unsolicited resumes from strangers, telling someone grad school isn’t for them, and more

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

1. What am I supposed to do with an unsolicited resume from a stranger?

I just received an email from someone I don’t know, and it was likely sent to a lot of people (he sent it to himself and I’m a “bcc”). This feels like a cold-call situation: his cover letter said: “Thought I’d reach out to you personally, anticipating you may know of a someone looking for my particular set of skills. My recent contract ended only last week and I’m in need of a new position. Full time is preferred! I don’t like sitting on the bench. I’m X and Y Certified as of 2013. Also, feel free to forward my information to someone you feel may have an interest. I hope this wasn’t an inconvenience to you at this time. And thank you in advance just in case..”

I would like to know how to respond politely — is a response even necessary? I’m not a hiring manager. I don’t know him or how he got my name. We don’t have any open positions at the moment. I did forward it to my boss, and she is not interested. His skill set is not something we’d hire for.

Ugh, yes, the unsolicted resume from a stranger mass-emailed to a bunch of people at once. My heart goes out to people who do this because they don’t realize it’s ineffective, but … it’s terribly ineffective. Cold-emailing strangers without responding to a particular opening is a tough sell as it is, but then when you do it in a mass email and don’t in any way personalize it to the person you’re contacting? It’s not going to go anywhere. I know people who do this figure that it hardly takes any time, and there’s a sliver of a chance it will lead somewhere … but it’s such a bad strategy.

You already did more than most people would do by forwarding it to your boss; I think most people just delete these. If you wanted to, it would be particularly kind to write back and let him know that you’re not able to help, and it would be even more kind to direct him toward resources that you think might help him better navigate his search.

2. Telling someone that grad school isn’t for them

My question really relates to post-graduate opportunities, so is slightly less office based than perhaps your normal question but I think in its general concept, is broadly the same. We have a student at the moment who has completed two degrees and wishes to do a PhD. However, having worked with him on PhD-type work for the last couple of months it’s clear he has neither the aptitude, nor the motivation, yet he still insists he is going to apply. I believe it will be a waste of time for whoever has to supervise him as he is not really capable of working independently and requires a lot of “hand holding.” We have tried in subtle ways to hint that it’s a difficult career choice and not for everyone and that there are other things out there but he completely misses our point, mostly just nodding along and agreeing rather than realizing it’s directed at him.

My question is, if I were to have a sit-down meeting with him about this, how do I go about telling him it’s not for him without hurting his feelings? He’s a nice person, I just don’t think he’s got it in him to be a PhD student.

There’s only so much you can do here, I think. You can paint him an accurate picture of what will be required and ask him if he’s sure it’s for him. Hell, you can even tell him that you wonder if it’s for him because of Observation X and Work Habit Y. But ultimately, this isn’t something you need to worry about convincing him of. You can give him your opinion, but what he does from there is really up to him. It’s not really your responsibility to keep him from trying a doomed endeavor, as much as it can feel like it is when you’re watching someone prepare to crash and burn. (And hey, who knows, maybe he’ll surprise you. Or not — but maybe he’ll learn something useful in the process.)

3. I don’t know how to respond to this meeting invitation!

Today, I sent a LinkedIn invitation to connect to a VP at a company that I would like to work for. Since I had no underlying agenda in targeting this particular person, I didn’t personalize the invite or in any way indicate a reason for connecting. The person accepted my invitation request and, to my surprise, sent back a note stating that they could be available to meet with me tomorrow! No reason was given for the meeting invitation and I’m unsure as to how to respond. [They just wrote, “Thanks for your kind invitation to connect. I will be traveling to (my city) tomorrow, and I could make myself available to you in the afternoon. Please note that my flight arrives to (neighboring city) at (time). and I will stay at (hotel name).”]

I absolutely think that this would be great as far as upping my chances of becoming a part of the company, but I’ve never had anything like this happen before and I’m lost as to how to proceed.

Hmmm. I’m at a loss too! That’s awfully generous of this person. In fact, my paranoid brain thinks it’s suspiciously generous (are you going to get mugged? get an Amway pitch?) But it’s more likely that they’re just weird with written communication (and have a habit of leaving out relevant context, like “I’d like to talk to you about X”) or that they’re a profligate networker.

I’d write back something like, “I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’m interested in working in ___ (field) and would love to pick your brain about ___ if you have time for it while you’re in town!”

4. Did I mess up my resignation?

I recently graduated from social work school with my MSW. When I was in school, I entered a part-time administrative position at the local health system around the corner from school which offered me flexibility while I was a full-time student. I have been working here for a year and a half and from day one my boss knew that I wanted to pursue social work opportunities upon graduation.

My boss has been very kind to me and even helped me set-up informational interview with two of her colleagues at the health system who are in my field. In April I started applying for jobs and everytime that I had an interview (especially if it conflicted with my job) I informed my employer. One of her contacts that I had an informational interview with asked me to interview for a very exciting position which I just accepted. My boss knew I was getting an offer because they contacted her as a reference.

Yesterday, I gave my official two week notice and asked that my last day be two weeks from then as orientation is the following Monday. My boss responded sort of strangely at first and said she had to think about it but then gave me a hug and said she understood. I feel guilty as we have no hired my replacement yet but we have started the process. I want to know if I could have handled this better or if I did the right thing. She knew I was looking for a job since April but I think her expectation was that I train a new person which I can’t do due to my new position. She has helped me so much throughout school and in my professional development and I am very grateful for that. On the other hand, I have also additionally taken on personal as well as professional tasks for her and think I have helped her as well.

It’s not typical for notice periods to be long enough to hire a replacement; hiring usually takes at least a month, and the typical notice period is two weeks (which is what you gave). It sounds like your boss was expecting you’d give her more notice, but never told you that. I’d go back to her and say, “I got the sense the other day that you were hoping for more than two weeks notice. Since two weeks is what I’ve always heard as standard, I assumed that was appropriate. They want me to start in two weeks, but is there anything I can do to make this go more smoothly meanwhile?”

(But really, she’s had more notice. She knew you were searching and had to know this was coming.)

5. Another post-rejection success story

I recently came across your site while on my job hunt (I recently graduated from college, the struggle is so real) and it’s been so helpful to me. I’ve used your advice to improve my cover letters and I’ve been noticing the amount of responses I get back has gone up. But anyway, I wanted to share with you my “success story” on handling rejection.

So I applied for this 3-month contract position at a company that I really wanted to work at and this was a great way to get my foot in the door. After going through the phone interview and in-person interview (which both went well), I got a response back in a week with no offer. I know, heartbreaking. The rejection email was very nice though and even encouraged me to look at other positions since the people I met with really liked me. I had read this article on your site and decided to respond back thanking her for her time and also talked about what a great experience I had and that the entire process just confirmed my original thought that this is a fantastic company to work for. I also had a line in there about any feedback she had. I didn’t expect a response to that email, but I was pretty happy that I ended things on a good note. Everything I had said in the email was true; it really was a great interview process regardless of no offer.

About a week goes by and I get an email from the recruiter. I assume it was just a response to my other email with some feedback, but she was actually emailing me about a 3-day temp position at the company! I thought the door to this company had already shut, but this was the perfect opportunity to get my foot in the door. So of course I accepted. I honestly think that it was my thank-you email post rejection that made me stand out. I remember reading somewhere that a thank-you email after a rejection is so rare that it always makes them think “Did I make the right decision?” Anyway, thank you so much for your advice! This was the silver lining that I needed in the otherwise grey and gloomy job hunt.

Yes! This is so important, and the vast majority of times, people just don’t do it.

Your response sounds incredibly gracious and exactly like the kind of thing that would make a hiring manager open to finding other opportunities to work with you, assuming you had some baseline qualifications. Thank you for illustrating how this kind of thing to pay off in ways you’d never expect.

{ 202 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    #2) Is this person going to want a recommendation letter? It seems that declining to give one might be the kind path here.

    1. OhNo*

      Something about that seems unnecessarily antagonistic to me. Kind of like, “I don’t think you should do this, so I refuse to help you in any way.” As Alison said, it’s not up to the OP what this person does with their life – if they want to try something that OP doesn’t think will end well for them, it’s their right to do so.

      If the OP is asked for a recommendation letter, that actually sounds like it would be the perfect opportunity to discuss the situation in more detail. Something like… “I can definitely write a recommendation letter for you, but I have concerns about how X and Y may affect your performance in a PhD program, and that will impact the recommendation that I give. With that in mind, do you still want me to write one for you?”

      I had that conversation with one of my college professors when I was gathering recommendation letters for grad school. It was a difficult but extremely helpful conversation, and although I didn’t end up using him as a reference, I kept in mind what he had said for when I started grad school. Unsurprisingly, his advice was spot-on and I’m doing way better in my program now that I know my weak spots.

      1. C Average*

        In academia, is it considered borderline unacceptable to refuse to write a recommendation for someone? That’s almost the vibe I’m getting here. (I’ve spent very little time in academia. I got my bachelor’s and, for the most part, never looked back. So I’m not familiar with the cultural norms.)

        I get hit up a lot for referrals for jobs at my company. I have zero qualms about saying to someone, “I wish you well, but I’m not comfortable writing a referral for you because it’s my sincere opinion that you wouldn’t be a good fit for this role. I could be wrong, of course, but as a matter of integrity I have to go with my best judgment on this.”

        1. OhNo*

          I have no idea for academia in general. It was (and is) certainly considered unusual to outright refuse everywhere I have been to school.

          My thought was that the OP didn’t say that they had any objection to the quality of the work the student has performed thus far, just that they don’t the student has the “aptitude or motivation” for PhD work. Both of those things can certainly be improved by the student if they choose to work on it, so it strikes me as odd to refuse outright.

          It makes more sense, from my perspective, to sit down and have a clear conversation with the student (no hints!). After that conversation, the OP can decide if their concerns have been addressed sufficiently that they feel comfortable giving a rec (even a qualified one, as I mentioned above), or if they really think that writing one would be a disservice to both the student and the institution to which they apply.

          1. OhNo*

            To clarify: I’m a big believer in having a conversation before providing (or accepting) any kind of recommendation – academic, job reference, or otherwise. This may not be the norm in most situations, but that’s the basis I’m working off of here.

