends, is it a quiet news day? Is it part of a larger governmental trend (doesn’t have to be the same group, if the PD just had something happen, or the sheriff, or the DOT or whatever, having another half dozen little stories like this would go over really well)? Is there a local desire for less governmental spending, is that really high on the priority, what all the politicians are talking about? Did your mayor get elected on a plan to clear out government corruption? Does your local news team not like your mayor? Any one of those could get this story from nothing to dramatic music and scary images.

            1. fposte*

              As I said, I agree on the larger picture, but I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the rest of it.

              1. LQ*

                Part of it is that it doesn’t have to be a real danger for the fear to be real. If the boss/mayor/manager fears this blowing up in the news it doesn’t matter if it actually would. And it also doesn’t matter if it would go away in 3 minutes. My organization still clings to a fear of one incident that happened nearly 15 years ago and was 1 maybe 5 minute story on the local news. If you do that thing again (which wasn’t a big deal) you’ll be let go immediately because they are so afraid.

                1. fposte*

                  Sure, I’m not disagreeing with the psychology aspect of it. But the actual offense doesn’t make for good footage (no longer visible) or good indignation (private, not public area, waste pour, only momentary, named person doesn’t care).

            2. Koko*

              It’s a pretty big leap even for the amateur-hour local news to spin this as government waste or corruption. It’s petty vandalism.

              1. MW*

                Petty vandalism by a public employee, on public time. All it takes is one story of a member of the public being charged with public vandalism for this to become a “different rules for different people” type of story. Or one person in the workplace (current or former) who felt the environment is/was hostile, who can point to a “coverup,” because the concrete has been cleared over.

        2. Cat*

          At that point, you’re just dealing with unethical people who lie; the specifics of the incredibly minor incident don’t matter and you can’t use it to warp your decisionmaking.

        3. JoAnna*

          I’d be more annoyed that my tax dollars were being used to make such a large fuss over what was just a silly, harmless prank.

      2. bkanon*

        I *just* heard a commercial for upcoming news here that said “Does walking to school make kids healthier? See what studies YOUR TAX DOLLARS are spent on.”

        And this is one of the main news channels for a middle-large midwestern city. I would definitely see the YOUR TAX DOLLARS argument occur if OP’s story happened here and the news found out.

    4. Lily in NYC*

      Oh c’mon with the “taxpayer’s money” angle. That just does not fly in this situation.

      1. Bea W*

        It doesn’t but i imagine certain media outlets and loud mouth talk radio hosts would totally take it out of context for ratings.

        1. Kelly L.*

          +1. In my area this is a huge thing. They’ll tease the spot all day with “What are the people at XYZ office doing with YOUR MONEY??? YOU PAID FOR IT! Tonight at 10!” in that insinuating tone that is also used in true crime shows.

          1. Koko*

            That totally does happen, but then the story is usually that XYZ office threw themselves an elaborate catered party with $8,000 worth of commemorative gold coins minted for the occasion. Not that an employee vandalized part of his own workspace.

      2. MW*

        I have 15 years’ experience doing public relations for government agencies. Believe me when I tell you you’re completely wrong.

      3. Kassy*

        +1 This is something I simply do not understand. Other than the self-employed, ALL of our salaries are paid by other people.

    5. AnotherAlison*

      It sounds to me like it was written in the wet concrete & now it’s gone, so it may have been smoothed out before it dried.

      If that’s the case, to me this is about like someone writing something that’s supposedly funny on the whiteboard in a conference room or something. It shouldn’t really be about cost or time; it took him a few minutes to write it, have his buddies look at it and have a laugh, and then scratch it out.

      Whether the level of inappropriateness is worth firing someone over is hard to say. In this case where the stress-leave guy is elevating it, I think the OP has a problem. The shop guys and their boss would probably leave it at a warning, but now the whole situation has been elevated, and the stress guy can point to this as a “concrete” example of a hostile work environment example, which sounds like might be a problem given the regular use of foul language the OP described.

      1. fposte*

        We’ve got no indication that there’s any kind of discrimination claim involved with the stress leave guy, though, so I think the hostile work environment notion is a stretch.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Just trying to think what the upper management might be thinking. . .the slippery slope rationale for firing the OP.

          1. fposte*

            True, we’ve encountered plenty of managements who have no idea what “hostile work environment” legally means.

      2. Heather*

        the stress guy can point to this as a “concrete” example

        I see what you did there.

      3. aebhel*

        Is foul language really an indication of a hostile workplace, though? Discriminatory language would be, but saying the f-word a lot, while it might irritate some people, is not discriminatory.

    6. Jazzy Red*

      #4 – so you’ve been working for 30 years, which means you’re not in junior high school any more, and you REALLY don’t know any better than to write something offensive 1) at work, and 2) in the wet concrete?

      Sometimes people should be fired for stupidity. However, since it didn’t constitute a dangerous/hazardous condition in the workplace, I guess a reprimand would be appropriate for such a venial sin as this.

    7. Vicki*

      Who says it was done “on the taxpayer’s time and dime”. He works in a garage. He probably did it while on break. “Constituents” do not care what happens in a city garage. This is not newsworthy.

  3. Spinks*

    In #5, yes it is pretty normal (over here at least) for application forms/CV/resume not to be used in an interview for a public sector job. It is part of the equality/diversity thing – they have to show they asked the same questions to each interviewee (ie. not tailoring them to the CV). It’s a little extreme to not use any of it at all but you should assume they’ve read it.

    That does not mean you can’t bring up your job history and experience where it’s relevant in answering their questions. That’s the art of being interviewed in public sector.

    I’m not saying I especially agree with it, but it’s within the range of “yeah this is a thing that happens reasonably regularly.”

    1. SCW*

      Yes, and I think it doesn’t mean they wont use the application materials, just not during the interview. Working for a library that is part of a county can mean hiring can be constrained by the county guidelines in ways that don’t always reflect the day to day management, which is not as structured by the county.

      Though the majority of people who are hired by the county don’t really provide much in the way of application materials. They are part time employees–like shelvers or lifegaurds, who typically don’t create resumes when they apply.

