telling my employer to replace me with someone more qualified, asking for a contract, and more

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

1. How to tell my employer to replace me with someone more qualified

I work at a government office that consists of one full-time chief administrative officer and one casual assistant. Due to unexpected staffing changes, I went from being a one-day-a-week admin assistant to the full-time manager within one year. The only reasons I was hired were (1) I’m local, and (2) due to my lack of education/experience, I’m cheap compared to the usual professional who works in the position.

While I’m very good at administration, I have found my Achilles heel with politics and government red tape. Plus, I only have a high school education so I’m way below my peers (who typically have BA or MA).

I’ve tried telling council members that I’m having struggles with the position but they seem to think it’s just a matter of training. It’s not. I took one correspondence course in Poli-Sci and, after crying with frustration the entire time, I passed with 50%. I’m a perfectionist so my low job performance is killing me. How do I recommend that I be replace with someone who knows what they’re doing?

If you’re sure that you want to leave, first another job and then resign. When you resign, recommend that they replace you with someone with whatever specific skills or experience you think they should be looking for. That’s the appropriate time to raise it — when you’re ready to leave. If you say it beforehand, you risk them continuing to brush it off, as they’ve been doing, or pushing you out before you’ve found another position. So take care of your end of it first, and then give them that advice at the point where you want them actually looking for someone else.

2. Should I ask for a contract before accepting a job offer?

I have been verbally offered a position with a company, and I am wondering if it is justifiable to ask for a contract in order to make an informed decision. In my mind, this does not seem unreasonable, but I can understand how an alarm bell may sound to a prospective employer. This situation is not helped by the fact a second party is handling the discussions, not the employer, and I feel they are pressuring me to say I will accept the job, regardless of whether or not I see an actual contract outlining the terms of my employment or even a written offer with basic terms.

I know the job role, I have met the staff, and I like the company, but I just don’t know the terms and conditions that will no doubt bind me should I accept, but am I just being too cautious and should I say yes regardless of my concerns? Or is this just a recruitment agency pushing for their payday and I should keep pushing for that contract to make an informed decision?

If you’re in the U.S., contracts aren’t standard, and you’re unlikely to be offered one even if you ask for it. However, written offers are certainly reasonable, and you should ask for one. I’d say this, “I’m very interested in the offer but before I can accept would like to see the terms in writing, as well as information on benefits. Could you send me a written offer or even an email summarizing the details?”

3. How to list periodic employment with one employer on a resume

I interned with a scholarly journal in the summer of 2012. This past summer, 2015, I got a temporary paid position with them. When I asked my school’s career office for advice about how to list it on my resume, they suggested I go with how long my professional relationship with the journal has been, and list the dates I’ve been employed there as 2012-2015. What do you think?

I think they’re suggesting something that will be misleading at best. “2012-2015” sounds like you worked there in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015; at least, that’s the standard way of interpreting dates on a resume. There’s a big difference between a job that you held for four years and one that you held for two summers.

Instead, it should be “summers of 2012 and 2015.”

Your school’s career office needs to up their game. If you did it the way they told you and an employer asked you about it, you could have ended up looking deliberately deceptive.

4. What does this second rejection mean?

I did a job interview at a very successful startup last week, and heard back yesterday that they filled the position with another candidate. So I replied to the email and said that it was a great opportunity to appear for the interview and I’ll look forward to any future opportunities.

Now this morning, I receive a reply from the same employer and he said, “I apologize I misspoke when I told you that the position was filled. At this point we are looking for a candidate with more XYZ skill, but we’ll keep your resume on file.”

Now I am puzzled about why would the employer need to write me this e-mail. 100% of the times, the employer doesn’t contact you back after sending the rejection email. I would love to know your views on this. Do you think I can still end up getting this position?

No. They clearly said that they’re rejecting you for the position and your skill set isn’t what they’re looking for.

Take it at face value: They originally told you that they’d filled the position, and then corrected it to say that they were continuing to interview for it but that you weren’t the right fit and were no longer under consideration. I’d guess that the first email was either just a mistake (could be as simple as copying and pasting the wrong form letter) or they’d made a hire but the person fell through. And I’d guess that they wrote to correct the first email because they didn’t want you to wonder or reach back out if you saw the job continuing to be advertised.

5. What does this email declining to give me feedback mean?

What does it mean when an employer declines to disclose his or her reasons for not shortlisting me when I asked for feedback after being rejected? I submitted an application and was told I wasn’t being considered. Then I sent an email asking for the reasons, especially if they were technical reasons (I am a programmer). The employer sent the following: “I’m sure you understand that there is not enough time to give feedback to every applicant, and since we have not talked personally I don’t feel I’m in the position to give adequate feedback at this point. However, thank you again for your interest and we wish you all the best for your future career.”

What does that ever mean?!

It means exactly what it says: They don’t routinely give feedback to rejected applicants, and it would be especially hard to do so in this case because they didn’t interview you.

{ 106 comments… read them below }

  1. Aussie Teacher*

    #5. I don’t know how you worded your email asking for the reasons your application was rejected, but Alison has offered some great scripts in the past for wording these in a humble, appealing way that makes it clear you aren’t challenging their decision and would be very grateful for any feedback. If they get even a hint that you might be angry at being rejected or gearing up to challenge their decision, I think they’d run a mile before giving you feedback. (Not saying that’s how you came across, of course, just suggesting it as a possibility!)

