is there any saving this almost-offer, supporting an assistant with a medical scare, and more

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

1. Is there any saving this almost-offer?

I interviewed for a client service position with an agency. I loved the whole team, and felt like it was a dream job. They felt the same way, and offered me a position (verbally). After meeting with the team, I met with their client, the account I’d be working on while at the agency. I felt the meetings went well, save for one woman who seemed truly disinterested in speaking with me. Fast forward a week, and the agency “has decided to move in a different direction.” I was completely shocked. A few days later I spoke to the head of the agency and he explained that while the whole agency would love to work with me, one of the clients was convinced I was not passionate about their brand. The client ultimately told the agency that they wouldn’t work with me. Now I am still searching for a job, and the agency has re-started their search to fill the role.

I would like to apologize to the client, and show them that I can be passionate about their brand. It just feels silly that 13 out of 15 people in wanted to hire me, but the other two are important enough that they must be listened to. Do you think there’s any way to salvage the scenario? Or do I just accept the fact that I might not be loved by all (OR HAVE A JOB).

I wouldn’t try to second-guess their decision; you can’t really know from the outside what caused their turnaround, or why that client’s opinion is so important. They’re deferring to her for a reason (which could be anything from wanting to keep her business to having good reason to trust her judgment in hiring more than their own).

But you can certainly reach back out via email to whichever decision-maker you felt the best rapport with during the process — and/or the person you think is likely to have most influence with the others — and reiterate how much you enjoyed talking with them, that you regret it didn’t work out, and that you hope there’s opportunity for your paths to cross again in the future. You’re not challenging their decision in doing this — and it’s important that there’s not even a hint of that in your message — but rather, just making one last positive impression on them, just in case it nudges them to revisit. But that’s really all you can do; otherwise you’re second-guessing their ability to make the right hiring decisions for themselves, and that would be really overstepping your bounds here.

2. How can I support my assistant during a medical scare?

My assistant, who has been at her position for 15+ years, just let me know that she’d been putting off some health stuff for a while but just had a mammogram and they called her back for a follow-up. I am trying not to worry, but I also know that getting brought in for a follow-up does not happen if you get an all-clear, so basically, I’m terrified. She’s the best assistant I have ever had, and I know how lucky I am to have her both as my supervisee and just in my life in general.

Aside from telling her that her health and well-being is my highest priority and that she should never feel like she has to postpone health-related appointments due to work, and that she should take all the time she needs to get on top of her health, I don’t know what else do to. She developed a martyr complex over the years that we’ve really just started tackling/disassembling, and I’m not sure she 100% believes me when I say that it’s okay to miss work, even a lot of work, to take care of her health. What would you want to hear from your supervisor, if you were in her shoes? Other than giving her explicit permission to flex her schedule and take time off (she has plenty saved up) as needed, what else can I do or say? If it matters, we are both female, and I am about ten years younger than her.

You’ve pretty much covered all the bases here: You’ve told her that she can take the time she needs for medical appointments and you’ve made it clear that her health is a higher priority than work. That’s about all you need to do at this stage. In fact, doing any more right now might stress out her out further. Being called back for further follow-up after a mammogram is very, very common, and very few of those follow-ups turn out to be cancer. (This actually happened to me a few years ago, and lots of other readers too — there’s some discussion about it here. It’s really common.)

If it does turn out to be cancer, of course at that point there will be further conversations to be had, but the general principles you’re already using are the right ones to continue with — being as flexible as you can and being kind. But the odds are against that happening, fortunately, and I hope it doesn’t.

3. I ran into my interviewer at an industry event

I had an interview for a position with another company on Monday. The interview went well, I wrote my thank-you notes, etc. Now it’s Thursday and I’m at a big local industry event where both my current company and the company I interviewed for have a presence. After registration I noticed that the hiring manager for the company I interviewed with is also here! How do I handle this?

I’m leaning towards just allowing our paths to cross naturally and then just treating her as I would any other professional in my industry but it somewhat kills me to pass up an opportunity to sell my strengths. Ahh!! What to do! Do I pretend like the interview never happened?

This isn’t an opportunity to sell yourself; that would be weird, and probably annoying to her since she’s not there to interview you. But it’s an opportunity to show her that you handle yourself impressively in this type of setting — so yes, treat her like you would any other professional contact and be good at it — greet her warmly, say intelligent things, and generally act like someone who she’d be glad to send to industry events on behalf of her own company.

4. Giving extra notice in exchange for finding out what kind of reference you’ll get

I’ve been trying to locate something on your blog – where you wrote about asking what type of reference your employer will give perhaps in exchange for a longer notice period? Was this a thing or am I imagining it? That you’ll be willing to stay longer than the customary two weeks if they’ll let you know about what reference they will provide in the future for you.

Nope, that’s not something you saw from me! It’s reasonable under any circumstance to ask what kind of reference someone will give you; there’s no need to offer anything extra in exchange for that information. It’s always okay say something like, “As I think about references for the future, I wonder if you could tell me what kind of reference you’d feel comfortable giving employers.”

5. My boss says my W2 for last year isn’t due to me until 2016

There isn’t any information I can find about the problem I’m having with my ex-boss. I was fired on February 2 due to a lack of need for my position – pretty cut and dry. They’re selling the company at the end of the year and I’m one less employee who they have to give equity to.

I started working there in November 2014, so I’m expecting a W2 for November and December of 2014. However, my boss claims that because of my end date in February 2015, I won’t receive my W2 until 2016. This sounds totally wrong to me, but I can’t find information to tell me more.

What? No, that’s absolutely incorrect. Employers are required by federal law to issue you a W2 for the previous year no later than January 31. So they’re already past due, and the idea of waiting until 2016 is absurd — after all, you’ll file a tax return reporting on last year’s income this year. Here’s some info on what to do from here.

{ 203 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    Someone close to me had an experience somewhat like #1. The verbal offer had been given and we showed up for a social event of the firm to which we had been invited ; I immediately got bad vibes but my partner is less sensitive to such things and insisted everything must be okay as he had been told he had the job. They had forgotten to disinvite us when one of the members had essentially blackballed him. One of the more awful evenings of our life.

    There is absolutely nothing you an do and not look needy or foolish except accept it graciously and move on. There is certainly no turning around the opinion of the person who dinged you; I would bet that it had nothing to do with your performance but with either her own agenda or information she thought she had about you previously.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Wow. I hope your partner wasn’t out of work too long, but it sounds like they dodged a bullet! Who does that?! Employers whose employees write in on Wednesdays, that’s who! [smh]

      Also, I really came here to say to OP#1, make sure you avoid the temptation to say anything too guilt-inducing or personal like “devastated” or otherwise play up your feelings about not getting the position, or you’ll do more harm than good. Treat it as a professional communication if you want to leave a good impression. “Regret” is better than “disappointed”, for example.

      1. INTP*

        I actually wouldn’t even use words like “regret.” No need to include any negative emotions at all here. Just that you really loved meeting with everyone and would love to be contacted if another opening with a different client becomes available. I don’t think there’s a way to salvage this scenario – they aren’t going to prioritize a candidate over a client – but you might have a shot at a future opening that doesn’t require working with that client if everyone really did love you.

        1. Rex*

          Actually, I disagree. You’re not a robot, you’re allowed to feel regret. You can express that reaction and still remain professional and positive. Showing that you can respond really well to a setback like that, even while acknowledging it, will say a lot of good things about you.

          1. fposte*

            I’m with INTP. It’s not about being a robot and what you’re allowed to feel, it’s about what you put in the email. And, to be highly pragmatic, what you want to do with this email is make them as comfortable with you as possible–you don’t want them feeling guilty, you don’t want them thinking about your regretful or sad feelings. They already know it’s a setback–you don’t need to identify feelings about it.

            1. Revanche*

              I had a similar experience for a temp job recently that would have been fun but wasn’t totally a match for my experience. I’d be able to do it but I knew I wasn’t the perfect fit. The interviewer was clearly uncomfortable “rejecting” me, and was almost defensive like she expected push back. I cheerfully pointed out that there was no obligation, as we’d not come to any agreement! I noticed an immediate decrease in tension in subsequent emails, and all is well. I can imagine either hiring inexperience or bad experiences with candidates who made it a personal and/or emotional thing may have prompted that.

  2. Mike B.*

    1 – Sucks, but if it’s a client service position, the client really can hold that kind of power, and not inappropriately. This company’s mistake was in extending an informal offer under the assumption that the client would rubber-stamp their choice or could at least be persuaded. I’d follow up with the would-be employer and express regrets etc. if you haven’t already, but I’d also think a little about the practices that led them to make an offer before they knew they were in the clear to do so. This might not be the tightest ship.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup. If you’re at an agency where the accounts are large enough that each client is responsible for multiple people being hired, then they get to vet you, and they can say no for a reason as dumb as “they don’t like your hair color” and the agency won’t say boo.

      OP: It stinks, but as much as the others at the agency liked you, they will not go to bat for you with the client. Their job is to score brownie points with the client, not annoy them by pushing for a person the client has rejected.

      OP, what you *can* get out of this — thank them for the opportunity, and tell them how much you loved the agency and would want to hear about other opportunities in the future. I’m guessing you’re not in the same niche of advertising as I am (or this may not even be an advertising job, could be PR or something else), but if this company is anything like the average one in my field, there is turnover ALL THE TIME except at the most senior roles. (And I suspect if you were looking at a senior role, you wouldn’t have asked Alison this question.) So, maybe not this account today, but maybe another one tomorrow.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        One more thing before I finish writing my novel on this topic :P

        I wonder what the legality is of refusing to hire a candidate because the *client* has some kind of illegal discrimination going on. Most clients I’ve worked would never, say, refuse to work with a certain race — but I can totally see some clients wanting to work with a “young, go-getting” team and thus inadvertently causing the agency to have to age-discriminate for a role.

        In this case, I wonder would the agency be liable? Of course, smart people at agencies won’t disclose to the candidate that the reason the client didn’t like her was age-related — but I still wonder whether the reason for non-hire would be considered “client preference” or “age discrimination.”

        1. fposte*

          Unless it’s a bona fide occupational quality, it doesn’t get you off the discrimination hook, but it’s also pretty hard to prove with a single hiring; if it’s just the client’s discrimination, the company’s overall hiring may look perfectly fine.

          1. INTP*

            That would be interesting to look at in a legal context. Could it be considered a BFOQ for the client to be willing to work with you? I mean, if the client won’t work with you, you can’t really do your job, no matter how petty or valid the client’s reasons – that said, my gut feeling (as a complete amateur on the subject) is that courts would not want to set a precedence of discrimination being okay because it’s better for business.