        2. Dr. Speakeasy*

          For PhD programs? I think it is pretty common for professors to refuse if they don’t think a student is ready for a program. Academic fields are small worlds and if you start recommending people who are not ready for a PhD program your rec won’t count when you have a stellar student.

          The other thing here is – it isn’t like this student can just decide to get a PhD. They have to take the GRE, apply, and most doctoral programs are really competitive. So a lot of people have to disagree with your assessment of the student for them to make it in to a PhD program.

          1. fposte*

            Exactly. Even if it were one of my master’s students, I wouldn’t say “You couldn’t do it”–I’d talk about what I see in successful PhD students that I haven’t seen from my student yet, and about the weaknesses I’ve seen in his work that are likely to be problematic during the doctoral process. But lots of people will be evaluating whether he can or can’t do it; I’m hardly the defining word on the matter.

        3. Stephanie*

          I had a professor who wouldn’t say no, but she had very specific guidelines as to who she would be willing to write a letter for. Something like “I’m more willing to write a letter for those who did well in my classes or worked in my lab…”

        4. Melissa*

          No, it’s not unacceptable. Your reputation rides on your recommendations; if you recommend people who are unqualified, then your recommendation no longer holds water. I’ve been asked to, and have declined to, write recommendations for students who have not performed well in my classes. And then I wonder why they asked me. (I also don’t write recommendations to PhD programs because I don’t yet have a PhD, and recommendations to PhD programs should really come from someone with a PhD. I can start writing them come August, though :D)

          And when I do write a recommendation – usually to summer programs or post-baccs at this point – I ask my students to give me a resume or CV, a draft of their personal statement and the information I need to submit the rec (so the address and/or email). That’s also pretty standard in academia, but occasionally I get a student who thinks that’s too hard and goes elsewhere

      2. Betsy*

        When I was in college, I went to visit a favorite HS teacher (in an arts subject), and the subject of writing recommendations came up. He told me about a time a student asked for a recommendation, and he said, “You don’t want me to write a recommendation for you,” the student said, “No, I really do,” the teacher said, “It won’t help you get in, because I’m going to have to be honest, and my honest assessment isn’t going to be something you’ll like,” but the student insisted.

        So he wrote a letter, and it basically said, “X is a very talented person, but she doesn’t apply herself to her work. She has clever ideas, but relies on the idea instead of diligence and effort, and as a result has only minimally advanced her skills while my student. I don’t think she will do well at your college, and cannot recommend that you give her a place.”

        The student did not get in. If your teacher is reluctant about giving you a reference, listen to them.

        1. OhNo*

          Exactly! Teachers and professors know better than anyone what makes students successful, and most of them are really good at identifying issues that might get in the way.

          The most important thing I ever learned in college was how to listen when my instructors had suggestions or criticism for me. It’s a tough lesson to learn (especially when you are as stubborn as I am), but it has served me very well as I’ve moved into the working world.

      3. fposte*

        I wouldn’t recommend a student for a program if I thought he couldn’t succeed in it, though. “Recommend” means what it says–you’re recommending his admission.

      4. Melissa*

        Genuine question: Why would you tell a person with whom you have performance concerns that you would “definitely” write them a recommendation? It’s kinder IMO (and more ethical) to refuse to write a recommendation when you cannot write a positive one than to write one that’s neutral to negative. Personally, if I did not think a student could perform well in a PhD program, I would just tell them I couldn’t give them a recommendation letter. Such a letter literally “recommends” the student be admitted to the program, and I can’t in good faith do that if I don’t think they’ll succeed.

    2. T*

      I agree with PEBCAK in regards to refusing to write a recommendation (if he asks). But I also think it would be appropriate for you to explain now rather than waiting until the student is part way through the application process. I think if you are direct and express your desire to help the student, that would be the best way to go. You may not be able to avoid hurting his feelings if you tell the truth, but that is better than some of the alternatives. And, as Allison said, it is ultimately his choice whether or not to pursue a PhD despite people advising him otherwise.

      And yes, professors can refuse to write recommendations. I had one refuse me because I had only one class with him, not because of the quality of my work. But I think that if he hadn’t liked my work, he would have had no qualms about telling me so.

      1. manager anonymous*

        Just read a novel written in the format of academic recommendation letters. It was a hoot!
        Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, Doubleday pubs 8/19/14. Librarians on the blog. available on Net Galley or Eidelwiess.

  2. anon-2*

    #1 – probably the best path is to do what AAM suggested – write back that you’re not able to help but also provide some guidance.

    I agree that blindly sending CVs and cover letters isn’t the way to go BUT think of being in the other person’s shoes for just a little bit…

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      Yes, sometimes desperation sets in and, at that stage, anything seems worth a try. A while back somebody put their CV in the office letterbox, regardless of whether they might be a good fit for the company in our location.

    2. anon*

      I don’t think people who do this are ONLY doing this. If you don’t have a job, what are you going to do? The longer you are unemployed the harder it is to get a job. He’s not trying to get a salary increase or a promotion, he’s trying to put a roof over his head and food on the table.

      1. fposte*

        Sure, that’s understood. But he’s spending precious time and energy doing something that isn’t going to help him and may hurt him.

        1. anon*

          I doubt he would have spent the time doing something else that is more productive.

          You can’t make such a blanket statement as “isn’t going to help him” since all it takes is one success out of thousands or tens of thousands.

          Please explain how it would hurt him if they weren’t going to hire him anyways.

          1. Colette*

            The first impression he’s making is, at best, that he doesn’t understand how to effectively reach out to people. The thing is someone might be interested in hiring him, if he had gone about it another way.

          2. Monodon monoceros*

            It could hurt him if it annoys and/or makes the person that receives the cold email see the sender as unprofessional. Perhaps that person actually does have a position open, but now the sender is tainted by the cold email. Maybe this scenario is unlikely, but I’d think its more likely than the cold email working.

            1. anon*

              Do you really think someone will think “wow this guy is really qualified and I’d love to hire him, but darn, the way he contacted me, he was polite but i got bcc’ed so his resume will go in the circular file”?

              1. fposte*

                More or less, yes. Because if somebody does something naive and out of convention when they submit a resume to me, it does make it less likely that I’ll consider them for a job they otherwise look qualified for. I have a lot of qualified applicants, so I’m not cutting off my nose to spite my face.

                And of course the job-seeker could do something more productive here. He could take a nap, or get some exercise, or cook some soup, all of which would be better for him than blast-emailing his resume.

                1. anon*

                  “He could take a nap, or get some exercise, or cook some soup” The whole point is that none of those will get him any closer to a job. Remember, he only needs ONE job.

                2. fposte*

                  Those will get him closer to a job than blast-emailing will.

                  Seriously, job-hunters fare better if they target their applications and treat themselves with care while they’re not applying than if they’re spending 24/7 emailing their resume to every address they find. “Being productive” is not the same thing as “doing something, anything, job-hunt related.” You’re talking like the hot-dog-stand guy in the story who prices the hot dog at a million dollars, because he only has to sell one to make it. It’s technically true, but it’s also a bad strategy.

                3. OriginalYup*

                  @ anon

                  He only needs ONE job, but employers are looking for someone who wants THIS job in particular. Which is the problem with his cold approach — he didn’t demonstrate any particular interest in their company or their needs, and didn’t position himself as a strong candidate for whatever job might arise. Unless his resume is beyond spectacular, they have no reason to consider him if a job opens up — they’ll have other candidates who’ve demonstrated interest in the specific job.

                4. anon*

                  Look, all your comments assume his chances are exactly 0%. They are not, as evidenced by a comment below. Even if they are 0.01% , he would have a success rate of 63% if he did it 10,000 times.

                5. anon*

                  The “hot dog” story is not relevant. It would be if his email included a salary demand of $1million a year. He is (presumably) asking for market salary.

                6. fposte*

                  @anon–people here who hire are telling you that it hurts an applicant. If people want to keep doing it anyway, that’s fine, all the better for those competing with them, but it’s really not a good hill to die on.

                7. anon-2*

                  fposte – I guess the days of making fun of desperate applicants in AAM are back.

                  And I agree that “blast-mailing” a resume may not be the most successful means of getting a position, but, by chance if they need someone with a particular skills set and that resume hits that set right on the nose, it just MIGHT prompt a positive response.

                  And – if you really need someone with that skill set, it would be irresponsible to just trash the CV because you feel “hmm, I didn’t ASK for this… I’m gonna throw this away. So there! Nyuk-nyuk.”

                  Sending a CV blindly is not “out of convention”, just a different means of applying.

                8. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Where’s the making fun? I’m not seeing that at all. People are correctly pointing out that the actions you choose to use say something about you as a candidate, and in this case they say undesirable things.

              2. Lucy*

                Assuming they really are “really qualified” and they really would love to hire them? Probably not. I’d most likely contact and bring them in to interview, but I’d still be on the lookout for further signs of inappropriate or unprofessional behavior. And any further concerns would get them dropped.

                But in a more marginal situation, where the person is adequately qualified but not outstanding, where the recipient might have considered bringing them in to interview if they had applied normally, where they MIGHT have had a shot but because of their approach come across as naive and unprofessional? Yes. I do this. So do other hiring managers I know. Plenty more fish in the sea who aren’t spamming me and know how to make a better impression.

                If this person is truly outstanding this approach won’t hurt them badly. But no one truly outstanding is likely to resort to this approach.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That’s the thing — no one outstanding does this. So by doing this, you’re wrapping your application up with a label that says MEDIOCRE CANDIDATE WITH POOR GRASP OF CONVENTION before they’ve even looked at your resume.

                  It’s like saying, “Hmmm, if I run around slapping people in the face, I might find the 1 in 5,000 who think that’s awesome. So it’s worth doing because all it takes is one.” But meanwhile, you’ve just ensured you won’t get a job will those other 4,999, who might have been feasible bets otherwise.

              3. Anonymous Educator*

                If you substitute in “looks decent on paper” for “is really qualified,” then, yes.

                After all, very few (no?) places will hire a new employee based solely on her résumé. Potential employers bring in applicants for interviews and follow-up interviews, sometimes writing samples, etc.

                They’re trying to evaluate: do you just look good on paper, or will you actually do a good job? What are your interactions like with co-workers, clients, the general public?

                I would absolutely rule out a looks-good-on-paper applicant who did this kind of random unpersonalized Bcc unsolicited email.