    2. AB*

      Actually, I once went to the most frustrating job interview of my life where they literally told me that I was not allowed to bring up past experiences or work history during the interview. Then they kept asking me to give concrete examples of how I would do something or how I know doing X would work. I really have no idea what the point of that interview was.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      And can we just state for the record in case anyone reading this has any doubt about this: This is a ridiculous way to address diversity/equality in hiring, and there is NO law that would require this. This practice is an incompetent and ridiculous misinterpretation by some HR loon somewhere in that county, someone who doesn’t understand the law and hiring well enough to make good policy.

      1. Omne*

        There is no law requiring it but there may be valid reasons. I work for a State agency and we ask the same questions for each applicant for entry level jobs. We can ask follow up questions to a point but it’s rather limited. The reason we do this is because we frequently either get sued or have complaints filed with the human rights agency for our state by people that don’t get hired. They invariably lose but it takes time and tax dollars to deal with it. If all of our interviewers asked different questions it would complicate the situation and cost even more.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But that’s an incredibly strong hammer to take to the problem, and it will make your hiring processes far less effective at identifying the best candidates. There are plenty of ways to ensure that applicants are treated fairly, and that you can prove, that don’t require hamstringing your interviewers like this.

          1. A Dispatcher*

            It’s just one of many ways that civil service hiring tends to be fairly ineffective at finding the best candidates. Having to score well on tests that have little to nothing to do with your daily job function is another.

            1. Dan*

              A criticism assumes that the civil service folk are concerned about actually finding the best candidates.

              I’ve posted about my experiences applying for federal jobs, and I’ve had people here say that if they weren’t getting good enough talent, then they would fix the problem.

              Since these really bureaucratic and drawn out procedures proliferate many levels of federal, state, and local governments, one is left to assume one of three things:

              1) The system works fine, and there’s no issues. (This option allows for the notion that they know they *could* get better candidates, but don’t necessarily *need* better candidates.)
              2) They’re not getting quality hires and they don’t care enough to do anything about it.
              3) They don’t know how to tell the difference.

          2. Omne*

            I’m not disagreeing, I push the envelope we have as far as possible on follow up questions. I was just pointing out that there may be reasons for this approach.

            One of the problems is that given how many interviews we do and how many different interviewers we use some may ask discriminatory questions. Granted we can deal with them after the fact but the damage is done. Also we w0uld have to produce records showing all the questions asked along with the answers within that time frame. If there are 35 interviewers in total interviewing 100 applicants that’s a lot to try and track down.

            At least the questions are fairly open ended and we allow up to an hour for each interview. Since we are hiring entry level accountants/auditors that are required to have accounting or finance degrees to get an interview it works better than if we were hiring for positions in less concrete areas.

            Best solution? Possibly not, but you might be surprised how many really great auditors we end up with in spite of the process.

  4. Stephanie*

    #1: Did OldBoss leave to go to a new job? From the tone of the letter, it sounds a bit like he’s unemployed and sounds isolated or lonely.

    #3: I agree with Artesmia that she might be somewhat of a control freak around the hiring process and upset not because you got the reference, but because you deviated from her plan.

    #4: Fired? Probably not. But reprimanded? Yes. As a civil servant, you have to be careful about your actions. It just takes one tip to an investigative journalist…

    #5: Oooh, no notes? I go back and forth about note-taking during an interview, but I’d at least want the option to jot things down. I had an interview once where one of the interviewers interrupted the other interviewer to say “Oh my, Stephanie, you have such neat handwriting! No, look Wakeen! Look at this page of notes she wrote. It’s almost like a font!” I wasn’t even sure what to say in response (“Uh, thanks? I try? My third grade teacher would be proud?”) Not surprisingly, I didn’t get that internship (as it wasn’t for a calligraphist).

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      #1 – I agree. It sounds like the old boss is at home alone all day on weekdays and feeling not really sure what to do with himself. I think it will probably cool down when he either finds a new job or gets into a routine of other things to do.

      1. Harper*

        I agree about the ex-boss in OP1. I would continue to answer him if I had the time, just to keep things friendly, because I’m betting in a little while, he’ll move on.

        1. OG Poster*

          Hi! I’m the OP for #1. No, he went on to another job! Yet sent me pictures of his plants at 9:10 am. Hahaha! I agree with the previous comments. I’m just gonna to ride it out with the once and a while nice response. Someone he supervised in a different office talked to me today asking “heyyy…does OB ever email you?” I’m like, hah! She said she hasn’t been writing back very much, and he actually asked her if everything was ok! He definitely needs to let go of the past position and get focused on his current spot. Just via these emails it comes across like he’s sitting over there very, very bored and lonely.

    2. Anonymous1973*

      Eh, I get compliments on my handwriting all the time. I just say thank you and then steer the topic back to business. To me, it’s no big deal.

      1. Stephanie*

        Usually, it isn’t. The length and amount of the effusive praise was just odd and awkward.

        1. Hooptie*

          I found this interesting – I realized that I do sometimes judge people on their handwriting without thinking about it. Someone with atrocious handwriting I classify as messy and disorganized while someone with clean, lovely writing (without it being too flowery) seems more structured and together.

          1. Chronic*

            My handwriting is awful – because I have a connective tissue disease, and my joints don’t work properly. It doesn’t mean I’m messy and disorganised, I just use a computer rather than write much.

            There are lots of medical reasons people have poor handwriting.

  5. SL*

    For #5 it sounds like the interview is actually a structured interview as part of the exam process for the position. There are pretty common in the public sector. Instead of it being what’s typically thought of as an interview, it’s more like and oral test – all candidates are asked exactly the same questions and scored based on a fairly specific set of guidelines. If that’s the case, at this point they’re not looking for an explanation of your full work history, just what corresponds to what they ask. If you score well enough on the interview, then you would be put on a list from which the hiring manager can select people to do a more traditional interview with (where he/she could review your resume, you could explain your work history, you could ask questions and take notes, etc.).

    1. Brett*

      Yep, classic first round structured public sector interview. Each candidate gets scored on a set of questions, and then candidates above a certain cutoff are invited to the second round where you get a real interview.
      The “no notes” thing is weird. Sounds like a response to a strange incident, like someone bringing in a crib sheet or someone writing down questions to pass on to another candidate.

    2. Annie O*

      My thoughts exactly! It’s really more of an exam than an interview. When I went through this the last time, the examiners weren’t even that familiar with the day-to-day work; they just had a list of questions to ask. I didn’t meet the actual manager until the third interview.