            I once had a similar issue at a place of employment – I worked at a staffing agency with some clients with clearly illegal hiring practices, usually implied (by rejecting all resumes with an ethnic name or more than 5 years experience listed or similar) or given verbally to our AEs, though occasionally something they might not know was illegal would be put in writing (i.e. refusing to hire military reservists). I always wondered what our legal liability would be. The most racist clients usually hired directly so they would probably be responsible, but some were temp/contract workers so they were on our payroll though the client made the final choice in hiring them.

            1. fposte*

              “Could it be considered a BFOQ for the client to be willing to work with you?” Nope. Customer preference isn’t enough; the quality would have to be essential to the job itself.

        2. Student*

          Unfortunately, the laws regarding discrimination in hiring are essentially impossible to enforce in the US. There was a recent class-action lawsuit against Walmart about it, and the judgement in that case essentially made it impossible to bring any meaningful hiring discrimination case except in cases of gross stupidity on the part of the employer.

          1. DMC*

            If it’s the Duke case, that was about class certification, not he underlying merits of discrimination (though, admittedly, attorneys LOVE class actions more than individual lawsuits).

      2. YourCdnFriend*

        Maybe adagencychic meant it but just to reiterate, there is turnover all the time among staff AND among clients (or at least in my industry (I’d be a client)). Continue to make a good impression and you never know where it may lead.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I didn’t, but you’re 100% right. You might even be asked back to work on the same account in the future if someone on the client side quits or transfers to a different position in their own company.

      3. Lisa*

        Exactly, people don’t understand that at many marketing agencies, employees can work for a single client – which means you can be fired when that client doesn’t get renewed. I agree that OP has a good chance to work at this agency for a different client when one arises.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      PS, it’s fairly common, at least in my experience, for agencies to extend an offer contingent upon client approval. Usually the client does say yes, but you have to be prepared that they won’t. I think agencies do it that way instead of being more noncommittal with the candidate because they want to keep the candidate from going somewhere else because the process is taking too long, while not 100% promising to hire someone whom the client might say no to.

  3. neverjaunty*

    OP #5, not to worry you, but your boss is so out to lunch – did HE get his W-2 for last year? – that between his absurdity and the company’s status, I have to wonder if something shady isn’t going on, like the employer not passing your taxes on to the IRS. Definitely follow the link AAM provided and be proactive with the IRS.

    1. Artemesia*

      That was my first thought — they haven’t paid the FICA taxes and want to be long gone before it comes home to roost for you. This is one to be aggressive on.

      1. PeculiarHR*

        Always check your SSA statement on the SSA’s website! It’s amazing what some employers will fail to report. I checked my wife’s after she quit working her last job and her shady boss didn’t report 2 years of FICA payments. The SSA is one of my least favorite government agencies to deal with, but I have to say that they fixed the reporting pretty quickly after I sent them copies of her W2s.

        1. Artemesia*

          I recently retired as did my husband a bit earlier and I want to just stand up for the SSA. I have never worked with more professional and competent people in a bureaucracy in my life. Everything about our various interactions with this agency getting our SS established has been exemplary. We had an issue with medicare charges because they were basing it on my husband’s last year of salary rather than on his retirement income (pretty much zilch) and so we were being charged twice the monthly medicare fee; we were in Europe at the time and our daughter who was handling our mail informed us of this. We had no paperwork with us but were able on googlephone to get this straightened out with a very patient employee who helped us estimate our income details in order to fix this problem. The problem arose because my husband had an extension on his tax payment and thus the last tax statement they had was his last year of work rather than his retirement year so the initial problem was not their fault. I am sorry to see the attempts to make the SSA less competent by strangling them on their budget and closing many local offices; this is a clear attempt to reduce support as part of the overall political efforts to destroy social security.

          In our experience the SSA is extremely effective.

          1. PeculiarHR*

            When I called them about my new born son’s SSN, I sat on hold for an hour and a half. When someone finally answered, the lady wouldn’t even let me finish my sentences before she interrupted with information that I wasn’t asking about. It was obvious that she didn’t care about my question and couldn’t even provide a simple answer, despite the fact that it was a routine issue that they must deal with all the time. After all, millions of people are born each year and apply for SSNs.

      2. Annie Laurie*

        I had that exact thing happen to me, and it was a real pain to sort it out. Both the state and federal tax people were really nice, though.

    2. Juli G.*

      Agreed. Luckily you worked there such a short time that it shouldn’t be too costly to screw up their mistakes.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      #5 – hopefully you saved your pay stubs, which should have itemized your FICA/withholding/etc. If so – then you should probably approach the IRS with the dilemma you’re in.

      Now – does this situation have an, as we say, “aroma” to it? By all means – but with you coming forward with your own tax situation, if there is something shady going on, they can still go after them, before they have the chance to sneak away into the night.

  4. Natalie*

    #5, w-2 issue aside, it sounds like you were laid off rather than fired. “Fired” typically implies some fault on your part, so it’s more than just an academic distinction. In interviews and the like, you want it clear that your position was eliminated for reasons outside of your control.

    1. Leah*

      Yes. This is very important. If you have to fill out an application for an interview (as opposed to a cover letter and resume) they will most likely ask if you’ve ever been fired. This won’t 100% disqualify you but put you in a bad position when everyone understands layoffs.

  5. Wolfey*

    #2 – My mother had a similar situation occur many years ago. One of the women who worked for her was concealing an obvious health issue that she was too terrified to deal with. Finally, my mom sat down with her and basically told her NOT to come in again until she’d been to a doctor and figured out how to get what she needed. It turned out to be a massive, messy breast tumor, and it took a looooong time for her to work through treatment. She never lost her job even when she hadn’t been to the office in months and my mom worked with her throughout until she could come back. Mom was firm that her health was the priority and the office wouldn’t shut down if she wasn’t at her desk. This is pretty typical of my mom’s management style and her employees are fiercely devoted; she runs a tight ship in a federal office but it’s one of the best places to work because of this kind of loyalty.

    My point is that sometimes softly encouraging someone to take care of themselves isn’t enough, especially when there’s a power difference. If it turns out there are indeed health issues, you can say more firmly, “I want you to take X time and sort this out. Let me know how you’re doing on [date] and we’ll take it from there.” Emphasize how much you value her, that her health is the priority, and that her job is safe. Then actually follow through on making sure she knows her job is safe. I think this is what prompts a lot of a martyr complex: that if we aren’t there and visible, someone will eventually forget how much they valued us and will replace us.

    1. Shell*

      Did your mother hire a temp in the meanwhile? Because while I appreciate your mother’s approach, there must have been tasks that needed to be done (hence the woman in question having a job) and couldn’t wait. And if this woman was as busy as it sounds, it would’ve been hard to absorb those tasks into other people.

      1. Wolfey*

        I don’t know the specifics, but it is both a large office and this woman was out for a while. I don’t know what temp hiring is like for the federal government, but I think it’s more probable that she was either able to re-distribute this woman’s work among many people or was able to get someone from another dept to fill in. Cross-training is a big thing there, and I’ve heard many off-hand stories of moving people into better fitting positions or to absorb an unexpected office need. It was a neat strategy during the sequester a few years ago; my mom was able to avoid pretty much avoid lay-offs while other offices took heavy losses.

      2. Alter_ego*

        We had a busy employee who, in a very long story, got trapped in another country for about 8 months. We were able to share his work among the others in his position until he could (literally!) escape. We didn’t hire a temp, partially because we had no clue how long he would be gone, since he was trying to get back from day 1, but it just meant that, spread between the 6 other people with the same job, we all worked a little longer each week.

        1. A. D. Kay*

          Wow, literaly trapped in another country?! I would love to hear more details about this story unless it would compromise anyone’s anonymity.

        2. AmyNYC*

          This happened to a former roommate with a work visa thing – he was randomly selected for an intense visa process and a 2 week trip turned into a 6 month ordeal. Luckily, he was able to work remotely for most of it.

        3. BananaPants*

          We had this happen to an employee. When he returned to his home country for a visit, he had major issues getting back – first his government would not let him leave, then he was unable to reenter the US and had to apply for a new visa. It took around 3-4 months all told. He was working the entire time to get himself back but was unable to work remotely since he had not brought his work computer or VPN token with him. I have no idea if he continued receiving a paycheck during that time but it was quite an ordeal.

          It really isn’t possible to hire temps to do what we do; it takes an entry level hire around 6-12 months to be able to work independently with their work being checked, and more like 2-3 years (minimum) before they’re ready to be a technical lead (although an experienced engineer can step into the role within maybe 3-6 months). We don’t get temps for long absences because it would just take too long for them to get up to speed. When I was out on maternity leave, my high priority tasks were divided between 3-4 coworkers and the lower priority tasks just had to be left undone for the 12 weeks I was out of the office. When a coworker had to fly home on FMLA for a month due to a parent’s serious illness, the rest of us pitched in and got the work done. When a colleague was out on disability for 2 months after a major surgery his work went totally undone because he’s the only person in the company who does that particular thing (and that pointed out major flaws in succession planning!). It’s not too bad as long as work is split among enough people.

    2. Marzipan*

      Personally, if I were ill, I would loathe having someone take away my agency by deciding it would be best for me not to be at work. Unless my illness was affecting my ability to work to the extent that my performance was too impaired for me to be there at all, that decision should be mine. Otherwise it’s basically someone telling me that they’ve decided it’s in my best interests not to have anything to occupy my mind, and I should just go and sit at home and think about my illness, which is the last thing I would want.

      1. Claire (Scotland)*

        I agree. I’m sure Wolfey’s mother acted with the best of intentions, and it may have been the right thing in the case of that specific employee, I don’t know, but for me this would be absolutely one of the worst things you could do. In the midst of a health crisis I am losing control of enough already. Please don’t start deciding for me how I need to handle it.

        1. Observer*

          I used to think this way untill (amny years ago) someone got “busy” and pushed me into taking care of some health issues. She probably saved me from a full scale break down, and I’m grateful to her till this day.

          The bottom line is that you have to know the specifics of the situation as well as the person as a whole. And, in some cases, beingmore assertive is just the right thing to do.

          I will say, though, that you DO need to be very careful with that.

          The worst is some people who ALWAYS know what’s best for others and try to arrange their lives for them. Those people scare me.

      2. Wolfey*

        Trying to exert total control is *crazy* inappropriate (didn’t mean to imply that!), but I do think it can be appropriate for a manager to exert some influence in handling a health crisis if the employee is initially overwhelmed or doesn’t know what to do. The manager has more latitude to say “Take time” than an employee has to announce “I’m taking 2-3-4 weeks off.” In this instance, it was not only apparent that something was wrong but also that whatever was wrong hadn’t been acknowledged at all and that it was affecting the woman’s co-workers.

        The idea isn’t to send someone to stew idly at home, but to take the variable of WORK/JOB/DEADLINES! out of the emotional and logistical maelstrom of initial appointments, diagnosis, setting up treatment, etc. Once that’s out of the way, employee and manager can figure out the employee’s wants/needs and what the office can do. Obviously no one should be giving long-term orders–I may have worded that too strongly–and listening to the employee is paramount, but the firmness of suggestion/request/instruction probably varies quite a bit by person and the unique relationship between employee/manager. It’s a judgement call for sure.