    Earlier this year, I managed to get an answer from HR after being rejected without an interview using this wording:
    Dear HR lady,
    Thank you for your email – I appreciate you taking the time to let me know the result of my application. While I’m sorry to see this opportunity go, I will definitely keep an eye out for future positions, as I’ve heard from other SCHOOL staff about what a great place it is to work! Please don’t feel obligated to answer this question, but if there was anything you noticed in my application materials that I could work on to make myself a stronger candidate in the future, I’d be so grateful to hear any feedback.
    Kindest regards,
    Aussie Teacher

    1. OP#5*


      This is the email I used
      Dear Laura;

      Thanks for your email.
      I would appreciate it if you could fill me in on the reasons, to better and enhance my profile for future applications.

      Best Regards;

      I generally use this email to ask for feedback once I receive a rejection email, some cooperate, others just don’t reply. But this is the first time I get such a reply, and what I don’t get it, is why they’re being very much secretive about it?

      1. hbc*

        It’s almost certain that they’re not being secretive, but that they don’t have time to dig it out. Maybe there was some algorithm that calculated the top twenty people and spat out the rest as rejects. Maybe on the first pass they don’t take detailed notes, so giving you a reason would involve rereading your resume and some comparable who got through. Maybe they split them up and any one person giving a thumbs down is a reject, and they’d have to go find that person and make them try to remember your one resume. They don’t always have “Oh, yes, this is the applicant who needed two more years of experience and we’re a bit heavy on peewee soccer coaches as it is” on easy recall.

        And if they are being secretive, there are plenty of reasons for that too. You might argue that they’re wrong in their interpretation. You might point out that you left that qualification off of your resume and they either have to do extra work or admit that their process is more important than letting you have a “fair” chance. You might decide they’re wrong and that they’re coming up with a reason to cover discrimination of some sort.

        It’s pretty much a losing proposition for them to tell you anything.

      2. AnotherFed*

        This seems just fine as an email, but unless you were entry-level and had done something really bizarre like the multi-color glitter resume, they probably don’t have any feedback to give you – you just didn’t make their phone screen list because you weren’t what they needed.

      3. fposte*

        As a manager who does sometimes provide feedback to rejected applicants, I probably wouldn’t respond to that. “Reasons” is a bit of a red flag. I’m not going to go over my process for your scrutiny, and it sounds like there’s a decent chance you’d want to argue the decision.

        What I do sometimes respond to are emails that ask about what they could do to strengthen their candidacy–in other words, it’s about you, not about my process. But it’s rare that I respond to those from people I haven’t had an interview with, mostly because of the time factor and also because a good feedback request email generally comes from somebody who had a fairly decent application and just got outclassed, which is tough to quantify.

        1. Green*

          Agree on the wording here; it’s a little brusque/presumptive/adversarial and would probably mildly rub me the wrong way. Also, not a fan of asking for feedback when all you sent is a resume. I don’t usually ask for feedback at all, but I think it would be more appropriate (and less “high maintenance”) to ask for feedback after an interview or something where you’ve both mutually invested a bit more.

      4. stellanor*

        If someone whose resume I’d screened and who got rejected asked me for feedback I’d probably send the same email as you got, and this is why:

        I no longer remember your resume. At some point I was going through a lot of resumes and yours got tossed in the “no” pile. In order to give you feedback I would have to fish your resume back out (I’ve probably either deleted the “no” pile or shoved it unorganized into a folder at this point) and look at it and recall why you went into the “no” pile. It would take me like 30 minutes to fish your resume out, read it over, and compose a polite, coherent email about why you weren’t what we wanted. Considering I probably spent 3 minutes looking at your resume the first time, that’s a lot.

        1. snuck*

          Yup. Similar here. If you don’t make the first cut through I’m not going to give you feedback generally – unless you are from within my own direct work area (and then it will be a courtesy because of our working relationship, and I’ll go back and specifically look at your resume and make some notes when you ask for feedback, it’s going to cost me time to do it, but it’s worth it for the relationship we have).

          First cut feedback from me is unlikely to be anything more useful than “We had many applications and decided to proceed with a short list of people we felt we wanted to interview. At this point we don’t intend to review your application any further, thankyou for your time and effort in applying and good luck in your job search.” Reality is that I’m not going to get into a discussion with someone about their qualifications (over, under, too new, too old, too whatever, not enough… I’ve got six? other people who did meet what I wanted)…. or their experience, or their lack of attention to detail, or their salesmanship that grated on me and meant I knew they wouldn’t fit my team, or their reputation after working with peers on things I am associated with.

      5. TootsNYC*

        If I didn’t even interview you, I’m not spending time to give you feedback.

        For anyone who didn’t make the first cut, they’re actually pretty far off the mark, and they should be able to figure out what’s missing. You don’t have enough years; your experience doesn’t correlate precisely enough. Something–and if you can’t figure it out, I’m not going to tell you.

        I only spend feedback energy on people I actually care about. Because it’s a lot of energy for no gain for me.

        They aren’t being secretive. They just don’t want to bother.

        If you didn’t get an interview, you -might- get feedback if your question was specific: “Would my relatively light experience in ZYX be a serious drawback in a job like your opening?”

      6. TootsNYC*

        Oh, and “fill me in on the reasons” is bad wording–I immediately thought, “you want me to JUSTIFY my decision to you?!?”

        So, “anything I can work on to be a stronger candidate” is far better.

    2. OP#5*

      By the way, thanks for sharing the email you used, I will use it in future followups instead of that!