      And I’ve heard of the “no notes” thing only once, and it was for the PMF program. Actually, they allowed me to take notes during the interview, but I couldn’t take them with me when I left.

  6. Anx*

    #4 I don’t really get what you were writing in the cement, so I could be completely naive about this and taking it way out of context, but it sounds to me like you’re joking about someone’s manliness or lack thereof. Or perhaps calling their heterosexuality into question.

    I have always taken this very seriously in my work. It usually starts out without malicious intent, but that doesn’t make it innocent. It could be reasonably perceived to be sexist, transphobic, or homophobic. While I think this is actually a very big deal, I think it’s a product of our culture at large in combination with a lack of thoughtfulness. I’ve always used it as an opportunity to revisit expectations and give firm warnings. It helps if someone shows genuine remorse and understanding that it’s not just ‘not allowed’ but they genuinely care about the inclusiveness of the work environment.

    Because you work in a city, this is serious stuff. I know a few weeks ago, I had to use the men’s room at a local unemployment office (I’m a woman and the other toilet was out of order). It’s a state building. The stall was covered with what you may expect to find in a bar. I can’t say I wasn’t offended at all by the comments themselves, but what really bothered me about this was that the men that worked there didn’t do anything to cover it up. Surely they have seen it. It angered me that my own city would turn a blind eye to something like this on state property. I’ve seen far worse in bars and restaurants without blinking an eye, but the fact that it was state-condoned really hurt and I have absolutely no respect for anyone that works there and could have done something about it.

    1. Sarahnova*

      Good point, actually. Aside from the profanity, “macho” culture stuff like this can contribute to a pretty unpleasant working environment for women. LW#4, you probably wouldn’t be fired for this under my country’s employment laws, but you would be reprimanded strongly, and that’s appropriate IMO. Consider the impact of this kind of thing, as Anx mentions, and don’t do it again.

    2. Brett*

      This was a public restroom?
      Performing maintenance can be very rigid in some state and local governments. Only people with specific job training can do it.

      There may be one or two people who are responsible for removing that graffiti, and are responsible for painting walls, stripping floor wax, cleaning air ducts, etc. It may be months until they can cycle back around to painting over graffiti in that one bathroom. If someone other than the designated person painted over the graffiti, that could land that person in serious trouble for performing unauthorized work (even more so if the maintenance employees are unionized).

      Why the rigidity? Unionization accounts for some of the rigidity, but not every local government government is unionized. But for government, almost everything is purchased on contract from cars down to pencils. The contracts specify warranty terms, often including what training must be possessed by the people who perform maintenance or use the product. Have an untrained person use the product or perform maintenance on it, and the warranty is void.

      1. Brett*

        (And I asked about the “public restroom” part, because if it is, the graffiti likely came from the general public rather than employees at the workplace. They probably have their own restroom.)

      2. Anx*

        That was probably the case. I remember not being allowed to change the thermostat because it was a union members job.

    3. Koko*

      As an office worker, it has never once occurred to me to try to do cleaning or maintenance on any of the bathrooms in the office I’ve worked in. My failure to take time out of my actual work to clean up graffiti in the bathroom doesn’t mean that I condone any of the sentiments written there.

      1. Anx*

        Whenever I’ve worked in a client facing position my job has included customer service, so I’m sure my experiences clouded that experience. I can’t imagine working in a job and not dealing with something because it wasn’t in my job description. Of course, that person may have dealt with it and called the appropriate people who haven’t responded yet.

        1. Koko*

          That would make sense. In my case, it’s not so much that it’s just “not in my job description” and so I don’t want to deal with, as that it’s /so wildly/ outside of what I was hired to do, and my pay rate is so far above the cleaning staff, that my bosses would be quite unhappy to hear that they were paying me 3x the cleaning staff’s rate to clean a bathroom while time-sensitive work that cleaners can’t do was sitting on my desk not being done. If the pay rates were more similar or my work wasn’t so specialized and so different, that would maybe be less of an issue.

          1. Anx*

            Oh yes, I’ve never done very specialized work and the cleaning staff always made about as much or more than I did. So that probably has something to do with it.

            When I work at the hospital and I suddenly need an extra hand, I always ask nursing assistants first. Not because doctors or secretaries are above it, but because it is more efficient and economical.

            I still would expect them to place a call or put something over it, if there wasn’t union issues and such.

    4. Gisele*

      I think you’re being oversensitive. There’s far more important things to worry about than graffiti in a public bathroom.

      1. Anx*

        It’s incredibly dismissive when people pull out the ‘there’s far more important things to worry about’ line whenever someone airs a grievance.

        You can be concerned about the little things and the big things. The big things are often the consequences of dealing with the little things.

        Microaggressions matter.

        1. aebhel*

          Okay, but to say that you have no respect for anyone who doesn’t personally scrub off or paint over offensive statements in the public bathroom at their workplace seems like a slight overreaction to me.

          Also, if it was a public bathroom, the employees may not even use it regularly.

          1. Anx*

            I meant in there job!

            And of course I’m not getting the whole picture (as discussed in other comments). But as a client my first reaction was that these people that work <10ft from the bathroom who have been sitting at the desk with at least 20 minutes of down time since I had been there hadn't done anything, that they were lazy or didn't think that was a problem.

            I was trying to illustrate how even when people don't say anything, they can and will take offense to things and it makes the city look bad. It affects their ability to serve their constituents.

            1. Gisele*

              I may be dismissive but I still think you’re being oversensitive and overreacting. If I have a job that doesn’t involve bathroom maintenance, and I have a few minutes of downtime, there’s no way I’m going to be cleaning a bathroom or a mess that someone else made, and I shouldn’t be disrespected or considered lazy that I don’t do that.

  7. GrumpyBoss*

    #1: as has been pointed out, he sounds very lonely. It’s possible that the job was his life, even if as you say he wasn’t very good at it. Your call on how compassionate you want to be. I was in a similar situation, where I left a toxic workplace. My one confidant felt abandoned because she had nobody left to commiserate with. She emailed me much like OP’s former boss on the most mundane things. I felt I was good about it, ocassionally responding, sometimes telling her I’d call her later. It was too much! 6 months later, she left that toxic work environment and her messages stopped entirely. I called her to go out for brunch one day, and she responded that since I didn’t have time for her when things were bad, she wasn’t going to make time for me when things were good. I don’t really mourn the loss of the friendship too much, but I do wonder if I could have been a little bit more tolerant of her onslaught of emails.

