my manager offered to take a pay cut, rescinding a recommendation, and more

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

1. My manager offered to take a pay cut so the rest of us can earn more

I work for a small nonprofit. It is common in our industry for there to be a big pay difference between the local manager and the rest of the staff. It is what it is, but at the same time, boards constantly bemoan how difficult it is to recruit and retain skilled staff.

At a recent general voter meeting, my manager said that she would be willing to take a pay cut to give some of those funds to other staff salaries. She did not give details as to how this would be done; it was sort of an invitation to the board to act upon. Everyone present was surprised by this statement. No action was taken in the meeting. I was touched by my manager’s willingness to sacrifice, and I also thought it was a positive, if not necessary, direction for pay equality to go in if we want to attract and keep quality staff.

I am in the minority of staff opinions on this. My coworkers who I’ve spoken with have all said they would not allow our manager to take a pay cut. I have mixed feelings: I’d really love a raise, and while I don’t believe the manager is grossly overpaid, I’m perfectly happy to let her “take one for the team.” We have an upcoming staff meeting where an agenda item is “staff salaries,” and I think I will struggle with the conversation that takes place.

Am I being selfish in my willingness to stand by while my manager sacrifices? Should I try to speak up in favor of her doing this, or just keep quiet and let the chips fall where they may?

I think that if your manager is willing to do this, it’s not really your place to try to talk her out of it. She’s a professional adult, and she can figure out for herself if it’s something she feels good about doing and if the change would be sustainable for her in the long-run. It’s possible that she’s looking at salaries across the organization and seeing an opportunity to make pay fairer.

That said, her willingness aside, taking her up on it wouldn’t necessarily be a smart move for the organization. If she’s being paid a fair market rate right now and she gives some of that up, what’s going to happen when she leaves the organization at some point? Are they going to have to lower the salaries that her pay cut previously let them raise? Or just have to struggle to attract good candidates for her role with the lower salary? And would this move create a situation where she’s earning less than her peers, who all happen to be a different sex or race,  which could cause a separate set of issues? All of that is reason for whoever will make the final call on this to tread really carefully.

2. Can I rescind my job recommendation of an ex?

I recommended an ex-lover/friend for a position at my company. I was mostly prompted by a generous $5,000 bonus, and I really wanted him to move to my city.

This guy never treated me well, but I of course was blinded by love. I’ve since separated myself from him and now I’m regretting the recommendation. I do think he is qualified for the job, but I don’t want him being there to affect me at work. We are a relatively small company of about 250 people all in one huge room, and I’d probably see him in passing every day. My team does interact with the team he would be working on from time to time. I really like my job and I don’t intended to leave my current position anytime soon.

Now I realize that my recommendation was a mistake, and I asked he not take the position before he interviewed. He is very poor and has had a difficult time finding a job after graduating in May. When I spoke with him about it, he said that if it’s the only job he gets, he has to take it.

Is it possible for me to rescind my recommendation or explain the situation to the hiring manager? Will it make me look bad? I really like my job and I don’t want to it to be ruined for me. (In addition to my personal reasons, he informed me that he cheated during the given coding test. For one of the answers, he told me he googled the question and copied and pasted the answer. This would be what I tell my boss when I rescind my recommendation.)

Ooooh. It depends on how big of a deal him googling that answer was. On some tests, doing that would be fine; being able to quickly locate the right information would be just as good as already knowing it. If this really was cheating, though, then yeah, you could let your manager know, and say that you don’t feel comfortable recommending him as a result. But it’s kind of tough to “rescind” a recommendation beyond that; the assumption is that you thought it through when you gave the initial recommendation, and you’d really need additional information that’s come to light since then.

It’s also kind of crappy, I think, to do to a friend who’s already invested time in a hiring process. I think at this point I’d just let it play out, unless the cheating really was cheating, given the context.

3. Should I tell an employee the reason I’m firing him?

I manage employees who start with a three-month probationary period. I have a current probationary employee who has not taken direction well, has acted defensively and challenged basic instructions about how to do his job, has literally rolled his eyes when provided with feedback on how to do certain tasks, and ironically who has also sought me out for instructions in situations where the course of action for him to take should have been immediately obvious.