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I think it’s odd to ask for feedback when you didn’t interview. They don’t really have anything to go on and there wasn’t a big time investment on either side.

        1. OP#5*

          I don’t think so, I think I am entitled to some sort of an explanation as an applicant, especially I am trying to improve my resume for future applications.

          1. Rana*

            You’re not, though. They’re not your teachers; they’re trying to find the best person to do a particular job. Helping you with your resume is an enormous favor, because it is of no value to them to do so.

            If you continue to assume that they owe you feedback, you’re going to strike the wrong note in your communications with them and other interviewers.

          2. BananaPants*

            You’re not really entitled to anything, though – they didn’t bring you in for an interview. Do you really think that HR reps and hiring managers have the time or inclination to explain in detail to unsuccessful candidates that they needed another year and a half of teapot handle design experience, or that they didn’t think highly of the university you attended, or whatever other reason they might have had for looking at your resume and deciding you weren’t a good fit to move forward.

            Don’t take this the wrong way, but they’re trying to find a good fit for a specific position in their organization and you’re not it. Improving your resume for future applications is sort of on you, not on a potential employer. I suggest Alison’s book on job hunting, or reviewing the many posts on resumes that are on this site.

          3. Apollo Warbucks*

            It’s nice to get feedback, but you’re asking the company for a favour it is not something they are obligated to do.

            If you want to improve your cover letter and cv then there’s great advice on this site you can use.

          4. Lily in NYC*

            No you aren’t! We get 1500 resumes for some of our positions and I don’t have time to give tons of people feedback if they aren’t even chosen for an interview. Luckily, it’s almost unheard of that people ask for feedback when they aren’t selected as a potential candidate (which is a big hint that it’s not a good idea).

          5. Oryx*

            Except you’re not, especially at the applicant level. Even after they’ve interviewed you they don’t owe you an explanation. I can understand *wanting* one, but that’s not the same as being entitled to one. They probably got hundreds of applications, imagine if they took the time to offer that service to every single one. More to the point, there are plenty of other people who have the job of helping you improve your resume, but the companies you apply to isn’t one of them.

          6. Green*

            I just finished a comment above that said the wording seemed a bit adversarial, and I think this attitude was showing through in your email and would make me even more disinclined to answer it. You’re not “entitled” to anything in a job application. Most people are lucky to get a firm “no.”

            I also agree that it’s weird to ask for feedback when you didn’t interview for the position.

          7. Koko*

            This is just not realistic. Most of the jobs getting posted are getting hundreds or more resumes for every job opening. It would be someone’s full-time job to give feedback to everyone who didn’t make it to the interview stage. So essentially the company would be keep a person on staff to do nothing but be helpful to people that the company isn’t interested in working with. That doesn’t make business sense, or really even just common sense.

          8. neverjaunty*

            OP #5, you are making a very serious logical error here. “I want X” does not mean that, therefore, you are entitled to have somebody provide X to you. Even if it would be very, very helpful for you to receive X. Even if you feel it’s unfair that you are not receiving X.

            By accepting applications, a potential employer is not offering to be a resume-fixing service or to assist you in finding employment elsewhere. And it does not owe each applicant a detailed, honest explanation as to why their application was rejected.

            “But I want it!” and “but it would help me!” are not logical counterarguments, and they do not oblige anyone to give you something they didn’t agree to give you.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              Building on this, it’s fine for you to want X, but in this case you have to think about who X should come from. Feedback on application materials you can get from career centers, resume experts, appropriate friends/colleagues… Some professional organizations offer resume review services. That kind of feedback is more likely to be helpful in a more general way anyway, because it’s not tied to what one company is looking for for one particular job. A company you’ve applied to isn’t a resume service. If you’re looking for X, ask the people whose job it is to provide X.

          9. TootsNYC*

            No, you’re not entitled to an explanation at all.
            And it’s not their job to help you improve your resume.

          10. OP#5*

            Please do pardon my English, which failed me with the choice of the word “entitled”.
            The HR lady could just have responded professionally (at least in my opinion) by clarifying giving reasons or feedback on each application isn’t company policy, instead of a dull response such as “since we haven’t spoken personally”.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think her response was professional and polite — and truthful. “Since we haven’t spoken personally” is a good reason not to give feedback.

              1. OP#5*

                Well then it seems it is my English is to blame again! What seems to be truthful and polite for native speakers, may not be understood as such by other foreign English speakers.

                1. Sprocket*

                  Please understand that it’s not an insult or affront. It’s just not common practice to give feedback on a non-interviewed (or even interviewed) person in the US.

                  I also don’t know if you were applying in the US or another majority English-speaking country or not, but if you were, it may be worth having someone with a high level of familiarity with the language review your materials. Again I don’t mean to insult/offense to you; one of my best friends and a former colleague who’s lived in the US since her 20s (an immigrant who learned English only after living and working here) was passed over for a promotion when we worked together, because her manager thought her communication skills were a bit lacking. I thought her manager was short sighted, but my friend has since greatly benefited from review of her applicant materials. So that’s why I recommend it as an option.