        In this case, the judgment call ended up saving a woman’s life (the story is too long). That conversation might be be totally inappropriate with another person. I can see myself in exactly your independent frame of mind in some situations, and in others being overwhelmed enough to be very grateful for someone to say “Go home. Process things. We’ll talk later and go from there.” Sometimes when I’m stressed I cling to the wrong priorities because they are easier to deal with than the issue and it takes someone else’s authoritative push to help straighten myself out and get back in the driver’s seat. That’s not someone taking my agency–it’s just what people do for each other sometimes. Usually it’s family, but when there is no [helpful] family it can fall to unusual people.

        tl;dr: There are some people/situations out there for which that kind of intrusion is always inappropriate, but most people/situations are probably on a spectrum. Judgment is important.

        1. Wolfey*

          The anecdote was meant more as an example of something that *could* work well rather than a prescription for all employee/manager interactions in the midst of a health crisis. I mentioned it because my interpretation of the assistant in #2 and what I know of this woman made them seem like similar (but not identical) people in addition to having similar (but not identical) circumstances.

          1. Lunar*

            I think your advice was useful. I had a similar but much less serious situation a few months ago. I had the flu and when I first came down with it my boss told me to leave work early. But it was just a few days before I would be out for planned PTO and there were certain things that I felt needed to get done so I came into the office on subsequent days even though I was visibly shaking and definitely not feeling well. My boss was clearly aware of my condition but when I explained that I didn’t think I would get everything done if I took sick days he backed off. That told me that he agreed that it was more important that I finish my projects by the deadline than that I take time off. I was totally okay with that in this instance and the flu is definitely not the same as a more dire health problem or scare but I think the idea applies. It isn’t always enough to just say that it is okay to take time off – sometimes you have to really insist and make it clear that the work can wait or that it can be covered in order for an employee to really feel like they can take the time.

        2. Jen RO*

          I was pretty sure your story would get misinterpreted… but for what it’s worth, I think your mother’s approach was right and I didn’t read it as her sending the employee home without care about her plans. Sometimes I get the feeling that many of the readers who are private people assume that everyone else is the same. Well, it’s not true – one of my reports is dealing with a situation similar to the one described in OP1’s question, and I knew from day one, she shared the diagnostic, I even googled it for her to calm her down. I absolutely told her that she should not worry 1 second about work if it turned out to be something more serious and I will repeat that until she gets it.

          1. Jen RO*

            (And if anyone has happy-ending stories about abnormal pap smears, it would help both me and my report! She is taking a day off soon for further investigations, but it will be a while until she gets the results back.)

            1. Lore*

              The good thing about abnormal pap smears is that they are very, very common, and many of them turn out to be a low-level HPV thing that will resolve itself within a month or so. And if you’re getting the test done regularly, even if there is a problem that needs further investigation or treatment, the odds are very, very high that this will be at most a minor procedure to remove specific problem cells, done in a doctor’s office. I’d say about half my friends have had something like this (myself included) and the biggest problem any of them turned into was a biopsy that was mildly uncomfortable, and the need to get pap smears twice a year for a few years.

              1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                This, exactly. I had an abnormal pap a few years ago and had to get a colposcopy, which was uncomfortable (tell your direct report to take plenty of ibuprofen beforehand!), but the result was that I had, as Lore mentioned above, low-level HPV that resolved itself. The worst part was that no one told me I might still be uncomfortable for a few days, so I went to work and ended up skipping a group lunch because I didn’t want to walk anywhere! So give your report a couple of days off. :)

                I hope all goes well with her. I also have to say that I love that she feels comfortable talking to you about this and letting you take on some of the burden of her anxiety. Having someone to talk to can be a huge help.

                1. Anon for this*

                  Same – I had one a few years ago, and it turned out to be HPV. To diagnose that, I also had to get a colposcopy (which was REALLY unpleasant – luckily I scheduled it for the end of the day and just went home afterward). But, good news, it went away on its own, and I haven’t had any problems in years.

                  I hope your report’s okay!

                2. blackcat*

                  I had an abnormal pap and then was told to get colposcopy. I did a fair amount of research–as it turns out the guidelines for my particular case would have been different if I was just 6 weeks younger. Since those guidelines were less invasive (wait 6 months, have another pap instead of a colposcopy), I called back and said that that’s what I wanted to do. I got some push back from the doctor, but eventually she agreed. 2nd pap came back normal, and I’ve had normal ones ever since (5 years now). The vast, vast majority of abnormal paps are nothing, and there is some evidence colposcopies are over-used in the US. Doing a second pap is both less invasive and cheaper.

                  I highly recommend checking out the american association of gynecologists guidelines as well as NHS stuff online. It’s all in pretty clear language, and I found it extremely helpful. Sometimes in the US, doctors aren’t actually following the evidence-based practices recommended by national bodies. This can be because they don’t *know* the recommendations or because they disagree with them. Either way, if the guidelines call for something less invasive than what your doc suggests, it provides you with a lot of leverage to push back. Over treating for cell abnormalities can cause more harm than good, so I always encourage people to research the options for them. (Colposcopies are low risk, but there is some risk of the several day discomfort you experienced and also a risk of infection)

                  (Context: I’m WAY more likely to push back on interventions, because many of them are done under local anesthesia. I have adverse reactions to the -caine family of drugs, so I just have to cope with the pain. Things that are worth doing, I will 100% suck it up. Things with questionable medical evidence? NOPE.)

            2. MJH*

              Had abnormal, had it biopsied, came back with moderate cervical changes. Had a LEEP (basically burning off the pre-cancerous cells with an electrified loop!) and everything is perfectly fine now, all my paps have come back normal and negative for HPV since that procedure, and I am back to a pap every three years instead of every one now. (I am also 8.5 months pregnant, so my cervix was not damaged in any significant way).

              None of this was a pleasant experience at all, but it was completely fine in the end. Even when things are abnormal “down there,” they can be easily treated.

              1. Ms Enthusiasm*

                Same with me. I had what was called severe dysplasia (precancerous change to the lining of the cells of the cervix due to HPV) I also had a biopsy and then a Cone Biopsy (similar to LEEP). I had pap smears every 3 months for a year after and then went back to once a year. This was ten years ago and I’ve had 2 kids since. I’ve slightly wondered if the chances of it coming back would be higher for me since I had it before but so far nothing has happened.

            3. LJL*

              I had one about 10 years ago, and it was nothing to worry about. I was fine and am still fine. From what I understand, false positives in PAP smears are more common that false negatives, which means that there is more worry with an abnormal PAP smear than may be warranted, but there is less likelihood something major will be missed. I’m thinking good thoughts about both you and your report and hoping it turns out the same way for her as it did for me. :-)

            4. fposte*

              There’s some discussion that the US, at least, is overinterventionist on cervical changes; the recommendation for Pap smear intervals has lengthened, and the recommendation is that treatment shouldn’t be automatic for mild shorter-term dysplasia. Basically, the needle is moving a little on what “normal” is.

            5. anon for this*

              Abnormal pap smear happy ending here. Over 10 years ago, maybe more than 15. After further investigation, the specialist felt the abnormal result was due simply to the pap smear being done too soon after I finished bleeding.

            6. Aunt Vixen*

              My very first pap smear was abnormal, and I wigged, and it was nothing. I don’t have numbers from my friend’s dad the gynecologist easily available, but some large percentage of smears are abnormal – or, what the A actually stands for in ASCUS, atypical, which is a word that sounds a lot less frightening for some reason. Since then I think I’ve had one or two that they wanted to take another look at, and every time, they’ve taken a closer look and gone “Yep, just as I thought – nothing to fret about.”

            7. Jen RO*

              Thank you! Especially AvonLady – I didn’t know the effects could last more than one day, so I will be telling her that she can wfh the following day if she’s not feeling up to coming to work.

            8. Joline*

              I got a call that I needed to come back in for re-testing. Panicked for the couple of days before my appointment. Get in to see the doctor – and he tells me that it was just that he didn’t scrape enough cells the first time. The “abnormal” was just that they weren’t able to appropriately run the tests.

              Cue extra panic, though, when a month later they call me back again saying I need to come in to get another test. I pointed out that I’d been in a month before if it was because of the faulty test the first time. Got a “….oh. whoops. I’m so sorry.”

              All’s well that ends well!

          2. Lady Bug*

            I had one about 10 years ago that turned out to be nothing after a colposcopy. It was a very scary experience though. Best of luck to your report.

          3. TotesMaGoats*

            As soon as I read Wolfey’s post, I thought the same thing about getting misinterpreted. FWIW, I think what her mom did was EXACTLY what boss’s should do. You should have developed the kind of relationship where your staff feel safe in confiding personal information that is impacting work and you can provide the opportunity to help them in that situation. There are lots of people who scream privacy, and I understand that but Wolfey’s mom did the exact right thing. I can see my own mom doing that with her staff. In fact, I know she has. And her staff work so very hard for her, are extremely loyal and her office is the best office to work in.

            It’s my goal to be the same way.

            1. Chinook*

              “There are lots of people who scream privacy, and I understand that but Wolfey’s mom did the exact right thing”

              I am another one who agrees that, sometimes, as the boss, you have to basically order someone to take care of themselves. It is like you are giving them permission to put work on the backburner while, at the same time, letting them know that there will be a job for them when they get back.

              I do this with volunteers because it is sometimes hard for someone who feels responsible and has a great work ethic to take time for personal issues because they know someone else will be inconvinienced. They need to know that we are giving them permission to be inconvinience us and we don’t mind.

            2. Marzipan*

              But who said anything about privacy? My issue was with the staff member apparently being sent off for a prolonged period of time – because although I accept that some people would find that helpful, others would find it awful.

              A case in point: when my mother died several months ago, I explained to my manager and colleagues that, since the circumstances were such that I couldn’t be of immediate help to my family (who live at some distance), I would prefer to be at work initially. I told them about any specific tasks I didn’t feel I could do and made alternative arrangements for those, and I explained that I would take some time off for the funeral (which took place a few weeks later). It helped me to be at work because the alternative would, literally, have been sitting around on my own at home thinking about it. Going to work worked well for me, and I was able to perform to a perfectly reasonable standard at the tasks I was up to doing. There were, however, a contingent of people who seemed really determined to ask me ‘why are you HERE?!?’ every time they saw me, or otherwise imply that I was somehow grieving wrong because I wasn’t doing it in a way they recognised or would have chosen for themselves. That was… really massively unhelpful.