              4. MK*

                You are supposing a near-impossible outcome: that someone would take a look at this person’s CV and think “I ‘d love to hire him/her”. If the CV was so mind-blowing, chances are the person wouldn’t have been reduced to cold-calling strangers for a job. A more likely situation would be that whoever received the CV might have a position in mind that the job-seeker would be a candidate for and, had he/she received the CV in a more professional manner, would be willing to interview them (giving them a chance at a job).

                I think the real problem with stategies like this is that they only work if the resume is spectacular. In which case, the job-seeker probably doesn’t need to resort to gimmicks.

                1. Anonymous Educator*

                  I get what you’re saying, but I’ve got to disagree. A résumé says only what you’ve done in theory, usually how many years you were at a job and what job title you had and a list of “accomplishments.”

                  It really is not a direct indicator of A) how you would interview or B) how good a worker you would actually be on a day-to-day basis.

                  It’s a great first thing to look at, of course. If I were hiring a teacher and saw a great résum&eacute, there is no way I would hire that teacher on the spot simply based on a piece of paper. I want to see how articulate she is, how she interacts with other faculty and staff, what her sample lesson is like, what her department head says about her.

                  It’s very easy for a piece of paper to be “mind-blowing” and still leave its owner unemployed.

                2. MK*

                  To AnonymousEducator below:

                  You misunderstood what I was saying. I agree that it’s unimaginable for a manager to hire someone based on reading their resume; the best outcome someone who sends theirs to a stranger can hope for is to be called for an interview. The comment I was responding to stated that in any case this random sending of resumes cannot harm a candidate’s chances. I was trying to say that, if the resume is spectacular, yes, it probably won’t hurt and may even work for the sender (she/he may advance in a hiring process). A mind-blowing resume will probably take the manager’s mind off the dubious stategy the candidate used to get it in front of the manager, not get the job-seeker hired on the spot. But, if the resume is not mind-blowing, the hiring manager might be put off by this tactic; meaning, they might rule out the sender right away, even though they might have given them a chance, had they received the resume in the ordinary way.

  3. DrAtos*

    #2 – You’re a good person for trying to steer this young man from wasting thousands of dollars and many years of his life to end up unemployed or worse off than he is now. I don’t have a PhD (despite my alias) but I have plenty of friends who have gone down that path and are still down that path 8 years later with no end in sight. I think you should have a heart to heart with him. Of course be tactful, but show him the reality of the many thousands of PhD graduates (many of whom graduate from top universities) who end of unemployed or who struggle to survive as adjunct professors. Several articles written by an academic years ago might give you a few ideas of how to present these facts to your friend. Google “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”, “Is Graduate School a Cult?”, and “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind'” all written by Thomas H. Benton for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Good luck.

    1. Cucumber*

      I would like to second Dr. Atos comments on the crisis in higher education. The website “100 Reasons not to go” is also worthwhile – 100rsns.blogspot.com. He should also check out the website Phinished.com, which is filled with people struggling to write a masters’ thesis or dissertation.

  4. Dan*

    As a recent graduate student, I think I can help shed some light for #2. I could have sworn that graduate school was right for me. I got into a PhD program and soon realized how completely WRONG I was, for various reasons (mostly that I wasn’t willing to work 70-80 hours a week for the next 5 years). So, I transitioned into the Masters degree and was out way sooner, with a much better idea of who I am and what I’m capable of/willing to do.

    I guess the moral of this story is this: tell him your honest opinion, but don’t worry too much. If it’s not right for him, he’ll realize it pretty quickly after starting a graduate program. He probably won’t be a waste of time for whoever takes him on, either—or at least he’ll be given the boot pretty quickly if he is! But again, he’ll mostly likely figure it out himself.

    As a final note, in the program that I was in, about 10-12 students tend to be in a cohort; it is normal for about 2-3 to end up in the same boat that I was in.

    1. fposte*

      It’s also quite possible he won’t actually be accepted into the program–it’s not simply a matter of deciding you’ll go and then going. The OP will, as noted, want to consider her recommendation, but whether she gives it or not this is far from a foregone conclusion.

      1. Cat*

        Though you do have to worry he’ll end up at some predatory for profit school that admits anyone with a pulse and then let’s them incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Having a conversation with him about reputable programs might be worthwhile too from that perspective.

        1. fposte*

          That’s pretty unlikely with somebody who’s already done a bachelor’s and a master’s, though (which is how I’m interpreting the “two degrees” thing) and is working at the PhD level, and he’s currently a student somewhere that should be able to advise him. I actually wondered if the OP was staff at the school the student attends, in fact.

          My feeling is that it’s fine for the OP to share info about the challenges of PhD life, but to voluntarily say “You couldn’t do a PhD” when you haven’t been asked is too much.

          1. Artemesia*

            Masters programs are a dime a dozen and since they are cash cows for colleges often have low standards of admission comparatively. The only PhD programs that give a real chance of future academic employment are highly competitive ones from a handful of schools. They provide a free ride and a weak student on any level is unlikely to get in.

            There are however plenty of low quality PhD programs which offer no hope of high level academic employment but which can suck up your time and money. Having a masters degree in no way is evidence that the student has a clue about PhD programs or the kind of work one might expect with a PhD (none actually unfortunately as even PhDs from top programs struggle to get one of the handful of great jobs available)

            1. Cucumber*

              It really depends on the program; in a field like theatre, the MFA is still considered the terminal degree and is not merely a cash cow.

              If it’s not a free ride, it may be a cash cow with low academic rigor; or it may be like my master’s program in a very specific field (which was not expensive; $10-15k). Many of the people in my new field got a master’s and then used the degree to move up. My husband’s currently attending one of the top MBA schools in the country – it’s not free either.

            2. fposte*

              Even cash-cow master’s programs have standards, and I don’t think it’s valid to act as if this guy is a complete moron. It’s also not valid for the OP to be treated or to treat herself as the single defining point for assessing his success. As I said, by all means talk to him, but telling him he can’t possibly succeed? Not really her call.

          2. h*

            I agree. Also, based on what the OP wrote, this person is doing work one notch above his education. Just think about this. A high school student doing college level work may perform with some areas clearly needing improvement, but as a college student, may successfully master all college level work with great ease. No offense, but OP comes off as dismissive and arrogant – no one is perfect and to dismiss someone’s aspirations based on a few areas needing improvement is definitely being shortsighted.

    2. Jubilance*

      This was also my experience. I thought for sure I wanted to be a PhD chemist…until I got into my research and realized the 80 hour weeks and constant stress weren’t worth it. I started manifesting physical illness, I was so unhappy. Deciding to leave with my MS after passing my candidacy exams was the smartest decision I made. Occasionally I wish that I had stuck with it, but I wasn’t willing to give up another 3-4 years of life and be unhappy to have 3 letters after my name.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That’s exactly what I went through, except I decided not to finish. And I probably won’t finish this second bachelor’s degree either. I don’t know why I keep running back to the safe bosom of higher education, but it’s time to step out of that comfort zone. I just have no desire to rack up any more debt. Nothing I could learn at this point in that setting is worth it.

    3. Melissa*

      Even more than that, sometimes – I think the attrition rate from PhD programs overall is 50%. My entering cohort in one of my departments had 12 people and I think we lost 2 or 3. An additional person took a leave of absence, but she decided to return and finished a quick dissertation because she was leaving the field anyway. My other department had 7 and I think we’re all still either here or graduated.

  5. Stephanie*

    #1: I feel some sympathy for the jobseeker. I don’t think it’s a great strategy, but he might be desperate and convinced that maybe, just maybe this will work. If you feel up to it, I think it’d be good if you replied with some specific resources to better steer him and perhaps mention the inefficacy of mass-emailing resumes.

    #2: If you don’t think he’d succeed, you could just decline to give a recommendation, saying “I don’t think I could write you a strong recommendation.” If he’s that poor of a candidate, he might also be weeded out during the admissions process (especially if he has a bunch of lukewarm “Wakeen was a student in my class” letters) or once he matriculates.

    Could this student be applying to graduate school for lack of other options? You mention he has two degrees already, so he could see a doctorate program as a way to hide out from the job market for 4-6 years. Perhaps you could mention other options for the student. You may also want to be more direct with your reservations (if your relationship is good enough, that is). If he’s really set on a doctoral program, he might have the blinders on and ignore subtle dissuading like “doctoral programs require a lot of statistics work…”

    #4: No, I don’t think you messed up! If she’s known for a few months now that you’re job searching for something closer to your degree (and been supportive), this shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

    1. anon*

      #1, sometimes if you don’t have anything helpful to respond with, it’s better not to respond at all. I emailed someone I met who was interested in my work with my resume, and his insulting response (without explanation) was to go to his company’s job site.

      1. C Average*

        Don’t dismiss this as insulting until you’ve been in his shoes.

        It can be really challenging when you work in a role that is in no way HR-related and you receive a resume with no indication of what the person envisions doing at your company. If you had the time to help the person, honestly, the first thing you’d do would be to go to the company’s job site to see what was available that might match the person’s background. It makes sense to eliminate the middleman and just send him there.

        I’m happy to help job-seekers get a foot in the door at my company, but they need to do their homework. Don’t just send me a resume. I’m not HR. (And, actually, you wouldn’t just send a resume to HR here, either.) Look at the job site. Find some positions that interest you. Tell me why they interest you. THEN send me your resume.

        If I get the impression you haven’t yet looked at the job site, I’m not only going to send you there first, but I’m going to be a little annoyed that you didn’t just GO there first to see what’s available, before reaching out directly to me.

        1. anon*

          I did look at the job site, just like everyone else would. The whole point of sending my resume to him was to see if he knew of any unlisted positions that weren’t on the job site. If there were jobs listed , I would have applied and not bothered him!

          1. C Average*

            Ah. Sorry, that wasn’t clear. Did you let him know you’d already looked and you were specifically wondering if he knew about anything unlisted?

            Believe it or not, there are people who skip that step!

            1. C Average*

              One quick addition here: Based on the job-seeking contacts I get, it seems like there’s a popular belief that unlisted opportunities are both common and well-known to current employees. In my own experience, unlisted positions are both pretty unusual and generally known only to people who happen to be close to the unlisted position in the org chart.

              Does this align with others’ experience, or are unlisted opportunities more common and well-known elsewhere?