                2. workingclass*

                  I feel the other managers in this forum have given you several good answers regarding your question. The fact the company responded to your question at all was them being polite in itself. The time for you to ask those questions would be at a face to face interview where they declined your application. More times than not, an employer would not have responded to your email at all. You commented that your english skills are poor, this may show up in your resume/application, and could be the reason they did not look at you any further.
                  If I were you, I would look for help in reviewing your resume from someone who speaks english as their first language, before sending it in for any more jobs, and possibly consider some English classes.
                  Again, them responding to your questions about why they didn’t hire you was them being more polite than they have to be.
                  Good luck to you

            2. So Very Anonymous*

              You are kind of answering your own question here. This kind of pushback is why hiring managers often won’t give feedback (as others have mentioned above), and in your case, there was no interview and likely no interaction beyond someone screening your resume. They’re not obligated to give you the answer you want framed in the language you want.

              Let this go and focus on other applications.

              1. TootsNYC*

                Yeah, I think that your responses here are exactly the sort of exchange the HR person does not want to get sucked into, and so she’s just not going to bother giving you feedback.

                And I think your wording of your email may have been an effective clue.

            3. neverjaunty*

              OP #5, the problem here is not your English (which seems quite good, honestly). The problem is your expectations. Submitting your application for a job does not entitle you to feedback, or an explanation of company policy about feedback.

              You applied for a job; they said you were not being considered. That is all the professional interaction you should expect, and you are not owed anything beyond that.

              You are, actually, getting important feedback on your job search, although perhaps it’s not what you expected.

          11. OP#5*

            ” and since we have not talked personally I don’t feel I’m in the position to give adequate feedback at this point.”

            I fail to understand what did she wanted to say by “have not talked personally”, it is just a professional email. And of course she has an adequate response, I wasn’t shortlisted.

            1. Sprocket*

              She was saying that since there’s been no interaction beyond your application there’s really not a lot of specific feedback to provide. It was probably only a couple of minutes, or (much more likely) less time spent to pass on you as an interview candidate. That’s why they are not able to provide detailed feedback. Don’t take it personally. Just find people you trust to review your application materials and resume; they can probably give useful feedback. Best of luck with your future applications.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              She means it’s because she didn’t interview you in person. Most companies will not give feedback to someone they did not interview. It’s too much work–they get too many applications to do it for everybody.

            3. Amy UK*

              You weren’t shortlisted because they scanned your resume and didn’t want to interview you based on it. That’s the end of it, really. There might even be nothing wrong with your application, it’s just that many other people were better than you.

            4. kjay*

              As someone who has been involved on the hiring side of a lot interviews, I will tell you honestly nothing good ever happens from giving rejected applicants feedback. Hardly anyone ever asks for it, which is a relief, but when they do, it usually turns into a second chance for them to pitch for the job. My blanket response is a generic “Due to the high number of applicants, we are unable to give specific feedback. Thank you and good luck in your job search.” The reason why, is because when I was young and inexperienced, a woman I interviewed and ultimately rejected, actually called me only minutes after I sent the rejection email. Felt very trapped on the phone, and gave her some vague feedback. She got VERY defensive. I told her that we had a high standard of dress (she was wearing jeans and a tee-shirt to a professional job interview), and she told me it wasn’t her fault because she had just come from gardening and how was she to “know what the dress code was?”. Yeah. It only went downhill from there. She ended up hanging up on me, and them sending me a variety of “I’m sorry, give me another chance” emails. Unless you had lengthy interaction with the interviewer or previous contact, I’d just move on.

              1. SquirrelInMT*

                I agree–most of the time, job applicants who send feedback requests worded like OP#5’s are looking for an opening to argue their way back into the running, and it’s simply not going to happen. As a recruiter who regularly deals with feedback requests from rejected candidates, it’s almost impossible to give someone a detailed explanation of why they aren’t good enough to make the cut for a given position without offending them in most cases. For example, I once had a candidate where I made the mistake of saying, “Thank you for your interest, but we are looking for someone who has chainsaw experience, sorry!” I got a long e-mail rant, the equivalent of online shrieking, all about how the candidate had a decade’s worth of relevant background and how dare I not consider it. Um, because you only gave me a cover letter–no resume–and didn’t include that with the other work history you mentioned? And it’s clearly listed on the advertised job description? But at that point, the door is closed. I’m not going to reconsider an applicant who didn’t bother to submit a complete, targeted application.
                Hearing “no” from a recruiter *is* feedback on your approach and materials. It just isn’t the feedback you wanted to hear.

            5. SquirrelInMT*

              She’s saying that she does not wish to give feedback because she has not met you and interviewed you in person. Since all she knows about you is your resume and any e-mails you sent, she doesn’t have enough information available to answer a lot of questions about your application and why you weren’t shortlisted.

              In most cases, if you aren’t shortlisted for an interview, it means one of two things:
              1. Your application is missing something important, like a required qualification or an item they asked for (work sample, school transcripts) that you didn’t include.
              2. Other people beat you. They didn’t just meet the minimum standards in the ad; they turned in applications that made them seem exceptional. More qualifications and skills that the employer never even asked for but now knows he/she wants and is going to try to get. Awesome references, stunning portfolios, advanced degrees, higher experience levels, all sorts of things. That doesn’t make your submission “bad,” it just means you aren’t as strong a candidate as these other people they think they can get now.

            6. Sarah*

              In case the wording is what’s tripping you up, “personally” here does not mean “in a familiar, non-professional way.” It means “in person, face-to-face.” The HR manager is just saying that she can’t give you feedback because you haven’t had an interview, not that she can’t give you feedback because you aren’t friends outside of a professional environment.

          12. Pennalynn Lott*

            This sounds a lot like the guys I’ve known who feel entitled to some sort of explanation as to why I don’t want to go out with them. You don’t deserve an explanation. You only deserve the “yes/no” answer.