              Just because I personally wanted to approach things in that way, it doesn’t mean I think everyone else does – if a member of my team experiences a bereavement (or serious illness, or similar) I would want to support them by finding out what they would find helpful and doing my best to make that happen. Nor do I think it’s unreasonable (in fact, it’s necessary) to raise an unaddressed health or personal issue with an employee if it’s significantly affecting their work (or other people’s). But my point was that while ‘go away for [lengthy period of time]’ may be really helpful for some, it’s excruciating for others and isn’t a blanket approach (as Wolfey says, too).

              And in terms of being an approachable manager people can trust with their difficulties, personally my willingness to approach a manager would always be in direct proportion to how likely they were to do things that would actually be helpful to me (i.e. listen and understand) rather than things they decided would be helpful but I didn’t appreciate. If I were dealing with a health issue and thought my manager would respond by just banishing me from the office for an extended period of time to ‘help’ me… well, then privacy would start to be part of the issue because I just wouldn’t tell them. Which would of course be entirely the opposite of the approachability goal!

        3. JB*

          I agree with everything you said. I have a boss who says employee health is a priority, and we should never worry about needing to take time off. But then he also is very demanding about work being done on time and is not ok with other people picking up the slack for various reasons. So we can take all the time we need, but if our work isn’t done on time, he’ll be irritated. He never says he’s irritated, but it’s very clear he is. So he uses the words that the OP uses, but his actions and his other words don’t match up.

          So I would say to the OP, it’s not enough to say “don’t worry” and take all the time you need. You need to make sure you are clear all the time that there aren’t negative consequences for taking the time off. I say this because every place I’ve worked has had people who become martyr types for no reason but has also had people who seem that way, but it’s because their managers, either intentionally or inadvertently, are sending them signals that they better not inconvenience them with their absences. You have to make sure you are sending those kind of signals unintentionally.

  6. PeculiarHR*

    OP#3’s situation reminds me of a time that I interviewed with the the command staff of a police department. A few days later, I ran into the Chief (male) and a Captain (female) shopping together at a furniture store in another city. I am assuming their relationship wasn’t public and I didn’t want to open a can of worms or jeopardize my candidate status, so I ducked down another aisle before they saw me. I got an offer at the end of the hiring process, but didn’t end up working there due to some unusual circumstances. The sight of them shopping together should have been a big clue about what was happening in their department, but I was fresh out of college and naive about such things. To this day, I’m still glad I didn’t end up working there!

  7. Zinnias*

    #2–I had some pretty significant health problems a few years ago, and had to miss quite a bit of work. My manager was extremely kind and said basically all the things you are saying to your assistant–that my job was safe and my health should be the top priority, etc. But another thing that really helped was setting up a series of robust back-up plans so that other staff could take over my duties anytime that I didn’t feel well enough to go into the office. It was pretty awesome, because it meant that there was no pressure on any given day to feel like “if I don’t drag myself in, X, Y, and Z won’t get done.” In my case, I made sure that each active project had its own clearly labeled folder left in plain view on my desk. Inside each folder I documented where I was in the project and what the next steps were. And then I left a running to-do list in plain view that indicated what I was working on and what was time sensitive. A different system might make sense for your situation, but I’d really encourage you to think about setting up something like this. It gave me huge peace of mind, and it also meant that important work projects kept moving when I wasn’t able to be there.

    1. Pipette*

      YES TO THIS!

      The main reason I was reluctant to take time off (for holidays or for sickness) at Old Job was because I knew I would return to an unholy mess of blown deadlines and jobs delivered full of stupid mistakes that would haunt me for months.

      Knowing the place does not fall apart when you are not there is a good cure for martyr complex.

    2. Stuck in the Snow*

      This is what kills me, though. So we have an administrator who has had a history of medical issues. She resists going to regular doctor appointments because she’s “just so busy”. Then she ends up having to go to the emergency room for something that would have been easily dealt with if it had been caught early, and being out of office for days on end. And then when she returns, she’s trying to catch up and is “so busy” she can’t document what she’s doing or cross-train anyone…and especially can’t make/take time to visit the doctor for a check-up. Rinse and repeat.

      She’s been told multiple times that we’re very open to people taking time for medical appointments – it can be things like acupuncture and massage, too! Ultimately, I feel it’s a failure on our head manager’s part that he hasn’t sat her down and had a serious talk about how this is unacceptable – she needs cross-train her fellow assistants so that they can back her up (which, btw, they’d appreciate, as they currently have to scramble to cover for her when she leaves unexpectedly for days of medical recovery, and this way they’d actually be able to do it well), and then she needs to take the time to look after herself. I feel like it can turn into a work hoarding situation – I think the OP or someone referred to it as the person being a martyr, but it’s self-martyrdom!

      1. OP-2*

        Part of my work in the past two years as her manager has been working to break down the self-martyrdom. Part of it is a constant fear that if people know how to do her job, someone (not me!) will decide that she can be replaced with someone cheaper, and part of it is the knowledge that even if she trains someone to sub in for her, they will not get it done to her level of satisfaction and she’ll have to clean up their mess upon her return. The former is a non-issue; you cannot buy the level of satisfaction I have with her work in dollars saved by hiring someone cheaper. The latter is what we struggle with.

        1. Chinook*

          “Part of it is a constant fear that if people know how to do her job, someone (not me!) will decide that she can be replaced with someone cheaper,”

          I have worked with too many people like that and it is frustrating. I wish they could understand that, while she may be protecting herself from being replaced, she is is also stopping herself from somethign better because she is seen as irreplaceable.

          I am big on cross-training and, when one boss asked why (because the person I replaced was just like the OP’s assistant), I pointed out that I want him to keep me on because I was great at my job, not because no one else would be able to figure it out (as in, maybe a monkey could do my job but said monkey would never be as efficient and please and might even start flingy brown things at people who make things difficult for him).

          1. Natalie*

            In my experience, this kind of behavior can actually increases the likelihood that you might lose your job, because you usually have to ignore directives or required processes and generally make things harder for the rest of your coworkers in order to have knowledge to hoard. You might be able to get away with that, but you better be reeeeeeal good at what you do.

            I worked with someone who did this, and he was the only person my managers’ were explicitly working on firing (building an HR case, etc). Downsizing beat them to the punch. Guarantee he was #1 on the layoff list, and when a retained employee in the same department left, Hoarding Guy was not offered the now-open job.

  8. Marzipan*

    #2, I would suggest in addition that you find a place to process your own feelings about your assistant’s possible health problems. Your mention of being ‘terrified’ reminds me of the time my immediate counterpart had to tell our boss he was having tests for cancer, and she promptly burst into tears – and I know lots of people having to pass on significant health news find that they have to manage the feelings of those they’re telling, and sort of end up supporting them rather than the other way around. Fortunately my colleague got the all-clear, but it did make me think about what managerial (and personal) responses are and aren’t helpful.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any emotional reaction to the situation – of course you will, you’re human and this is someone you’ve known a long time and clearly care about – but it would probably help her if you do that emotional processing away from her where possible. (And, obviously, not with her colleagues.) And, of course you’ll express concern and worry towards her to an extent; I don’t mean become robotic about it. I think what I’m saying is, take care of yourself so you can best support her.

    In terms of that support, it can be helpful to avoid blanket statements like ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’ – they aren’t very meaningful because obviously you aren’t literally prepared to do anything, so the person on the receiving end can’t really tell what you’re offering to do. Either focus on asking her what kind of adjustments she’d find helpful at the moment or, if you think she’ll soldier on and just say she can manage, offer some specific possibilities of things that could happen to help.

    1. OriginalEmma*


      LW #2, Marzipan’s advice reminds me of the Ring Theory of Kvetching. I learned of this concept from the article “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing”

      Support In, Dump out – essentially, it’s appropriate to offer support and care to the person immediately affected by a negative event (whether it’s a health scare, lost job, victim of a financial scam, etc.) as well as people close to them in order of importance (e.g., their partners, parents, children, etc.) but it’s NOT appropriate to complain about how the issue is affecting you to these people. You may, however, direct your worries, fears, etc. to folks further removed from the situation.

    2. fposte*

      I thought that too about the involvement, and I know it’s something that I tend to need to be careful about. I do get involved with my staff, and this is somebody you’ve been coaching through various things for a while. But I think it’s important to leave room to step back and let this be happening to her and not you, too. (Though I join with others in saying that mammogram callbacks are hugely common, and honestly I wouldn’t be terrified to get one as a patient.)

  9. Merry and Bright*

    #1 One thing occurs to me from an experience I had 8 years ago. Obviously good client service and relationships are vital but I hear an alarm bell when I hear about a company running after one company in particular. I mean, how much do they rely on this one customer? In my case it was way too much. The client was bought out and my employer went under. You may just have had a lucky escape there.

  10. snuck*


    Sorry OP – I wouldn’t trade my reputation or integrity over a longer notice period. I’ll give a fair, honest and reasonable reference regardless of notice period… if the notice period is unreasonably short I’d not hide that fact, but I wouldn’t be bitter about it (unless you were a project manager who walked out the week before a software release with no notice and no handover)… Likewise if you gave a reasonable notice period (reasonable isn’t a set number of days but also take into account things like shutdowns/holidays, crunch dates, pressure periods) and a sterling handover then I’d be also happy to share that information – that’s the only way you’ll influence the reference with a longer period “Yes, Jane, she was great, she did all her assigned tasks and more… oh yes, and she was very professional – excited to work with another company but made sure she had everything here rock solid and handed over before she left. Would I employ her again? In a heartbeat!”

    1. OP #4*

      Didn’t mean to phrase it as if I would act poorly or would lose any integrity. Certainly not planning on staking my reputation.

      I was planning on giving 2-3 weeks notice period regardless, and of course, act accordingly in terms of handover. I have zero intention of trying to stick it to them or screw them over. Not my style. At the same time, I was wondering if offering to stay on extra time/weeks above a 2-3 week notice period would put me in a good position to negotiate for a known good reference (sometimes the company only gives the “person was employed here from x to x”). Of course, this all depends if the new job will give me that extra time, since their start date may not allow me to give extra time beyond the two weeks. I read it somewhere (honestly thought it was here) and that’s how I got the idea, but I was trying to stay away from phrasing it as an exchange, but more of an added bonus offer that benefits both parties.

      I really do like the company, but a new manager took over and unfortunately it became time for me to move on since they changed my role so much and took it in a direction I did not want to be in. Yes, we’ve had multiple conversations over the year, very explicitly, and I’ve taken my concerns to the CEO. Something like, “I was interested in this role because I was excited to do xyz, while I don’t mind taking on abc, I really would like to return to the original duties – how can we make that happen? I’m happy to keep doing abc, I know I can do them both, but I noticed we stopped giving me xyz tasks completely.”