              1. Us, Too*

                This is exactly my experience. There is no such thing as an “unlisted position” to the average stranger applying for a job at a company.

                If we need help with something, and we have budget to support it, we have an open req!!!

                The only time, in my recollection, that this “unlisted position” thing has ever worked out for anyone was when the candidate was an absolute rock star and already very well known (e.g. already worked with/for them in the past) to someone very high up in the org who had the power to significantly realign budgets or reorg the company to make room for the new person via, you guessed it, the creation of a new req.

                In 20 years, I’ve seen this happen maybe 5 times. It is highly unusual in my experience.

                1. Artemesia*

                  This. I don’t think its even generally legal, but sometimes a job is created to accommodate an opportunity hire i.e. someone knows someone fabulous who might possibly be recruited. An acquaintance doesn’t generally fall into this category unless they are one of these rock stars.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Totally agree.

                  (Artemesia, it is indeed legal. No law requires you to post positions or consider multiple candidates, although there are employers that have those rules internally, such as the government.)

                3. CC*

                  I know of one other situation in which a position was created for a resume sent to a company with no job postings listed, because it happened to me.

                  The company had multiple “holes” in the skillset of their staff, but none of them was big enough to hire an entire full-time person for, and the skillsets were not commonly found in the same person. They were apparently discussing how they could get those skills filled when I sent them my (customized, but unsolicited) application. My resume had both skills. I got called for an interview within days, and got the job.

                  Obviously the job was not created out of thin air — they had a need, and were still trying to figure out how to meet that need. I lucked out by being there with the right skills at the right time.

              2. Michele*

                I know of a few companies where it was common for them to have postings for internal candidates only but other than that I think the days of the unlisted job is going to the wayside. I did have a friend who wanted to bring on board and she gave me the heads up that it would be posted in a day or 2. I applied directly to HR and the next day did the on-line app.

                1. Felicia*

                  My current 7 week contract was unlisted, but they needed someone super quickly to cover for an unplanned leave of absence. So the director sent around an email asking anyone if they know anyone qualified, and my friend who works there recommended me and let me know. But that was different, because my friend recommended me and she had worked with me before so she knew a bit about my work (though in a totally different area).

                  The other time I got an unlisted job it was actually an internship, and it was an org that I really liked and followed, and I knew they had had interns in the past (because i read it on their staff list). They just didn’t have a formal internships program, didn’t hire interns every year and didn’t seek them out. So also different because I knew what I was applying for and knew it possibly existed, and customized my email. I think internships are the one exception where it’s more likely something unlisted is possible, though you still need to be specific in what you want to do

              3. Frances*

                Certainly at my previous employer, all our job postings had to be approved by HR and posted on the job application portal, so there were definitely no unlisted opportunities there.

                At my much smaller current position, we only post job listings on external boards (like Idealist, or boards specific to our sector of nonprofits), so they aren’t on our website at all. However, they also get circulated to the entire staff in case we know someone to refer, so even if someone contacts us out of the blue, anyone they reach would know what positions are open and which hiring manager to refer them to.

              4. JMegan*

                It’s the whole idea of the “hidden job market,” which I think is wildy exaggerated at best, and entirely fictional at worst.

                A lot of job searching advice I’ve seen is “how to tap into the hidden job market” – which I think leads people to believe that there are dozens of jobs out there that us poor job seekers don’t know about, and which are only unlocked by some magical incantation and ritual offerings.

                I think there probably are such jobs out there, but they’re few and far between, and certainly fewer and farther between since the recession. And as Us, Too said, they’re really only available to rockstars. Which, by definition, is a very small percentage of actual job seekers!

                1. Persephone Mulberry*

                  I don’t know the origin, but there is a “statistic” floating around that “(insert large percentage here) of jobs are never posted,” which is a bastardization of “(large percentage) of jobs are acquired through networking” and is tied to the oft-repeated “your best bet is to go around the application process and get directly in front of the hiring manager” trope.

                2. JC*

                  I’ve always thought the idea of the “hidden job market” was exaggerated, at least in the fields I’m familiar with. I’ve never worked somewhere that didn’t advertise positions when legitimately hiring. But some places have the flexibility to add new positions for good candidates upon referral, and others are growing or have enough turnover or whatever so that they always have their eyes open even if they’re not actively advertising openings. My husband got offered a job during this recession by sending his resume to a former classmate at a company that didn’t have openings listed on its website, and he was just a few years above entry level (so not a rock star). But we have both also worked at inflexible places where all positions are advertised and there is no way a new one could be created on the fly.

                  In all cases, though, I doubt the “hidden job market” could be opened by a stranger sending unsolicited resumes; it’s going to be through someone that you have some kind of connection with.

                3. Leaveittobeaver*

                  I was told in a class by an instructor who was considered to be pretty on top of the market that there were lots of unadvertised jobs out there because it’s expensive to advertise jobs. It’s like babysitting. If you want to find a babysitter, you don’t advertise–you ask your friends for referrals. I suppose that might hold true for sole proprietorships who are looking for one or two employees.

                  Overall, we have a broken hiring system that doesn’t make a lot of sense and doesn’t generate a lot of positive results, especially for career changers or the underemployed/unemployed. The internet has made it possible for hundreds of people to apply for a single job, and companies have yet to figure out a way to effectively deal with this. The most common way seems to be to create incredibly restrictive job requirements.

                  The lack of human contact is especially demoralizing. People are not getting feedback or responses to interviews that say if a decision has been made. (After I was given a job offer, I waited several days for more information. As the start date approached, I finally called the employer, who had rescinded the offer and given the job to someone else. Apparently, he never planned on telling me this.)

                  I’m not saying anything new. But it’s still hard to explain how crazy a person can get from doing this. When you have been through 25 unsuccessful interviews, and only half of those bothered to contact you after the interview, despite their overwhelming enthusiasm for you during the interview, it takes a terrible toll on your physical, mental, and social health. Having your life revolve around job-seeking very much destroys your optimism, your trust in people, and your sense of the world. The world is full of people who don’t mean what they say or say what they mean. It makes you think irrationally, and any idea that might work seems like a good one.

                  So while spewing out unsolicited resumes is a bad strategy, the fact that people do this is entirely understandable. It’s a result of a mystifying system that’s getting harder and harder to play. At some point you just want to make your own rules.

              5. Xay*

                In my corner of federal contracting, unlisted positions are more likely because contracting opportunities can pop up unexpectedly and tend to have very short turn around for the contractor. Even then, those positions are more plentiful during contracting season (May-September) and are quickly listed if they remain available.

                Even then, I generally only hear about them if they are related to my area of expertise or if there is a position that needs to be filled ASAP and the company would rather start with employee referrals than sift through hundreds of applications.

                If you are interested in finding unlisted positions, you are better off using networking contacts than cold calling – most contractors in my field will just refer you to the general resume collection section of their website. If I received a generic resume and cover letter from a stranger, I would probably refer them to the company recruitment page.

              6. Rachel*

                I have followed the hiring of a couple schools. Each year it seems that about half of the “new arrivals” are in positions that were never posted. Since these schools are private and have very good reputations, I don’t think anyone cares.

              7. Stephanie*

                At my last job, unlisted opportunities weren’t really a thing. If we had the need and the budget, it was posted as a req on the website. Internally, we would get the posting about a week before it was posted, but that was about all the “insider info” I had. The company really liked employee referrals, so they wanted us to know about openings.

                I think once, a high-level marketing person was brought in without a formal posting, but he had some crazy specific experience for a market we were trying to enter and was found at the behest of the CEO by a headhunter.

              8. Melissa*

                I’ve been in a lot of professional development seminars lately (I teach in an undergrad summer program; it’s for them) and the refrain I keep hearing is that there are sooooooo many unlisted job opportunities out there that you will only find out about through networking and/or cold e-mailing your resume to hiring managers.

                I think the networking one is valid – sometimes you can hear about a position that has not yet been posted, or get the heads-up that Wakeen at Teapots, Ltd. will be looking for a new head teapot assembler soon and get in before others apply or before they even list the job.

                But I’m kind of skeptical about the idea that most employers don’t list their positions and are waiting for the influx of resumes from strangers to fill the position. It doesn’t make sense to me – why would you not list the position you need filled in a place that people can find it and apply? And even if you didn’t, wouldn’t that signify that you wanted to hire someone you found through a personal network rather than a random Internet stranger?

          2. fposte*

            Still not seeing how it’s insulting–he offered the only pointer he could give you. The worst it would be is redundant.

            1. anon*

              If I ask someone who’s lived in TX for a decade what it’s like to live in TX, and he told me to goto citydata.com, that would be insulting. He could have told me any of the following:

              – No idea sorry!
              – I’m not a hiring manager
              – i’m really busy sorry
              – We don’t have any openings
              – I’m not that senior (doesn’t apply in my case)

              But he tells me the equivalent of “you’re in a building that’s on fire, go outside”

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, still not seeing it. You’ve asked somebody a favor, and this is the best they can do at the moment. That’s not insulting, it’s just not as helpful as you would have liked.

                1. anon*

                  It’s not helpful if someone says something incredibly obvious. It is insulting because it assumes I don’t already know it.

                2. Cucumber*

                  I think the insult here is that Anon mentioned that the other person expressed interest in his work, and then when Anon followed up, he said, “Go to the job site”.

                  If I read her post correctly, Anon wasn’t asking a favor so much as he was following up on someone’s express interest.

                  This is not a common thing, but it’s happened to me before once or twice. Someone finds out what I do for a living, they say, “Wow, that’s really great, we’re looking for something like that at our company, we should talk!” and then when I follow up with email I find out this person really doesn’t know anything, isn’t connected, and asks me to search their job site.

                  A person who does this may be extroverted but not critical in their thinking. They’re more interested in bonding with you at that moment, being charming, than thinking about what kind of message they’re sending. Or, they might not be a flake, but maybe the position they were thinking of has been filled, is only open to internal candidates, etc., and when you contacted them via their work email, they couldn’t go into detail.

                  Anon, I also think that sometimes people fall back on saying something obvious because they want to show goodwill, but they frankly don’t know anything else to say. Still, I see how annoying that can be.

                3. fposte*

                  I can get that it’s annoying, but I think you’re taking it too personally by finding it an insult. As Laura notes, queries come in from people who haven’t looked at the website all the time. He might have phrased it more diplomatically (“If you haven’t already, have a look at our job board at whatever.com”), but he didn’t send you to Let Me Google That For You.