I intend to hire a replacement and terminate this employee near the end of his probationary period. I would like to give him feedback on the reason for letting him go, for a variety of reasons. From an ethical and professional standpoint, the feedback would be to his benefit, regardless of whether he realizes or appreciates that. And since he’ll inevitable ask why he is being terminated, if I do not disclose this, I feel he will be more resentful and frustrated and will make uncharitable assumptions as to my reasoning.

My boss, however, does not believe I should disclose any reasoning to the employee, since probationary employees can be let go for any reason, and my boss feels that my rationale for terminating him is inherently subjective and will inevitably lead to an argument. I do not intend to partake in an argument and believe I should simply outline my rationale and refuse to engage the employee in any debate if he pushes back. How do you think this should be handled?

You should absolutely tell him. It’s cruel to let someone go and refuse to tell him why, it sounds terrible to other employees who hear about it, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that creates bad will — much more so than if you’re straightforward with him about the reasons.

Not only that, but if you haven’t given him feedback on the issues you’re seeing, ideally you’d do that now so that he’s not blindsided when you do let him go. (I can totally get deciding that you’re not going to change your mind — I would too, if someone had an attitude like what you’ve described — but firings generally go more smoothly when they’re not the first time the employee is even hearing that there are problems.)

And last, you also don’t need to wait until the end of his probationary period. If you’ve already made up your mind, it’s kinder to him and more efficient for you to cut the cord now. It doesn’t make sense for either of you to keep investing in training him when the end is a foregone conclusion.

But even if you ignore me on that, yes, tell him why when you let him go.

4. Recruiter called earlier than scheduled and I didn’t pick up

I had a phone interview scheduled for 11:30 a.m., but the recruiter called at 11 a.m. I was on the phone with a student loan company when she called, but the loan company wouldn’t let me go, even after I told them that I had a very important phone call on the other line. They kept talking and the recruiter hung up on the other line. I immediately emailed the recruiter, apologizing for the inconvenience I caused, and asked if I could reschedule the interview. My question is, have I failed the phone interview before it even started?

Well, first, you didn’t cause any inconvenience. The recruiter called you half an hour early and you were busy with something else. You’re not required to remain free for the whole day just because an employer might call later or earlier than scheduled. So please don’t apologize to them for that, or see it as something you did wrong

It’s possible that they’re not going to reschedule with you, because that’s how some inconsiderate recruiters operate. (And in this case, I’m worried that the wording of your email made them think it was a mistake on your end, when in fact it wasn’t.) But all you can really do is see if they reach back out.

As an aside, no one can force you to stay on the phone. When you told the loan company that you needed to hang up and they refused to allow it, you could have said, “I’ll need to call you back, goodbye,” and hung up. Again, you’re not at fault for not doing this — but I also don’t want you thinking that people can trap you on calls that you don’t want to be on.

5. I lied on a job application and my offer was pulled

I’ve been working at a job for about three months now. Between having a new baby and the hours, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not for me. I applied for a new job, and I got an interview. But since at the time I applied, I had only been at my new job for a short time and I didn’t want to have a gap in employment or come across as job jumping, for my current job I listed my last job prior to here, which I had been at for over two years.

When the HR person did a background check, they saw I had left in July, which at time of interview was about two months before. Now they have basically taken away the potential job offer. I know it probably wasn’t the best option, but is there any way I could still get the job or is it a lost cause and I should just move on and deal with the current bad job until I find something else?

It’s very unlikely that there’s any way to salvage it. You lied about your employment and said you were still working at a job you’d left a couple of months before. That’s going to be a pretty big red flag about integrity; employers generally don’t want to hire someone who lies about that sort of thing, because they assume that you’re not trustworthy and will lie about other things too. I’d write this off, and take it as a useful lesson for future applications.