      Snuck – thanks for the feedback. I’ll make sure to make sure the handoff will be stellar and to put extra effort and make it very neat. Avoid “senioritis”. I often have to “manage up” and so I’ll make sure to create a workplan to show my transition and what I plan to do, what loops I’ll close, and everything else and be very very diligent to leave on the highest note possible. That way, I’ll also have documentation on my leaving procedures. FYI – I’m actually the one who handles exit interviews and all exit procedures, so I know what a pain it is and don’t want anyone else to have to deal with it on my account. I like to leave things better than when I’ve found them (goes for work, people, places), and I do believe I’ve done that here.

      So while I’m a fan of the company – I need to leave. The manager is remote and is known to be hard to work with/for – so I’m concerned about the reference (even though I get nothing but positive feedback). Alison – I know you have some posts on when to contact a job you’ve left (give it some cooldown time) so I’ll follow up on those.


  11. Cheesecake*

    OP #1, it sucks, but i see it as “dodged a bullet” situation. There are all sorts of red flags in this story. Firstly, do you really want to make it your annual goal to persuade someone who does not like you (enough to have your candidacy rejected) how great you are? Second, making a verbal offer, knowing how important client interview is, seems very silly. They could tell you you are their best candidate without making an actual offer. Heck, it is a pretty big thing if they can make offers left and right and then say “oh, sorry, it is revoked”. I am sure it happens in their company on regular basis and this is just a nono.

  12. Kathryn*

    #2 one of the things that has really helped me actually believe and trust my management when they say to take the time needed to handle my health, on beyond them being kind and saying that is their policy etc, was when my boss sat me down in our one on one and said “I need you to help me demonstrate to the rest of the team that we take this policy seriously. I need you to be seen to leave the office early at least once a month. Mid way through the day early, can you do that for me?”

    Since our policy is about making sure we get enough down time as well as handle health, it’s for general work life balance, and we have an unlimited time off policy, making a goal for myself and framing it in a way where it was part of my job – I’m pretty sensitive to keeping our team dynamic positive and healthy – the assignment to get out of dodge on a regular basis has been helpful for me.

    If your assistant feels responsible for your general team as well as her work with you, you could try framing the issue around you needing to show your team how you want everyone to take care of themselves and would like her help in that demonstration. “On this team, it is normal to take time for routine medical check ups and any needed follow ups, we need to show others that this is a normal, accepted practice.”

    1. OP-2*

      This is brilliant, and I will be using it. She definitely mothers the rest of the staff, so entreating her to help me set a good example “for them” is a route that would likely lead to positive results.

  13. Monodon monoceros*

    For #2, just be sure you are clear on what “take whatever time you need” means to both you, the employee, and administration. When my father passed away a few years ago, my boss also told me to “take whatever time I needed”. I had about 1.5 weeks of PTO, but ended up being gone for 2 weeks. I stupidly assumed that “take whatever time you need” meant that they would let me go into the negative on my PTO bank (or get leave donations like other people got sometimes), but instead they docked my pay 0.5 weeks. And I was already living pretty much paycheck to paycheck, and it was just before Christmas. I totally understood that I was gone for longer than I had in my PTO bank, but it was a bit of salt in the wound during a bad time, and I was so focused on getting to my family and the funeral, etc., that I never thought to ask.

    So just make sure if you mean “take whatever time you need” you are clear with yourself, with your employee, and then also take the time to iron those details out with upper management or whoever has to make decisions on PTO and payroll.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I learned this the hard way. I once told an employee it was fine to take a “couple of sick days” to grieve after the loss of her cat, and was shocked when she took 8 days off (she’s in a different location, and I’m not her direct supervisor, so I didn’t find out until I saw payroll). Now I say “you can take up to two sick days (for pet loss) and after that you’ll need to make a request for vacation time”. I was unclear, although, in my book, 8 is well past a couple.

      1. fposte*

        It seems weird to have to quantify an acceptable grief duration, but as Monodon’s example shows, it’s worse if you don’t.

        1. LD*

          Absolutely…in my experience, the grief always lasts longer than the paid time off. It’s unfortunate that in a stressful time, managers have to be specifically clear on those expectations or benefits and it’s very easy for an employee to misinterpret because they are grief-stricken.

          1. Burlington*

            Definitely this. It’s not even that people abuse the policies or abuse your good-will… it’s just that they have a LOT going on, and counting their PTO on their fingers and wondering what you meant by “a couple days” just doesn’t rate during a time like that. Definitely don’t say “take as much time as you need” unless you’re prepared to really let them have as much time, or you’re prepared to call them weeks later and tell them to get back to the office (which I imagine is a very uncomfortable conversation).

            1. fposte*

              Very well stated–people grieving aren’t in a place to parse what a vague term means. It really is kinder and more helpful to be specific.

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          It does. I’m more flexible with people-deaths. I don’t mean to be heartless about pets (I most definitely am not) or suggest that two days is enough but we allow indefinite accumulation of sick time, and I can’t have someone out for weeks or more when a pet dies – some people have a LOT of pets. It’s amazing how if people have to use vacation (which doesn’t accumulate indefinitely) they don’t need quite as many days. I had to crack down on sick days when I started getting requests to use them for home repair, car repairs, out-of-town visitors, etc. We’re generous with sick time on the assumption that most people won’t need all of it but we want them to have it if they really do, so it bugs me when people someone who is not sick tries to find ways to take every possible day – leaving other people scrambling to cover their work.

      2. Natalie*

        An ex of mine and I once had an incredibly long conversation about what “a couple” meant. For some reason most people in his life had used it to mean anywhere between 2 and 5. I’ve never come across that, before or since.

        In work especially, specificity can help a lot.

        1. Myrin*

          If I may threadjack this comment just for clarification: That is incredibly interesting for me as a non-native speaker – I’ve always taken “a couple of [things]” to mean, well, yes, something from two to five or six of [things]. In fact, I’m pretty sure that in all the fiction by native speakers I’ve ever read it’s always meant that – how do you use it, Natalie, if I might ask? (Unless I’m misunderstanding and you actually meant “couple” as in “people in an amorous relationship” – then yes, I’d say that’s only two people.)

          (Fun fact, in German, there are “ein Paar” [capital P] and “ein paar” [lowercase p] and the former means “a pair of” = “two”, whereas the latter is the literal translation of “couple” above [or at least the translation I’ve always taken it to mean], meaning “a few”. Languages are fun. And show, to come back to the original point, how clearly some things must be explained so as to avoid confusion and have everyone on the same page.)

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            Strictly speaking, “a couple [of things]” is still just two things. Casually, it tends to get used to mean at least one and … probably not more than four, I think, because by then you’re well into “a few” (my “few” goes from about 3-6 and then we’re at “several,” and I don’t know why “several” is more than “a few,” but it is).

            The recent (or possibly recency-illusion-y) “couple-few” is useful to bridge that, in my experience; it means definitely at least one but probably at least two, and probably not more than two and five. If someone told me they’d be out for a couple-few days, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were out for a whole work week (but would expect them to check in if the absence went longer than that).

          2. Cat*

            It’s always struck me as a really weird word because it usually (though, as noted, not always) means “2” but is more imprecise than saying “two” would be. So most of the time it means “two but I guess it could really be three if things don’t go according to plan, but definitely you don’t get the leeway you’d get if I had said ‘several’ or ‘a few'”

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Yeah, for me couple means two, maybe three. Except when you’re using it to describe people, when two’s a couple, three’s a crowd. :)

          3. LBK*

            I’ve always used “a couple” more or less interchangeably with “a few” as a native English speaker – “few” generally meaning a bit more than “couple,” but neither one prescribing a specific amount. However, I have run into others who use “couple” specifically to mean two. I wonder if it’s a regional thing?

            1. Cordelia Naismith*

              I use “couple” this way, too, and I am also a native English speaker. It probably means two, but it might mean three or four. If I’m 100% sure I mean exactly two, then I say “two,” not “a couple.” “Couple” has some wiggle room built in; “two” is precise.

          4. Natalie*

            I’ve always understood it as Cat described it – nearly always 2, but maybe 1 more (if the items in question are smaller than normal or something).

            It does seem a bit odd to me that it would only mean two, since of course we have a word for that, but it also seems odd to me that it would mean more than 2. So anyway, English is weird, that’s for sure.

        2. LCL*

          My family uses it that way. ‘A couple’ as roughly synonymous with ‘a few’. I try not to anymore, because people would get irritated at me or misunderstand what I meant. I am born and raised in the Pacific North West, family is from all over.

      3. jhhj*

        We had to add a rule that time off for a death had to be taken within 4 weeks of the death (2? 3? I forget the number) because we would have people save up the days off to use months later over Christmas or whatever.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          That’s smart. I think our policy says bereavement time (not charged to PTO) is supposed to be for travel to a funeral or similar. I try to give people wiggle room for handling grief, which, in my mind, is an illness. It is frustrating when someone asks for excessive time for a great-great aunt they only met once when they were two and I know they are just taking a vacation and not really traveling across the country to the funeral. I hate the idea of trying to validate someone’s grief.

          I had a college professor ask for a copy of both the obituary and the funeral program when my grandmother died (I missed one class), which I thought that was terribly crass and invasive.

          1. Purple Jello*

            I missed a pop quiz for my grandmother’s funeral in college – it was the day before a vacation. I probably could have brought in an obituary and funeral program, but didn’t bother.

            It seems that lots of grandparents of college kids die right before a vacation.

            1. dragonzflame*

              My dad was a university professor, and he says that there always seems to be a wave of granny deaths right before a big assignment is due.

          2. jhhj*

            I believe people are entitled to a day or two off with pay and a few more days without, I forget the exact numbers. There are no rules about what you are allowed to do, so you could go on vacation. But only one person (now gone) ever tried to cheat it, which is why the rule was added.

            I’ve only had to share a copy of the obituary (reasonable enough), and not every faith tradition does funeral programs.

          3. Artemesia*

            We had a rash of grandparent deaths when I was teaching at one college. This is of course entirely possible. In an intact family there may well be 4 grandparents and of course with divorce and remarriages etc there may be up to a dozen. So it is possible that one student might have a rash of grandparent deaths that occur around every exam time. Possible.

            So when one student whom I thought not particularly honest had this convenient death at mid-term time, I sympathized — in fact I sympathized so much I sent his parents a condolence note. There was a marked decrease in grandparent deaths for a while after that.

            1. Myrin*

              Now I’m imagining this from his parents’ point of view where you’re getting condolences regarding the passing of your in fact still-alive-and-kicking parent.

            2. Juni*

              When you’re in college, you’re around 18-22, your grandparents are in the 65-85 age bracket. Those are prime dying years, you know? I mean, that sounds crass, but people in college are going to experience the death of grandparents at a higher rate. And deaths in elderly/dwindlers DO happen more often in the winter months of November and December. I know that some college students take advantage, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt. I lost my last two grandparents in college, both around exam times; it was really tough and having professors give me an up-eyebrow did not help.