              2. Pleasefilloutthisfield*

                I’ve had that exact question – and I have suggested folks use google. :-)

                1. anon*

                  Really? Someone thinks enough of you to ask you how you like the area you currently live, and you tell them to google it?

              3. Laura*

                But you presuppose that he knows your knowledge and behavior – in both examples! I have friends who would ask what it’s like to live where I do, but looking it up on citydata.com or any web site would never occur to them. (In fact, it wouldn’t have occurred to me in that context, either.)

                I’ve frequently interviewed people who clearly hadn’t read anything on our web site (or hadn’t understood it if they did, but I’m going with ‘hadn’t read’ here as that’s more likely), who applied through a posting on Craigslist. It’s not hard to imagine someone reaching out to me who hadn’t checked the job postings on our web site, to ask what they were! And except for openings in my team, I would likely not know about any of them.

  6. Kiwi*

    #3: Someone of senior would usually be far to busy to meet up with a perfect stranger for networking purposes, unless that perfect stranger might be able to do something for them. If executives responded this way for every stranger-request they would never get any work done. Have you considered that that may have something else in mind (having told you what hotel they are staying at)…?

    1. Kate*

      Please also consider – maybe that person has just loved OP’s LinkedIn profile? Being at IT field, I know how desperate employers are searching for right candidates now (at least here in Europe) – it’s so difficult to find really good and experienced person who is willing to change his/her company that any weapon seems good enough.

      So maybe OP’s field is booming?

    2. LW Number3*

      To be honest, it was a consideration, which is why I was very clear in my response to the meeting invitation. As far as the hotel part, it was a turnaround trip, and since the VP was a visitor to the area, I believe it was more for logistical purposes than anything else. :)

      1. Blue Dog*

        There does seem to be a strange sexual component to this. Keep your guard up and follow normal safety protocols (don’t leave drink unattended, etc.).

      2. Nanc*

        LW3–I didn’t get the skeevy vibe other folks are concerned with. My first thought was he’s confused you with someone else–either you have the same or similar name or he thought he was replying to another LinkedIn invite. I have a very common name and get LinkedIn invites all the time from folks who are sure they’ve worked with me in microbiology research. If they read my profile (which has my picture!) they’d realize I’m definitely not a scientist, I don’t live/work in their neck of the woods and no, we didn’t go to the same university!

    3. Artemesia*

      I sort of had that vibe too. Maybe it is because when I was a young professional I had the occasional high level person at a conference want me to visit their company or meet to discuss my research further and it turned out to be a pass and not an opportunity. I was fairly naive and once found myself being literally physically assaulted (he pulled the car over and started pulling at my blouse) when I thought we were discussing a potential research opportunity. This guy was a major name in my field. When I jumped out of the car, he actually followed me in the car. After that I got a lot smarter about enthusiasm for my work outside of a normal job posting/response environment. #yesallwomen

      1. Artemesia*

        PS at the time this happened, I was not only married, I was 3 mos pregnant, although that was not obvious at the time to others. I can guarantee I was not giving off ‘come hither’ vibes.

        1. LW Number3*

          WOW! That is absolutely awful! I’m sure that there was a time when I probably would have been as trusting as you were in that situation, but, like you, I’ve had enough experiences where I keep my guard up at all times. In this particular instance, I had my own transportation, stayed in very public places, kept the conversation strictly on the business at hand and gave a copy of the profile/contact information to my mother (she’s quite vigilant) in the off chance that something happened. I’m sorry that you had that experience though.

    4. seesawyer*

      My first thought on reading #3 was that maybe this is ‘a case of mistaken identity’—possibly the VP had made an offer to meet with some group of people, asking them to connect on linkedin to start setting it up, and you happened to connect at about the same time. Hopefully it is something like this or Kate’s idea and not a pass; execs who prey on job searchers are among the lowest of the low in my book :(

      1. Loquaciousaych*

        I don’t know. He might be like me, a genuine “people person”. While I’m not senior, it’s VERY RARE for me to pass up an opportunity to network with someone new- they might turn out to be a friend! Or know someone I’m interested in connecting with, or be at a company I want to know more about, or… a million things. In addition to loving to meet new people, I’m HORRIBLY curious, so a new person is an open invitation to question asking… politely.

        1. Melissa*

          Yeah, me too. I’m not senior either but I have had undergrads cold-email me to ask about PhD programs and I ask them if they want to Skype talk. If I was in the area I’d definitely ask if they wanted to grab coffee and chat about it, especially if they sent me their CV or I looked at their LinkedIn and it was good. I like people, and I like giving advice. Obviously if I’m busy at the time I don’t make the offer, but if I have the time, I would.

  7. number2*

    thanks for all the comments, I wasn’t expecting such a response – amazing! I’ve given him a couple of deadlines which we’ll see if he sticks to over the next couple of weeks. if he doesn’t manage them then I’ll pull him in for a ‘meeting’. He’s a nice enough guy, friendly and chatty and gets on well with the lab but I just don’t think he realizes how independent and motivated you have to be to get a PhD. His work is not awful so I might suggest that there are plenty of other careers in research where he could settle and just have to follow instructions which is what I think he might be better at.

    My main issue now is the actual meeting…as can be seen from this string of communication I am much better via email (typical scientist) so an actual meeting I will probably have to plan for – any nice managerial phrases anyone can suggest would be of use!

    Thanks again!

    1. YALM*

      I’m sure you know how to craft a cogent, persuasive argument. That’s really all you need to do here. The words shouldn’t be cold, but they shouldn’t be overly warm or personal, either, or you will send this nice young man a mixed message.

      If you want to draft a plan–perhaps in an email to yourself–you can start with something like this:

      Jerry, I want to talk with you about your intent to get into a PhD program.

      I have worked with you for t time, and I know the rigors of completing a PhD program, and I have some concerns about this path being the right one for you.

      The work you need to do to attain a PhD is not like the work you have done for your other degrees. Where your previous degree programs required you to do a, b, and c, the PhD program will require you to do x, y, and z. When I have asked you to do tasks like x, y, and z, I have seen you struggle with/be uninterested in/be unmotivated to (insert details here).

      These areas where you struggle are critically important to success in a PhD program, but they are not where your strengths lie. My honest assessment is that you are better suited to professional and intellectual development by following a different path, such as (insert details here).

      (And then embellish the plan with other details that help make the argument and steer him in a more productive direction.)

      I don’t know that you can pull this off without hurting his feelings. He seems to have sold himself on a dream; waking him up will be jarring for him–assuming you are successful in waking him up. I wish you luck. It’s painful to watch good people set themselves up for failure.

      1. Loose Seal*

        What if you took the email draft idea one further and wrote him a draft of what your recommendation letter would be? Let him read it and then discuss what he could work on between now and applying that might make you change your mind (if there is anything). If he’s ok applying AND asking for you to send in that reference letter, I don’t know that there is anything you can do.

        1. fposte*

          He hasn’t even asked for a recommendation yet, though. And I think writing this stuff down is unnecessarily formal in what’s a highly informal intervention.

          I do like the idea of saying that there are areas he could work on, though; presuming the OP is his manager, that’s a good plan in general.

      2. Ali*

        This is how I felt in a similar situation (told my story down the comments). The wake-up call I got was hurtful at first because my dream was all I’d been thinking about for a while and I was really pushing towards it without success. But once the dust settled, I realized that the person I talked to (who was in my chosen field) had been doing me a favor in seeing I was in the wrong place. Maybe that will happen here; maybe it won’t. It depends on how determined the person is and how much they’ve sought out advice or tried to take it in the past, I think.

      3. C Average*

        I like this script. It’s compassionate and direct.

        Having wandered down a few paths that ultimately weren’t the right ones, I think hurt feelings > making a costly and confidence-draining mistake. I wish someone would’ve hurt my feelings by talking some common sense with me before my ill-fated attempt at law school!

    2. Traveler*

      Just tell him directly, but know that it might only fuel him more to do it if you tell him.

      “Ed, I think the work you do here is great (or good or whatever positive mark you can make about it), but PhD’s in this field require XX hours of independent research per week. It’s difficult and from what I’ve (seen/read/etc.) it does not seem like this is the right field for you. I don’t think you would enjoy working on your PhD. Are you sure you want to pursue this?”

      If he does it leaves it open for you to say that you can’t offer a recommendation or suggest that he do school visits before he applies or whatever else you think you can do to try to dissuade him. If it doesn’t work, let it go. You did your best.

      1. fposte*

        I like this better. Given that it sounds like this isn’t an external job but the kind of lab work he’d have to do in his PhD, it’s a reasonable thing to say.

        But I’ll reiterate that unless your program is really weak he’s not just going to apply and get in, and that the admissions committee tends to have a lot of experience in gauging who’s ready to knuckle down and who isn’t. Let them, not you, be the actual gatekeeper here.

        1. Traveler*

          True. If he’s struggling that much it will be reflected in his work, his recommendations, writing sample, etc. and it won’t be your problem at all.

        2. Lisa*

          And if it is a mid-tier or lower-ranked program, he may get in but then post-docs and job-hunting down the line is going to be a further challenge. Another question to ask him in the course of the conversation (if it gets that far, that is) might be which programs is he applying to and what are his plans for after the Ph.D? He will need to articulate all of these things at some point anyways, and looking at them from this perspective may motivate him to address what he can now & be realistic about which programs he applies to, and with what goals in mind.

      2. AAA*

        One of the best pieces of advice I received when I was applying for PhD programs was not to go anywhere that wasn’t fully funded. This isn’t just because of the money, but if you aren’t clearly the kind of candidate that will get fully funded based on the quality of your work, you probably aren’t the kind of candidate that is really suited to getting a PhD. I was told: “if they aren’t going to pay you to get the PhD, you haven’t proven yourself a good enough scholar to take on the PhD.

        1. Traveler*

          +100 I know in some fields funding isn’t an option, but I got this advice as well and it was vital.

        2. Artemesia*


          No one should ever finance their own PhD; the few tenure track positions go to PhDs who are the proteges of great researchers and who had full rides at good schools. Even excellent PhD grads with those characteristics have trouble finding jobs.

          The exception would be a vanity PhD sought by someone who already has a job e.g. in a school district or church or other setting where there might be some cachet and you don’t have to seek a new job with it.