  2. Sonya Mann*

    In my communicational experience — admittedly limited, since I’m pretty young — people usually just mean what they say, or a close approximation thereof.

  3. Graciosa*

    OP #2, I think you’re overestimating the importance of “terms and conditions” that would “bind” you if you accepted an offer. They’re not really all that binding (at least in the U.S.), and either party can walk away or demand a change in the future terms at any time.

    If this isn’t a C-suite job at a major employer, don’t expect to negotiate an actual contract.

    If this is a C-suite job at a major employer, don’t expect to negotiate an actual contract. This kind of specialized negotiation is better left to the employment lawyer you retained for this purpose (possibly in consultation with your accountant, tax advisor, and financial planner).

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Precisely. Although they can change, for now at least this is what the OP will be signing up to, so they need to know.

        1. MK*

          People use this argument all the time when they refer to at-will employment, but really it makes no sense. A worker is bound to follow the terms their employer sets for all intents and purposes; they can’t just decide not to follow them or they will be disciplined/fired. They can resign, of course, but so can people in places where there employment isn’t at will; there maybe more repercussions then, but I think they are exaggerated in most people’s minds.

          1. fposte*

            But not for *all* intents and purposes–that’s kind of the point. In most employment arrangements, they can’t sue me for my back salary if it turns out I never picked up the mail, and I can walk out with two weeks’ notice and suffer no legal repercussions. If I’m legally contracted to pick up the mail and don’t fulfill the contract, that could give them the right to financial compensation for my non-performance and whatever damages are in the contract for a breach. So it’s a right well beyond firing and quitting.

            I mean, I get what you’re saying that significant consequences exist outside of a contractual relationship, but that doesn’t mean a contractual relationship would make no difference.

            1. Apollo Warbucks*

              Employment contracts in the UK aren’t so detailed they include a list of tasks or job requirments and they don’t normally allow an employer to claim damages for breach of contract.

              My employment contract covers:

              Job title
              Location and hours of work
              Overtime payment and eligibility
              Notice period and severance eligibility
              Holiday and sick pay entitlement
              Confidentiality and security requirements
              Details of the firms disciplinary policy (that doesn’t form part of my conditions of employment)

              A statement I must comply with a reasonable dress code and carry out other duties within my capability and that minor modifications to my terms of employment could be made form time to time with appropriate notice.

              To use your example if I decided not to collect the post then that would be nothing more than an internal disciplinary matter or I could quite my job on Monday with no notice even if my contract required one months notice and other than torching my reputation and getting a poor reference there’s nothing my company could realistically do, unless the damage and costs to the business of me leaving were significant any disruption would be a cost of doing business.


              Employers wouldn’t be likely to sue an employee successfully unless the negligence or incompetence was bad enough to be criminal. I’ve heard of people facing criminal charges for falsifying qualifications.

              1. fposte*

                Since there’s no such thing as a standard employment contract in the U.S., contracts here could cover any number of things. Nondisclosure agreements would be the most common ones that would apply while you were still an employee, but I’m also contracted for a specific term and could definitely be sued if I left early without permission. That’s without even getting into the world of entertainment contracts, where people can get sued for walking out on a movie.

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  I find the differences in employment law and culture fascinating, now I’m curious what damages would you be liable for and how would they be assessed?

                2. MK*

                  I think that’s the problem; we talk of different things when we speak of contracts. Because contracts are not the norm in the U.S, when they do happen it’s because the employer wants to tie you down to very specific terms amd make sure you won’t break it. In places where they are the rule, they consist of a broad agreement mostly about the issues Appolo Warbucks mentioned above. Also, they are more often than not indefinite-time contracts, as they are meant to regulate an on-going relationship.

              2. doreen*

                I’m wondering about another possible difference – are the contracts you’re talking about in the UK negotiated or are they more of a one-sided statement of policies by the employer? A statement of policies imposed by the employer wouldn’t generally be considered a contract in the US. My union contracts have always covered the sort of issues you describe but when the contract expires, everything is theoretically up for negotiation again. And if my union contract says that regularly scheduled work hours are 8-4 Monday to Friday, those are the regular hours and my employer can’t decide to have some people work M-F and others Sat- Thurs.

                1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

                  I think it can be both. Usually, it’s just a set of terms from the employer which the employee accepts to form a binding contract – and mostly those are pretty standard across industries. But unions can and (less often nowadays it seems) do negotiate over terms for union employees at the same time.

                2. MK*

                  I think you are wrong that “a statement of policies imposed by the employer wouldn’t generally be considered a contract”, even in the U.S., so long as the employer is binding themselves to abide by this policies. What defines a contract is not whether the terms are negotiated or not, but whether the parties accept an obligaton to comply with those terms.

                3. Zooey*

                  Ran out of threading, but just wanted to note that in the UK, unions do not normally negotiate for terms solely for union employees. They negotiate with the employer on behalf of their members, but whatever terms they get affect all employees. So if I go out on strike as part of a negotiation, any benefits that ensure (for example, an agreed pay increase) benefit all my colleagues, whether or not they are in the union.

              3. TootsNYC*

                That a nice, handy list of what the OP should ask for, in terms of an employee handbook, or links to a company website with the info on it!

                Those -are- the sorts of things you should investigate and understand before you officially accept the job.

                So handy! Thanks!

                But just ask for them in an email or handbook.