{ 159 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    Another risk of letting a probation fire go to the end of probation is that if you miss the window, you may be stuck in some organizations. I know someone who had a horrible insubordinate employee and who assumed they would drop her at the end of the probationary period but apparently they misjudged the timing and she was still working and being a horrible employee after he had himself moved on. This was a government position where it was very hard to fire people after probation ends.

    1. Middleman*

      I’m the writer of that question. Fortunately I have direct control and don’t have to jump through red tape (we’re a relatively small organization and I’m the highest ranking manager in my city) so I’ll ensure I end the employment relationship in time. Very good general point though.

      1. Jaydee*

        Also, waiting until the very end of the probation period to let an employee go if it’s clear they aren’t working out makes it more likely they will think “didn’t want them to come off probation” was the real reason for the firing and not “significant attitude problem.” It’s similar to temp-to-hire positions where the person is let go a few days before they would be hired on by the company. No matter what the reasons actually are, the employee often thinks “Oh, cheap company didn’t want to commit. They just want to keep hiring temps and never have to provide benefits or pay raises or anything.”

        I agree with Alison that if you haven’t done so already, you need to provide clear feedback on how this employee responds to feedback. “Wakeen, over the last two months, I’ve observed that you do not respond well to feedback about your work. You get defensive when I give you instructions, you have repeatedly questioned basic instructions, and you have rolled your eyes at me in response to feedback. I know it can be difficult to hear that you need to change or improve how you are doing things, but these kinds of responses have absolutely no place in a professional environment. You have also continued to ask for answers to questions that I have already answered or that you should know the answer to by now. As a probationary employee, this is primarily a time for you to be learning the ins and outs of the position and demonstrating that you are able to work well with your coworkers and respond well to feedback – both positive and negative – from supervisors. I have serious questions about whether you are able to do these things, and at this point Jane and I have discussed whether to retain you at the end of your probationary period.”

        From there, if your mind is made up that you will not be keeping him either fire him right away, or make a transition plan with him if that makes sense to do so that he has a couple of weeks to look for other work when his probationary period ends. Basically treat it as a short-term position that will end at the end of the probationary position. This may not work in this situation since the issue is his attitude and there’s no reason to think that will *improve* if he knows his days are numbered. But in some cases of “poor fit” or “just not doing the job as well as we would like” it can be a kindness to give the employee a few weeks notice and a good reference so they can start the job search and/or prepare for a period of unemployment.

        If you would give him another chance, be very explicit about what he needs to do differently and the timeframe for making improvements. If improvements aren’t made, document the ongoing problems and address them with him right away (on the spot or at least within a day or two of when they happen if you’re not the one who observed the problem).

      2. Ad Astra*

        Are you a regular reader of Ask A Manager? Alison has a lot of great advice about providing feedback to underperforming employees, and some good advice about how to fire people as well.

        As ridiculous as it may sound to you, this employee may have no idea how his behavior is coming off, and may not realize his job is in jeopardy. There is a chance that a come-to-Jesus meeting will lead to improvement — but if it doesn’t, at least you’ve done him the courtesy of giving him actionable feedback. You might still end up firing him, but your conversation could help him avoid being fired from his next job.

  2. Another Emily*

    LW#1, maybe your non-profit only has the funds to pay market value for one group of employees: managers or workers. They’ve opted to pay market value for managers and that’s why they have such a disparity in pay (and consequently have trouble keeping good workers).
    Your manager is trying to solve the problem of your low pay but I can see how it would be awkward for everyone.
    I wonder what it would be like if they’d chosen not to pay market value for managers instead or had no managers?

    1. MK*

      That makes little sense, though. It’s one thing to have an organization that pays low salaries in general, and another to have one group well-paid and another poorly. It would have been more reasonable to split the difference.

      I don’t see how having badly-paid managers would make the situation better; if it would lead to difficulty in attracting and retaining quality managers, it would make it much worse. And there are always managers, even if they don’t have the title.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        You can make a model with market paid or higher management and low paid, high turnover managees. It’s a thing. I wouldn’t want to work in it, though. Welcome to management burnout.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Right. You’d likely have to pay much more than market to keep a manager when the morale of those she manages is completely trashed by the organization.