              1. Loose Seal*

                This is why I’ve talked my professor husband into giving X number of days each semester that a student can miss and provide no reason. Also, if one of those days hits on a quiz, the student can ask that their final exam score be used in place of that quiz score. (If someone misses the final, they get an incomplete until it is made up the next semester.) It saves him from having to decide for the student what is important enough for them to miss a class.

              2. Anonsie*

                I gave this same talk to my mom (who is a college professor) when she called me last semester complaining about everyone’s dead grandparents and said she’d even said to a class she didn’t want to hear any more dead grandparent stories.

                And this is really morbid, but then her own grandfather passed away later that semester and she had to get a sub to cover a class day for the funeral and she ended up sheepishly telling them she was going to be gone because her grandad died. We did laugh about it later.

              3. jillociraptor*

                I deeply, deeply appreciated it when a professor didn’t even question my grandfather’s death at exam time. Especially because I had needed to ask for accommodations for other health issues throughout the semester. I was feeling sheepish and stupid enough about that as it was (not to mention sad about my grandfather’s sudden passing), and I will always remember how kind he was.

            3. The Strand*

              Juni is quite right though, for many students, their grandparents are at an age where they could die during college.

              I may have posted this here under an older account. My grandmother died right before a midterm. When I asked the professor if I could retake the exam (I just sat there in a daze), he sent me a very passive aggressive email suggesting I was lying through my teeth. One of my only regrets is that I did not push back or take it to the Dean of Students. What he did not know was that I lived with her several times over my life, and had become my grandmother’s caretaker prior to college. (I am not the only person I know who lived with or was raised in part by a grandparent: one friend was almost entirely raised by her grandma.) I had come back after a long overseas trip and learned she had been abused and neglected by two of my other relatives who had access to her Social Security payments. At age 19 I did not feel equal to the task of taking responsibility for her, but I did, and got the authorities involved.

              I don’t doubt that people lie about any number of things, but that’s why you give students the chance to prove their story – through a death certificate or obituary – or allow Loose Seal’s solution. I know several other people who have had instructors do and say incredibly inappropriate things because they assume students are lying about their income, family situation, part-time jobs, and experiences…Things they would never dare to openly say about an independent adult. I’d like to think that this issue is getting better because of non-traditional students entering in larger numbers, but I have concerns.

            4. BananaPants*

              I’m still very grateful that when my boyfriend’s mother died 2 weeks into the fall semester during my junior year of college, my professors were really supportive. She died early on a Tuesday morning and I felt that I needed to go be there with him and his family after my evening classes that day. I fired off an email to the profs explaining what had happened and that I would be missing lectures for the remainder of the week. I did not ask for any special consideration and was willing to take the hit on grades, I just asked that any assignments that would be given in class on Wednesday-Friday be emailed to me so that I could work on them during downtime while I was off campus. Without exception every prof responded with condolences and detailed the upcoming assignments, and a favorite professor even had a small floral arrangement sent on behalf of the department!
              It would have been easy for them to not believe me or to belittle/minimize it and question why I was dropping everything for the death of a boyfriend’s mother – but that boyfriend and I got married 3.5 years later and will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary this spring. I never even had to prove it to anyone (granted, I wasn’t missing anything major due to it being so early in the semester).

          4. Mephyle*

            It’s crass and invasive for honest people like you, me and everybody here, but it does serve to ‘out’ the other kind of people – and there are plenty of them, sadly.

          5. BananaPants*

            When my grandmother died, my (awful) manager required that I show him a copy of her obituary, listing the date of the services and specifically including my name as a survivor in order to give me my bereavement leave(which is up to 3 days separate from vacation or other PTO).
            Grandma lived halfway across the country and it was very fortunate that the local newspaper published obituaries online AND that the obit actually had my name listed. Many obituaries don’t list grandchildren or other more distant relatives by name to save money on the obit (which are billed by the word); instead it will say, “many grandchildren” or something similar.
            I found out later from HR that generally unless someone is believed to abuse the bereavement leave policy (i.e. they have a ‘grandmother’ die every year for 5 years straight) they never ask for proof and just take it on the employee’s word that they’re being honest.

      4. Monodon monoceros*

        For a bit more info on my situation, 2 weeks was not totally unheard of due to our remote location, and the need for 2 travel days just to get anywhere. So I don’t think I wildly misinterpreted how much time I could take, but I misunderstood how that would be accounted for.

        Also, this was a totally weird situation where my boss was actually a contract employee for the organisation, with completely different PTO rules (she had unlimited PTO). So I think it didn’t actually cross her mind that there was a payroll implication to her “take whatever time you need” statement.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          It might also be the case that in her mind, “whatever time you need” couldn’t have possibly been more than x days – and she didn’t realize that wasn’t a universal thing.

        2. Anon for this one*

          My late husband died unexpectedly, and I was told to take the following week off and not worry about work. Turned out that that meant “you will get three bereavement days and the rest comes out of your vacation.” Which didn’t thrill me, because the fallout of having an unexpected death is that I spent pretty much all of my vacation time that year dealing with death-related issues — stacking up appointments on particular days to get paperwork and legal matters dealt with, going out of town to get a burial plot and headstone, going out of town again for the interment, and some other miscellaneous stuff, including going home a couple of times during the week to deal with stuff from my father’s death a few months earlier. Today, in fact, is exactly five years after my husband died. I’ve come a long way since then, but I still find most corporate bereavement policies to be skimpy and insensitive. When my daughter explained to her boss that her paternal grandmother had died and the funeral was an eight-hour drive away, her boss was baffled when my daughter asked for time off. Apparently the boss and also the department head thought that it was too far to travel and didn’t consider a grandparent close enough to be a not-to-be-missed funeral. She received one day off for her grandma’s funeral and had to take vacation for the two travel days.

          Tl;dr: Three days of bereavement is not enough for the unexpected death of a spouse. Vague suggestions to take time off should be more specific. A surprising number of bosses think funerals are optional.

      5. ThursdaysGeek*

        Wow, you’re more generous than any place I’ve worked. I get a couple of days for the death of a family member, I think up to 5 if it’s a close family member AND out of town. My spouse had to use his very limited sick time when his dad died, as he doesn’t get specific bereavement at all. For our cats, we just mourn and keep working.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I wish we had a different policy for the “close family member AND out of town” category. I recently had someone lose a parent and it was hard to feel like it was fair to only give her two days, when that’s the same for distant-cousin’s-funeral-just-going-because-mom-is-makin-me. I mean, she can take more time, but it had to be charged to sick or PTO, where bereavement leave is free/extra.

  14. Bend & Snap*

    #1 I did 10 years in creative agencies and have never heard of a client having the power to reject a candidate. No idea it was common practice! In that environment you hire who you want and swap them on and off accounts as needed. I agree with those who said this was a dodged bullet.

    1. Beezus*

      I think it depends on the nature of the client relationship. I know my company has an on-site service provider with about 20 employees based here. We have hire/fire say over the account manager and 2 supervisory positions, and definitely hold a lot of firing weight on the rest of the team. The agency is free to hire and keep who they like at the end of the day, of course, but their home office is hundreds of miles away and they have no other service sites nearby, so when we wind up saying we don’t want someone working at our site, that person doesn’t have a job. (I don’t know how much influence we exert in hiring, we might rubber stamp, but we’ve called for firings twice in six years, and both times it was due to pretty egregious performance issues.)

    2. Cheesecake*

      Agree. My friend works in an agency that is quite small, still clients don’t have such massive weight on hiring because people get accounts swapped or what not. There is a client interview, but it is more to keep them engaged, they do give feedback which is “she was fine” most of time and if the agency really loves someone, they will hire them.

    3. MK*

      I would imagine it depends on how much of your work the client represents. If you have 10 clients and they each give you 10% of your work and income, maybe you can afford to displease one of them, especially if you could get more work easily. But if 85% of your work is with one client, you are facing ruin if you leave you, so it makes sense to not alienate them.

      Also, there is the issue of how well a person will do in a job where their main associate mistrusts them and of the client knowing what will suit them better than the agency.

  15. BRR*

    #1 That might not even be the real reason they decided to not extend you an offer, you have no idea what went on on their side. It’s really awful though giving a verbal offer then retracting it. Typically once a decision like this is made you can’t really convince people otherwise. I remember when I was fired I kept starting to try and plead but realized it was a done deal.

    #5 I wonder if the company has a non-calendar fiscal year and your boss is confused (and an idiot since he obviously works and gets annual w-2s). I would first try and find where it states that you get one per calendar year, something from an official government site that ends in .gov and send it to your boss. I wouldn’t give him that long to process it since time matters in this situation.

    I would then contact somebody in your company’s finance/payroll department, they know how things actually work. If not follow the advice in the link Alison sent.

    1. Allison*

      No doubt OP 5’s boss gets W2’s, but it’s possible he passes them along to a tax professional without really looking at them – if that’s the case, it’s entirely possible he’s clueless about how these things work.

      1. Judy*

        Because you should have had the 2014 W-2 by Jan 31, 2015 which was before you were fired, as Alison said.

      2. Payroll Lady*

        And just to throw this little tidbit in… by law, the employer has to issue a W-2 for a terminated employee within 30 days if the employee requests it for the current year. This is a huge pain for payroll, but we have to do it if requested. I will make sure the statements says it was valid at time of issue, however total YTD numbers may not be included. ( This would be to cover if the employee has any unsubstantiated expenses that I was not aware of at the time, cost of taxable fringes, that again, I did not have figures for for one reason or another)

      3. Lindsay the Temp*

        Yeah, I was thinking there was a misunderstanding on this one too. You should already have your 2015 W-2 for time worked in 2014. It would be totally normal not to receive one for time worked in 2015 until January 2016. Although, as pointed out below they have to provide it if you ask before then.

    2. Natalie*

      OP #5, check the publication date on anything you show your boss from the IRS. I was just looking for the W-2 instruction sheet to give you, and you have to dig to find the 2014 version rather than the 2015 version (which gives all due dates in 2016, of course).

      General instructions for 2014 W2 and W3 (pdf):

      Furnishing Copies B, C, and 2 to employees. Generally, you must furnish Copies B, C, and 2 of Form W-2 to your employees by February 2, 2015. You will meet the “furnish” requirement if the form is properly addressed and mailed on or before the due date.

  16. Sans*

    #1 – It’s also possible the client had their favorite, maybe even someone they knew, who they wanted in the position. So they were just going to find fault with anyone else. If they were disinterested in talking to you from the start, it sounds like they made up their minds before you had a chance to do or say anything.

    So don’t worry about it. Crap like that happens. It’s unfortunate, but send the nice email and move on.

    1. Beezus*

      The client may have sat in on more than one interview, too, and may have strongly preferred another candidate.

  17. Always Leaning*

    #5 reads to me as a simple miscommunication with the former boss. Could he have meant the W2 for the work done in January and February of 2015 won’t come until 2016? Because that would be correct. The W2 arriving now would only cover November and December of 2014 and not beyond.

