update: I didn’t check references on a new hire and he’s struggling — should I check them now?

Remember the letter-writer who was wondering whether she should go back and check the references of a struggling new hire? Here’s the update.

Last month, I wrote to you regarding issues with a new employee we had hired on our team this past spring. He was officially let go last week. He was given more time to begin improving but failed to follow through.

The day after I gave him a written warning and spoke to him regarding his conduct on the job and work ethic, he continued with the same errors, which led to him having another discussion, but with the other manager on our team. He made a simple error on a report that, if sent to the client, would have resulted in the client freaking out.

That gut feeling that I had about his work ethic at other gigs? Well, he let the cat out of the bag during their talk. He emotionally stated that he exhibited the same behavior at his previous internship and the ones before. He also went on to say that his behavior was an issue he’s been dealing with for a long time. He never mentioned that he had worked on improving these behaviors.

In the end, we had enough documented evidence that HR decided it was best not to do a performance improvement plan since he was not improving during the flex time we gave him.

This has been a lesson for me and hopefully everyone else who was involved. If we are able to fill the position, my plan is to request that my teammate and I contact primary and secondary references so that we will have an idea whether a future candidate is suitable for the role on our team. Thanks again for your advice!

{ 139 comments… read them below }

  1. NickelandDime

    Wait – he admitted he was terrible at his other jobs too? And just let the mic drop? Wow.

  2. Teacher Recruiter

    I really appreciate when we have updates so soon! I like the end of year updates too, but it’s always more satisfying to hear what happened sooner rather than later, when I still remember the letter!

  3. MK

    This really makes no sense to me. Most of the people I know who fail long-term at their jobs are in denial; they think they are doing great, or at least good enough, and they don’t think there is a need to improve. But to admit you aren’t doing the work well and just, what, keep on going to new jobs?

    1. Daffodil

      I’ve heard people with adult ADD and other cognitive issues describe a similar work history before they were diagnosed. Though they usually feel horrible about their poor work performance, rather than nonchalant.

      1. AE

        Nonchalance is a defense mechanism. I have dealt with someone who has some kind of problem who responded to correction that way. He’d either given up or couldn’t handle criticism. It wasn’t for me to diagnose but was a pain to manage!

        1. alter_ego

          yeah, I’ve failed a professional exam that, while not 100% necessary, is pretty good for me to have a couple of times now. And I’m sure my response is coming off as nonchalant to my friends and family when I talk about it. And that’s because I’m feeling a pretty huge amount of self-loathing and despair, but since I can’t break down into tears expose this completely raw nerve to everyone who asks about how I did in passing, they’re going to get a “haha, failed again, but hey, I love spending my Saturdays taking 6 hour exams, so I can’t wait to do it again soon!”

          Now, of course, I’m not nonchalant with my boss, nor do I break down in tears. I tell him what I’m doing to work on it, and express my apologies for not having it yet. But that takes a great deal of emotional energy that I’m not willing to spend on every interaction that I have about it.

          1. ella

            I know so well the cycle of try/fail/cry/joke about it/try to find a balance between not being nonchalant but not giving away the total depth of your freakout. Have some internet cookies, and may we both have better jobs/tests/whatever in the future!

          2. AcidMeFlux

            Have you gotten specific test-taking training for the specific test? With most professional or advanced level academic exams, 50% of your success depends on technique. There’s someone out there somewhere who might teach a mini-course on what to do to improve your score.

          3. Koko

            It always surprises me how people can be so certain they know what another person is feeling when we all know we have, at times, felt one way and acted another. Why do we expect other people to publicly display their shame, anguish, sadness, guilt, and other negative emotions, and assume they’re cold and heartless if they don’t, when we’ve all had the experience of trying to hide the fact that we’re feeling that way?

      2. Spooky

        He wasn’t nonchalant. He was emotional about it and said it’s something he’s been dealing with for a long time.

      3. AMT

        You may be right about OP’s employee. My brother and mom both have adult ADD. It adds an enormous amount of stress to their lives: missed flights, messy homes, bad grades, lateness to everything. Their efforts to improve are hampered by the fact that, well, they have ADD. Self-improvement takes organization and planning. OP’s employee might have the same problem: you WANT to improve, but improving (without professional help) requires skills that don’t have.

      4. Jerzy

        My husband has ADD and a lot of this behavior could describe him in a work situation. He simultaneously beats himself up over his issues with performance and difficulty socializing, and pats himself on the back and says “they should give me more money.” The nonchalance is a defense mechanism, and just because someone sees a problem doesn’t mean they have the tools to fix it. My husband would like to be friendly to people because he knows people react better to that , but he genuinely doesn’t “get it” in a lot of ways.

        The guy OP is describing knows he has a problem, but doesn’t seem to know how to handle it and he just keeps making the same mistakes. It’s certainly not OP’s problem to fix, but I hope her ex-employee does, sooner rather than later.

      5. Kristine

        My husband has ADD, but it took him getting let go from 3 jobs in 12 months before he was willing to admit that something was wrong. He would feel badly about not performing to the standards he was held to but at the same time would insist he was trying his hardest and had implemented every solution he could think of.

        Thankfully, a behavioral therapist has helped him with coping strategies and helped him figure out which work environment suits him best. He’s only been in his new role for a few months now but he is thriving rather than struggling.

        The young man in this letter sounds much like my husband at the beginning of his career, and if he does have ADD then I hope he’s able to get help and find a workplace that understands and works with his learning disability.

      6. Ad Astra

        I have ADD and have always felt like I was bad at my job. I’ve never been fired for performance issues, but I’ve had enough issues at these jobs to know that I’m at least part of the problem, and it feels pretty icky. Nonchalance is definitely a defense mechanism I use, and a lot of the time it makes things worse because the manager thinks I don’t care about screwing up when I’m really just trying not to berate myself internally over it. I usually would end up crying in those meetings, which I don’t think they liked any better than the nonchalance. I have no idea how to convey the appropriate level of concern and contrition when I make a mistake.