          1. Cucumber*

            I disagree somewhat. The EdD that some people receive for higher education administration may be frowned upon by faculty members who perceive their PhD as more rigorous (I’ve certainly heard a few of my friends complain about this), but it is more than cachet. If you are an administrator, getting a EdD like that would make it more likely for you to become a C-level leader, or president.
            As for not financing your own PhD and it being evidence that you’re not a good enough scholar, for a lot of fields that is excellent advice, but there are exceptions.

          2. fposte*

            Lots of humanities PhDs aren’t institutionally funded. The full-ride norm seems to be pretty STEMmy, from what I see.

            1. Melissa*

              Most humanities PhDs at the kinds of institutions from which you are likely to get a job are fully funded, though. Most top-tier schools offer funding in nearly all of their fields – the exception may sometimes be some professional doctorates, like PsyDs or perhaps an EdD that prepares one for administration (vs. an academic one). Generally speaking, though, academic PhD programs that don’t offer full funding aren’t really all that great. Social scientists can also expect to be fully funded. It’s certainly the norm in my social science field (psychology) and I know that it is also the norm in anthro, political science and sociology.

              But the thing is – even if the humanities PhD wasn’t usually fully funded. A year at my university costs $60-65K including tuition, fees, living expenses and incidentals. After you’re ABD that can drop by a lot – the ABD tuition is more like $3K, so we’re really looking at around $23-28K for someone who lives frugally in a really expensive city. But if it takes you 6 years to finish and you spend 3 years ABD, now you’re $250K in debt. Even if you go to a public university with a $10K tuition your first years, that’s still $160K in debt, on top of whatever you borrowed from undergrad. How are you supposed to repay that on a professor’s salary? New assistant professors average $58K a year, and in many places they can make less.

              And that’s assuming that you only take 6 years (in the humanities, the norm is closer to 8-10) and that you actually get a tenure-track job (only 1 in 5 humanities PhDs will get one).

              Getting a humanities PhD that isn’t fully funded isn’t just a bad scholarly decision – it’s also a bad financial decision.

        3. Melissa*

          +1 million. There are very, very few exceptions to this – I personally can’t think of any.

    3. OhNo*

      Having had a variation of this conversation before, here’s what I found useful from the student side:

      State clearly what you think the issues are that would give him trouble in a PhD program. Give examples of where you have noticed that behavior in your work with him, and if possible give examples of how that behavior would cause problems in the PhD program.

      Give multiple options for him. If he chooses to pursue the PhD, how can he work on the issues that concern you? If he chooses NOT to get the PhD, what kind of career options would he have? Is there anything particular that you think he would be really good at?

      Most importantly, though, just be aware that this will probably be a difficult conversation to have, on both ends. He might be upset that you don’t think he can do it; you might get upset because it feels like “ruining his dreams”, or just like you’re being mean, or what have you. Being kind and considerate, while still being honest, can help.

      Good luck! I would be curious to hear how things go after you’ve talked to him, if you’re willing to give us an update at some point.

      1. Artemesia*

        The ‘ruining his dream’ thing reminds me of what I once read about being a writer. Someone who says ‘I want to (or dream of) being a writer’ will never be a writer. Someone who says “I want to write,’ might become one.

        Someone who wants to be a PhD because having this dream is his dream is very different from someone who desperately wants to research (particular question/issue) and find out (what causes X,Y,Z). A plausible PhD is doing it because they want to do the research not because they want the degree.

        1. Traveler*

          There was a great article, that I read somewhere… here maybe? in the comments? I can’t remember where but it was basically if you are motivated by the result (getting a PhD, getting rich, etc.) rather than the process, you’re statistically less likely to achieve it.

        2. Melissa*

          I have this conversation with students all the time – my first response is always “Why do you want a PhD?” Many times I get the response “because it’s my dream,” and I always try to discourage them from that point unless they also state a profession that requires a PhD (they almost never do). They think it will sound cool to be called Dr. and have letters after their name, but they’ve never really given thought to the amount of work that it actually takes to do it.

    4. AcademicAnon*

      Maybe you could ask this person what their plans are after getting a PhD to get a better sense of why they want it and might help you to direct them to a better path? If they just want to get into research, especially research at a for-profit company *cough* pharm *cough* then a PhD isn’t going to make it any easier to get a job at one of those companies, depending on what their degree is in. Managing a research program at a company usually requires several years experience and a Master’s or PhD, so if this person goal is to manage a lab, they’re not going to be able to do that right after getting a PhD.

      1. Cucumber*

        That’s a great point. If they do want to manage a lab someday, they can be encouraged to start getting some job experience, and then reconsider going back for the PhD. Maybe they’d be a more effective candidate after getting more seasoned – or maybe they’d realize what they need is something different, like PMP licensure.

    5. number2*

      Have called a meeting to discuss references he has asked for but it has got considerably worse over the last month. He doesn’t listen, he apologises a lot when he makes mistakes which he made because he doesn’t listen, he doesn’t get work to me on time, he forgets to do tasks I have assigned him. He’s a nice guy, and the rest of the office get on well with him, he’s chatty and social and interactive, just really NOT good at what he does. And it’s not like I don’t say ‘I’m going to explain this to you, please write everything down so you remember’, even when he does forget he will attempt and fail rather than ask for help, which in this environment is expensive and wasteful. Sigh.

  8. Juli G.*

    #4 It sounds like your manager is taking it personally but knows that she shouldn’t. Not atypical in these situations – being so supportive means you get more attached and human nature makes it hard to let go.

  9. CartoonCharacter*

    I don’t think it’s anyone place to tell someone grad school (whatever they want to do) is not for them. That’s opinion, your boss can fire you, but that just says you are right, according to them, for THIS job- they can’t legimately state you aren’t able to work ANY job.

    It’s funny what people end up doing or not. It’s fair to share their opinion, but ridiculous to think anyone is the final judge of someone’s fitness for a pursuit.

    1. anony*

      Yeah, I’m agreeing with you here. While the op may have some concerns and insight, it doesn’t mean she should voice them when it comes to his pursuit of Grad school. If the op wants to specifically talk about the work he does while working underneath her that’s different. On the other hand, there have been a lot of success stories out here because someone told someone they can’t do something. Maybe the one on one would push him to be more focused — who knows.

    2. Loose Seal*

      I don’t agree. Why let someone get in deep(er) debt when it probably won’t work out for them? Obviously, she can’t stop him from applying but she can make him aware of what it takes to be a PhD student in their field and have a discussion with him about where he sees his career going.

    3. Apple22Over7*

      I agree. I think OP should arm the student with all the information he can give about grad school – what’s involved, how much work, what skills are important etc., – but don’t actively try to dissuade him from going. It’s up to the student to take on board the information he gets and make the decision, not for others to make it for him.

    4. NavyLT*

      Yes and no. If you’ve been through a process (in OP’s case, getting a PhD) and know what that process entails, you do have some insight into whether someone else would do well. OP has seen the student not succeed at the type of work that will be required of him if he does pursue a PhD, and I think has a responsibility to let him know that.

    5. LBK*

      The professor/student relationship isn’t like a boss/employee relationship, though. It’s much more personal, mainly because the professor has no stake in the student’s success. A recommendation like that is just out of personal concern, the way a friend or family member might express concern about the student going for a PhD – because again, the professor doesn’t gain or lose anything from the student succeeding or failing at it.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think the OP is a professor, though; that wouldn’t be a professorial dilemma. (And in my experience professors have quite a large stake in their PhD students’ success.)

        I agree that this isn’t the same as somebody’s corporate supervisor saying that they could never compete in the Olympics, though.

        1. LBK*

          I wasn’t clear on the OP’s relationship to this person exactly – they don’t sound like the OP’s manager because he’s never referred to as an employee. I just guessed professor. It also doesn’t sound like the student would be going through the PhD with the OP specifically, otherwise I agree that there would be more stake involved.

        2. Loose Seal*

          I thought the OP was a current professor. If they are an employer, I’d stay out of the conversation unless directly asked. If it’s a professor, I think it’s part of their teaching responsibilities to point out things like that.

          Maybe OP will clarify their position?

    6. Former Grad Student*

      From the OP’s comment above it sounds like the employee in question is working as a lab research assistant (or something similar). Given that his graduate work might require performing the same tasks but with a greater level of independence, I don’t think it’s out of line to offer advice based on what the OP has observed.

      Perhaps I’m biased because I wish my previous employer had steered me away from pursuing a PhD! I worked very hard during my 3 years as a research assistant and assumed I’d be equally successful working 40-50 hours a week in grad school. Hahaha. What I learned from the experience is that I am MUCH happier working 9-5 and then going home and forgetting about it. My adviser in grad school told me that if I was getting 8 hours of sleep/night, I obviously wasn’t working hard enough. I know a lot of people in academia who can’t imagine doing anything else and think 9-5 work is awful but for me the set hours and quicker deadlines are a godsend. I just wish it hadn’t taken a move across the country and 2 years of misery in school to figure that out.

    7. Artemesia*

      It is exactly the job of a college advisor to tell a weak student who talks about ‘getting my PhD’ that. If this students were enthusiastic about doing X research, the advisor would have a different attitude probably.

      1. fposte*

        That’s why I’m thinking the OP isn’t an advisor or a professor–she’s somebody in a position that doesn’t have a framework for counseling students.

        1. h*

          Maybe OP is unhappy with her own fit in her career, so is projecting this in the form of counseling someone where no such framework is in place.

        2. h*

          #2- leave this to the career counselors and professors at school. Trust me. That’s what THEIR job is for. I’ve had a handful of acquaintances who had career/ higher ed counselors or professors tell them bluntly that they will not provide letters of recommendation and/or they are not fit for a certain academic program. I saw how hard it was on them, so unless the OP is asked for a recommendation, I would not say anything. If what OP is saying is true, the student WILL be weeded out organically through the admissions process, professors or counselors. It’s not really OP’s place to determine whether or not someone will succeed in pursuing higher education. Unless the OP is God… (Or thinks she is?).

    8. Cath in Canada*

      I can see both sides here: yes, if you know someone’s only going to get themselves into debt and is unlikely to finish the degree, it can be a real favour to them to let them know, but on the other hand, this person may end up spending the rest of their life thinking “what if?”. Sometimes you have to let people figure this kind of thing out for themselves.