    1. LBK*

      Yeah, or I’m wondering if he’s thinking of her work as one block of time since it was so short. Since the majority of it took place in 2015, he’s not mentally separating out that she’ll need two W-2s, one now and one later.

    2. Sadsack*

      The thing is, the OP was let go on Feb 2, but should have received his W2 for 2014 by Jan 31 anyway.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, good point–that the W-2 should have been out by the time the OP got terminated anyway. Therefore the absence of the W-2 really can’t logically be an artifact of her layoff; it’s just that somebody blew it.

  18. No to Stella and Dot*

    #1 – I started my career in agencies and worked in client services. “Fit” is such an important thing in any job/company, but especially in ad/PR/marketing agencies. This was such a hard thing for me to understand when I was starting out. I would have great interviews, get along very well with the interviewers, and have all of the qualifications they were looking for – but then I wouldn’t get hired. I finally got hired at a fantastic agency that really was a “fit” for me (client and culture wise) and I ended up staying there for several years.

    Speaking about client services specifically – the client(s) the agency is trying to serve can absolutely play a major role in who is hired. For example, one of my former agencies’ clients is a well-known spirits brand. The client wants a very specific type of personality to be hired to work on the brand (every person who makes it past a phone screen has to take a personality test) and will not consider anyone who falls out of this type of personality. The reason why the client wants a particular type of personality is because they are aware they can be a little “quirky” to work with and for, and they really are trying to find the best person for the job/avoid a lot of turnover in the role. The client has worked with my agency for several decades, and both the agency and client really respect each others’ opinions. The agency knows the client well-enough to know what/who will best serve them.

    On the flip side, there are some clients that are just…high-maintenance. We had some of those, too (doesn’t every agency?). One client required someone on our account team to bring him work on Christmas Day and it totally wasn’t necessary. I’ve known of clients who only wanted people who looked a certain way (a.k.a. hot, young people) to work with them. I have a funny feeling that the client you met might fall into the “high-maintenance” catergory.

    OP, despite how you probably feel right now, please don’t take this personally. Keep looking, keep interviewing, and be the best version of yourself.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      So much of this is why I don’t miss life in a PR agency! I ended up being a great fit when my agency was founded and then after 8 years there, it just wasn’t a good fit anymore.

      All great points & great context.

  19. Sadsack*

    #2 I just had this happen to me two weeks ago. I was called in for a follow-up, where they did another mammogram and an ultrasound. Turned out to be nothing! The doctor said that the person who reviewed the original mammogram saw something asymmetrical, or something, but the second doctor didn’t see anything unusual.

    The time between the call to come back in and the actual appointment was only two days, but I was terrified. I found out though that only 10% of women who have mammograms get called back, and only about 10% of those end up with actual medical concerns.

    My point in writing here is that I think it is great that the employer wants to be so supportive, and I hope that the employee finds it was a lot of worry for nothing.

    1. Judy*

      At this point, due to my fibrocystic breasts, we just schedule an ultrasound right after my mammogram, and the radiologist reads the film immediately to decide if they want an ultrasound. My mom and sister are the same way. (Mom’s had 2 rounds of breast cancer, though.)

      I usually have an ultrasound every other mammogram. At this point, I almost feel like asking if we just just only do ultrasounds.

      1. blackcat*

        I don’t think that’s unreasonable since the mammogram exposes you to radiation and the ultrasound doesn’t.

      2. Meg Murry*

        I wonder if its some kind of insurance rigamarole, where the ultrasound is only covered if there is a concern in the mammogram first. Seems silly, but it may take just as much of your (and the office’s) time to get the insurance to accept just an ultrasound without mammogram as it would to just get the mammogram and then ultrasound.

        1. fposte*

          I bet you’re right. It’s very insurance to require you to do cheaper tests first, regardless of your personal history.

        2. Payroll Lady*

          You are absolutely correct. I also have Fibroid cystic, and have to have the ultrasound done every single time. I have asked numerous times to JUST have the ultrasound, and have been told the insurance will not pay without a reason… 4 fibroids floating that we know of, 2 cysts removed prior and a family history of breast cancer, and I STILL have to go through the mammo first!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Mine went mammogram —> second mammogram –> ultrasound –> biopsy. (The biopsy was fairly awful, by the way, which is something they don’t prepare you for. But I was also super freaked out, and it’s possible that played a role.) And then the biopsy was normal. I totally panicky and was completely prepared to get a cancer diagnosis (my dad’s side of the family is riddled with cancer, so I’m pretty convinced I’ll get it at some point). Later, I did a lot of reading about how completely common this whole scenario is (and am kind of frustrated that they didn’t bother to point that out to me or give me any context for any of it while it was happening).

      1. Natalie*

        BC screening recommendations actually changed recently in the US – routine mammograms shouldn’t start until age 50 and should be done every 2 years rather than annually. These recommendations are based on a body of research showing that there is no significant difference in outcomes between start-at-40 and start-at-50, so start-at-40 goes through all of this stress, follow up, etc for no reason.

        Of course, our general level of scientific illiteracy meant a lot of very misinformed op-eds about these recommendations and very little real reporting.

        1. fposte*

          It’s tough, because I’m a big fan of the growing scientific consensus that we’ve been medically overinterventionist and it’s been harmful rather than helpful. But as a patient I understand the feeling that doing nothing feels like neglect. It’s just that what it feels like isn’t necessary what it is.

          1. Natalie*

            Sure, I can understand being uncomfortable with new guidelines as a patient, but IMO a news organization has a moral responsibility to not gin up outrage over this kind of thing. That type of coverage exacerbates fear in individual patients, after all.

            1. fposte*

              I perhaps sounded kinder than I meant to be :-). I actually get annoyed with a lot of the individual patients, or at least those who are speaking loudly and publicly. There’s a lot of post hoc propter hoc fallacy in these narratives that goes unquestioned–the fact that you had an intervention and are fine doesn’t mean an intervention saved you, for instance, since it’s a lot more complicated than that.

              But I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page here; I was just taking the moment to vent.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I had requested a mammogram at 39 because my grandmother had breast cancer and I’m paranoid :) But yeah, after that, I’m waiting a few more years.

          1. Natalie*

            I get maybe overly brief when I comment on my phone. Your experience of all the followups just made me think of why exactly over-screening isn’t a neutral thing. Any individual’s situation may be different due to family history, genetic predispositions, etc.

      2. Judy*

        I’ve had two biopsies, and neither was that bad. But they were needle biopsies. I’ve never seen a larger needle. And I was certainly freaked out, but had been involved with my mom’s first breast cancer by that time. I certainly knew which doctors I would be talking to if I needed further treatment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I felt like I was being stabbed with an ice pick, but I’ve been known to overreact.

          Also, redheads tend to have different pain reactions — this is a real thing! It’s been proven that redheads are more sensitive to some types of pain and less sensitive to others. We also need more anesthesia. I use this to justify it whenever I’m being a baby about pain. (Also, when I had thumb surgery recently, I asked the surgeon about this and he said, “yes, and redheads have weird tissue too.” So I guess we’re aliens.)

          1. JB*

            Wait, what does the weird tissue thing mean? I am so curious now.

            I’m assuming this is true of only true redheads and those who have always been redheads? Because I was born with blonde hair and had that all the way through high school (though it was ash-blonde by then), but it slowly turned a coppery auburny color. I’m kind of weird about pain, but no doctor has ever said anything about it, so I’m thinking hair color isn’t involved.

              1. Anonsie*

                Oh my goddd I wonder if this is why they were so got dangded insistent on putting me totally under when I got my wisdom teeth out. They did not believe I would be able to do it otherwise no matter how many times I told them I seriously didn’t give a crap what they did so long as I had local. I’ve had fillings done without even local anesthesia because I hate having a numb mouth later, that’s how little I care about dental discomfort. They said they did local only for some people but kept trying to say somehow I was not a candidate for this based on factors they wouldn’t explain.

                They eventually relented and it went totally fine. They were also not amused at my I-told-you-so.

      3. Artemesia*

        Almost every woman my age (old) has had a questionable mammogram at some point; almost all of them are nothing. I remember the main effect of my bad mammogram is though I was trying to lose a little weight, I didn’t pass on the dessert or chocolate. I figured if I am going to be dying of cancer, I was going to wring every piece of chocolate out of life. The second mammogram was fine. The chocolate habit continues because when you are old every day may in fact be your last in a way that you don’t appreciate when you are 40.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          To honor your view, I just had a piece of chocolate, and I made sure it was the best one I had in my stash. I don’t want to save the best for last when I don’t know when last might be.

    3. Anonsie*

      Yeah, echoing you and Alison for the second letter writer– don’t be terrified! Mammograms are not very sensitive (not even getting into that whole debate) and have to re-examine and re-image is really common because of that. Even getting all the way up to a biopsy isn’t particularly unusual because it’s so hard to know anything from the imaging alone due to the multitude of variations you can have in breast tissue.

  20. Iro*


    From you letter it sounds like you didn’t do a great job reaching out to this client. You mention they refused to talk to you, but the reality is that you will often have to deal with clients when they are not at their best and this was a great oppurtunity to highlight your bridging skills and, well, it sounds like you didn’t.

    Maybe a key takeaway here is that you should work on your bridging techniques. I’ve had a few group interviews with some colder interviewees, and I made a special point of reaching out to them. Smiling more, making eye-contact, and not laughing at them if others in the room were making jokes at their expense. Sometimes the stick in the mud has some great wisdom or insight, so if you can show that you are willing to hear several views, even one desenting view in a group of consentors it could help your candidacy.

    1. fposte*

      But the OP didn’t say that the client “refused” to talk to her. It sounds like they did talk, and the woman wasn’t particularly enthusiastic. (I’m presuming this is the “disinterested”/”uninterested” morph going on.)

      I mean, maybe hand-selling herself would have been enough–or maybe the OP did hand-sell herself and it didn’t work, or the OP’s in a field where that would be really inappropriate. I don’t think we can assume that the OP had a deficit here.

    2. Kelly L.*

      May I ask why you’re jumping to this conclusion? I don’t see where the OP talks about this conversation in detail at all. For all we know, the OP “reached out” to her plenty and she was still unresponsive, whether because she had someone else in mind, was just in a foul mood, or whatever other reason was in her head. I don’t think we need to blame the OP without any evidence.

      1. Iro*

        Who’s interested in blame? I’m interested in helping people.

        It’s definitely impossible to *know* what happened but isn’t it valuable to provide some advice on what *could* have happened? I tend to view this blog as a place for people to be given work related advice, and it if turns out the OP can tweak his behaivor in future interviews to help him land his dream job then awesome!