      7. Tau

        I have Asperger’s and I was cringing in sympathy reading this. The sensation of inexplicably failing at something and finding yourself unable to improve at it, when the general assumption is that anyone can do that thing if they work at it… not fun. And jobwise, I basically chose my field carefully and cross my fingers that certain things won’t come up.

      8. INTP

        I was this way before my ADD was treated. While I inwardly beat myself up and felt awful about things, I acted pretty nonchalant. It’s a defense mechanism you develop when you’ve been failing at simple things in every area of your life since childhood. Otherwise you’d spend half your life apologizing profusely for things you have no idea how to stop yourself from doing again anyways.

        1. Tau

          I don’t know if this happens for ADD as well, but I’d sometimes go through this thing where – if I failed at doing X, and the only reason I knew of for people failing to do X was that they were lazy and didn’t care, I’d just… assume that I must be lazy and not care enough, all emotional evidence that I actually cared a lot notwithstanding. So I’d get into these weird headspaces where I believed I couldn’t be bothered with doing something and acted as though that was true, even though in actuality I really *wanted* to do it but wasn’t capable of it.

          1. dawbs

            There’s a book that a lot of recently diagnosed ADHDers like called “You mean I’m not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?”
            and that right there is why.
            Because sometimes, it’s, to the psyche much less damaging to pretend you weren’t trying than to admit you gave it your all and you suck at it.

          2. INTP

            It’s definitely true for me. I thought I was just an underachiever because that’s what I was called all my life ( I’m great at standardized tests). I also didn’t care as deeply about scholastic achievement as my parents wanted me to, it meant little to my self esteem and wasnt motivating to me in and of itself, so when I tried to pay attention in class because I was supposed to and didn’t want my parents to get mad and failed, I assumed I just didn’t care enough to stop myself from zoning out.

    2. Dinah

      This post could’ve been written about my husband– the employee sounds eerily similar, only younger. My husband was let go from three jobs in two years, and all the bosses said exactly the same things: you ask too many questions that you could research yourself, you need too much help, you have an argumentative tone, you question why you have to do things a certain way, and you make too many mistakes.

      He told the employers that he was working on these behaviors because that’s what he thought they want to hear, but privately he just felt that they were being unfair to him. In his mind, other employees ask questions and make mistakes and they don’t get in trouble for it, so why should he? But at the same time, he felt terrible that his bosses were disappointed in him. In his mind, he worked very hard and did everything he could to make them happy. (And yes, he has ADD. He’s on medication for it, but there’s only so much medication can do. I think it takes some cognitive therapy too. )

      Anyhow, he’s at another job now, making half his former salary, but much happier. His new department is well organized and clear in their expectations, and they devoted a lot of time to training him. The expectations of him are different (work as part of our team rather then “fix our mess because we pay you a lot”), and from what he describes it sounds as if the team has adapted to fit him. He shows up to work reliably and gets a lot done, but they understand that they should spend a few minutes proofreading what he does and let him do things in his own way as long as it’s efficient and makes sense. I’m guessing the work is probably easier too, although my husband won’t admit that.

      I hope this guy gets some help and finds an organization that’s willing to invest some time in him. He’s probably miserable that this keeps happening to him.

    3. TootsNYC

      that sounds like some sort of underlying mental/emotional/cognitive issue.

      Or really ingrained habits.

      1. Dinah

        Probably both. He was 35 by the time he was diagnosed with ADD, and never did any therapy for it. It seems like those patterns would be very ingrained by then.

        1. Felix

          I have a parent and a sibling that were diagnosed with ADHD, very far into their adult lives. Both take medication, which helps, but the one who does therapy is much better able to cope with their symptoms. The very real, but hyper focused emotions can be hard to overcome on one’s own, I think.

    4. De Minimis

      I can see it…..if there’s only a range of work that you have experience in, it’s hard to get going in anything else, and often it’s difficult to start over in a new field. My guess is the employee always hopes that the next job will be different. And sometimes you can find a workplace where your issues don’t cause a problem. Sometimes a job may have a much slower pace, and someone who has trouble with deadlines or managing multiple projects can succeed or at least be adequate in that environment.

      1. Delyssia

        This. It sounds like he may never have worked in an environment that plays to his strengths and/or sidesteps his weaknesses enough to even know that such a thing is possible. If he doesn’t know that such a thing could even exist, he’s really going to have a hard time going out and looking for it. And he most likely needs a job, like most of us, in order to keep a roof over his head and buy food and generally support himself, so he goes out and finds another one and hopes.

        I don’t blame the OP’s company at all for letting him go, but I still feel for the guy.

        1. Anx

          This comment is really resonating with me.

          Sometimes, the easiest jobs to get are the ones you know you really aren’t suited for, especially when you don’t have a long employment history. People tend to think those jobs are the easiest to do, but that’s true for everyone.

          It’s hard enough when you know you have strengths in one field but don’t have a lot of experience to get into paid positions in those arenas, and you can’t rely on impressing people with your average performance in so-called ‘easy’ jobs to get you there.

  4. Diluted_TortoiseShell

    This update just feels like an “Ah ha! I was right and the references would have proven this new guy sucks!”

    The previous letter made it clear this was an entry level position but then basically stated that any errors at all were unacceptable. There was no evidence in this letter or the update that management gave the employee any tools to improve.

    Did anyone evaluate the process for why these errors were occurring? Are there manual or systematic data entry points that could introduce errors that should be double checked? If so, did management try giving the entry-level new hire a checklist of “hot spots” or “common errors” that he could use as a guide to catch errors before reports went out?