            2. MK*

              Your comment shows a profound lack of understanding of how non-at-will employment works, at least in my country (I cannot speak for the rest of the EU with any authority). Your contract specifies that you will work for X hours in Z capacity for Y compensation. It does not provide details on what you must do every day and the employer cannot sue you for back salary if they discover you haven’t done a specific part of your duties; as long as you show up for work, it’s on them to supervise that you actually do what they hired you for. If they are somehow remiss in this and they later find that you haven’t done part of the work required, they can fire you “with cause”, in which case they don’t owe you notice or severance. In fact, practically speaking, that is the only real repercussion if you break any of the terms of your contract, you get fired without notice or severance. Also, unless you are an exceptionally well-paid executive/specialist, it’s pretty unheard of for damages to be specified in the contract. In fact, most contracts for low- and middle-level jobs are oral. The same goes for not doing your job well; the employer takes the risk that you might not be as competent as they thought, unless you actually promised to deliver a specific result in the contract. But in that case you would probably be classified as a contractor, anyway.

              And I think people (especially in the U.S.) tend to be unreallistic about the danger of an employer lawsuit. They do happen, but mostly in cases of the employee causing deliberate damage to the company (usually criminal activities), or alternatively in cases of high-level workers. Yes, they will sue the award-winning architect they hired for a specific project at a six-figure salary, if said architect quits in the middle of the project. No sane company will go through the hassle, expense and bad publicity of suing the fresh architectural school graduate they hired to assist the rest of their team, even if they quit at the most inconvenient time possible.

                1. MK*

                  Yeah, I missed their next comment. I think the difference in employment culture is such that we end up using the same words but mean different things.

      2. Colette*

        The main thing binding the employee would be the desire to have a job; the main thing binding the employer would be the desire to have someone doing the job. These may not be exactly equal, depending on how badly they each want/need the job/employee, but most employers don’t want to treat their employees badly.

        1. MLT*

          Thank you for this. In an at will relationship, both parties bring value and both are free to ask for a change to how things work. Employees where I work ask for changes all the time, and we accommodate wherever we can so as not to lose a valuable employee.

          I think it feels like an imbalance of power, because often the employee needs the job more than the employer needs that particular person. The employer might have an easier time finding a replacement than the employee has finding a new job.

          As an employee who wants to stay with a particular employer, your best bet is to make yourself as valuable as possible. We have employees who we would do anything to keep, and others who we would miss but survive just fine without.

          1. Colette*

            The other thing you can do is manage your finances to maximize savings and minimize debt. That way you are much less reliant on keeping a crappy job and have the ability to hold out for a good one.

            1. MK*

              I recently read someone (an actress I think) saying that her father advised her early on to build a “f- you” fund; manage your finances in such a way that you can walk away from work situations you find intolerable.

            2. esra*

              Part of the problem here is that a lot of crappy jobs don’t pay much. Certainly not enough to live (don’t get me started on minimum wage not being a living wage), so people get trapped living paycheque to paycheque, not being able to save anything or leave a bad situation.

      3. Sprocket*

        Literally lol. I saw so many Executive-level hires circle out of a hedge fund I worked at that I suspected they were under contract to say “it’s me not here”

    1. Green*

      If someone asked for a copy of the employee handbook and all of our SOPs and policies they would need to follow prior to accepting a job (which are all subject to change anyway) that would definitely be weird (and we’d be unlikely to give them to the applicant since they’re internal documents). This seems similar to the people who think that a job description really limits what an employer can ask them to do; all of the “terms and conditions” of a job will not be known.

      I think you should probably just get comfortable with the fact that there are lots of things that you will have to just accept as an employee. And at some point if the balance is off, you can leave.

      Generally what you should expect in a written offer are the following key terms:
      Job Title
      Existence of health insurance (probably excessive to review all of their policies unless there’s a special situation in your family)
      Existence of basic benefits (401k matching/Pension/Bonus/Stock Options or stock grants)

      1. hayling*

        Agree on everything except that it’s excessive to review health care plan. There can be huge variations in health insurance coverage, to the tune of thousands of dollars per year. I’d want to know what the company was offering before taking a position.

        1. Honeybee*

          Yeah, that’s my exception, too. I needed to know the specifics of the employee health care plan before I took a position. I also wanted to know a bit about the 401(K) and match because I’m getting a relatively later start into the full-time work world (I’m 29, and I was in graduate school until now) so I wanted to squirrel away a little extra.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I don’t think it’s enough to just know that a health plan exists!

        I worked with a woman who took a new job with our company for a pay hike and then discovered that the insurance was pegged to single people. Since she had to carry her husband, her share of the premiums took up MORE than her pay hike, and she was taking home less cash.

        It’s not bad form to ask for that sort of thing at all–it can be MAJOR money.
        And, your health–if it turns out the doc you’ve been seeing for your chronic condition isn’t on their network.

      3. Oryx*

        I disagree about the health care. When I was interviewing for current job, he gave me a break down of the health care costs and that helped me make an informed decision. I was taking a salary cut but because of the insurance is so much lower, my take home pay is more than my previous job.

      4. Honeybee*

        Our answer would be a flat no. I don’t even know if we have an employee handbook, but our best practices are confidential and you have to be onboarded and sign our nondisclosure agreement before you can see them.

  4. YogiJosephina*

    I can never quite stop myself from chuckling when someone writes in with a super clear, direct, plainly worded letter or email from someone and they follow it with “what the hell could this mean?!”

    It’s like…why would you think this meant ANYTHING ELSE but what was clearly written in the letter?

    Am I missing something? I don’t get it.