        If it turns out my advice wasn’t relevant than oh well, not a big deal.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it can be very useful to suggest things like “could it have been X?” or “I’ve found myself in similar situations that it was Y” — but it becomes problematic when it’s presented as “you did X” when the letter doesn’t actually say that or back that up. That’s when letter-writers become frustrated and feel like they’re being unfairly criticized.

          1. Iro*

            Good point! I actually did mean to put a ? at the end of the sentance. I’ve been ill with that virus going around for two weeks now and am just generally tired and slower than usual.

        2. Allison Hayes*

          OP here. I agree with your comments, and advice is always appreciated. In this particular case, it wasn’t that the individual “refused” to talk to me, but seemed like they wanted to be elsewhere. The conversation seemed to flow, but was very surface level since we only spoke for 10-15 minutes when another interviewer arrived. The first bolted and I felt that we didn’t really have a chance to discuss their needs or my abilities.
          I’m still not sure what happened as the whole thing feels a bit “icky”, like there is another piece to the story that I’ll never know. I should also note that I know nobody was hired, as the position was reposted just a couple of weeks ago.

    3. Cheesecake*

      That is not what OP has said. There was more than one client representative and both *wanted* to talk to OP, it was an interview after all. It is just one of them was not that interested. Interview is a two way street. While interviewee must be on his best behavior and try to engage all interviewers, he must also make a note how these people represent the company and will behave in the future and not only desperately try to please them for an hour.

    4. Iro*

      That’s just how I interpretted the disinterested part. And while interviews are definitely a two way street, these are customers after all, so there’s a higher obligation to try and bridge gaps.

      I suppose a better re-write here is “You mention they were disinterested in you, but the reality is you will often have to deal with clients when they are not at their best and this was a great oppurtunity to highlight your bridging skills.

  21. HR Manager*

    #1 – Based on this snippet, I think the agency you met with may have done you a disservice by not prepping you for the client interview. If they all feel so strongly about your ability to contribute to the team, but just needed the client to feel comfortable with you, they should have prepped you with more info about the brand and perhaps what their objective and challenges has been. They should’ve helped you to succeed! Now on the other hand, if they were unsure, and they needed the client’s opinion to help them in their decision, I can see not offering much help. So I would read this as either a mis-step on the agency’s part, or the agency maybe was not as sure about the fit as the OP may have read. With that being said, I would not reach out to the client in this case. I think that would be a big breach of protocol.

    #3 – I know the OP may not do this but worth mentioning to others not to fake ‘stalk” the hiring manager manager during the event. Meaning don’t try to get into the same sessions if you have no interest in the topic or get closer to the person to make opportunities for the mgr to see how the candidate is interacting so professionally with peers. I”ve seen these things happen, and it’s not pretty because it was obvious when the same person kept popping up at most sessions, and during lunch, breaks, etc.

    #5 – Wow, I shudder to think of how your boss handles his taxes. W-2s are owed for every year in which income is earned. Doesn’t matter if you worked only one day in 2014. You are owned a W-2 for that 1 day if you were paid in 2014. Now if the actual pay date for that time was paid in 2015, your boss would be right. I’m assuming though that you did not have some odd agreement to defer your pay for 2 months, and that you were only paid out in early 2015 for all past 2014 wages.

    1. Tasha*

      I already know I will have messy taxes for 2015, because my last day at prior company was January 2 of this year. So NEXT JANUARY I will be getting a W-2 from them covering two days of pay. Only current employees can get them online, and I anticipate moving, so that’s one more place I will need to notify of my new address. Oh, and those two days will be in one state, with newjob in a different state.

      1. KerryOwl*

        (You probably won’t read this because it’s four days later; I’m just catching up on my AAM.) You pay your taxes for the money you were paid in a given year, not the money you earned. So even though your last day was January 2, if you (for example) are paid every two weeks, your income from the old job in 2015 will be two weeks’ worth, not two days’ worth.

    2. Cheesecake*

      I actually agree on not reaching out to the client. I would however reach out to the agency to say i would like to work for them if an opportunity arises (if that was not done clearly yet). Still, i believe bullet was dodged and OP should move on (like, really move on without expecting anything)

    3. Allison*

      Actually, I do wonder if OP5 wasn’t paid until January. Some companies have funky payment systems, where paychecks take a long time to process and I have had jobs where I had to wait 6 weeks for my first paycheck.

      1. HR Manager*

        6 weeks if you are a freelancer or independent contractor would be not too strange (though still long). As an employee though with the expectation you are on a regular payroll cycle, that would be a problem.

      2. Judy*

        I’d be surprised if there was a state that allowed that. My state, which is not very “worker’s rights” oriented, requires payment within 10 days of the end of a pay period, and pay frequency of at least once a month.

      3. Artemesia*

        Even if the OP was first paid in January for the work in 2014, they are owed a w2 within 30 days of termination regardless.

        1. Natalie*

          Just for clarity, that’s only the case if the employee requests a W2. Otherwise they can be sent out the following January with all the others.

          (In this case OP is probably considered to have requested it; I’m just peaking generally.)

      4. Emma*

        I was just writing a comment to the same effect. Looking at how dates fell in November/December 2014 and January 2015, it is conceivable that if the OP started working at the end of November he/she wouldn’t have gotten paid until January. You’d think the OP would know if that is the case, but it can be easy to overlook. Several years ago I actually had very similar general dates of employment – November through February. I did receive a W-2 because I had worked the entire month of November, but the pay reported was much lower than I was expecting. I was reminded that my December pay actually came at the very beginning of January. I hadn’t really paid attention to the exact pay date and just thought of it as my “December pay.”

        If there an HR dept? Typically “the boss” wouldn’t be making such a determination or preparing the W-2 unless maybe it is a really tiny company. It’s possible he/she is merely mistaken, or that there is some sort of miscommunication – perhaps given that on February 2 the 2014 W-2 would already have been issued (even if not yet received) the boss assumed the OP was referring not to the 2014 W-2, but to the 2015 W-2.

        I’d be interested in an update to this. I don’t know where the OP lives, but I do know that around here we’ve had storm after storm after storm which has actually shut down the mail system. My husband’s W-2 actually finally arrived in the mail after we’d already filed our taxes (using a W-2 retrieved online.) I wonder if the W-2 showed up.

  22. JC*

    #3 happened to me, more than once for the same job. I was at an event with the person who called to offer me the interview at another job before the interview took place, and at a different event with someone else from the company after I had been offered the job, but while I was still negotiating salary and had not yet accepted the offer. Both times, I just treated the person as I would a normal professional contact, as if I was not involved in their job search. They did the same.

    The time when I ran into someone from the company before the interview, the guy from the company ended up getting into a conversation with me and my boss, and inside my head that was definitely awkward! But the guy from the company was discreet and my boss was none the wiser.

  23. LD*

    #2 – I know that this is small comfort to anyone who is facing being called back for more tests or exams…but… I have been called back for tests and exams so many times that I don’t even blink anymore and I have actually argued with my doctors over the years because I am tired of additional tests for things that so far have turned out to be NOTHING. (In case anyone wonders, every time it has been a cancer scare, not always the same area, but always a false alarm.) The first few times I was called to come back for more tests because of something “suspicious” I was stressed and distracted and worried and making plans for what to do after surgery or after my funeral. It was a waste of my emotion. What I’m trying to say is, just because someone is called back for additional testing doesn’t mean there will be any fire with that smoke. Be supportive and kind to her while she is being evaluated and understand that she may be having all kinds of sad and worried thoughts. She may be distracted and not as effective as she normally would be. Give her the freedom to worry or to be able to contact her doctors in private without being overheard by others in the workplace. Do consider how you want to handle it if there is a serious health issue and how you can support her through any treatment and recovery time she may require. If you can, err on the side of generosity. She will appreciate it, even if it turns out to be nothing. And I sincerely hope it is only a false alarm. Best thoughts and prayers to your assistant.

  24. Michele*

    #1–I have gone on interviews where every person in a department of 10-20 has to agree to hire me. I had one interview where I, as a research scientist, was interviewed by the dishwasher. It was a 360 interview to determine what I would be like as a boss. Some interviews are just tough.

    They shouldn’t have given you a verbal offer, though, without explaning the caveat.

  25. Apollo Warbucks*

    #4 The only advice I can remember seeing from Alison about references is negotiating them as part of a severance package or if you are asked to resign rather than have the firm fire you.

    1. OP #4*

      Thanks! I must have read it elsewhere. Or imagined it. That’s totally an option.

      No worries about being asked to resign.

  26. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Happens in my industry all the time.

    At industry events / conferences, I run into people —

    a) who I worked with in the past
    b) who I interviewed with and was rejected by
    c) I was once let go (combination of reduction-in-force, with affirmative action ill-effects) – ran into the boss that laid me off, he was more ill-at-ease with the meeting than I was
    d) people I had active applications with
    e) people I interviewed, but they didn’t get hired

    … you act professionally at all times. And it will be OK.

    1. Scott*

      Indeed. If you work in any industry for awhile, you’re going to get to know the people in it. Maintaining professionalism is *ALWAYS* a must. I’ve hired people that I initially didn’t hire because circumstances changed, and the same has happened to me. Just because someone interviews you once and you don’t get the job doesn’t mean your paths are never going to cross again.

      1. Michele*

        I have even interviewed someone who had interviewed me in the past for another job. I felt kind of bad because the place he worked for had offered me a job (then later shut down–dodged a bullet), but I knew from that interview that he wasn’t qualified for the position we were hiring.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          And it also reinforces the philosophy that you act professionally – especially when rejecting someone’s candidacy – because if you don’t, it COULD come back to haunt you down the road.

          Treating a candidate with rancor or just downright disrespect might bite you if, one-two-three years later you’re out looking for a position and said rejectee is either on the other side of the desk – OR – just gets wind of your candidacy in HIS new place of work….

  27. LizNYC*

    #1 That really sucks. But they may have deferred to the client because it’s their largest client (and who knows? Maybe this person is known at that agency for being extremely difficult to work with, so whoever they hired had to be the perfect fit for her.) I wouldn’t take it too personally, since you obviously made a good impression with the rest of the agency.

  28. TP*

    #2-All you can do is offer your support and understanding that should her health issues progress any further, she knows she can comfortably go on appointments and what not. Sounds as if you did just that. I’m personally going through this myself and am in midst treatment. When I was diagnosed, I did not have someone as understanding as you and had to go to HR-not fun! For me, I tried not to let my health issues affect my day-to-day life too much and took time when I absolutely had to, only because it was a way to maintain a level of normalcy in an otherwise crazy situation. And this is coming from someone who hates her job! The road to recovery is long and arduous and sometimes it helps to not be reminded that you’re “sick” all the time. I hope it turns out be a false alarm!

  29. Gina*

    #5 – I read the question as relating to work done THIS year – 2015….if terminated in February 2015, you would not receive the related W-2 until the following year, 2016…supposed to be in the mail by 1/31/16.

    Good luck

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