          1. OP #1*

            I definitely do wish there would be more “splitting the difference”. Many (in my experience, most) managers in my field are making a six-figure salary with pension and insurance, while non-managers with unique skill sets and decades of experience usually make less than $40k, no benefits other than vacation.

            I currently work full-time, my previous job was almost identical responsibilities but paid only $20k. They cut the salary by 25% after I left. I have a bachelor’s degree and 15+ years’ experience in my field. I get market rates, nonprofit paying less, etc. but those doing the hiring don’t get why they have protracted vacancies, or hires who don’t really take the job very seriously.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Preach! Your experience sounds a lot like what I know about news and media. It’s technically for-profit, but it’s one of those mission-oriented jobs where you’re supposed to just be happy to be there, living the dream. And for a while, you are. Then your car breaks down and you break your wrist and you want to get married or have a kid and you can’t. There are many, many newspapers and TV stations that could foster enormous long-term growth in their employees if they were willing to pay them a reasonable wage. Instead, there’s a revolving door of entry-level journalists who inevitably leave for the better-paying fields of PR and marketing. It’s an incredibly short-sighted way to run a business.

              1. OP #1*

                The parallel to journalism is fascinating to me, one I hadn’t considered. Your three examples are spot on. Auto repair, health care, future/family planning… all but impossible for anybody in my field who just has their income to rely on.

    2. Bwmn*

      As a long time nonprofit employee – I wonder if some of the reasons why the workers don’t want the manager’s offer to go through is for the same reason Allison mentions that the nonprofit should not allow it to go through. For lots of entry and even midlevel nonprofit employees, the thinking is “do this for x time, and then move up”. And for some of those workers, they may be eyeing either the OP’s manager’s exact position or a similar one. While they’re ok with the pay they get now, they don’t want to see that kind of managerial role devalued.

      Sure, it’d be great to work at a nonprofit and be paid market value – but the reality is that for most people in that work, it’s very much so by choice. Even within the nonprofit field, going from a local organization to a large national/international organization can feel a bit like selling out but ultimately part of a longer term financial plan.

      1. OP #1*

        Definitely agree that nonprofit pays less, and that’s the way it goes. The “moving up” is, for the most part, a non-issue. Almost every role on the local level requires a unique skill set, and often a degree. For example, let’s say I have a degree in mathematics and have worked for 15+ years doing Teapot Mathematics. I could become a manager, but I’d have to get a degree in dance. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but most people who are ambitious will just get a job as a mathematician somewhere else that pays better.

        It’s also worth noting that very few in this industry are ambitious. None of my non-manager coworkers in this job or my last one relied on their paycheck, they were all either retired or had spouses who made significantly more than they did. The pull of the nonprofit mission is much greater than the pull of the paycheck. (For everybody except me, apparently, haha.)

        1. Bwmn*

          That helps to clarify. Obviously all nonprofits function differently, and I too have had positions where the ceiling is finite.

          I will also say that I’ve partially chosen my “field” of nonprofit work partially based on love of the field, and partially because it pays better than other fields. I’m particularly aware of my friends who do fundraising in the arts and at similar career track levels and even promotions make significantly less than me. But they love of the arts is why they stay where they are.

  3. Middleman*

    I’m the letter writer for question three. I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

    I was pretty sure I was in the right here, but it can sometimes be hard to trust my judgement when I have little business experience and my boss (who told me not to provide feedback) has run businesses for decades and has an MBA. Unfortunately this is not the first occasion where I’ve found his approach to human resources completely tactless, and as a middle manager I regularly need to push back.