    Even after your update I feel sorry for the ex-employee. It sounds like he has trouble knowing how to efficiently double-check work and instead of being given advice and tools to fix this he keeps getting told “It’s unacceptable for you to make mistakes on this report. Stop making mistakes on this report.” All I see here is an employee who is being groomed to hide his mistakes at all costs because no one is willing to help him find ways to prevent them from re-occurring.

    I also don’t buy that it’s a “work ethic” issue that is resulting in simple errors getting through. My team (of senior level analysts no less) just let a mistake get through that resulted in a bit of embarrassment to the department and management. Management didn’t come at our team in a huff stating this is unacceptable, don’t let it happen again! What good would that have done? Instead we brainstormed as a group what would help us prevent it from happening again, expressed our challenges with the current QA processes, and came up with a checklist and revised process.

      1. Spooky

        I admit that thought crossed my mind too, but I think it’s more that OP’s expectations aren’t realistic.

        1. The Strand

          I was concerned when I read the comment about the employee “emotionally” revealing they had a prior issue. Which makes me wonder what was said to elicit this response and (as discussed above), is ADD or a cognitive disorder in place?

      2. Diluted_TortoiseShell

        I don’t think the OP is mean. Most likely I think they need someone with 1 – 3 years of experience under their belt and not a green-horn who will need a lot of one-on-one time.

        1. brighidg

          Yeah, while newbies to the business may be cheaper when it comes to salary negotiations, it usually ends up that you get what you pay for in terms of mistakes and learning curves.

            1. Charityb

              Agreed. The kind of prodigy employee who magically knows how to do everything without real training isn’t the kind of employee that chooses to work an entry-level job at a rinky-dink company that doesn’t even think about following up with references until they already sort of feel like firing the guy.

        2. Justin

          Sucks for the employees too. Essentially sacrificing a young greenhorn on your way to figuring out what you really want for someone in that role.

      1. Diluted_TortoiseShell

        Did you read the previous letter? A lot of what I read into was from that. OP made it clear in the original letter that there was a steep learning curve, it’s an entry level position, and that the employee has let mistakes get through.

        1. YaH

          And that there isn’t any formal training provided by the employer, so the letter writer had to figure out how to train the guy- which doesn’t mean he was well-trained. Just because you’re good at your job doesn’t mean you’d be any good at teaching someone else how to do your job.

    1. MK

      If this employee has been having the same problem at succesive jons, chances are he is the problem, not the employers. Maybe it’s not bad work ethic, but there is something he needs to fix and he isn’t doing it.

      Also, I am not sure how far the employer is obligated to go to help someone improve; especially a new employee. It’s possible the OP’s expectactions are unreasonable, but maybe not; it’s reasonable to say “I need someone who will perform at X level in a couple of weeks, not after months of training”.

      1. Diluted_TortoiseShell

        Successive jons? There is mention of a couple of previous internships, but internships are typically pretty short ( 2 months is long) and it there is anything I have learned at AAM it’s that a lot of internship managers don’t address their interns performance issues since they are so short term.

        1. MK

          The fact remains that the issue surfaced in more than one workplaces and the employee is the common denomitator here. And we don’t know how long the internships were or whether the managers were conscientous about training him. You are making a ton of assumptions (the interships were short, the managers didn’t address the issue, the OP was expecting an expierienced worker for an entry level job, they didn’t try to help him improve, etc) in order to jump to thw conclusion that he wasn’t given a chance.

          1. Diluted_TortoiseShell

            Actually the OP states down thread that the fired individual states that no boss has ever talked to him about this as a performance issue or about his work ethic.

    2. Spooky

      I have to agree. This poor employee never really had a chance – the deck was stacked against him from day 1.

        1. Justin

          Yup. It’ll knock him off his feet for a few years but in the end he’s better off without this place.

    3. Rhiannon

      I feel the same way. OP said in the original letter: “There isn’t efficient on-the-job training provided by our current employer, so I’ve had to come up with training plans, provide resources and 1:1 training”. Not to criticize OP, but maybe their training wasn’t as good as it could be? Perhaps it needed some more refining or wasn’t comprehensive enough for the new hire? Especially because he was clear in the interview that he was new to the industry.

      In both letters I’m seeing terms like “simple error” and “habit of asking questions”, which seems totally acceptable for someone new to a job and industry. It sounds like OP wanted this guy to have a 100% grasp on the job at 3 months in, which I think is a lot of ask in this situation. Sure, he should be able to do his job without hand-holding at that point, but I don’t think it’s fair to ask for 100% proficiency that early.

      I’m not saying that new hire was perfect or anything, but this sounds like a case of the employer have too high expectations and they employee floundering under the stress and confusion of it all.

      1. Diluted_TortoiseShell

        True. And I do believe the OP at one point commented that it may not be a good fit for an entry-level employee after all, but I don’t really think it’s fair to try and blame the entry-level new hire for, well, being and entry-level new hire when you really needed an intermediate.

        1. Kairi

          This is such a great point! Some employers want trained and educated employees for entry-level pay, which makes it unfair for an employee who wants to learn but is never given the opportunity to.

      2. Ad Astra

        I agree with someone’s comment upthread that OP really should have hired someone with 1-3 years of experience, not an entry-level candidate. Would checking references have alerted OP to some of these concerns before she hired the guy? Maybe. It’s certainly worth it to check references going forward. But I think any entry-level candidate who isn’t an absolute superstar overachiever is going to flounder in this role.

      3. Nobody

        I have worked with many new employees, and of course they always ask a lot of questions. They usually have to be trained to find answers for themselves. When somebody asks a question, the easiest thing to do is say the answer, but if you always do that, you’ll train them that the way to get information is to ask you. Frequently, all it takes is replying with a question, like, “Where do we normally keep that type of information?” or, “Do you remember where we found that the last time you asked?” or, “Did you check to see how it was done last time?” Eventually, they’ll skip asking you most of the time and just go straight to looking it up, but you still have to walk them through it for a while before they get there.