    #2: If I extend an offer to someone, I will ask what else they have in the pipeline. If they have another opportunity they’ve been interviewing for that they feel is close to an offer stage, we let that play out and can hopefully make a more compelling offer in terms of interesting work environment + opportunity + compensation. But what sometimes happens is someone doesn’t feel the need to share that they are interviewing elsewhere, or they keep taking interviews after the offer has been made. I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing some of the signs of this. If I feel someone is shopping around (or using my offer to leverage more money from their current employer), I will rescind the offer. I’m not getting into a bidding war for someone who has the mercenary attitude of going to the highest bidder. My field is extremely demanding and you’d expect someone’s excitement to be at it’s peak at the offer stage. If the enthusiasm isn’t high at that point, it isn’t going to get better after seeing what else is on the market. At best they’d be settling. And I won’t settle for an employee who is settling on me.

    1. Ruffingit*

      The situation you describe in #1 is rough. Could you have been more compassionate? Maybe so. But she also could have drawn a line in regards to emailing you so much and been a little more understanding that not everyone has time to answer so many emails. Both of you could have given a little more here, I’m thinking. Good of you to think about your part in this though.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Interesting. Will you talk more about the signs you’ve come to recognize of someone continuing to shop around after accepting an offer?

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        What I’ve seen is just a general “wishy washy-ness”. Lack of communication back to me between offer and start date, if our recruiters/HR have to request information from them several times, things like that. It’s really hard to quantify, but I know it when I see it. Here was a recent example from a couple of months ago.

        Interviewed a candidate who had applied on our website. Extended an offer. The offer was a 15% raise over where he was at and was very competitive. He verbally accepted. As I mentioned above, I ask when extending an offer if they have any other irons in the fire. If he did, I like to allow them time for those to play out as a courtesy. If he were to have received a better offer, I would have been open to matching. But it was a moot point, as he said this was the only place he was interested in working. We asked him to sign the offer letter and scan in/fax back within 48 hours. 48 hours comes and goes and he doesn’t send it. The signed offer letter in our system triggers the drug test/background check, so it’s critical. He didn’t return calls from our HR department asking him for the signed letter. I call him, reiterate our interest, and ask if he’s concerned about the terms of the offer. He responds, “oh, I just haven’t gotten around to it”. At this point, I’m not sure if he’s buying time to pass a drug test (I’ve seen that happen too) or if he’s still shopping around. After another call or 2, we finally got the signed letter – nearly 2 weeks after his verbal acceptance. He passed both the drug screen and background check. The original start date we had agreed upon had passed because of his delay in signing the offer letter, so I reached out to him to ask what day he’d like to start. He gave a date of 2 weeks from that day. I was fine with this, assuming that he wanted to wait for a “pass” on the background check or drug test to give his 2 week notice. I usually like to check in with my soon to be employees a couple of times before their start date, just to keep them pumped up and excited about the opportunity. With him, my messages were not returned until a day or two later. At this point, I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t really want to work here, and is still taking interviews, but I don’t jump the gun. Then on the Wednesday before the Monday he was supposed to start, I checked in with him via email, letting him know I was planning a team outing on his second day, and to see if he had any dietary restrictions. His response was, “Oh, I have a giant project that came up at my current employer and I don’t feel comfortable leaving now. I would like to push my start date back 1 month”. Now this would be a perfectly reasonable request if somebody had proactively called their new employer and explain the situation. Unless there was a pressing need, I can’t imagine any rational manager not accommodating them to wrap up things at their current employer and leave on a professional note. But the fact that I got this as a nonchalant response to an unrelated email to him was the final red flag for me. I responded that we really were excited to have him as part of our team, but he was putting us in an awkward position, as we had passed on other qualified candidates for the role, plus we had already paid for his travel for his first week (in his case, it required some training at a different office). We need to know that he is committed to us. The next morning, he had not responded to my note, so I rescinded the offer.

        FWIW, my gut was right on this one. 2 weeks later, whatever other job he was working on must have fallen through because he texted me (super professional) that he wanted another chance. I had moved on and hired someone who was very excited about the position and has performed quite well.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ah, now I understand exactly what you’re talking about. Totally agree on a certain type of lower responsiveness indicating this.

          And that’s a crazy story — I agree 100% with your take.

          1. GrumpyBoss*

            I have had my share of crazies…. It seems to follow me. My HR partners joke that my stories keep them employed :)

            I wouldn’t mind a little less drama on the back 9 of my career.

    3. AGirlCalledFriday*

      I think that the problem really lies here:

      “If the enthusiasm isn’t high at that point, it isn’t going to get better after seeing what else is on the market. At best they’d be settling. And I won’t settle for an employee who is settling on me.”

      I’m getting the feeling that you lack confidence in how competitive your offers might be, or at least you feel that a similar job elsewhere would probably be a better fit than your company.

      If your offer/company is the best in the opinion of the candidate (determined by any number of factors – salary, hours, location, benefits, flexibility, environment), then the candidate is going to be excited about your offer and accept it. If a candidate tries to involve you in a ‘bidding war’ you have the option to not engage. So instead of looking at it as an employee “settled on you”, why don’t you consider looking it as an employee did her research and decided that she wanted to be a part of your team?

      1. Dan*

        You know… I had an interview awhile back (fresh out of grad school) where it took them TWO MONTHS to reject me. Supposedly, the first couple of weeks had some big decision maker out on leave.

        I had regular contact with the HM (“Oh, we’re still making decisions’) with us both alternating who was initiating the message. When they finally rejected, I was about to email them and tell them to buzz off. I know that some managers are lucky enough to have multiple applicants, any of whom they would be THRILLED to have join their team.

        But taking two months to interview for what is more or less an entry level job just screamed to me that they were NOT crazy about me. I didn’t want to be the one they had to settle for, and start the relationship off on that foot. I wouldn’t want to go to work every day thinking some manager was waiting for his chance to say “I told you so” on me being a bad hire and getting the boot.

        If the guy is on the open market, and you have not sent strong signals of interest back to him within 30 days of interview, he’s going to get the feeling you’re not crazy about him. (I understand bureaucratic processes… in which case, the HM calls you and tells you that he is busting his azz to get you on board but keeps running into red tape.) Radio silence = WTF, move on.