    1. Myrin*

      You can see this pretty regularly in advice columns that aren’t work-specific, as well. Like, someone will write in saying “My girlfriend said it’s over and she doesn’t want to see me ever again, what does that mean?!?!” and I just… The only reason I can think of for people doing this is that they want to hear what they want to hear and then when what they do hear doesn’t match up with what they want to hear, IRRITATION.

      1. Uyulala*

        I think you are right about the reason. On here and other advice columns you will also see 99 people that say “it means they don’t want to date you” or “you didn’t get the job”. But, if 1 person says “you might get what you want” then that is the OP will latch onto that reply and ignore the others.

      2. Oryx*

        Yes. Sometimes people ask for advice but what they really want is validation. Or they want to be told what they want to hear.

        When I used to work at the prison library I would get this ALL THE TIME. Inmate would come with a question, I’d answer, they didn’t like the answer and say I didn’t help them. My not giving you the answer you wanted does not equal my not answering your question.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          OMG, that’s the best thing on the internetz! This summation of an advice column, alone, is laugh-out-loud worthy: “Help! My Grandbaby Is Being Raised By Its Parents”. LOLOLOLOL!

    2. Natalie*

      IMO the subtext is usually something along the lines of “I don’t like the answer I got. Can you help me misinterpret it so I can push for the answer I want/feel better about this/be justified in feeling wronged later?”

    3. Honeybee*

      When people are searching for a job and desperately want to get one, they can often try to read too much into statements because of their emotional standpoint. Same with dating/relationships and doctor/patient communications. Sometimes we hear (read) what we want to hear (read).

  5. Anx*


    Oh dear, I just realized I’ve probably been deceptive accidentally! I have clarified that my volunteership is intermittent (I went home after a natural disaster and didn’t hurry back to work for free). But I never specified one of my jobs as summer, and another as school. I mean, I worked at a beach in the northeast, so I would think it would be obvious that it wasn’t year round, but maybe I need to put “summer” in there somewhere. Also, my college jobs were clearly on-campus, starting in August and ending in May, while I had summer jobs in another state. But I really shouldn’t trust that a resume reviewer can make that connection or trust that I trusted them to.

    Most jobs I apply to have those horrible applications where you have to enter the months and years you’ve worked (and the amount of hours, which forces you to lie on an application since it’s impossible to answer in that little box when your hours fluctuate), so I didn’t really think of my resume as something I had to be more clear on with that, but I need to be more deliberate.

    1. overeducated and underemployed*

      I’m not sure if it’s actually that big a deal. ALL of my jobs over the past 3 years have been short term or part time (e.g. teaching a single class, hired for 3-6 month contract each year, etc.). My resume looks crazy enough as it is with all that stuff on it, adding extra detail about which months would make it insane to read, even though of course I include that info in online systems when asked, and I write “seasonal” or list the single class for jobs in the title/description. I think to some extent readability is important, and if you have 5 jobs listed for 2015 most people will assume they were not all full time and permanent. Fortunately when I’ve been interviewing in my field, most employers have understood because this is common for people in and just out of school; I’ve only been asked about it once, I explained right away that I was able to have multiple jobs in the same year because they overlapped and I was excited to be looking for something full time and longer term, and I don’t *think* it’s come off as deceptive.

      However, for the OP I would put 2012, 2013 instead of 2012-2013 to show they were two periods of employment, not one.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        If the two years are consecutive, I think that’s still a bit confusing. I don’t think exact months are necessary, but “summers, 2012 & 2013” is clearer and doesn’t take up more room. Or it might be part of the title for some jobs: “Summer intern, 2009-2011”.

      2. L*

        OAU, it sounds like you’re a grad student. Switching back and forth from various types of shorter-term teaching and research roles is a nightmare. It’s substantive work experience, but trying to create a resume that is precise, readable, and on-point without creating employment gaps can be horrible. I’ve gone through countless versions of my resume trying to deal with this.

        1. overeducated and underemployed*

          On point! I finished grad school in May but am still on a term contract. I also struggle with versions of the resume for sure, and not including months makes it look so, so much neater.

    2. Overeducated and underemployed*

      Last reply I made got caught in moderation for some reason but I just wanted to say that sometimes it makes sense to choose readability over detail on a resume. I have had a lot of overlapping part time and term jobs, I don’t list months on my resume but I specify terms of employment in the title or description if appropriate, and it has not confused employers in my field (I have only had one HR person ever ask me about it). I don’t think you are being deceptive.

      For OP you could also put a comma: 2012, 2013.

  6. Techfool*

    Not sure that a qualification in politics would help you to deal with red tape. The job may not be for you, but don’t give it up because of lack of degree.

    1. Kira*

      Yah, I was wondering about that. As a poli sci major who works with local government employees sometimes, I don’t think there’s any connection between the social science I learned in school and the paperwork/red tape that I need to navigate in my job. OP, I trust you’re correct in assessing that you’re struggling, but I don’t think that learning political theory or comparative world political systems would strengthen your daily skill set.

  7. Daisy*

    Do you think you have a bit of imposter syndrome? You mentioning being below your peers in terms of degrees gave me pause. There are many jobs where on the job training is more valuable than a degree. You can learn to do this job without a higher ed degree if you want. And not doing well in a class doesn’t mean much in real life practicality.

    I understand not liking politics and if you truly hate the job or it is just too stressful struggling find another one but please don’t do it because you feel like you are below your peers.