    I have indeed given the employee feedback on both issues; the poor attitude he has shown towards instruction and feedback, and the fact that, while I have an open door policy and am all for providing assistance to employees, he is approaching me with things he really should have figured out on his own (I’m referring to situations where, if he simply followed through processes he was trained on, knows how to do, and is required to do regardless, the answer to his questions would become obvious to him 10 seconds in…but instead he spends several minutes of his and my time asking me before even attempting the task in question). It would be a problem individually if he was a poor performer or he had attitude problems, but the combination of the two is particularly troublesome. With that said, he doesn’t really seem to get it and I’m pretty sure he’ll still be surprised at being let go, as he continues to make subtly snarky remarks, push back against direction, and come to me with simple and unambiguous decisions he has to make.

    I’m holding on to him until pretty much the end of the probationary period because I need to conduct interviews and hire a new staff member before letting him go. I don’t feel great about it, but I just need him for a handful of additional shifts.

    Anyways, thanks again! Was good to have confirmation to give me the conviction to stand by my position here.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      OP, I just wanted to say thanks for providing the update, it’s always good to hear more detail! I’m glad that you’re able to push back against your manager, because your employee does need to hear this feedback. One small point; I understand why you’re annoyed by him constantly coming back with questions, and in this case his poor attitude sounds like it would have done for him anyway, but I don’t think that that should be a deal-breaker usually, at least in the first couple of months. It’s sometimes taken me that long to become accustomed to/confident at a job, and depending on the job, the solutions may be simple but if there’s a lot of responsibility or mistakes are going to be costly, this sort of caution is probably preferable to a misplaced confidence. Have you tried asking him why he comes to you with these problems all the time? Or asking him questions to lead him to the right answer?

      (I know it’s not worth your investment this time in doing that, because of his other attitude problems, but I just wanted to make a heart-felt plea in case you came across other people who do this!)

      1. Middleman*

        No problem and thanks back! I think the back-and-forth engagement is part of the fun here.

        As for how to approach his questions, I’ve just asked him to please exercise some judgement and ask himself whether he really needs to come to me before doing so. But I’m not really sure how else to handle it because he keeps demonstrating a lack of common sense. These are not situations that are a matter of lack of training or confidence (especially since, in other areas, he has the confidence not just to make bad decisions, but to try to argue with me when I attempt to correct him or provide direction).

        An example of a situation where he came to me needlessly, for context for the sort of thing I’m referring to:

        There is a breaker in our building that is turned off at night as part of our closing procedure, as it is tied to some equipment that runs whenever the breaker is on. It is turned on again every morning.

        In the morning, he went to turn it on, and a light in the same room as the equipment was off (this is not the same room that the breaker itself is in). Instead of turning the breaker on and seeing that the light turned on as well, he walked to a different story of the building where I was, told me the light was malfunctioning and asked me if it was on the same breaker. I didn’t know off the top of my head so I started to walk up stairs with him, and I asked him “so you tried the breaker and it didn’t turn on?” and he replied “no.” I told him to try that and come back to me if it didn’t turn on, and lo and behold, the light was indeed on the same breaker. I must emphasize, this was a breaker that he needed to turn on regardless, and he was right in front of the breaker and could have checked himself instantly, but instead he took the time to walk to a different floor to summon me without even checking himself. I was doing payroll and this distracted me from it pointlessly (my office door was closed by not locked and he barged in), so I was a bit annoyed.

        There was another occasion where he turned off that same breaker because he didn’t like the noise from the equipment…and then he told me that a separate piece of equipment was malfunctioning. I told him that since he turned the breaker off, my assumption was that the other piece of equipment was on the same breaker and he just needed to turn it back on. He was adamant that this was not the case and that the other piece of equipment was broken. I started walking to the other level to investigate and he casually mentioned that supposedly another piece of equipment on the same breaker also “broke” at the same time. I asked him if he thought it was more likely that two electronic devices plugged into the same outlet broke simultaneously or if they were tied to the breaker he had just turned off before, and again he insisted that it had nothing to do with the breaker. Surprise, surprise, they worked when I turned the breaker back on…something he never tried before coming to me.

        There have been several instances on the same level. And yet when he doesn’t explicitly solicit my opinions (which he does for silly things like those examples) he is always annoyed to hear them and hostile to them, which is a weird combination and convinces me he’s a textbook example of Dunning-Kruger.