  8. Purr purr purr*

    #3, I can’t speak for why your supervisor said what she said because most supervisors would be grateful for additional info on candidates. I’m only commenting to say what you did was actually normal. We frequently receive phone calls from other people in our industry who are also friends wanting to get informal comments about candidates before they go through the effort of interviewing them, paying for flights, etc.

    As a real world example, most of the time we’re able to report positively on their candidates but one time we had to say that we would never hire a former employee ever again (he was a disaster zone and didn’t even care) and they were grateful for the feedback and put his resume in the bin. So I’m not sure why your supervisor acted the way she did but Alison’s advice is sound (obviously).

  9. Not So NewReader*

    Writing in concrete. I think years from now OP will be able to chuckle and shake his head, like a lot of us do about some of the things we done. The chuckle and head shake expresses a mix of regret, silly impulse, and irony.
    It sounds like OP has a crass work environment and management turns a blind eye. Now they have been called on it by this other employee, so they have to do something. Probably OP can tell stories about other coworkers that are much worse, and yet he is being called on the carpet for something that was fixable. Which he did fix when he scratched it out.

    OP, try to picture yourself as a boss in this situation. Something has been brought to your attention and you must act on it even though you think there are bigger fish to fry. The best thing that can happen is that the employee comes in and says “Yeah, that was a stupid thing for me to do, I removed it and it will not happen again.”
    Definitely draw on your 30 years of employment there by saying “I have been here for 30 years and that is because of all the things I have done right. This is a one-off, that will not get repeated.”

    What you will get for this is a relieved boss. He probably wants to fire you the same way he “wants” a root canal. By apologizing, fixing the problem and reassuring him, you are giving him a lot to go forward with. “Look, my employee has apologized, fixed the problem and assures me it will not happen again. I believe him. I do not believe we need to fire him.”

    I believe this because if they just wanted to fire you, they would have. I think they want you to say something that will help to prevent your firing.

    1. GigglyPuff*

      I’d assume before it dried, like they poured the concrete, the guy wrote it, the other guy took a picture, and before it set, the OP just smoothed it back over.

      One thing I would mention is when discussing this with your boss, I would not bring up the person who took the picture, or that the concrete placement was a mistake. Keep it strictly on topic and about what you did, and along the lines of what everyone else is saying, apologize, it was a moment of bad judgment in thirty years, and it won’t happen again.

      1. fposte*

        Totally agree on leaving out the “but other people screwed up too!” defense. That’s not good in the best of times, and in this case it’s a real stretch since neither of those things impelled the OP to do what he did.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Yeah and that defense always sounds so juvenile to me. It’s sort of the equivalent of the old “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” question that our parents used to ask. It really doesn’t matter what other people are doing because they’re responsible for their own behavior. It matters what YOU did and what you’re going to do about it. “Well, I mean, Ted Bundy killed 100 people, I only killed five!” Murder is still bad, Bundy’s killing more doesn’t negate the horror of yours. Possibly a bad analogy, but you know what I mean.

  10. Anonypants*

    #4: “it goes with the culture” isn’t really a good excuse. yes, people sometimes act in crass, immature, or downright offensive ways with each other at work, and in some places get away with it. However, if you get caught and do get in trouble for something, saying “ah come on, we all do that here” probably doesn’t help. Firing may have been an overreaction, but it’s possible they felt that what you did was so over the line that some action needed to be taken.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, this might be a speeding-type thing; everybody in your department speeds, but you were speeding too fast so they felt they had to stop you, and pleading that everybody else speeds isn’t really a defense.

  11. TotesMaGoats*

    #4-I’m surprised that you haven’t mentioned speaking to your union rep. In my experience, most city employees, especially in what your area sounds like, are union members. So, they probably can’t summarily fire you.

    Was it wrong and unprofessional? Yes. Was it probably funny to you and everyone who knows you and Tim? Most likely.

    Apologize sincerely.

  12. LQ*

    Writing in cement, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned that it is a crime. It’s vandalism or destruction of property. You are getting fired for committing a crime. Depending on the amount of cement it can be a felony.

    You’re a government employee defacing government property and no one wants to end up on the local news for not firing someone for that.

    (If you are union you can talk to your union rep. But this is a serious matter, not a joke. I know lots of people do it as a joke. But Kent Brockman could totally win another local emmy for putting your face and a big dollar sign and dum-dum-dum music on air.)

    1. Naomi*

      But the cement was poured in the wrong place–it would have been removed anyway. I think that’s different from scratching words in cement that’s actually going to be there a while.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, there’s no way he’d actually be charged–the economic damages happened when the concrete got dropped where it shouldn’t have been.

  13. Brett*

    #4 Cities tend to be one of three regimes with firing procedures.

    First, they could be unionized and so firing is a formal contract driven process. Doesn’t sound like the case for the OP.

    Second, some cities have a bureaucratic layered merit process where reviews, PIPs, warnings, etc come into play. The more the city worries about wrongful termination suits, the more likely they are to go this route. State law can be a factor too.

    Third, some cities have almost no bureaucracy and treat every position like a patronage position (serve at the whim of the elected officials). This is more likely in smaller cities, but there are certain large cities (especially in southern states) who work this way. These tend to rely on a “damage to the image” clause. If you do anything that has a risk of damaging the public image of city government, you can be fired for it immediately. The “damage to the image” clause is meant to protect the city from wrongful termination suits, though it is not always successful on this and you see a _lot_ of wrongful termination suits filed in areas where cities act this way. There are probably cases where state law makes it much easier for cities to act this way, though I am not aware of any specific ones, e.g. some states could make many city employees formal patronage employees instead of merit positions (which not only makes the positions at-will, but grants immunity to some discrimination laws too).

    So, relating back to the OP, this sounds a lot like a “damage to the image” situation. Reacting this way is over the top, but the procedures may allow this. The catch here is that someone has to make a judgement call, and it is not going to be HR. It may have to go all the way up to the city manager or the mayor to make this judgement call, but this is where the OP’s boss comes into play.

    The boss needs to understanding the firing procedure and make sure that the case is made up the line for the OP and lands in front of whoever actually makes the judgement call on whether the OP’s actions went too far. It would be good for the OP to understand the procedures too, but the OP’s boss is the one most likely to navigate up the chain of command and find how the procedure works.