      4. Anon123

        You guys are making very valid points, but I think you’re being a bit tough on the OP. She did mention that he was very argumentative. Whether or not their training plan sucked or not, I still wouldn’t want an argumentative person on my team.

          1. Justin

            Eh, Alison, when you have a lot of commenters who have problems with the OP it’s probably because they were wrong, no matter what you think of the OP.

    4. A Definite Beta Guy

      Management didn’t come at our team in a huff stating this is unacceptable, don’t let it happen again! What good would that have done?

      Make management feel better about itself.

    5. Ad Astra

      I was originally rooting for this employee too, but I think now it’s clear he would never thrive in this position. The OP’s expectations and timeline just don’t match up with what the employee can do. Is that because the OP’s expectations and timeline aren’t reasonable? Well, I certainly think so. But if she’s not willing or able to budge on that, it’s better to cut the employee loose now than wait a few months until he’s completely demoralized. Chalk it up to fit, I guess.

  5. The Other Dawn

    I’m thinking he knows it’s a problem, feel bad about it, but just doesn’t know where to start to get help or make improvement. Maybe it’s this big cloud hanging over him and it’s totally blocking his ability to move forward. Kind of like “analysis paralysis.”

      1. Kairi

        I hope so too. It’s especially hard when you want to make improvements, but aren’t in a stable enough environment to do so. Then it leads to an endless loop of trying to find a job, but not being able to stay at a job because he can’t improve.

  6. OP Here

    My team mate and I actually discussed amongst ourselves if he possibly had an issue with Adult ADD, however we considered that a private medical issue that we could not bring up with him.

    In response to Diluted, he was given training docs and visuals tutorials. I’m not sure how you can teach someone how to double check their work and stop making the same errors when you have shown them how to do it more than several times and have visual guides/ 1:1 sessions to help guide him. He even stated that it wasn’t our training that was an issue, he valued our mentoring and he had room to do more tasks. The problem was that he failed to follow through for a lot of his assignments.

    I do hope he gets it together and finds another gig that is more suitable, but if he keeps sabotaging himself at every job he ends up at, he will have a long road ahead of him.

    1. Rae

      You’re right about not being able to diagnose someone else.

      That said. I struggled with issues for many years that were adult ADD/ADHD. Having been someone who grew up without parents I had no idea that this was an issue.

      I was in management and got the same.exact.reviews for four years. My current job is much more people-oriented. I’m no longer “new” and sometimes that can be a bit more stressful. I’ve gotten the same.exact.reviews for another 3 years now.

      However, my IQ is off the charts and I have the mental acuity to cope in other ways. Eventually, it comes out.

      I do wish that someone sat me down and told me, “hey, these are coping strategies for someone with adult ADD but they may help you” That is a safe statement because it doesn’t indicate any disability. I did have a good manager who gave me a tip sheet he said he helped him. He was mildly autistic (what they used to call aspbergers) and was horrible at social cues. It’s been suggested by therapists that I may also have mild autistic symptoms but because of my age and absence of family history/personal history only ADD can be diagnosed.

      It wasn’t until years later that I found out this sheet was for aspies in the workplace. He never told me, I only found out much later trying to help a client with their bull in a china shop behavior.

      I’m sad you had to let this fellow go. The world is really hard for those with learning disabilities, especially those who can function semi-normally, and doubly so for those who have developed coping stratiges that end up getting blown to bits by managers who want XYZ and get frustrated when it isn’t perfect.

      1. Ad Astra

        A lot of people who don’t have ADD can benefit from tips for people who do have ADD. I know there was a good reader thread about ADD working tips a while back.

        1. blackcat

          So much this!

          I learned all sorts of ways to help kids cope with various learning differences/disabilities in my teacher ed program, and some of them have had a huge impact on my life.

          I don’t have any difficulty learning new stuff. I was always a good student, and I’m super organized. But techniques used to break larger tasks to smaller ones, tricks for making documents more readable, etc are awesome.

    2. Diluted_TortoiseShell

      Out of curiosity, what do you mean by failed to follow-through? Was he skipping steps?

      I’m also curious about the errors.
      Were these errors always caused by his human error? Or were these errors being introduced elsewhere and he was failing to catch them? If they are being introduced elsewhere, can the process be improved to adjust? Is it a consistent reason for errors? Or are errors introduced for various reasons at a few key pain points?

    3. AE

      I have supervised a couple of people with some kind of problem. We can only document the effect it has on the work and try to help the person improve. After that, it’s up to the individual to want to do the hard work of learning how to do things differently. One extremely disorganized person I supervised simply refused to attend time management training or learn anything new. I wound up organizing his work day for him. I hated having to do that but it got things done, which is my ultimate responsibility. If things were still messed up after I started doing that I was prepared to go the route of a PIP or probation if needed.

      Another one magically improved after receiving a directive to go to Employee Assistance.

      This may be the firing that gets his attention and motivates him to get a diagnosis or job training or even SSI. Let’s hope he is willing to change.

    4. BRR

      I’m sorry people are being so tough on you, I appreciate your participation especially with the hostile replies. In the end no matter the series of events, it sounded like a bad fit.

      Was the training only documents and visual tutorials or was there a hands-on portion as well?

      PS I hope you’ll check references next time ;)

      1. OP Here

        It was hands on as well. You have to have actual accounts to work on in order to understand and do the work. We gradually eased him in and most of the training was 101 training.

  7. Candy

    I feel kind of badly for this guy. What type of work might he be suited for? Clearly not detail-oriented office work.