      It reminds me of when my niece had an opportunity to go into modelling when she was 19. No-one in the family could imagine her being happy with that lifestyle, and as it turned out we were right – she quit after 18 months and is much happier now that she’s back in school instead. But that’s something she had to figure out for herself – and her parents made sure she knew that it was her decision, but they were there if she needed them.

    9. Cucumber*

      Years ago, I had my undergraduate advisor (a professor assigned to me) tell me I wasn’t good enough to work in my chosen field and not to bother looking at additional training, such as a masters program I had mentioned idly. (I did not want to hurry into a masters’ program). She didn’t do it in the kind way suggested here (e.g. “This field requires a and b, and b seems to be difficult for you”) but was blunt and, not for the first time, insulting about my abilities.

      It took time to get settled into the career (a very competitive one) and for many years I only worked part-time, holding down other jobs to continue — but I’ve been making solid, full-time scratch for more than five years. I would say I am actually more accomplished in many ways due to the other things I pursued professionally, just to keep at my chosen field part-time. However, because I didn’t meet her standards for future success, my advisor was not someone I could rely on to vouch for me as I made my way forward.

      Now, the professor had a student who was one of her favorites. She did fit the professor’s image of what a student should be. A couple of years ago she qualified for a scholarship in order to fund her master’s degree. I hadn’t talked with or seen her in years, so I checked out her resume. We’d started the same year: I was surprised to see how limited her career had been during the same period. I also learned that the scholarship was earmarked for someone who was the equivalent of a “starving artist”, historically underemployed. I don’t doubt that the professor was advising her and trying to help her; my classmate was smart and talented. But in living up to the professor’s goals, and the professor’s idea of what success meant, I think my classmate might have missed out on other opportunities that were out there. These opportunities were the ones I took, in order to keep my foot in the door, and that led to my having steady employment down the road. This is where that chestnut about “A students working for C students” comes from.

      Was she wrong to discourage me? No. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received was meant to make me think hard. How you discourage someone is important, though. Are you discouraging them in some way, because it’s about you – your unfinished business, hopes and dreams? At least, are you able to separate yourself from their situation? For instance… A friend of mine has a boss who used to run an academic department, years ago, and tells her she shouldn’t apply to his former program — but he’s not exactly a disinterested party here, either – he wants her to focus on the job she has, not go back to school.

      A lot of my friends and family are academics. I know how immersed people can get in their fields, to the point where – despite the reputation academia has for “underwater basketweaving” and the life of the liberal mind – square pegs are resented for wasting everyone’s time and energy. “How come they don’t know x, y and z?” Well, maybe they’re a first generation college student and Mom and Dad just told them never to quit, or they have some wrong idea about how the internal field is structured. Someone who doesn’t have a mentor is going to be more ignorant of these things. I am almost certain that the student in this question does NOT have a mentor; the kindest thing the letter writer could do would be to hook him up with academic advising and other resources so he can do some serious soul searching.

      I mentioned upthread that I have a friend who repeatedly applied for a PhD program, in the thought that if he just kept knocking someone would open the door. He had a fundamental misunderstanding of what PhD programs are looking for: some people are looking for serfs, other people are looking to mold someone talented into a mini-me. But if you want to become a leader in a business field (such as biotech) and think that a PhD is the best way to get training, though, you’re going to have a huge mismatch between your goals and many of the programs out there. Some of them might love you – but others are going to feel you’ve wasted their time merely in applying, because their goals for research do not involve entrepreneurship, venture capital, etc. Many programs view students as customers; others, especially PhD programs, view them as investments which are expected to pay out in a very specific way.

    10. Befuddled Squirrel*

      I completely agree. The OP is just one observer of the student’s work. While they can speak objectively about that experience, there’s also a lot they don’t know about the student and his/her potential. Maybe the student is having a tough time for personal reasons but usually does better work. Maybe the student will never be a great student but will do great work in the field after earning their degree. After all, how well you do in school is not always indicative of your career success later on.

      Giving someone honest feedback on their work is helpful. Telling someone what you think they should do with their future is not.

    11. Melissa*

      I disagree. Having an educated opinion based on experience is not the same as being the ‘final judge’ on someone’s fitness for a pursuit. But I have just about completed a PhD, and many times for students who ask me I am in the position to give an educated opinion because I’ve read their work, am somewhat familiar with their work ethic (at least in my class) and usually have a conversation with them about their goals and desires. Some of them simply are not right for a PhD program. I would discourage a very poor writer from getting a PhD, or a person who didn’t have enough intrinsic motivation to finish, or someone who liked to live in luxury and refused to change (unless they had a wealthy spouse or significant savings).

      And often it has nothing to do with their skills. I once discouraged a very bright, hard-working, extremely talented young man from getting a PhD. He could absolutely be successful in a program, but he had no idea what he wanted to do and he straight-up told me that he wanted the letters behind his name and to be called Dr. He liked the image that he believed it would confer upon him, but he didn’t have a career field in mind and the things he told me that he would like to do didn’t require a PhD. (He ended up getting into a prestigious PhD program and going there anyway, and I was happy for him despite my original advice, because he was truly awesome.)

  10. Sarah*

    #1: I don’t think any sort of response is required here. The job seeker did not even take the time to send a personal email to the OP, so the OP certainly isn’t obligated to send one back! (I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice if he shot back a quick “I don’t come across those types of positions in my work, sorry!,” I just don’t think it would be remotely rude not to.)

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Agreed. If anything, responding – particularly if the tone of the message is in any way encouraging (“we aren’t a good fit for you here, but you might try ___”) is going to reinforce that this approach works.

      1. anon*

        Isn’t that the point though? For him to get leads to hopefully be closer to having a job, rather than be unemployed?

        1. Tina*

          That may be the point of the sender, but it doesn’t automatically create an obligation on the part of the receiver.

  11. anony*

    #3 I think the whole thing seems weird. The op sort of sent out an invite to meet up without an agenda and they receive an even weirder response to meet up without an agenda. Almost like the unwanted resume in #1. So there is really no agenda. That could be the problem with using Linkedin…

    1. Gwen Soul*

      Of the letters I have seen in awhile, this is one I REALLY want an update to.

      My first thought is that he mixed up the OP with another person who the VP thinks they know.

      1. LW Number3*

        I’ve updated below and no, there wasn’t a mix up. One of my first questions was about why the invitation was offered and the reply was because I was open enough to reach out to a stranger to form a connection. :)

        1. KrisL*

          Please be careful! This could just be a networking opportunity, but this could be something not so good.

    2. L McD*

      I don’t think the op did anything strange here. An “invitation to connect” on LinkedIn is like a friend request, from what I understand. Responding to that with an offer to meet without any further context is decidedly odd. Although if they were being intentionally shady, I feel like they would have had a better cover story (or any cover story at all). They may just have a different perception of the implied level of interest involved with connecting with someone on linkedin.

      1. Artemesia*

        Doesn’t linked in automatically invite people in one’s address book or something? I know I have gotten several invitations from people who seemed mystified when I responded.

    3. LBK*

      Hmm? Inviting someone to “connect” on LinkedIn is essentially adding them as a friend (FB) or following them (Twitter). It doesn’t mean actually inviting them to meet somewhere.

      Maybe the VP isn’t as familiar with LinkedIn and thought “connect” meant “meet up” like you did?

      1. anony*

        I only stated that what the op stated that she had no agenda. Hmm I don’t use Linkedin that much, not much at all and if I don’t know you I don’t invite you into my circle nor do i accept invites of people i dont know. Honestly, i dont see the use for it–at least for me right now.I didn’t think the invite meant “meet up”. I was thinking more along the lines the way some people just go adding everyone and anyone on LinkedIn. Kinda like how all some of my former classmates are randomly endorsing me on LinkedIn— I haven’t seen them in 15+ years.

  12. Ali*

    I was in kind of a similar situation in #2, except I was the one receiving the advice and it was about a career choice, not grad school. Believe me, when my contact first talked to me about the downs of my career choice and some things I was lacking to succeed, I didn’t want to listen. This person had been supportive of me in the past and now all of a sudden I was like…well he’s been so good with me; now he’s trying to drive me away? It was in no way a subtle conversation, but at the same time, not harsh or anything, and it wasn’t like he insisted I see that this career wasn’t right for me. (Which I did eventually end up recognizing, but there were other factors at play.)

    I would think, like others said, it’s important to be clear about the downsides or why he might struggle in a PhD program, but leave him to his own decision, just as my contact did. Careers and grad schools are personal choices when it all comes down to it. He may be steered in a different direction or he may not, but the least you can do is push him to think…maybe say something like giving it more time to see if this is right for him?

    Keep in mind that I know nothing about academia, though, so maybe I’m off-base.

  13. AB Normal*

    “1. What am I supposed to do with an unsolicited resume from a stranger?”

    To add to AAM’s answer, I’d like to point out to OP #1 and professionals new to the work world, that if I were your boss and you forwarded this type of resume to me, I would consider this act a sign of naivete on your part.

    It’s one thing to pass around the resume of someone you know (professionally or even personally) or even a stranger that you can see has rare skills relevant to the recipients. But forwarding a stranger’s random resume to your boss without a good reason is just helping propagate spam.

    Because I have a professional blog with a contact email available, I get a lot of unsolicited resumes (in my case always from India, which makes me think it’s something recommended by local job advisers). Imagine if I started to forward each one to my boss — he would not be happy!

    Yes, writing back to provide constructive criticism is a kind thing to do, but forwarding a random resume to your manager seems like a bad idea (especially in light of AAM’s previous article about how to get your boss to notice and reply to your emails…).

    1. Apple22Over7*

      I think that depends a lot on the company culture though. I am in charge of my company’s enquiries inbox, and we get a fair few unsolicited CVs come through. I take a brief look, and as long as there’s nothing blatantly problematic I’ll forward it on to a manager. A couple of people have been brought in to interview from doing this, including one who was eventually hired.

    2. LBK*

      I don’t think that’s similar to your situation at all, because (I’m assuming) the blog isn’t part of the job that you do for your manager. I don’t think the OP forwarded it to her manager to say “Look at this great resume I got, we should interview this person” but to say “I got this email that should have been directed to you, can you handle it?” just like you would with any email that was sent to you but meant for someone else.