    An office manager with a geography degree with no relation to my job

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I was wondering this as well. I’m an executive assistant in a quasi-governmental office and deal with similar politics and red tape. I have a degree but I would guess that about half of the assistant in my office don’t and it makes absolutely no difference in their quality of work or ability to do the job. The best assistant I have ever worked with has no degree and all of the big bosses in the office fight over her because they all want her to work for them.

      Please don’t underestimate yourself – are you actually making mistakes? What exactly do you have a difficult time with? The day to day work or dealing with the myriad of huge egos/bad management/turf wars in this type of environments?

    2. the gold digger*

      There are many jobs where on the job training is more valuable than a degree.


      English major who works in the R&D dept of a material handling software and equipment company

      1. F.*

        HR manager with a Math degree and a Paralegal certificate here. I worked my way up through the ranks from Admin. Solicit feedback from your bosses. Do they think you have what it takes? If you still believe this isn’t the right job for you, remember that a good fit is one that feels right for both the employer and employee. By the time I had finished my Paralegal certificate, I knew I did not want to work for and with lawyers. I work with engineers (whose minds work more like mine) and am much more comfortable.

        1. the gold digger*

          I loooooove working with engineers. No ambiguity! Meetings have purpose and we get to it.

          Yesterday, I was stuck in a work meeting that was scheduled to go from 3:30 to 4:00. At 4:45, we were still talking. I was getting really ticked off – it is highly unusual for anyone at work to schedule a meeting like that on Friday afternoon and it had never happened that a meeting had run so far over. Plus, the person who had called the meeting didn’t set it up on Lync and wasn’t sharing his screen. Instead, he was referring to “the first email I sent to you” and “the second email I sent to you” and “the email that external counsel sent to you,” which was a pain in the neck.

          I finally realized that the reason the meeting was rambling and not getting done was because it was being run by a lawyer. No offense to lawyers, but engineers are paid to get things done. Lawyers are paid by the hour. (Except this was our in-house counsel, so what was he thinking?)

          1. catsAreCool*

            I’m a programmer who works with other programmers, and there’s the same tendency to want to get things done and to mean what they say. I like that.

  8. Dorth Vader*

    #1- I know how you feel! I was hired as a site director for an extended day school program right out of college. On paper I was even qualified! Got to the first days of school… and I crashed and burned spectacularly. The off-site management didn’t listen to me when I asked for help, the on-site staff tended to be petty and immediately go up the chain if I said anything they disagreed with, and I made some pretty bad calls. If I hadn’t quit (with no notice and by email on a Saturday night, because I was nothing if not a paragon of professionalism), I probably would have been fired by Thanksgiving.
    So, tips:
    Definitely wait until you have another job lined up before you quit. And make sure you give notice and all that jazz.
    Take this as a learning experience. What do you know about yourself and your working style now that you didn’t know before? Use that in interviews.
    YMMV, and I don’t have a traditional job with a normal interview process currently, but be honest in interviews. “Mutual bad fit- they shouldn’t have hired me, I shouldn’t have accepted” was my go-to explanation for my situation.
    This got way longer than I expected, but OP 1- there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Do your best while you’re there, take steps to get out, and take it all as a learning experience. Best of luck to you!

  9. schnapps*

    OP1 – You don’t need to understand politics or take courses in polisci to work in an office like that. What you need is a basic understanding of the legislation around the job and a very basic understanding of local government. You don’t need understand everything about the governing legislation for your town but lean on other managers as well. CAO jobs are only about politics in the sense that you’re there to carry out the will of council within the bounds of the governing legislation for your town and any other (budgetary) constraints. Your job is about strategic thinking, communication, and consensus building.

    You don’t need polisci courses; you need local government management courses.

    Of course, if you don’t like your job, find another, like Alison says.

    (yes, I work in local government. My first boss in that job was the City Clerk. His training was as an accountant, but he also had the softer skills of communication and consensus building. At that level those kind of “soft” skills are often more important)

  10. Change the Narrative, change the Future*

    #1: I think what they are looking for is a solution to the Peter Principle. Too many organizations expect a person to move up until they are stuck and then quit to get out of the way, despite the churn it causes. I think it’s because the word “demotion” has become so emotionally charged that some people see it as worse than getting fired — for the individual it implies that their job with “advancement opportunities” has become “dead-end”. Those who signed off on the promotion see it as a CYA nightmare — even worse than the employee getting fired, as a demotion acknowledges that the fault was not merely the employee’s.

    If I had someone in a position like this, I would do my damnedest to keep them — a company isn’t a ladder, and talent is hard to come by. The problem is that this is very hard to do without changing the narrative.

    For business owners, these terms — “advancement opportunities”, “dead end”, “CYA”, etc. — are often all part of an unquestioned narrative that assumes what a business should be like; the words frame “how the world works” in a way that hides that there’s more than one way to run a business.

    Why must doing a job you are good at be a dead end? Why must doing a job you are bad at be the end of your career at a company? Why must blamelessness be the biggest business virtue?

    Of course, working for the government a lot of this becomes a moot point on a practical level.

    If you have the authority to raise other people up, seek out those of your employees who are good at what you are bad at, and give them the authority to be good at it. A lot of managers don’t want to do that because they worry their employee will take their place; if you actually sort of want someone with those skills to take your place, that fear goes away. :-) Then either you are pushed up the ranks even further (where you may find that the skills required are different than the ones from previous), or your former employee / new boss shows their gratitude by working with you to find a place in the organization where you can be happy.

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