    1. AcidMeFlux

      Excellent question, and one that could be answered by a trained evaluator. I agree with commenters above that this could very well be an issue of OCCD, as well as a learning disability, or even chronic depression (or as often happens, a 360º process of all of them.) As manufacturing is mostly off-shored and craft jobs either follow it or disappear, a lot of people end up in white collar jobs because that’s the money (or at least decent salaries) and prestige are. And a lot of people’s learning/work styles don’t fit there. I realize the OP doesn’t want to get involved with this guy’s problems for some good reasons; however, maybe you could consider nudging him in the direction of some trained professional or goverment agency/non-profit that might help him get a grip on what he wants and what he’s good at. He may well have been tested and evaluated up the wazoo in childhood or adolescence, and have a definition/diagnosis for what ails him (and is sick of being told that X is what’s wrong with him.) Nevertheless, dealing with these issues as an adult could involve a totally different approach. I know we can’t pick up every lost puppy we see and take him home, but sometimes a little bit of practical advice can really help someone help themselves.

  8. L

    “That gut feeling that I had about his work ethic at other gigs? Well, he let the cat out of the bag during their talk. He emotionally stated that he exhibited the same behavior at his previous internship and the ones before.”

    This part makes me roll my eyes. Did OP expect the guy to confess to being a bad employee while interviewing? It kind of sounds like he recognized he had a problem but ultimately failed to fix it on his own. That sucks for everyone, but it feels a little absurd to pounce on that fact that he didn’t confess sooner to having issues at work. (Not to mention, there may have been no cat to let out of the bag if references had been called anyway, right?)

    1. Diluted_TortoiseShell

      Yeah. That’s what I was getting at with the “Ah ha! See I was right” comment. That part just didn’t seem very relevant, useful, particularly pertinent.

    2. catsAreCool

      It’s gotta be very tough to hire someone you think can do the job, work with him, give him tips, give him doc, work with him some more, and even though you do the best you know how to do, he’s just not working out, and it turns out this is something that could have been predicted based on past performance.

  9. If I'm Being Totally Honest

    I find it interesting that OP’s take on this is that the employee “let the cat out of the bag” and basically confessed to being worthless and confirmed that OP was RIGHT ALL ALONG. That’s not how I read this situation at all.

    I read it as a situation where an employee who was struggling (but trying REALLY hard) was let go, and (though they were upset at losing their job) was self aware enough to accept some of the responsibility. I also feel that the problem was largely one of poor hiring/vetting processes, poor management, and poor training. It’s too bad that OP doesn’t seem to accept ANY of the responsibility for this situation beyond not checking references (actually, now that I think of it, that wasn’t her fault either).

    1. Boboccio

      I felt like it was a poor hiring process as well. References would have let the Letter Writer know to expect problems, if this employee did have similar issues in the past, as claimed here. That management had the idea of checking references for someone who has already started seems to indicate to me that there are some underlying issues with performance management and expectations-setting in the organization. And of course, it really does not seem like an entry-level employee was what was needed / expected, which sets the new employee up to fail.

      However, it’s not about whose fault it is; it’s about having a high-performing organization. Keeping on someone who can’t produce what is needed is the wrong decision. Hopefully the next hire, they can get what they need.

      1. If I'm Being Totally Honest

        I hear what you’re saying, but I think that, in order for an organization to thrive, it is essential to take responsibility when it’s warranted, and I just don’t see that here.

        In other words, I’m not sure OP’s result is necessarily going to be different next time because OP seems to be under the impression that the difference between a good employee and a bed employee is checking references, and I think it might also have to do with proper management and training.

      2. Rebecca Too

        I’m taking more of an issue with the assumption that reference checks (or lack of, in this case) would solve the problem. I’m a hiring manager, and I’ve been given the standard “position, salary, and length of time in the position verified and nothing else” runaround for as long as I can remember. I’ve seldom been given any kind of inflammatory information about a candidate, and I’ve seldom had someone gush excitedly about a candidate, so am I to assume that if they have nothing “nice” to say, I shouldn’t hire them? I think more information is parsed through a thorough interview process. People who give references are trained to keep their opinions to themselves, as we live in a litigious world right now, and no one wants to be sued for keeping someone from making a living.

        1. Stranger than fiction

          But that’s a verification/reference check, not a reference check of his personal references he’s selected to speak to his abilities and provided to you. One could argue those ones will always be partial but we read here all the time where that’s not the case.

          1. A Manager

            I get the same standard response from the personal references. Most employers, at least where I am, do not allow anyone but HR to give a reference and they only give out the standard response.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              That’s not a universal thing, by any means; I’ve never had any trouble getting references, and I’ve checked quite a few. I’m curious about where you are / what field you’re in, if that might explain the difference.

    2. Blurgle

      I can’t even parse the thinking behind ex-employee’s hiring. It’s cheaper in the long run to hire someone with the training and experience and pay them accordingly than to bring in a recent graduate, pay him an entry-level salary, and drop him in at the deep end and watch him drown.

    3. some1

      Yeah, I don’t mean to be rude, but I didn’t get the fixation on (what seemed to me) proving that he had a history of being a poor performer when I read the first letter, and I don’t get it now. It’s like catching your husband with another woman and calling all of his ex-GFs to find out if he ever cheated on them — just deal with the present issue.

      1. If I'm Being Totally Honest

        Also not to be rude, but I agree and think that the EXTREMELY strong interest in proving poor performance history suggests deeper issues within the organization. I feel like they did ex-employee a solid.

  10. If I'm Being Totally Honest

    I just went and re-read the previous post and this one again, and looked very carefully at the things that were concerning to the OP. They were as follows: (“simple”) errors, lack of professionalism, argumentative tone, sloppy work, asking questions “they should know the answer to”, forgetting to work on items with deadlines, and socializing. All of these complaints sound kind of like talking a lot but not saying anything. We literally don’t have one concrete example of the concerning behavior–rather we have OP’s characterization of those behaviors.

    Even with the OP’s editorialized complaints, I really don’t see anything that warrants dismissal after 4 months (give or take)–I think it’s very possible that the employee could have been coached through these behaviors and become a model employee. The world will never know.

    In light of that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to diagnose the employee with ADHD (or any other medical condition).

    1. Spooky

      I think the saddest thing about this update is that the OP still doesn’t get it. S/he seems likely to repeat exactly the same mistake (which, to be clear, is not and never was “not checking references.” It’s “doesn’t understand what ‘entry-level’ means.”) I wouldn’t be surprised if, once again, they hire another entry -level person, and golly gee, find errors in THAT person’s work, too.

      1. OP Here

        No, I plan not to. And as I mentioned in the comments of my original post, we were not expecting perfection. Human error will be made, but him not being accountable or finding ways to help fix the issue was not helping the team and it was best to let him go.

    2. LiveAndLetDie

      Professionalism, tone, asking questions, and socializing — sure, those aren’t necessarily quantifiable. But I think errors in the work/sloppy work and forgetting to work on deadline items are concrete issues. Four months on a job may not seem like a lot but depending on what that sloppy work and missed deadline stuff is, it could be a significant setback for a company’s bottom line. That’s a quarter of the year. It’s unfortunate for the employee, but from the OP’s description this is a job that requires someone who is quick to learn and ready to jump in with both feet. All it sounds like to me is that this guy wasn’t a good fit (I’m not on board with diagnosing him with anything), and would do better in a job that can afford to take the time to help him get into the role at a pace that works for him.

      1. If I'm Being Totally Honest

        I am not suggesting that the company should have kept him on–I agree that there seemed to have been an issue with fit. I just think we should be a little careful about putting too much stock into those characterizations, and a lot careful about using them for diagnostic purposes.

        My point in saying that I don’t necessary think what was described warranted termination was that an company’s tolerance for concerning behaviors in employees has as much to do with the company’s expectations and needs as it does the employee’s abilities and skills.

    3. A Definite Beta Guy

      Not wishing to pile on, but:

      We literally don’t have one concrete example of the concerning behavior

      Yep.
      That doesn’t mean the OP is wrong, but we don’t necessarily know what the solution is. A lot of post-grad entry-level hires frankly suck at first and take some time to adjust to a professional work environment.
      Or to adjust to the industry.
      My friend the Architect trains some fresh out of school grads. Some funsies he needs to tell new kids:
      -You need GFI outlets in the bathrooms (or anywhere there is water)
      -Your door needs to hang from a door frame
      -You cannot measure the length of a counter from an EXTERIOR wall. The contractor will not punch a hole in the INTERIOR wall to double-check length.
      -The American Disabilities Act is LAW, not CODE. You can break Code under certain conditions. You cannot break LAW.
      These are all simple mistakes, but every kid right out of school makes them. After some time in the industry, they stop making these errors.

      OP’s company sounds very data-intensive with a big emphasis on deliverables for clients, which need to be extremely clear. That’s generally not the place for New Grads, who suck at that. If you want a stickler for detail, then hire an engineer or accountant, who were trained in college to be sticklers for details.

      I can tell you that my Account Manager with 10 years experience in this company handed my file yesterday that still took half an hour to clean up. If your standards are perfection every time…well, prepare for disappointment!

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      They were as follows: (“simple”) errors, lack of professionalism, argumentative tone, sloppy work, asking questions “they should know the answer to”, forgetting to work on items with deadlines, and socializing. All of these complaints sound kind of like talking a lot but not saying anything. We literally don’t have one concrete example of the concerning behavior–rather we have OP’s characterization of those behaviors.

      All those things could reasonably be things someone gets fired for if giving them feedback doesn’t solve the problem (depending on degree, of course).

      We don’t require OPs to give concrete examples here before believing them. Concrete examples are helpful, certainly, but the absence of them doesn’t mean that the OP is automatically suspect.

      To me, it sounds like the guy wasn’t right for the job and it was reasonable to fire him and that the company didn’t hire well (including not checking references). But the OP wasn’t the hiring manager; if I’m remembering correctly, she was a colleague who took the initiative to try to help train him.

      1. If I'm Being Totally Honest

        I did not mean to suggest that I was suspicious of OP’s characterizations, but rather that they were just that–one person’s impression.

        I also understood from the first letter that OP was involved in the hiring process, tasked with training the ex-employee, and acting in a managerial supervisory role in coaching him, but that OP’s boss was responsible for the actual hiring decision.

        All that said, I agree that there seemed to be an irrevocable fit issue.

    5. Shannon

      I have to agree. These errors are pretty much what I would expect out of someone with little to no work experience. Some of these simple errors can’t be fixed in four months, especially the argumentative tone and lack of professionalism, because they take maturity and experience to fix. When you’re hiring a new employee with little to no work experience, you have to realize that they are going to need more coaching than someone with 1-3 years experience in the workforce.

      This update is very disappointing, because no one learned anything substantial.

    6. Anon123

      You guys are really tough here. I would never submit a letter if I knew I were going to be eviscerated (ok that’s an exaggeration). Obviously the Letter Writer can only provide so many details in a letter but if she felt justified in letting him go then I trust her decision. Now if she wanted to terminate him for chewing gum or something else ridiculous like that then I would kindly point out that’s not OK. But I wouldn’t want to work with someone who’s argumentative, not resourceful enough to lookup information on his own especially after being provided with that information via trainings, and who doesn’t follow-through.

  11. Macedon

    One of the rare cases when an update leaves me with an incredibly bitter aftertaste. First the OP was looking for a loophole to prove them ‘right’ and justify a dismissal. Now the employee has luckily ‘let the cat out of the bag’ in an emotional moment, and OP can fire away.

    I guess never mind the severe question signs about the expectations, training quality and hiring processes of OP’s own firm – which several commenters raised in the post of the original letter, and which OP danced around or failed to address. OP summed up the role’s needs last time –

    We were thinking that if we lose him, we may have to get someone who has had at least 1 to 2 years experience in our industry and comfortable with doing the basics. – of course the newbie faced with taking on a role for which the company had no real training never stood a chance.