  14. Katie the Fed*

    #4 – two keys to crude office humor:

    – Make sure you’re certain everyone shares your humor
    – Don’t leave a written trail

    1. Anon Accountant*

      I love your 2nd point- don’t leave a written trail.
      Especially if it’s written in cement.

  15. Amanda*


    If the applicant did NOT list the person that the OP called as a reference, it seems odd to me that she called him/her so early on in the process.

    a) If OP called to check on the applicant with the supervisor and the supervisor relayed it back to the applicant, it could give a false sense of hope. The applicant may be led to believe that the department is interested enough in her to be calling and checking her out. In fact, the applicant hadn’t even made it to selection for an interview, yet.

    b) The applicant may not have informed her supervisor that she was looking for a new job. The OP could have blown the cover off that one by calling and checking in with the supervisor. Hypothetically, if the applicant wasn’t even going to make it to the interview stage, it seems unfair to do that to her.

    It seems more unprofessional than “wrong”, in my opinion for the OP to have done that. But, it sounds like she realizes it– we all make mistakes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just to clarify, the OP didn’t call the candidate’s current employer. It was a past employer.

      On the timing, it can make a lot of sense to ask “Would we be making a huge mistake by passing on Jane Smith?” or “Can you give me a quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Jane Smith?” before you decide whether to interview.

  16. Puddin*

    #5 definitely does sound like a Bureaucratic statement. However, it could be the county’s statement and not the library’s. Depending on how the local government is structured the library itself could have very little involvement in HR decisions and policies. Of course, that is not to say that your would not be effected by the county HR terms, but perhaps there will be a buffer zone if the policies are not stemming from library personnel but from county personnel.

  17. Totally Normal Person*

    #2 “How can I keep a candidate from shopping our offer around?”

    “How can my company even further reduce the bargaining power of our candidates?”

    There, OP, fixed it for you.

    1. AGirlCalledFriday*

      Yeah, I was thinking the same. In the workplace, in America at least, everything is mostly tipped in favor of the employer. What power a candidate tends to have is their product – their knowledge, skill-set, and personality. A candidate has the power to leave a position – but even doing this is fraught with concerns that again, favor the employer – or to take a position – again, tending to favor the employer regarding information offered and opportunity offered.

      A candidate that knows her worth and shops around for the best deal is, to my mind, similar to an employer shopping around for the best candidate. It’s not personal, it’s smart.

      You solve this issue by being competitive about gaining and keeping employees. Great candidates want to work where there’s a great fit – and not necessarily monetarily. If it’s a great fit, it won’t matter who shops around where.

      1. Totally Normal Person*

        Yes, very well articulated.

        I have the same issue with the way non-compete agreements are starting to be blanket implemented in companies these days. It’s not really about protecting intellectual property anymore. It’s about getting people to bargain away their futures and keep salaries/benefits lower than what a true free market would normally allow.

        1. Dan*

          I believe those kinds of non-competes are uneforceable.

          We had a discussion yesterday about an employer who wanted to do an end-run around a temp agency’s placement fee. While I kept my mouth shut in that conversation, I would say that a person’s first priority is to act in their own best interests. If that means violating a contract, then I’ll live with having to go to court.

          In the temp agency case, the employee being complicit could very well find themselves shut out of the local temp market, so breaking that contract may not be in their own best interests.

          But a BS non-compete? Sue me and I mean it. If it’s a matter of a lawsuit or not having a job, I’d rather fight a lawsuit than be unemployed. Full stop.

          1. Totally Normal Person*

            Yes, Dan, good points all.

            I too would rather spend $10K on attorney and court costs fighting a non-compete than be unemployed. Still a net benefit (even if it is a royal pain in the ass).

            Fortunately, I’m not currently under a NCA, but if I were to be promoted I suspect it would be a condition of the promotion. I really try to avoid signing them in the first place, but I’m not really sure how this refusal will effect my future employment opportunities in the future. Not sure if it is better to refuse an NCA upfront (and risk being passed over for the opportunity) or just sign it to stay employed and take my chances in the courtroom later…

            1. Dan*

              I’m not a lawyer, never signed one, and don’t know jack about any of it, really.

              But me? It depends on the terms, if it’s really narrow and specific, then fine. If it’s broad but the pay bump is really good and you expect to be with the company for awhile? Sign it and deal with the fallout. Or perhaps negotiate for a stable contract.

              Minor bump and you’re shaky on your future with your company? Pass.

              I work in a particular niche of government transportation research. If I were to be presented with a broad noncompete that says I can’t work for any employer providing similar services to the government, I’d be screwing myself out of a livelihood if things went south.

              So, no noncompete (on those terms) for me, unless you’re going to give me a nice long contract or a fat severance package.

              Everything in life is negotiable, don’t give up your right to earn a good living without something in return.

              1. Totally Normal Person*

                Just curious. What time frame would you be looking for in a contract and what size severance (% of salary)? What do you think a reasonable expectation is on these factors?

      2. Dan*

        My first jobs in and out of college were centered around having barely enough money to pay the bills. Every dollar counts so suck it.

        But as I get older and my paychecks increase at a rate that exceeds my expenses, “fit” comes down to a lot more factors, of which compensation is just a slice of a bigger pie. I’ve been lucky that both of my job searches have yielded a pair of offers that have been tough to choose from.

        What it’s come down to me is that in both cases, both companies have checked the basic “fit” box. IOW, for the right compensation, I’d be happy working there, or for that matter, if it was the only offer, I’d be fine with it. (Other interviews have yielded a “no way in hell, forget it” feeling.) Then, I’ve probably got one employer that I’d prefer to work for if the compensation is right. What that means is that the other employer would have to beat the offer in a meaningful way.

        I’ve been lucky that in both cases, the companies that I wanted to see offers from actually came through with better offers — with no negotiation on my part. Although, at my current employer, my department manager told me that he would beat the offer I had on the table, and he did. I returned a signed offer letter within 15 minutes of receiving it :)

    2. Dan*

      If you’re actually confident in your offer, then you want your potential employee to shop it around and convince themselves that you’re the best fit for them.