          1. some1*

            I agree. It’s not just that he came to you before he tried to figure it out himself (which is annoying enough), it’s that he’s arguing the merits of your suggestions when he asked for your help!

        1. Rat Racer*

          I’m curious what this individual’s job is – clearly he has trouble with light switches, and displays a lack of autonomy in problem solving. But what about his actual work product? Is that similarly sub-par?

          1. Middleman*

            It’s a unique enough job that I don’t want to be too specific or the employee and I will be fairly easily identifiable…but I will say he’s in a primarily customer service-oriented role that does require a bit of additional skills. His performance there is not deal-breaking terrible in itself, but it is mediocre relative to my expectations and the performance of other employees in the same role. He’s mishandled some things and not communicated with customers in the way I (or the company) would like, and those are areas where I’ve given him feedback and he’s been defensive.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*


      You’re right that you don’t have a good boss (from a management of people standpoint) and his approach isn’t one you want to model yourself after. You may be stuck in this situation, I don’t know, but the thing you need to learn from him is not to do it that way.

      If you know you are going to let someone go, *know* it, the time to let that person go is when you know it. It’s how you sleep at night because it is right, kind and merciful. How you deal with that person’s absence is the same way you’d deal with it if he abruptly quit.

      When you terminate someone, the right, kind and merciful thing to do is to explain why the person and the job weren’t a good fit. You don’t have to go into a laundry list of the person’s faults, but make sure they walk out of the term for cursing you on specifics (“how could she say I’m not a fit for the level of detail this job requires! she’s an idiot!”, vs “what the hell just happened there, why did I get fired?”)

      Right. Kind. Merciful. These things are possible in business. You may not be recognized as right, kind and merciful by the person you just termed but your heart knows the difference.

      1. Middleman*

        Thanks so much for the feedback. And I suppose you’re right about not stringing people along when you’ve made up your mind. I guess I not only wanted the extra help for the time being (which I agree isn’t right and I felt bad about) but I wanted a bit of time to do things like ask this question and formulate how to approach this tactfully…especially since I’m getting poor direction from my boss. And I guess part of me as well wanted to give the employee another few weeks to redeem themselves even though in reality that’s probably misplaced and more cruel to them since it’s unlikely to happen.

        Thanks for walking me through this. I’ve been in non-profit management and fired volunteers before, but I’ve never fired a paid employee so this is new territory for me and I’m still learning.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          I did everything wrong before I started doing things right (and am always improving). Every wrong thing I did, I vowed to learn from it and do better the next time. This is literally the only way I know how someone learns to manage, especially without having good examples to follow and learn from.

          It’s wrong to string people along because every week they are working for you, in a job that is going to end shortly but they have no idea, is a week they aren’t finding the right job match for themselves. Also, it’s the kind of thing that makes you sick to your stomach, seeing a person you know you are going to fire yourself and thinking “dead man walking”. It makes such a bad environment for everyone.

          Now, if you truly mean that the guy possibly has a chance at redemption, you have to put your own effort into remediation. We had a person start about a month ago who may or may not make it, she’s “this close” to term. I sat down with her manager a week ago and said, okay walk me through what you’re going to do to give her an opportunity to fix this. And then I made sure her manager told her she has two weeks to show [this very specific improvement]. And then I checked in with her manager yesterday, at the halfway point, to get a progress report.

          Specific and clear things to improve, specific time line, specific measures for improvement, willingness to retrain as needed. << the way you turn people around.

          Turning people around has a high failure rate, btw. I choose to try when we can spare the time, the person is likable and cooperative (if a bit lost at the moment), I don't think the person got great training right out of the gate, the time involved in redemption attempt is outweighed by the time involved in trying to replace. It has a lower failure rate, though, than just hoping someone improves on their own.

          Best wishes!

          1. Ms. Anne Thrope*

            Can I work for you? You sound awesome!