    3. Robin*

      I agree. If the OP knew that they weren’t hiring in that field, it doesn’t seem like good judgment to waste her boss’s time like that.

    1. LW Number3*

      Update: I responded along the lines of what Alison said and we did end up meeting the next evening in a public place. It actually morphed into an informal interview of sorts, where I shared a lot about my professional background and interests and learned about how all of that could factor into the direction that the company is about to take. Aside from the original uneasiness, I’m really happy that I stepped outside of my comfort zone and accepted the meeting. I also followed up after the meeting with my current resume and a recap of all we talked about, and the VP said that he would speak with HR as well as some of his other contacts in his home state. I’ve connected with others on LinkedIn before who offered help (lip service), but this connection truly went above and beyond and it’s pretty encouraging to know that there are some execs out there who really take an interest in helping people.

      1. C Average*

        This is a weird but awesome story! Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us, and good luck.

      2. Loose Seal*

        I’m glad that worked out for you.

        (I find it a weird coincidence that one letter today got a cold-called resume and it didn’t work out for them but another letter did a cold-contact on LinkedIn and it did work.)

      3. Us, Too*

        “take an interest in helping people”…

        I’d like to point out that it’s highly unlikely that this was a 100% charitable act of helping you. I network and when I do it’s for purely selfish reasons. If I happen to help someone else in the process, that’s a nice perk, but I don’t do it to be a nice person.

        1. The bigger my network is the more likely it can help me in the future if I need a job.
        2. Hiring amazing people into my org is beneficial to me.
        3. I like people. :)

        So far, every single professional job I’ve had in the last 20 or so years has been a result of “knowing someone”. It works. And the best hires I’ve made have been referrals. I have a “black book” of rock star employees that I cultivate and periodically feed/nurture to ensure that if something opens up where I am or where a good friend is, I can call them and see if they’re interested.

        Gosh, that all sounds so manipulative and evil, but it actually works to everyone’s benefit. :)

        1. C Average*

          This is awesome.

          Occasionally I’ll encounter someone amazing and I’ll think, “Wow, my company could totally use someone with your skills/personality/background/qualifications,” and I’ll do anything I can to help someone like that get a foot in the door.

          I once met a young man who was volunteering at an event sponsored by my company, and he blew me away with his intelligence and credentials. He told me he wanted to work for us, and I told him I’d help him any way I could. We stayed in touch for the next year. He was polite but persistent–he struck a perfect balance between demonstrating interest and being a pest. Something opened up, I told him about it and put in a good word with the hiring manager, and he got the job.

          Two promotions later, he outranks me. He’s a rock star, doing fantastic work for our company. I love running into him on campus and hearing what he’s up to.

          1. Us, Too*

            These kinds of people are super rare and far between but when I find them, I stick to them like a barnacle because if I can coax them away and to my organization, it’s a serious win. :)

      4. Turanga Leela*

        I guess your LinkedIn profile is pretty impressive! Congratulations on building this connection–hope it works out.

        1. Eudora Wealthy*

          OP#3, is your LinkedIn profile impressive? Did you share common connections with the VP?

          1. LW Number3*

            I guess that depends on what someone is looking for in profiles. I put more emphasis on my summary section and left the work experience portion filled with only the essentials, so I’m not sure if impressive is the word. The VP and I only have 1 connection in common, a recruiter for that company.

      5. Befuddled Squirrel*

        Aha! I thought it was going to be an informal interview. I work in a growing field with high turnover, and hiring managers do this all the time. They’re always thinking about the next position they may need to hire for and looking for people who might fit that role. I’m glad everything went well. Congrats!

  14. GrumpyBoss*

    #1: I’d never respond. Not that I don’t have compassion for their desperation, but I don’t want them to get confirmation that someone has indeed received and read their email. Once they know they have a live human who has shown enough interest to respond, I do not want that to be interpreted as encouragement.

    Sorry if that is cold, but its through experience that I feel this way.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I don’t know if this is just a repeat of what you said, but even if you respond back with well-intentioned advice (“Don’t do this. If you want to get better results, do X, Y, and Z”), either consciously or subconsciously, the original spammer will take that as a sign of encouragement (“See? I did this thing, and it didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but at least I got some job advice out of it”).

      No one should encourage random unsolicited impersonal Bcc emails, even if it’s to say “Don’t send these.”

      The takeaway the spammer should get from her or his endeavor is “Oh, I guess that was a total waste… not a single reply.”

  15. Ruffingit*

    #4 seems weird to me in that the boss responded to the notice with “I have to think about it…” Think about what? Your employee is leaving in two weeks regardless so what does that even mean? I just thought that was a strange response from the boss.

    1. LBK*

      Based on the way the letter is phrased, it sounds like the OP asked for her last day to be X, she didn’t state it as such. I can imagine the conversation was like this:

      OP: I got a new position. The orientation is 2 weeks from Monday, so is it okay if my last day is the Friday before that?
      Manager: I have to think about it.

      I mean, ultimately the employee will leave when she’s going to leave, but asking rather than telling probably gave the boss the impression that there’s room to negotiate.

      1. #4 Here!*

        I gave notice on a Wednesday in hopes of having my last day on a Wednesday to have a long weekend before starting/ transferring to a new position. I am still working for the health system but in a different role and location.

  16. LQ*

    A question for AAM on #2. You strongly advocate for not hinting or being kind or gentle in other situations (because it isn’t), why not here? Rather than hinting and general conversations about how hard it is why not a direct conversation about how this might not be a good fit for him because of these specific things. (Especially since I’d bet a reference letter will be requested.)

    1. LBK*

      Because the OP isn’t the student’s manager, so this isn’t a performance discussion. Those need to be direct, but this is a more personal conversation.

    2. Kelly L.*

      I think it’s that most of the “don’t hint” advice applies to situations where a boss is telling the subordinate what she needs to do as an employee; you can’t hint and expect that your subordinate will know that she’s not allowed to wear X style of shorts or that the TPS reports are due on Tuesdays.

      The situation in #2 is more about the person’s own life choices. The OP can’t require him to do anything; she’s not the boss of whether he goes to grad school.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t mean to imply the OP should sugarcoat — I think you’re reading the response differently than I meant it. I literally meant exactly what I said there: Paint him an accurate picture and tell him that you wonder if it’s for him. But there’s nothing else to be done here, really, for the reasons LBK and Kelly say above.

  17. Anonalicious*

    I thought #4 was going to be similar to when I tried to talk to my boss about getting my masters degree and needing his support and approval for our education assistance program, and he replied ‘oh you don’t want to get your masters.’ And then he just “forgot” to sign my paperwork so I couldn’t register for this fall.

    Right, because you are so good at knowing what my life/career goals are and whether I want to do this or not. Thanks for confirming why I should be looking to move on.

      1. Anonalicious*

        Yeah and he said it so flippantly like it was nothing. And it’s not like I’d be going for a degree that wouldn’t be useful. On the contrary it should have been something he encouraged me to go do because the knowledge I would have and could bring to our department and my job (or other future positions that are being discussed) would be something no one else on our team has.

        1. #4 Here!*

          Yeah that sounds like someone who maybe shouldn’t be in a position of authority. I think I was definitely lucky to have this particular supervisor. A supervisor should encourage the development and advancement of their employees and be thrilled to hear what their goals are. And if they have experience and want to offer constructive feedback , that is also great.

  18. MR*

    That is good news for #5. However, I’m curious to know what happened after the 3-day temp job…?

      1. #5*

        Hi! I actually finished my 3 day temp position, but they actually extended the contract and I’ll be there a bit longer. The recruiter actually came up to me on my scheduled last day and talked to me about other open positions at the company so I’ll be speaking more about it when I come in next week to continue my assignment! Wish me luck!

  19. #4 Here!*

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for your comments. I guess mine is not as controversial as the others today. I did feel guilty just because everything happened so fast but there are some other elements to this as well. My other co-worker who has worked here for over 3 years is also leaving though I am not supposed to know. She gave my boss notice in May and hopes to leave in the month as she is moving. Our boss has yet to let me know that and has not started recruiting for that position either. I am actually merely transferring within this large organization due to getting a job offer from my boss’ friend who was hiring. I do feel like I owe my supervisor a courtesy but she knew I was interviewing and looking. She has calmed down about it a bit now that we are actually interviewing people to replace me. I gave notice on Wednesday and wanted my last day to be Wednesday in two weeks. I want to have a long weekend before starting my job. I think everything will be okay I just wanted to make sure I was being courteous.

    1. #4 Here!*

      Our office is also moving from an urban location to a suburban location and I think this is very overwhelming to consider for my boss as she generally has me deal with these sort of things. I am going to do all I can before my last day.

  20. VisenyaTarg*

    #2: I just completed a master’s program where about half the students wanted a PhD to follow up. From a student perspective I was on that path but quickly learned it was not for me (for a number of different reasons). I luckily picked up on the subtle hints from faculty that a PhD is not for everyone, because at the end of the day being a post-doc is really a tough market to live in. I wish the professors would have been more frank and CLEAR with the rest of the cohort, in particular students who were just simply not good enough to cut it. Luckily the program had faculty who are not afraid to break hearts, however, some students still seemed to brush it off and are continuing down an ill-advised path of a PhD because their advisors/friends were trying to save their feelings. These are adults and academia is a tough crowd and if you need hand holding then this is the last place you should be in. It is best that they know now rather than waste time better spent being on the job market now and reading Alison’s blog!

  21. A*

    For #2 – what is wrong with you? Unless they ask you for a recommendation or advice, you should back off.

    1. BBB*

      a little harsh perhaps – academia is a little like quite a dysfunctional family sometimes and supervisors become attached to their students and want to get the best out of them, perhaps the op just wants to make sure this guy doesn’t waste his time on a career he might not be suited for?

  22. Susan*

    I had a similar rejection letter story. I read something here about responding graciously to emails and I did after an interview. I commented on how much I appreciated the interview process (the hiring manager was fantastic at constant communication and getting back to you when she said she would). When the person they actually hired quit, she actually emailed me again individually before the job posting came up letting me know I should apply. Clearly, I stuck in her mind and I credit that follow-up email. I still didn’t get the job, but the second interview went even smoother because I was already familiar with the atmosphere of the office. I think it just came down to as much as we seemed to click, my experience was not a perfect match.

Comments are closed.