      1. Totally Normal Person*

        Yes. And this is one of the reasons it really aggravates me when interviewers press me on where else I’m interviewing and how those interview processes are going. What business is it of yours? I usually just tell them that basically those conversations are between myself and the other employers, just as our conversation is between us (phrased more politely, of course). But, being asked about this is a big fat red flag for me in an interview.

        1. Dan*

          Asked and pressed are two very different responses. One is acceptable, the other is not.

          During my last go, I happened to have my second choice interview (and offer) first. When I interviewed, they asked what was going on. I said “At the moment, the only thing I’m comfortable disclosing is that I have multiple irons in the fire.”

          One week later, I had an offer, which I had one week to accept. The following day, they called to feel me out. I tried negotiating salary (budged 2%). Then I dropped the bomb that I had just interviewed with Big Name in the field, and I wanted a week to let it play out. Big Name knows about your timeline, and will allow my to respond back to you within your time line.

          I really expected the guy to jack up my offer on the spot, or quickly turn around a better offer in a day or two — at least say “let me see what I can do.”

          One week later, I called to reject their offer and inform them that I accepted Big Name’s offer. At that point, they had the CEO call and try and convince me to accept the offer. I never returned his call.

          People here thought I was an idiot for never calling him back. Truth is, they had sufficient warning and plenty of opportunity to up their offer (they knew what I was looking for, and the opening offer was the absolute bottom of the range) before I turned it down.

          I just wasn’t willing to negotiate when I had to go through that much effort to get more money.

    3. LabTech*

      Yea, I felt the same way. I didn’t like the implication in the question that candidate should be obliged to accept an offer rather than picking the best one – any more than an employer isn’t obliged to hire me just because I applied, and I don’t like the double-standard of employers “shopping around” for the best candidate being expected while employees doing what’s in their best interest to get the best offer being looked down upon.

    4. Vicki*

      I… disagree.

      The pull quote that caught my eye was this one: “The candidate took our offer to our major competitor and got them to match it. Fortunately for us, she decided we were a better fit for her,…”

      Is that really “fortunately for you”? To me, it looks like a variation on the counter-offer scenario. I could go with them but if you make me a better offer, I’ll stay with you.

      A job is not a television set. Getting one company to match the other’s price is not, imo, the best way to look for work (and matching their price is not the best way to get a good employee).

      OP, you paid for this employee. How soon will she see greener pastures, interview, and then come back and talk “counter offer” to “keep” her?

  18. Daria*

    #1, you still have a supervisor I assume? You can use those people as future references. I find the constant e-mailing creepy, and you don’t have to put up with it if you don’t want to. Just stop responding. If you answer every third e-mail or whatever, it shows him that he has to e-mail you three times to get a response.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, the former manager may still be the best reference if he really loved the OP’s work or they had a particular rapport. And especially if the OP might leave soon — someone who managed her for four years is a better reference than someone who managed her for six months.

      1. OG Poster*

        Hello! This is the OP for #1. Funny you should say Allison because I am leaving in 4 weeks! I have a remote supervisor now while they replace him, who would be a reference though not as strong. I am positive this guy would give me an amazing reference, so even though he is edging closer to creepy, or maybe just kind of sad!, I think I will continue to play out the occasional reply, at least for another couple weeks. Hopefully by then he’ll have gotten through his postpartum depression.

  19. JMegan*

    #5 – ugh, government interviews!

    I agree with the others that it’s likely you will be asked a specific set of questions that are identical for each candidate. They will likely have a set of X bullet points that they’re looking for in each answer, and whoever gets the most answers “right” overall will move on to the next step.

    IME, they are not allowed to prompt you in any way, either to ask you to expand or to clarify – so make sure you say as much as you can think of for each question! They might ask if you have finished/ have anything else to add, but that’s about it. They also don’t usually make much eye contact or do anything to build rapport with you as an individual, so don’t expect much other than a bit of chitchat about the weather on the way in. It’s literally just a process of they ask a question, you answer it, they ask another question, and so on.

    As far as no note-taking – that’s relatively new, but seems to be pretty common in the interviews I’ve been on lately. It’s so you don’t copy their questions and share them with other people. But you might be able to take notes related to your own questions that you bring to ask them – it’s worth clarifying that point, anyway.

    1. Esra*

      It’s so you don’t copy their questions and share them with other people.

      I’m sorry, but I think this is ridiculous. Are there really such revolutionary, proprietary interview questions out there?

      1. Doreen*

        It’s not to keep other interviewers from using the questions. It’s to keep people from gaining an advantage by getting the exact questions in advance from someone who has already interviewed.

        1. EA*

          If it’s a government hiring process (in the U.S.A.), would the set of interview questions be something that could be subject to FOIA laws?

          1. doreen*

            Maybe (in my state there is an exemption from FOIL for examination questions or answers requested before final administration of the exam and these questions might be considered an oral exam- that really is what they are ) but in my experience it wouldn’t do an interviewee any good to try because we have five business days from receipt of the request to grant access, deny access or acknowledge receipt of the request and give a date when copies will be provided. In most cases, the interview period lasts less than 5 days .

  20. A Jane*

    #1 – ha, perfect timing. My former boss is annoying me as well, although, thankfully no where near the frequency. A few days after left, a I got a voicemail where he asked me a work question, which I blatently ignored. A couple weeks later, I got voicemail where he was literally whining that I did not call to say hello. My friend, who he also knows since we all worked together, got an email joking that he hates me. And recently, I get a message in all caps that says I’m in trouble.

    My energy is so devoted to my new job and role, that when I get home at the end of the day, the last thing I really want to do is talk to about my old, toxic job. I know I should call back and at least say hello, but frankly, the way he’s gone about reaching out is really annoying.

    1. OG Poster*

      Yeah, I would say your boss is truly the one being creepy, more than mine! Yours sounds very bizarre. Good for you for ignoring. His jokes are weird, at best, and he needs to get over it and let you go.

  21. C Average*


    No matter how much tomfoolery and crass language the workplace tolerates as “the culture,” I can’t believe that a 30+ year employee really doesn’t get how juvenile and inappropriate this kind of thing is. This is the kind of thing a 20-year-old intern would do the morning after a tequila bender. Normally, 30+ years of professional experience would weigh against a misstep–“He’s been a model employee for 30 years, and everyone makes mistakes, and we’re going to balance all that good against this one bad and let it go.” I think in this case the long experience sort of makes it worse–“Someone with 30+ years’ professional experience would seriously do THIS and think it’s OK?” It makes you wonder about his professional judgment and what else he might think is OK because it’s part of “the culture,” and then you start worrying that you’ve got a loose cannon on your hands.