            Only once, in >20 years in the workforce, have I encountered management that actually acts this way. :(

            1. Hellanon*

              Early in my career I was fortunate enough to have one of these managers, and it made a lasting & profound difference. I’d done pretty well at say 2/3 of a complex assignment and failed utterly at the final third. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the missing 1/3 was the key to the whole rest of it… I was very fortunate in that my manager saw that I hadn’t really gotten the training I needed and hadn’t really understood how to make the key 1/3 work *for me*, and made the decision to reset my training and give me an opportunity to try again, with full benefit of hindsight. I ended up being the fix-it person in that company when other people screwed up that task, did a lot of training myself later on, and as I said, it was one of the most profound learning experiences I’ve had. So, Wakeen’s Teapots, when you do this & it works (it doesn’t always), it’s a good thing!

            2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              I sound better in writing. It’s like an Instagram filter.

              I’ve been having some Mighty Big Management Struggles the last couple weeks and don’t feel like anyone’s hero. But! I’m kinder than the OP’s boss, how about that? :-)

              1. Oryx*

                “I sound better in writing. It’s like an Instagram filter.

                Me too and now I kind of want to steal this.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          You sound like you have your head on straight, but your boss is really Old School. If he’s been managing for decades, he probably began his career in a time where a straight “You’re fired!” out of the blue was customary. Nowadays, in general, regular feedback is the norm, and the kind thing to do, but that is something that probably seems too touchy-feely to him. Also, it really bothers me when employers (not just your boss) treat a probationary or training period employee like they don’t deserve any feedback and think that employee should just act like they’re walking on eggshells until that period is up, and then suddenly on day X they matter. Meanwhile, the employee probably just sees the probationary as a formality, so to speak, and expects regular feedback during this time, and the less feedback they get, the more likely they are to think “Hey, I must be doing ok”. It’s too bad this guy has such a bad attitude, but it’s probably baggage and bad habits he brought with him from his last job.

          1. Middleman*

            Yeah, I like my boss as a person but sadly I find myself regularly dumbfounded by his approaches to things. I hate to slag him off, but as one of very few management staff who has been with the company from the start, I’m immensely frustrated and our relationship has been strained because we never agree.

            He once wanted me to make job applicants submit a 3 minute video explaining why they want the job and how they are a good fit for our culture, and subject them to a phone interview, two in-person interviews, and a full-day training “workshop” before extending offers! I had to explain to him:

            -Requesting a video of applicants is a good way to get sued for discrimination.
            -I have ethical issues asking people to spend a few hours making a video that I wouldn’t even scan for a few seconds if their resume was not up to snuff.
            -This is a part-time, entry-level position, and having such a time-consuming and ridiculous process will drastically reduce our applicant pool, make us look terrible, and leave us with just candidates who are desperate.
            -It is absurd to ask people to invest a full day, and to spend time and effort to train them for the specific job, without an offer of employment or payment (his response to this was to offer them a stipend for attending, which only addresses about a quarter of my issue with the concept).

            He also wanted me to line everything up to do one day full of interviews and then one full day for a workshop the day after, requiring applicants to attend, when we were starting a new branch and I was doing a mass hire of 10 employees. And he completely failed to understand my objection when I tried to explain that from a logistical perspective I wasn’t going to be able to schedule things like that with 20 or so candidates (he said that if candidates weren’t available for the very specific dates, just cross them off the list…as if I can just grab any person off the street no problem).

            Fortunately the hiring process was a big battle that I was completely able to win and assume full control over. I built a team up and only have one problem employee. But it was such a waste of time and effort combating bad ideas.

    3. BRR*

      Thanks for responding in the comments, it sounds like you’ve done everything right. Definitely tell him why though. Flip it around, can you imagine being fired and not being given a reason? Especially since he doesn’t seem to get it but you should always give a reason. From how he’s described, I would also mentally prepare yourself for him to push back.

      The only other thing I could think of is when giving feedback you could explicitly say “if this does not improve, you are not going to pass your probationary period.” That is up to you. To me this would be nice for an employee you like but just isn’t up to par. They could get a jump start on their job hunt but it doesn’t sound like he’ll get it.

      1. