my reference is an ex, warning an acquaintance not to take a job at my awful company, and more

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

1. Should I warn an acquaintance not to take a job at my awful company?

I know someone, friend of friends, who may be trying to join my small company. However, it’s a terrible place and several of us are trying to leave ASAP. If this were a friend I would def let her know. But this is an acquaintance. Do I say something?

I ran into this person, and she excitedly told me she was meeting with the boss Friday. She asked me how I liked the job and I couldn’t lie. I took a long pause, and then said there were parts I liked. I told her if she had more specific questions to ask, she already has my email.

Shouldn’t my response be a huge red flag to her? I feel like I’m doing her a favor and she hasn’t asked me any more questions. I’m annoyed that I was honest with someone who may be too stupid to realize I’m trying to non-verbally tell her “Run the F away!” Or maybe she just thinks I’m a kook.

You should tell her, and much more explicitly than what you already said. I think lots of people wouldn’t hear the hint in what you said, especially since people applying for a job often have rosy-colored glasses on. I don’t think most people would recognize it as a huge red flag, and I don’t think that makes them stupid.

Given the impact a terrible job will have on your quality of life, you should speak up. Don’t rely on hints. Say something.

2. When a reference is also an ex

I’ve been out of the full-time workforce for several years dealing with family health issues (I’ve done several part-time, “survival” jobs in that time which allowed me to cover my caregiver responsibilities to my family members), but am now applying for full-time jobs in my field.

A fantastic, right-up-my-street job has just been advertised and I’m applying. My former manager in the last full-time job I held, which directly relates to the position, is adamant I should cite him as a reference.

My dilemma is: *after* former manager resigned and went to work elsewhere, he and I dated and were in a relationship for a couple of years. The relationship ended amicably a year ago, and we are still friends. It’s a fairly small professional world in the area I live, and it’s possible, although unlikely, that the people I interview with/putative future managers will know or learn of our past relationship.

Am I overthinking this? Or would citing him as a reference be unprofessional? *I* know he would give me an excellent reference *based on the work I did when he was my boss*, but I’m concerned about how our former personal relationship might look to a potential employer if they know of it, or if it were to become known if I got the job.

Ooooh, yeah, that’s not ideal. On one hand, he was your manager and can presumably speak knowledgeably about your work. But his objectivity is now compromised because of the personal relationship you had (just like how if you worked for your mom, most people wouldn’t consider her a fully objective, unbiased reference either).

If you have any other reasonable options for references, I’d use them instead. If an employer asks about the manager from your last job, I’d say, “I’d be happy to put you in touch with him, but we have a social relationship so I didn’t want to offer him up on my initial list.”

3. Can I refuse to train people for the job I’d like to be doing?

I have been at my company for over a year, and when a higher position opened up twice, the company has hired people outside of the company and asked me to train them. I asked what am I doing or not doing that’s preventing me from growing with the company, and my boss said that I’m doing a great job and would discuss it with her boss. I’m still waiting for a response, but she continues to interview. I’m at the point where I want to say no, I will not train someone for a position they don’t seem to think I’m qualified for, even though I do the duties of the position. Any advice? I’m trying to stay positive and don’t want to lose my job.

As long as you’re working there, you can’t refuse to train people if that’s what your boss is assigning you to do. Trying to refuse to do that will destroy your reputation and possibly get you fired. That’s not a path that will get you the outcome you want.

Have you explicitly applied for this job? You don’t say that you have, and if you’re just waiting to be moved into it, that could be part of the problem. Apply, and if you don’t get it, ask for feedback and ask your boss to talk to you about what a path to advancement looks like for you there. Meanwhile, you can also search outside the company if you’d like.

But also — one year is not a long time to be in one position. In most fields, it would be really premature to be getting this antsy.

4. My company keeps saying that we’ll talk about a raise, but we never do

My company gave me a promotion, saying we would try it out for three months and at the end of the three months we would talk about a raise. Well, the three months came and went, and then six months came and went. I was promoted another level with the same conversation about let’s try it out for three months and then we can address a raise. It has been about a year and a half, and I have not seen a raise. So I have been promoted twice and have not been compensated.

I have since found out that my company has done this to at least three more of my coworkers. Is this legal?

Yep. If they made a firm salary agreement with you, they’d need to honor that, but they didn’t; they just said they’d talk about it at a certain point.

It’s not clear to me if you’ve been bringing it up at these three-month intervals. If not, you should bring it up now. And stop accepting their “we’ll talk about it in a few months” promises; if you’re taking a promotion, negotiate a raise as part of it.

{ 110 comments… read them below }

  1. Revanche*

    The only cautionary thing I’d say about #1 is that if you don’t know this person well enough to be sure she won’t turn around and tell your boss that you are looking to leave, in any kind of “I’ve heard some things that concern me” way when she has the meeting with your boss, then I would be very careful to couch the concerns in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re just leaving “and I’m getting the hell out ASAP” unspoken. I’ve seen more than one acquaintance take information given to them in these sorts of situations, pass it on in an unwise way and burn their source even without meaning to.

    1. UKAnon*

      Yes, this is my concern – how well do you trust this person not to mess it up for you while you’re still there? If you do trust them, or if it doesn’t matter (you’re at the final stages of a few applications and likely to get an offer soon, or have money to live off of if you’re fired) then I agree with Alison. But if you aren’t sure I would approach with caution.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      This was exactly my reaction. If you don’t know this person well enough to trust her not to say anything, I’m sorry to say that I would choose neutrality over full honesty.

      It’s not even that I would think this person is likely to be malicious about it. It’s more like, in the interview, when she’s asked “do you have any questions?” she could say, “Yes, I’ve heard the work-life balance isn’t very good here, can you tell me more about that?” and the hiring manager immediately responds with, “Well, where did you hear that?” If she’s really good when put on the spot, she’ll avoid giving OP’s name, but she might not. Or she’ll name a specific enough concern that the hiring manager can pin it down to one or a very small group of individuals, and suddenly those people are in trouble.

      1. OP 1 here*

        Thanks all for the comments. I wasn’t specific enough for her to say anything like that, but that’s a really good point AdAgencyChick.

      2. Brandy*

        I did this once. Many, many years ago. It was 1996. The girl told my boss, who fired me on the spot. No asking me about it. Now it wasnt an office job but still. Be careful.

      3. INTP*

        Yes, exactly. Many people are not very savvy with their words in the first place, and this person is going to be preoccupied with whether she wants the job, not with whether she might be inadvertently giving some small identifying information. Even something like “I spoke with an acquaintance who works here and she mentioned…” could out you if she mentions knowing you on a completely unrelated note.

    3. Mike C.*

      I would really be shocked if a normal person would go that far and not consider the implications for the people working there.

      Look, let’s say you do nothing, and she gets the job. A few months down the road she comes to you upset over the latest terrible thing the boss has done and says to you, “Why didn’t you tell me things were this bad?!”

      What’s your answer going to be?

      1. fposte*

        I’m mixed on this, but I don’t completely disagree with you. The problem to me is that the OP was explicitly asked, by somebody she knew, and gave an answer that suggested the opposite of what she meant–it was a lukewarm endorsement, not a disrecommendation. I think you don’t have to volunteer it sucks unasked, and I think you can opt out explicitly (“I don’t comment on my workplace. It’s a policy I have to avoid trouble”), which is meaningful in its own right. But if you asked somebody you knew what it was like and they knew it was terrible but their response was only “There are parts that I like,” you’d probably be pretty frustrated with them.

      2. MK*

        What normal people would do is often not what happens, and some can be thoughtless about how their actions would affect others. And I cannot imagine a “normal” person demanding an explanation as to why the OP didn’t trash their employer.

        1. Mike C.*

          It’s not “trashing their employer” if the place is completely toxic. Just because they pay you money doesn’t mean that it’s somehow unethical to say, “no, they will treat you terribly here”.

      3. INTP*

        I would not expect a “normal” person to just completely disregard any concern for accidentally outing someone who spoke negatively about the employer. However, a totally normal and well-intentioned person might accidentally do so. Most people are going to be more concerned with confirming whether the complaints are valid and whether they want the job than with anything else, and might inadvertently let something slip. Like she says “I spoke with an acquaintance who works here and she mentioned…Can you tell me more about that?” and the boss remembers that two phone conversations ago, she mentioned knowing you, and puts it together, or one of the concerns is more specific than she realizes and the boss immediately knows it was you.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Exactly. This happened to a friend of mine. There was a huge layoff and he and several others got hired at a place down the road and another coworker was interviewing there about a month later and asked to have lunch with him. At this point my friend wasn’t having major issues yet but happened to mention he can see there’s tension between the home office and the New Zealand office. So what did the coworker/friend do? When interviewing he mentions this casually not thinking and my friend got grilled by his boss about it like “why a do you think that?” It wasn’t horrible for him but was awkward and kind of marked the beginning of the end cause lots more issues came out of the woodwork after that. And that dude was hired too lol.

      4. OP 1 here*

        I would basically say “I tried to warn you.” Since we don’t hang out socially I honestly wouldn’t feel like I’d failed her. I may try to clarify my previous response to her. Again, she can ask me specific questions but hasn’t, so I already feel like I’m going above and beyond, if I do clarify.

        1. Intrepid Intern*

          Could you warn her after she meets with the boss on Friday? That way there’s less of a chance she’ll accidentally mention your comments and cause blowback for you.

          1. Anna*

            That might be a good option. After her meeting, just reach out and tell her you didn’t want to color her opinion before she went in to the meeting but that you know there have been issues and you have heard (there, just a rumor) several people are looking to move on due the problems they’ve encountered. You thought it would be good for her to know that before she accepted an offer. I think it’s easier to avoid slipping up if you’re turning down an offer. “After further consideration, I’ve decided to go in another direction.” Only weirdos would ask her acquaintance what those other considerations were.

    4. J*

      And a lot of bad jobs have people who like it there, especially if there is favoritism. The new person might be favored.

    5. INTP*

      Yes. This person is just an acquaintance, she doesn’t know whether to take your caution at face value, whether you might be the paranoid or perpetually unsatisified type or blow things out of proportion, etc. Most likely she’s going to try to discuss your complaints with your boss. She could be inconsiderate enough to name you, but the more likely scenario is that she just doesn’t phrase her words carefully enough and your boss figures it out.

      As much as I’d want to warn her, I probably wouldn’t without knowing her well enough to know that she wouldn’t out me, intentionally or not.

  2. Polka dot bird*

    #1: maybe she hasn’t emailed you because she’s already got the message that you aren’t recommending it as a place to work, has written it off, and therefore has no further questions?

    1. MK*

      Maybe she is being discreet. Since she and the OP aren’t close, maybe she figures the extremely unenthusiastic response the OP gave her is as far as she is comfortable to go. Contacting someone and getting them to dish the dirt on their employer is an awkward conversation to have.

      And she might be taking the OP’s reaction into consideration but reserving judgement till she can form her own opinion. There is no reason for the OP to be outraged that she didn’t take her lack of praise as gospel.

      1. OP 1 here*

        Good point MK. I’m letting my frustrations with the whole situation get the better of me. I’ve rarely had an insider I could ask questions of when I’ve applied to jobs, so I’m also letting that frustrate me. I would be excited to be in her position and have someone I could ask specific questions. If all goes well I won’t be there much longer and I won’t have to think about any of this.

    2. Vicki*

      Wait, what?

      I’m going to push back and say that she hasn’t emailed you because she doesn;t know what questions to ask and your “subtly worded hint” was so subtle she missed it. I would have.

      “She asked me how I liked the job and I couldn’t lie. I took a long pause, and then said there were parts I liked. I told her if she had more specific questions to ask, she already has my email.”

      Translation: there are parts you like.
      Not a Translation: Run run run!

      “Shouldn’t my response be a huge red flag to her?”

      No. You said there are parts yu like. That’s _all you said_.

      ” I feel like I’m doing her a favor”
      Really? How so?
      “and she hasn’t asked me any more questions.”
      She’s not sure what to sak.
      ” I’m annoyed that I was honest”
      “with someone who may be too stupid”
      literal-minded and not a close enough friend to know your non-verbal ways
      “to realize I’m trying to non-verbally tell her ‘Run the F away!'”

      One of the common threads here in AAM is “I’ve hinted and hinted and the other person just doesn’t get the hint”.

      Your friends, family, co-workers, and bosses are not telepathic. Please stop “hinting” and just Say It.

      1. Say it right! Say it with Pleasure.*

        Thank you Vicki I came here to say the exact same thing. Never hint, say what you mean and be clear… what was written did not communicate a clear message. It read like OP1 was hedging their bets in the name of self preservation, which is understandable… unfortunately when one does that, they can’t really expect the other person to give them a thumbs up and say: “Message received loud and clear! Excuse me while I phone the company now and withdraw my candidacy!”

        In a different context, I would be pissed at a manager who doled out nothing but positive feedback and then turned around and told me later that I’d failed to meet expectations because I’d never asked questions that would’ve given them an opening to tell me the ways I’d screwed up. I know that is not what we are talking about here, but having actually experienced that, I can say I might feel the same if I was the person being hinted at to run.

  3. LadyCop*

    I have to agree with Allison on #1. That response is super vague, and a lot of people don’t have a personality conducive to asking for blunt information.

    1. Jozie*

      Also, what’s super obvious to some people about certain verbal/nonverbal social cues…isn’t really that obvious. Long pauses can go unnoticed (maybe they’re collecting their thoughts) or be written off as something else such as catching them off guard. I find subtlety goes unnoticed quite often at work and hilarity and hijinks frequently ensue.

      Going back to OP’s case, I don’t know the age or work experience level, but if the acquaintance has not yet had the misfortune of experiencing a terrible workplace, the true depths of what such a workplace entails may not even be on her radar. Maybe she did get the hint but thinks a bad workplace is oh, you don’t like your boss, something that’s highly subjective. As an acquaintance, I would also find it SUPER awkward to start probing – “ah, you hate your job, eh? Tell me what you hate about it and I’ll agree with you and tell you that your life sucks right now and I’m so glad I’ve dodged a bullet, oh…that’s right…you still work there…”

      1. OP 1 here*

        Haha I like your description of the super awkward probing conversation. Yes, that is true, maybe it is a tough conversation to have.

  4. Merry and Bright*

    I agree with Polka dot bird. A lack of follow-up doesn’t necessarily mean she is going ahead with the application. Could just mean she has picked up your hints and decided to run for the hills. If someone tells me they like “parts” of their job I do wonder about the rest of it. It’s actually quite different from saying there are “parts you don’t like” because we all have those.

    1. AnotherFed*

      Agree, and it’s definitely not on the OP to follow up with the potential candidate (who may or may not have even applied) and warn her. That’s getting into actively trash-talking the current employer, instead of just answering a direct question with something politely phrased but indicative of the situation, like “The hours are long – 70-80/wk – and it can be tough seeing so many cases have negative outcomes, but the job does do XYZ, which many people love.”

      1. OP 1 here*

        Hmmm, framing it this way helps me. I don’t want to actively trash talk my employer. So I’ll probably just do nothing and only respond if she reaches out to me. Again, if she were a friend it would be different. I would definitely warn off a friend.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Why the difference? I could understand if, as some have mentioned, you don’t know her well enough to be sure that she won’t repeat negative comments, but it sounds like you’re saying you don’t really care if an acquaintance ends up in a horrible job, which… seems odd?

          1. MK*

            I don’t see anything odd about it; there are degrees of caring. With a friend, many would feel an obligation have an obligation to safeguard them from a toxic workplace, an obligation one might not feel towards a mere acquaintance. It’s natural that the OP is concerned enough to deliver an indirect warning and also answer sincerely if asked, but doesn’t feel obligated to reach out and tell her outright the workplace is bad.

            1. fposte*

              But she *did* get asked. And her response was, to me, misleading. It doesn’t make sense to me to say that if the applicant really wanted to know she was obliged to ask the OP twice.

              I don’t think this is the end of the world and that the OP is responsible for leading her acquaintance to Certain Doom, but I might, if I were the OP, reach out to correct the impression I gave.

              1. MK*

                I think that’s a matter of opinion? I don’t find the OP’s response misleading; it sounds to me a pretty clear indication that it’s not a great place to work.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Wait, you’re arguing this both ways. On the on hand you’re saying that there’s no obligation to tell an acquaintance anything, on the other hand you’re saying OP in fact did warn the acquaintance in a way that was obvious.

                  This is a situation where someone who knows the OP well enough to ask about the job, and for OP to answer, did in fact ask the OP directly. I’m trying to understand the belief that in this particular situation, it’s ok to blow the asker off it you’re not all that into them.

                  It smacks of “I got mine, Jack” rather than “I don’t know Wakeen well enough to be sure he won’t repeat this if he takes the job”.

                2. OP 1 here*

                  I’ll add that I think there’s alot of tone and body language stuff in the way I said it that isn’t coming across when I describe it here in email.

                1. MsM*

                  Good idea, but I’d reiterate your offer to talk and stress that you’d like to make sure they go in with an informed opinion rather than put anything in writing. (For what it’s worth, I’d personally have taken your answer as a caution, but I wouldn’t necessarily feel the need to follow up.)

            2. LBK*

              I totally disagree. As Alison says, a bad job can completely ruin your quality of life and I think that’s a warning you owe to anyone regardless of how well you know them, especially if that person has specifically asked you about the company. It’s not about how much you care about how happy that person is, it’s about general human empathy – this is watching someone walk towards a cliff and not trying to stop them.

              1. J_Mo*

                I completely agree with this, and with OldJob, I had no problem telling people (who asked) EXACTLY what I thought. I DID warn people away, and I’m not sorry I did so. There are some places that are so bad, you really would NOT wish it on your worst enemyl.

              2. MK*

                I cannot agree with the blanket statement that it’s common decency to warn people about a bad workplace. I would agree that there are cases where that’s true, if their safety might be compromised, if there is abuse, etc, but in general, no. And I think it’s normal to not treat all people equally when it comes to how far you are willing to go or them.

                1. Mike C.*

                  It’s common decency to warn people about things that may significantly harm their life or happiness if they don’t already know and they ask you about it.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  It’s common decency to warn people about a bad workplace IF THEY ASK YOU about the workplace, unless it would put your job in jeopardy. I’m genuinely not understanding the attitude that if somebody asks you if a stove lid is hot, whether or not you tell them depends on whether they’re buddies.

          2. LBK*

            Yeah…if she knows you well enough to be asking you about this it’s pretty weird to not give her an honest answer, which frankly I don’t think you did. It was a lie by omission.

            FWIW I also would not taken what you said as a red flag – “I like some parts” sounds more like you’re suggesting she do some careful vetting and consideration if she wants the job, but that it might still be right for her. Some people are also fine with a job that has some good parts and some bad as long as it pays the bills. If this is truly a “run the F away” situation that no one would be able to survive, I think you owe her a clarification.

        2. Mike C.*

          I posted this above, but I want to ask you directly.

          If she gets the job and comes to you several months later after the latest terrible thing has happened and asks you, “Why didn’t you tell me this place was bad? I asked you directly and you just gave me your email address!” what will your response be?

          Do you really believe that a long pause was direct enough hint that things at your workplace are terrible?

      2. LBK*

        I’m not sure I understand the problem with trash-talking an employer to a personal friend – I wouldn’t do it in a professional context, but what’s the consequence to the OP if she’s just direct and honest about how bad it is? I don’t see what’s wrong with saying “Frankly, this has been a terrible place to work and I really wouldn’t recommend you apply here unless you have no other options.”

        1. Mike C.*

          I agree. There’s a huge difference between being insulting, and being truthful about the work environment.

          1. LBK*

            Yes – and even in a professional context (like an interview), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being honest about a workplace. That’s a time it would be appropriate to use vaguer language like “the work often required an extended schedule that wasn’t a match for my lifestyle” (translation: they wanted us to work 90 hours a week) but you don’t have to pretend it was all sunshine and unicorns.

        2. MK*

          A close personal friend can presumably be trusted to keep what you say confidential; and they will trust you enough to take your word for it and stay away from the company. Also, they won’t have any connection to your employer. When they do, the usual advice is to vent to someone else.

          When it’s someone you don’t know very well and they don’t know you back, they cannot be sure of your judgement. So, they are likely to apply and gauge how bad it is for themselves, perhaps giving away what you told them in the process. And they might not be too careful about telling people you are unhappy in your job; after all, you told them and you don’t know them all that well!

          1. LBK*

            I really don’t think most adults are this careless. I can’t picture someone saying “Jane told me she has a lot of concerns about working here and she’s thinking of leaving, can you speak to that?” If nothing else it would just be terrible interview technique to basically trash the employer to their face and therefore most people wouldn’t do it out of self-preservation, whether or not they care about you keeping your job.

            1. MK*

              Then you’ve been lucky in your acquaintances. People absolutely can be so careless. They wouldn’t attack the interviewer with the information, no, but they might well thoughtlessly respond to “we offer great work-life balance” with “but OP mentioned that she works till 9 every day”

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But you can also say to the person, “I’m going to talk to you in confidence but need to ask you not to repeat any of this.” It’s a rare person who will then repeat it to that person’s boss anyway.

                1. LeRainDrop*

                  I agree with Alison on this. Another thing for OP1 to consider: If this person is just an acquaintance, and she is actively trying to get a job with your employer, she may be afraid to ask too directly about the downsides of the office, perhaps fearing that YOU would go report that to your employer and then employer wouldn’t want to hire her. For example, in a law firm, the applicant who asks too many work/life balance questions might raise flags that they’re not willing to go the extra mile that the team would require, and so the evaluating attorney might say that they’re not sure the applicant is willing to work hard enough. So, OP1, your acquaintance may be afraid of saying anything that would cause you to give a negative report on her to your boss.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Oh, I don’t know. You’ve never had a close personal friend who has blabbermouth issues or just poor judgment? OP also didn’t mention that she was afraid this person would pass on negative feedback or that she would only trust a “close” friend with the truth about work.

            1. Anna*

              And that’s totally fair if you want to be careful, but I think for the OP it’s coming more from general caution and not because they know this acquaintance is indiscreet.

        3. AnotherFed*

          But this isn’t a friend. It’s an acquaintance who didn’t even have the OP’s contact information until they ran into each other at the OP’s workplace!

          The OP could have answered better in the moment, but digging up this person’s contact info to say the job is horrible, the company sucks, etc. would seem weird, and it could easily cause the OP unnecessary drama.

          1. OP 1 here*

            Just to make it clear- we have friends in common and have chatted a few times when we run into each other at events, always briefly. We have also emailed back and forth about a non work thing, so she already had my email, and I have hers. And we didn’t run into each other at my workplace, it was outside of work.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Which….is going to make it even more awkward if she gets hired and the place is so awful that you’re trying to put it behind you forever.

              “Why didn’t you tell me anything?”

              “Well I did! Didn’t you catch my significant pause and my body language?”

              No, she probably didn’t.

          2. Anna*

            I put it in the same spot as if I knew an acquaintance was going out on a date with someone that was horrible. If I knew three other people who had also gone on dates with this person and then an acquaintance mentioned she knew I had dated this person and was going out with them on Friday, what was it like, I would be very clear. The person (job) was horrible. It made me sad and the other people I know who dated this person had similar experiences. How well I know this person has nothing to do with what I should tell them based on what they asked me.

  5. Cambridge Comma*

    #3, it sounds like you are very frustrated. Perhaps finding a different way to think about it might help? For example, when you train the people to do the job, could it be that you are teaching them to apply their existing knowledge and skills to the way things work in your company, and that this knowledge and these skills are perhaps equally, or more valuable than knowing your company’s specific systems? If you chat with them and find out what those skills are, maybe you will see what you need to have to be the successful candidate next time round.
    Knowledge hoarding doesn’t usually work. Having a reputation for being helpful and good at teaching others might get you further.

  6. SophiaB*

    Oooh, OP #3, you sound exactly like me and I completely sympathise. Watching other people struggle to grasp something you would have excelled at is frustrating and takes an emotional toll no matter how detached you try to be.

    Definitely apply for the job if it’s still open. I applied as an external candidate (because the internal system wouldn’t let me upload my new CV and when I applied for my current job, I was still in Uni) and got a really positive interview with some brilliant feedback, although the job wound up going to someone more qualified. Writing out my CV and doing the interview was a great positivity boost, though, and it let me show off my skills and explain why I think I could move up in my role.

    If the position is closed now, see if you can get some time with your manager to explain how you’ve grown in your current position and ask if/when the other position might come around again. That gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how much you’ve grown in your role. She may be seeing you as being excellent at what you do now, but not thinking beyond that to how you would progress in a new role. She may also be able to point to some areas that need work before you are a good candidate for the new role (be prepared for that, because it’s not fun to hear, but it will let you grow professionally if you take her comments on board).

    Good luck! Keep your head up, and make sure you keep doing the best you can in your current role.

  7. Jane, the world's worst employee*

    I’m in a similar situation to OP #1. I just moved on to a new job within my large company and my former boss is trying to hire for my old job. I started looking for a new job because the role was basically a dead-end job (no room for growth, crappy leadership, etc.). An internal applicant applied (who is phenomenal at their curre nt job) is being interviewed. I’ve worked a little with internal applicant in a past role but am not close to him. Part of me wants to warn him but I’m just not sure how to do it without it getting back to my former boss.

    1. OP 1 here*

      I say don’t do anything. If they reach out to you it’s different but since you aren’t close do nothing. Glad to hear you got out!

      1. MK*

        The other question is, would you believe them if the position were reversed? I realise you are speaking from a place of employee-solidarity, but most people, if approached by a near-stranger who delivers unsolicited criticism about their potential boss, would think it very dubious.

        Not unlike if a former manager reached out to the potential employer about a bad candidate.

        1. LBK*

          “They might not believe me so I’m not going to say anything” is a very weird line of thinking to me. It’s the recipient’s decision how much weight to put on your opinion and robbing them of that choice is pretty odd.

          1. MK*

            What I meant was that it will be bad for one’s reputation to be known as someone who goes out of their way to badmouth their ex-boss.

            1. Mike C.*

              This is a strange twisting of someone who is being honest about working for a terrible employer.

              If someone asked an employee about working in an Amazon warehouse and mentioned coworkers passing out from heat exhaustion, would you consider that “badmouthing”?

        2. Myrin*

          I agree on principle, but in this concrete situation, the OP’s acquaintance wasn’t randomly approached by the OP and OP didn’t deliver unsolicited criticism either – in fact, the acquaintance specifically asked for information about the workplace. If I were in acquaintance’s situation and absent any other information of how OP isn’t a trustworthy person or prone to exaggerations, I wouldn’d find it dubious at all if I was told a negative opinion.

          1. MK*

            I wasn’t referry to the OP’s situation, but Jane’s upthread, where the potential applicant is just a random coworker of hers.

        3. Mike C.*

          I’m speaking from a perspective of having worked at a terrible, toxic workplace for years. Even if I didn’t believe such a person right away, I could be on the lookout for such issues and not be caught off guard.

          And if you’re ask something and receive a negative answer, that answer is solicited, not unsolicited.

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s a way to do this that gives the person the roadmap to the sorts of things they should be looking at, but then leaves it up to them to decide what to do — it basically draws their attention to stuff they should dig into further. Like “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea — some of the challenges were XYZ, but it depends on what you’re looking for. If XYZ are important to you, I’d dig into those areas further and make sure it’s the right fit for you.”

          1. neverjaunty*

            Exactly. You don’t have to say “this place is a toxic hellhole”, unless it really is that bad, but “Wakeen is a pretty demanding boss and some people find it difficult to roll with that”, or “you should know that while the job lists 50 hours a week, in practice it’s more like 80” are not trash-talking.

          2. Us, Too*

            Yes, this.

            Also, I’ve worked at places that I truly LOVED my job and so did most of the folks who stayed, but I know that some folks who left would tell others it was terrible. One man’s perfect workplace (dedicated! committed! passionate!) is another’s hellhole (workaholics! no work life balance! insane expectations!).

            I was always as candid as possible with candidates and anyone asking me about the job. For example, “We work a LOT here. You won’t find anyone surfing the web during downtime because our idea of downtime is discussing a client’s issue while waiting for the pot of coffee to brew.” I’d even pull out reports showing the hours worked by each person (anonymized) for the last 6 months so they’d be clear on when and how much people worked.

  8. Steve G*

    #3. I think we need more specifics to give a specific answer….I’ve seen situations like this at the director level that seemed unfair, but as a contributor, it was a different story. I’ve taken over two jobs from people who did them mediocrely. They were lovely people, they did work and at least one I thought had a great work ethic, but their whole approach to the position was wrong.

    One was in a position to be very helpful to sales, but really only focused on (some of) the operations side of the job. One was too focused on the “paperwork” side of a job where those functions should have been streamlined, so the focus could be on issues within the huge data sets. Both positions had waaaayyyy too many things done by hand, and way too many things that were getting done just because, some of them it turns out became obsolete, and news reports/tasks were added after I started when I saw what was contributing to making money/keeping customers and what was not.

    In both situations, other people at those companies might have looked at me coming in and said, “this isn’t fair, I could do that job.” But they could do the job AS IS, not the way it should/could have been.

    So I would recommend to look at what changes the first outside hire has made. If they are just following the same standard operation procedures as the last person, then that is perhaps grounds for a complaint. But if they changed things in a meaningful way….

  9. AdAgencyChick*

    #3, I’m wondering whether your boss is a manager who doesn’t know how to continue the sentence “You’re doing a great job” with “but you’re not ready for a promotion.”

    I agree with Alison that just over a year is not so long that you should expect to have been moved into a bigger job just yet, even if you’re excelling at your current job. If people regularly get promoted once a year, think what that means for your boss: she has to train and hire newbies every year for the more junior slots, and it probably takes them three months out of that year just to get up to speed. In some workplaces and departments, that is the case, but it’s not usual.

    Also, are you training these people for *everything* they do? It’s entirely possible that there are other aspects of that role that you’re not seeing, and that you’re not necessarily training people for a job you’re already 100% capable of doing.

    In your shoes, I would tell my boss I’m going to apply for that position because I can do XYZ. If the boss’s reaction is “but I need you here!” then you can say, “I’d really like to move up in the company, and can we talk about a realistic time frame for that to happen?” Try to get her to pin down concrete numbers rather than the vague “you’re doing a great job and I’ll talk to my boss” that you’ve been getting. But you may hear instead, “If you want to apply for that position, you also need to be able to do ABC,” at which point you can have a discussion about how you can learn to do ABC and again, try to get a more concrete sense of the timing.

    1. LBK*

      Agreed with all of this, especially the part about what you’re actually training them on. I’ve trained plenty of people on systems and workflows because I was the expert on those, but it didn’t mean I was ready to do everything else they were going to have to do. It just meant one piece of their jobs involved knowledge I had and therefore could transfer to them.

      I’m wondering if the OP has just transitioned to the office world from an industry that moves faster like retail, where a year in a role would be a more normal time period to be promoted into supervising that role. It was definitely jarring to me when I made that switch and found that it usually took years at each step in the hierarchy before you could move to the next one.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, on the training them only on one part! I remember once hearing a (very junior, very naive) employee complaining that she had to train her new boss, the membership director, on how to use the membership database and run queries in it, and shouldn’t someone hired at that level already know how to do that. Well, no, because it was a tiny sliver of her job, and the rest of her job was highly skilled strategy work, which she was great at — but which the junior employee wasn’t well positioned/experienced enough to see.

    3. Purr purr purr*

      I definitely think OP needs to chat with her manager to figure out why she isn’t being progressed into the new role but is expected to train the people who were offered that role. It would help her figure out if there’s an area she needs to improve on or if there’s some other reason why she’s being held back.

      That being said, I don’t think being there for a year and being held back is automatically a good thing for an employer, simply because we don’t know OP’s situation. Promoting one person after a year doesn’t automatically mean everyone has to be. Maybe she has previous work experience that makes her perfectly capable of doing the role? I know for me that I’m being held back and I’m angsty about being promoted to better things but that’s mostly because I have eight years experience in my field and now I’m effectively performing an entry-level job for my current company that don’t seem to want to utilise me properly. I feel like they lied to me in my interview and that the duties they described are for the next position above mine, one which I’m more than capable of performing and I know with certainty that I could perform better than those in it. I’ve spoken to management about it, nothing’s changing (partly due to commodity prices) and so I’m applying for other jobs to get what I want. So while worrying about having to train a junior person to replace OP is a valid concern, staff turnover due to dissatisfaction should also be of concern given the time and cost of training replacements. Just my 2c on that.

  10. AdAgencyChick*

    #4, yep, if you don’t say anything, you won’t get anything. This could either be the result of a conscious decision by the company to oil only squeaky wheels to save money, or it could be totally non-malicious but incompetent: they really do want to give everyone a three-month trial period in new positions before assigning a dollar value to the new responsibilities, but then managers forget that it’s time to have the raise conversation because, let’s face it, although the raise is very big in the employee’s mind, it’s not even close to the top of the things the manager is thinking about!

    Either way, the solution is to bite the bullet and have that conversation with your manager.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      I think you’re giving them way too much credit. She says it’s been a year and a half and two promotions! I’d be livid and let them know how insulted I am but really she should have been squeaking her wheel much louder after the first 3 and 6 month periods. They’re counting on her just keep her head down and do the work for cheap .

  11. OP 1 here*

    This is OP # 1. Thanks for the comments. You are right I shouldn’t be taking it personally. For some more detail, when she asked how I like it, there was a 5 second pause, and then I slowly said “well….” and then I stumbled around some more. I’m still debating being more specific. She did meet with the boss, but as far as I can tell she was discreet and the boss isn’t acting any differently. I’ll be so glad when I’m done with this job.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I would definitely take that answer as you are not happy there. But I would meet with the boss anyway–if I didn’t know you well, I couldn’t really guess the reason why you aren’t enthusiastic about it. If she is at all savvy about asking questions in interviews, she may figure it out herself from the boss’s answers.

      Hang in there–you’re almost out!

  12. AnotherFed*

    OP #3 – Count this as another vote for actually applying for the position. There’s something about the process of actually getting out your application materials, reviewing the posting to figure out what parts and duties are the emphasis to the people hiring for that position (which can often be very different from what people reporting to that position see), mapping your skills and experience to what the posting says is required in the position, and going through the mental exercise of preparing for likely interview questions about that role that really puts the position in perspective and drives home what you’d rock at versus what you need to work on. You might also discover that you don’t like a big part of that job, or that you’re perfect for it because of a previous role that hadn’t even come up in conversations, or that you need to do a detail with another piece of the company before you’d be competitive in that job.

  13. Traveler*

    “But also — one year is not a long time to be in one position. In most fields, it would be really premature to be getting this antsy.”

    I understand that normally this is very true. But what if you were hired under your abilities, and like OP have been doing the work of the position above you? Is it really that premature to be getting antsy to want to do the job you’re doing/capable of? If you are hired below your abilities, do you just have to tough it out for a few years?

    1. MK*

      I don’t think anyone is saying promotion after only a year (or less) don’t happen, just that it’s usually too early for frustration.

      I will say this, though, I am always sceptical when someone claims they do the job of the position above them, especially if they are still doing their own work. Most of the time what they do is cover a few of the duties of the higher position.

      1. Fleur*

        I think that depends on the job. I suffered from undiagnosed depression for the several years and in order to get back on my feet, I took an underpaying job I was overqualified for. It’s a technical job, and I’m doing the same kind of work as people 1-2 levels above me in the promotion ladder and often helping them troubleshoot. It’s not a “I’m doing the position above me’s work in addition to my own,” it’s “I’m assigned higher level tasks *instead* of the tasks given to people at my level.”

    2. Graciosa*

      One thing to keep in mind is that companies are *not* normally looking for excuses to keep top talent out of the positions in which they will be most useful. When someone is not moving up, it is often for a good reason they just are not seeing.

      Steve G’s explanation above is a very good example. I will add my personal experience successfully taking over a department that was doing work my new subordinates had to teach me. The tasks I could and did learn (and then changed, part of the value I brought that the existing employees lacked) but they were a relatively minor part of my new job. My subordinates may not have realized just how little they mattered to succeeding in my role when those tasks were essential to theirs.

      Another possible blind spot involves employees who succeed in a task a few times and incorrectly assume that they have mastered it. Some people can’t seem to grasp that a walk in part in a high school play does not put them on par with Olivier. Ironically, those individuals are usually the ones who focus on time in role – “I’ve been here X months and should therefore be promoted” or “How long do I have to do this before I can move up?”

      As a manager, I am always looking for signs that an individual has reached the next level. To continue the acting theme, that profession has countless stories of successful actors who identified talented performers and proposed them for roles. People *want* to work with high performers.

      Traveler, your question about toughing it out assumes that the individual really is already doing the higher level job or performing at a higher level. That may actually be the case, but from my vantage point I know that the clear majority of more junior employees who believe this at any given time in my function are wrong. They just don’t yet have the perspective to realize it.

      Personally, I have to remind myself of this when I think about my own opportunities to advance. The result is that I seek out and pay attention to feedback, and have very direct conversations with my boss about what I need to work on to get to the next level.

      At times, the answer has been more time in role and more experience – and when I have “toughed it out” as you put it, I reach a point at which I can see the difference in what I know and what I can do. It does require a certain amount of faith that your manager (or mentor) is being honest with you about a path you can’t see, which is one reason why finding good bosses and mentors is so critical. However, I will add to the general consensus that a year seems like far too short a time to conclude that a promotion is overdue.

      1. Traveler*

        I’m thinking of two different experiences in specific. My own, and a friend of mine. I won’t speak to my friend’s since I don’t know the industry as well, but I’m confident I’m doing the job of the level above me, because I’ve done it before at a different company. As in I am a teapot maker I here, but I’ve been a teapot maker II before. So while I’m junior where I am, its not because I’m junior career wise, if that makes sense. A teapot maker II is pretty much standardized across the industry, so even accounting for fluctuations in the way different businesses are run I still feel pretty confident. But, I agree earlier in my career I often thought I was doing more than I really was capable of.

        It’s very frustrating to have to train teapot maker IIs, and correct their mistakes and explain concepts they don’t know when you’re treated like, and paid as a teapot maker I. So I can relate to a bit of what OP is going through.

      2. OP #3*

        I would like to clarify. Although I’ve only been at the company for a year, I have 18 years of experience. When the first advancement opportunity came along, it was because the senior person left the company to stay home with children. When she left, she recommend ed to management they give her position to me. I performed her duties and mine for 3 months until they brought in her replacement. At that time, I was told if I had 10 more years experience, I would’ve been considered. The replacement person lasted 3 weeks and walked out. I have still continued the duties of both positions for 9 months. I have been a senior before and work very well with those in the company and have accomplished projects above and beyond just normal tasks here. Now they are looking for a supervisor and I feel I have no future here.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In addition to the points others have made (which I agree with), I’d also add that you shouldn’t take a job that’s well below your abilities if you’re going to be frustrated and antsy that you’re still in it a year later. With professional positions, employers generally want to hire people who will be happy to stay in the role for a couple of years, so that they don’t have to continually hire and train someone new in that role. It’s absolutely true that it’s possible to move up faster than that, but I think it would be misguided to be antsy that it hasn’t happened after a year.

      1. Purr purr purr*

        Some employers lie. Mine did. In the interview when they described my duties, they described the duties that I now recognise are in the position above mine. I have eight years experience in my field and I’m effectively doing an entry level job with a bunch of new graduates. I’m bored, I’m frustrated and the fact that management promise changes that never come just frustrate me even more. There’s a reason why staff turnover is high and there really aren’t enough geophysicists in the world to be able to lose staff that frequently!

      2. OP #3*

        I would like to clarify. Although I’ve only been at the company for a year, I have 18 years of experience. When the first advancement opportunity came along, it was because the senior person left the company to stay home with children. When she left, she recommend ed to management they give her position to me. I performed her duties and mine for 3 months until they brought in her replacement. At that time, I was told if I had 10 more years experience, I would’ve been considered. The replacement person lasted 3 weeks and walked out. I have still continued the duties of both positions for 9 months. I have been a senior before and work very well with those in the company and have accomplished projects above and beyond just normal tasks here. Now they are looking for a supervisor and I feel I have no future here.

    4. Purr purr purr*

      This is me! I have eight years experience in my field and applied for a job that sounded great in interview…. only the duties they described aren’t part of my role but rather that of the position above mine. I’m effectively doing an entry level job, I’m bored, I’m doing 8 projects but my peers are doing just two, I get brilliant reviews and yet nothing is happening to help me progress. I’ve been at my current company for a year and two months and I’m applying for other jobs because they’re not recognising nor utilising my skills. I can understand OP’s frustration if she’s in similar circumstances! A year may not be long enough to other people but when you’re in a job that’s below what you should be doing, a year becomes a soul-destroying thing.

      1. OP #3*

        Thank you purr purr purr….I am looking at other companies because I don’t feel I have a future at this one. Good luck with your situation!

  14. Isabelle*

    I was in OP#1’s situation a few years ago.

    A friend of a friend contacted me about my employer and I told them the good and bad points. The bad points were sufficiently detailed to make sure they would run like the wind. They ended up taking the job despite my warnings!

    This story doesn’t have a happy ending, the person was a bad match for the job and were eventually let go after an departmental reorganization.

    I felt some guilt for a while and wondered if I had done enough to prevent them from taking the job. However it’s as Alison wrote, they saw the job opportunity through rose-tinted glasses :/

    OP#1, I suggest that you tell her bluntly what you think, but as others have pointed out take some precautions to make sure this doesn’t get back to your employer.

    1. OP 1 here*

      Thanks for the advice Isabelle. I think your last sentence is a great summary of the advice here. I’ll report back.

  15. Raging Dragon*

    Re OP4 #4, I would be super pissed off in your shoes. I suspect you have a very non confrontational personality and books like “Boundaries” and “No more Mr. Nice Guy” or some counseling/therapy will help you out.

    Two promotions in a year and a half and no pay raise? I’ve heard of someone in your shoes just going back and doing their old job and refusing to do their new responsibilities since they weren’t being paid for their new responsibilities.

    Your other option is to leverage this into a much higher salary at a new job somewhere else. It will probably be easier than being compensated properly at your current employer.

  16. Nervous Accountant*

    Jesus it seems very harsh to think of someone as “stupid” for not getting nonverbal cues!!!!

  17. Buu*

    Op2 contact the company where you worked and ask HR for their policy on referrals they may be willing to write a factual one ( confirmed you worked there and your boss at the time left.) It’s normal for staff to move on and you not keep in contact so they need not know you and ex had a relationship. Most potential employers won’t ask further than the official reference.

    1. Anonsb*

      OP2 here: Thank you for your reply, that’s a very good idea. I think, if/when I get to that stage of the recruitment process, that’s what I’ll do; & then use Allison’s suggested dialogue if I’m asked about a reference from former manager.

  18. Nobody*

    #3 – I have a friend/coworker in a similar situation (except he’s worked there for over 5 years) — he applied for a promotion and didn’t get it, and now he’s being asked to train the person who was hired. He refused to do it, and he thinks that if he withholds the information from the new hire, the manager will get desperate and have to beg him for it.

    I totally understand why the situation feels like a slap in the face, but refusing to do the training isn’t the answer. Your manager is not going to say, “Now that you’re refusing to train the new employee, I’ve realized that you’re actually more qualified for this promotion and I’m going to give it to you.” Instead, you’re going to look like a bitter jerk with a bad attitude at best, and maybe even insubordinate and subject to disciplinary action. If, however, you suck it up and put forth your best effort to train the new employee, you can use that to impress your boss or other hiring managers (“I’m considered to be the company expert on XYZ, and I’m the go-to person for training on it”). You can also impress your new coworker, who might some day be in a position to promote you, or at least give you a glowing recommendation. It’s one of those situations where you kind of have to let go of the injustice and make the best of it.

    1. OP #3*

      I agree refusing to train will not end well….Thank you for the advice! I don’t want to be bitter and resentful so I will try to have a positive attitude.

  19. no name here*

    To OP#1= tell your acquaintance! My prior job place turned out not to be a great place, and many people internally were trying to get out, as you mentioned in your situation. Apparently, when I interviewed, my interviewer ‘warned’ me by saying the boss acts “impulsively” and “unpredictably”.
    Ha!… understatement of the century. I would have immensely appreciated a more honest ‘tip’. Ended up having to leave short after, but as AAM says, the “rosy colored glasses” of my job hunting self thought “oh, I can handle some hectic-ness.”

  20. ye old post*

    I know this is super late LOL, but… OP 1 – please, tell you friend. I am currently at a job I hate. I took it because I was desperate after months of non-replies. I had a friend who told me the office had a bad reputation for overwork, AND another friend who said he quit after a month because of the same overwork. But I scoffed at them all. Turns out, when two people say something… it might just be true.
    And as for other’s concerns, I guess it would depend on how good you know the acquaintance. You could even tell her “Off the record” or “you didn’t hear it from me”. Personally I would never throw a friend under the bus like that. During the interview it was even mentioned, so I just “Oh, an ex-employee of your office told me.”

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