    [This is just my take; as always, reasonable minds may differ.]

    1. Anonypants*

      No you may be onto something, they should expect better behavior from someone who’s been there for 30+ years. I’m still not convinced firing the employee was the answer, but they should’ve done something.

    2. Pennalynn Lott*

      Eh. I guess I’ll have to differ. I have never worked in a garage, but I have had friends and family members who do, including a city facility. It can be very “good ol’ boys club with juvenile pranks”, and the management not only knows about it, but actively cultivates that kind of culture in an attempt to create a “fun” work environment for that certain kind of personality.

      The husband of a friend of mine has worked for the parks and recreation dept of our city repairing trucks, mowers, and construction equipment for 25 years, and I wouldn’t exactly call him “professional” in his demeanor. I’d use “rough around the edges” and “has a good heart”. I could absolutely see him writing something inappropriate in a glob of misplaced concrete. . . and he’s a 61-year old grandfather.

  22. Annie O*

    THIRTY years of employment, huh? Sucks that you’re getting fired so soon before retirement and pension. If your track record is as good as you say, I’d suspect the timing.

    1. Stephanie*

      Well, to be fair, a lot of cities and states have drastically reduced pension payouts or aren’t able to fund them (Stockton, CA declared bankruptcy partially due to inability to meet pension guarantees). OP#4 may very well still need the job to keep from eating cat food in retirement (or he may just like his job enough to want to keep working).

      1. Koko*

        I think Annie O is insinuating they’re trumping up the complaint to avoid having to pay his pension, if they can force him out just before he qualifies.

      1. Chinook*

        I think being vested in your pension depends on the type of pension. If it is one where the company only pays, then firing you for cause could cause you to lose the pension. But, if you have put money into it that the company then matches, then the pension money is your money and the company can’t keep it (though they can withdraw their matching funds, I think).

      2. Judy*

        Yes, but every place I worked that had a pension, there was a different amount from “retiring in service” vs. “retiring after separation”. The last place was almost 10%. So even though I was vested (and I think in the US, you have to be vested at 5 years), the amount I would get was modified because I didn’t work there until retirement age.

        1. Judy*

          Oh, and back in the day when there were pensions, you didn’t get retiree healthcare if you “retired after separation” only if you “retired in service”.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      I suspected that too. In many companies being fired for gross misconduct is grounds for loss of pension. It doesn’t matter if you are vested. HR is under pressure to reduce the pension burden, so there is a definite conflict of interest there. Apologize profusely, see what they say. But you may have to contact a lawyer if HR plays hardball.

      That said, “they didn’t warn me” is no excuse. Some behaviors are so egregious that they don’t merit a warning and will immediately get you walked off campus. I don’t see this as one of those times. That said, you enflamed a situation with a problem co-worker. I can see HR taking it out on you.

  23. JMegan*

    #4, I’m curious what makes you think you’re about to be fired. Has anybody actually said this to you? Is that person in on the decision, or are they repeating rumours?

    Usually, when someone is fired (especially after 30+ years in what I assume is a union environment), they’re either fired outright, or they’re given tons of warnings, verbal and written, and tons of chances to improve before actually being let go.

    It just doesn’t add up to me. Either this is a fireable offense, in which case you’d be out the door already; or it’s not, in which case you’d have a warning of some sort and a chance to salvage your 30+ year reputation of being a “perfect” employee – which would be no problem if this really were a one-off. I really feel like there’s some contextual information that we’re missing here, beyond what’s written in the letter.

  24. Sara*

    #1 eerily sounds like me, except I’m the worker let go, in constant touch with someone at work. We had (what I thought was) a good friendship while working and I guess I grew really attached, so I miss it (the job and the person) a lot now that’ thigns have changed drastically. It’s been a few months; I don’t expect a reply every single time and on every single text, but I know I’m too emotionally attached and need to move on. I’m better now than I was then, but I still have a ways to go.

  25. mel*

    #4 ever so slightly confuses me. Why would they pour concrete where no concrete was needed? Was it just a random puddle shape sitting on top of the floor?
    Why does it matter that other people swear? Do they write swears all over the walls?
    People spend time making sure that their concrete applications are smooth. I can’t speak for everyone, but if I work to make something look perfect and someone came around just to ruin it (and scratched it out later! What was the point?), that would piss me right off.
    Glad you didn’t get a chemical burn, though.

    1. Anonsie*

      I did work for the gov (not city though) in a department that occasionally created paths or steps/stairs with cement and stone. I can think of a few occasions where we had done a piece and then had to remove it and change locations or materials because it wasn’t working out. We didn’t always stop and remove it right all away because we normally had other things that were a little more urgent on the same site, and sometimes it would be easier to remove when dry anyway. I don’t know how common that is though.

  26. JustMe*

    I don’t understand the need to call a person ex co-worker/boss seeking a thumbs up, or down. How do you know your friend on the other line isn’t some jealous filled individual just trying to block another from getting ahead. How do you know what they say is truthful. What if Jane was is the wrong position at company B, and the right fit is with your company. I’ve just seen/heard too many stories on folks trying to block others simply because of personality conflicts.

    I’m not saying not to check references ever!

    I have a mgr. now who said that if any company calls him and wants to hire his ex-emp who is he to try and stop that. They may just work out better for you than they did for him. I truly love this mgr.

    1. JustMe*

      I personally know a lady (call her Becky) that do try and block people simply because she’s mean-spirited. A few years ago one of the mgrs. in my now ex-company applied for a job elsewhere. Someone at the new company knew Becky. They called her seeking a thumbs up/down on the mgr., and Becky said she told them not to hire him. Becky wasn’t even in management, nor had she worked for the mgr.; he did get the job in-spite of Becky’s protest. She was gloating at the fact she had that perceived power.

      So, I would just be careful with this. Make sure the person you are asking doesn’t have an axe to grind, and is truly trustworthy and honest. That’s all.

      #4 – That’s so unfortunate. People do these things to take the spotlight off of them. I hope you do keep your job, because 30 years of experience will be hard to backfill.

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