    1. OP Here

      I didn’t fail to address. The company has online training, but for my industry you need to get the hands on as well. My boss saud hat the had a training plan for my department, but failed to produce one, so I provided the newbie with book resources and links as well as doing the hands on training with accounts.

      1. OP Here

        Also, I didn’t want to get too detailed in the original letter. His issues were mainly starting arguments to not do a task, not completing tasks in full, having the wrong data in client files, etc.

        He’ll figure out his path eventually. I just hope he gets the help he needs.

        1. If I'm Being Totally Honest

          I think statements like, “I hope he gets the help he needs” are unnecessarily rude. You haven’t indicated any knowledge that he needs help.

        2. A Definite Beta Guy

          I am attempting to develop a schema for this employee but am failing.
          This:

          His issues were mainly starting arguments to not do a task

          Does not seem like the type of person who would also do this:

          When we began seeing consistent patterns of errors, we brought it up to him immediately. His responses were self-deprecating in emails; calling himself stupid, an idiot and admitting he was frustrated with himself.

          I am not really trying to say you are wrong, but I am wondering what kind of guy this person was…. O_O

          1. OP Here

            We wondered the same because in the interview he was super confident and really talked himself up. When it came to putting things in action, that’s when the issues began.

      2. Macedon

        How do you reconcile your assumption that the entry level to which you trained this employee would have sufficed for the job, with the fact that you will be looking for someone with 1-2 years of experience for the same position?

        1. OP Here

          Macedon and Totally Honest, my team mate and I have been in this industry for a very long time. After a year or two, there a standard industry best practices that most know to follow in our field. I’ve trained people who were green and have moved to bigger roles.

          Also, I don’t consider my statement about him getting help rude. Please do not read into my comments. Calling himself stupid and an idiot is a personal issue with him, and was a concern for us. So yes, he should get help to work on his issues.

          1. Macedon

            I’m not sure this answers my question. The situation as you have presented it is: you had an employee with no experience in what you described as a niche role, and you had no company-structured training. You began to train him on an entry-level basis. Okay. He did not perform to your expectations of his growth within the first few months of his training. That seems like a premature window of observation off which to base a dismissal, but perhaps he was simply glaringly unfit for the part. He has been dismissed.

            But now you say that you will be looking for someone with 1-2 years of experience for the role, moving forward.

            I see two scenarios: either you were expecting your employee to perform to the level of a worker with 1-2 years of experience, or hoping to accelerate his training so to bring him to that level (case in which giving him just 4 months to shape up is, to me, unreasonable); or you question your time availability, the role’s urgency or the quality of your training and do not want to undertake training a newbie again (case in which, the previous employee’s dismissal seems to be a shared burden of responsibility).

            I am would like to know if there is a third scenario that I am missing.

          2. If I'm Being Totally Honest

            I perceive your comment that you “just hope he gets the help he needs” as rude for the following reasons:

            1. It is concern trolling. You will almost certainly never see him again, and most likely do not really care if he gets help.

            2. You do not know that he needs help. He may very well thrive in a different work environment.

            3. It is condescending to imply that you are in a position to determine what others need.

            1. OP Here

              Others have commented on him getting help in this thread. Please stop with the aggressive comments.

  12. OP Here

    Hello again and thanks for your questions, concerns and replies.

    This employee was a reference from my boss. I see that many commenters have strong thoughts about my letter however I was not coming from a mean place regarding our decision to let him go.

    It was a bad hiring decision, and my boss apologized for his own lack of judgement.

    I work in the ad industry, but on the tech side. There are certain processes that are consistent with the type of work that we do. When we began seeing consistent patterns of errors, we brought it up to him immediately. His responses were self-deprecating in emails; calling himself stupid, an idiot and admitting he was frustrated with himself.

    He was the problem and he even admitted people outside of work commented on certain behaviors of his.

    The “cat out of the bag” was to confirm my hunch because when I asked him about his behavior at other employers, he stated no one had ever spoken to him about his behavior or with ethic.

    I’m jazzed to teach people a new skill, however he was not improving in areas he needed to improve before we could move him on to other things.

    This time around we are asking for candidates with 1-2 years of experience.

    1. LiveAndLetDie

      Thanks for clarifying, OP! I think adding an experience requirement is a good move — it sounds to me like you need someone who can pick up quickly, and experience will probably help there.

      1. Diluted_TortoiseShell

        Can you relax a little bit? I think you are taking this a bit personally/bringing this against the OP personally. It won’t really accomplish anything for the fired person.

        It sounds like the outcome of this is as it should be. The individual was let go, clearly it was not a good fit for either party. They will now hire someone with experience. Win-win.

        1. Diluted_TortoiseShell

          Well not having a job isn’t exactly winning. But the fired individual will now hopefully have a chance to get a role that is a good fit for him.

        2. catsAreCool

          Some of the posts on this have been pretty harsh to the OP. If I were in that person’s shoes, I wouldn’t be relaxed at all by this time.

    2. Diluted_TortoiseShell

      I’m sorry that some folks think you are coming from a mean place, I wouldn’t let that get to you or take it personally.

      I’m still really confused though. And honestly I am not trying to nitpick or demonize you, but a lot of these statements just don’t reconcile to me.

      “He was the problem” doesn’t reconcile with deciding that you will instead hire a 1-2 year experience candidate instead of a new hire. To me that sounds like the role’s needs were not well though out which isn’t the entry-level person’s fault.

      I think it was smart to let the person go, because you do clearly need someone with more experience, but I would stop thinking that the “right” entry level person would have been at a 1-2 year experience level in 4 months.

      As an aside, I was really argumentative as a new hire. It was sort of how we were trained to be in college. You were suppose to think critically and question the process. I never realized how exhausting that was until I was on the training side. : )

      1. Shannon

        “As an aside, I was really argumentative as a new hire. It was sort of how we were trained to be in college. You were suppose to think critically and question the process.”

        Yes, I’ve seen a lot of this behavior in new hires. Part of it is being trained to think critically and question, but, I’ve seen many new hires say “That’s not my job/ in my job description.” Part of maturing as a worker is realizing that your job is whatever your boss says it is, provided it’s legal and moral. If your diverges too much from your job description, having a conversation with your boss about it or looking for another job are perfectly reasonable options. However, every job has those little tasks that pop up and someone needs to do.

        1. catsAreCool

          Maybe it depends on your major. I majored in CS, and I don’t remember teachers really appreciating argumentative students.

      2. OP Here

        We do work on the Internet and it involves data analyzation. It’s a field that anyone can get into which is why we were open to hire someone green as long as they were willing to learn and show that they could do it.

        I got into my current industry by default when I was this former employees age so I am very open to giving a chance to someone who wants to learn something new.

        Due to the nature of our employer that is known for having a serious lack of training across all departments, we tried as much as we could to help him improve. I say that he was the problem because he owned up to the fact that he behaved the same way with other employers.

        We are asking 1-2 years because we want to find candidates that are comfortable doing the work but want to learn more or work with different types of accounts.

    3. Shannon

      Ah, good. I take back my above comment about this update being disappointing. Good luck with the candidate search and I hope you have better results.

  13. Justin

    Some commenters have mentioned ADHD and I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult in my 30s. I was fired from one job, struggled at some, but also did just fine at other jobs. Very likely that this is the case with the employee.

    One of the coping/defense mechanisms is trying to go it alone without support so that you seem competent, like you just “get it.” People with ADHD sometimes ask too many questions or might overcompensate by hardly asking any questions (especially if you have noticed people getting annoyed by your excessive question asking). Also, when you make a mistake, it can be hard to admit it and sometimes you don’t even notice it. You might have struggled in the past, but then you feel like you figured it out and got it together….only to fail again due to mistakes. This can take quite the emotional toll. You also want to “hide” or ignore your past workplace stumbles, and besides, who would admit to failure during the interview process anyways?

    Good management helps a lot, I was doing really well at my last contract assignment, but one day my boss wanted to talk to me about how I got distracted too easily in meetings. He made sure to tell me how I was doing a great job otherwise and then relayed his own story about struggling with possible ADHD and that really meant a lot. And even if you do have to fire someone, do it with some tact and understanding. When I was fired my boss was like “Your attention to detail just isn’t there” and that was pretty rough because I was trying as hard as I could, asking questions, trying to get help, etc. Really made me doubt myself.

    Not that any of this is an excuse, it’s up to the ADHD employee to cope and figure out how to perform, but I just wanted to give some insight so it’s not all about that person being lazy, dumb, poor work ethic, bad at working in general.

    1. Justin

      Whoops, should’ve differentiated between the two bosses in paragraph #3. Not the same person. One was helpful and one who fired me was not.

      1. OP Here

        Thanks for the insight! Some of the traits you mention, totally fits with what we noticed.

        When I had a chat with him he commented that I was calling him “lazy”. Lazy never came out of my mouth; I gave him examples of his work and why we were concerned. It made me wonder if he’s been called out as being lazy or if he thinks the examples I gave him sound like a lazy person.

        1. Justin

          Sure! I used to have no idea that I was ADHD but once I figured it out and started treating it, I dug more into the symptoms and realized a lot of things about the way it affects your thinking. I just wish more people understood, and not in a way that excuses it, but just in a way that recognizes it.

  14. Not tired of life

    OP, thanks for the update. I had a very similar employee and I had checked references! After the person started and the errors mounted up, I realized how coded the references had been. Despite much coaching the person was never able to improve, for reasons that may have been beyond their control. However personally sympathetic I was, this meant that the organizational goals we’re paid to achieve couldn’t be met. Fortunately, the person did seek EAP and other factors came into play. Otherwise, I would have had to move to termination. I don’t really understand the critical tone of some of the other responses. Managers lose sleep over these kinds of situations but ultimately we have to remember that the purpose of most organizations is not to provide jobs for people unable to do them. ??

    1. OP Here

      NTOL, I think the critical tones are based on how my tone is perceived in the letter. The decision was made and it was the right one for our department.

      We had just dealt with a similar situation with an ex team member for about 6 months when we joined the company last year. He decided to start looking once we figured out his poor work patterns that were causing stress and extra workloads amongst our team. We just could not go through the same situation again with the new candidate.

  15. Justin

    Read through some of the comments and reread both the original letter and the follow up and this one bugs me quite a bit.

    There is too much of an emphasis on figuring out if he “did the crime” of being a bad worker and “investigating” to see if he is indeed a bad worker. Overly concerned about what he’s doing wrong (and what he did wrong in the past) instead of trying to actually address the problem. Like the OP is looking for reasons to get rid of him, like being “right” about his work ethic is more important that managing him or actually getting the work done.

    I’ve had managers/supervisors before who will take one mistake (that was partially my fault but also the result of me not knowing something because I hadn’t been told or trained) and then using that as a basis for everything I do from then on and it’s not helpful to anyone.

    1. OP Here

      Justin in my post I stated we had had more than several talks with. These discussions were coaching sessions and after every talk he continued to not improve in areas we needed him to.

      The aha moment was confirming my gut feeling about his habits/ patterns and the fact that he “confessed” about his issues at other places.

  16. NicoleK

    I’m squarely on OP’s side in this situation. I’m dealing with a similar situation (hiring decision made by someone else, new hire continues to make the same mistakes after being corrected verbally and other means, new hire displays poor judgment and lacks professionalism, new hires doesn’t seem to grasp basic concepts, and etc).

    Luckily for OP, the situation is dealt with and the person is terminated. It is more damaging to the team and organization to keep an employee who is not a good fit, is not as experienced as she/claimed, and can’t deliver anything she/he promised.

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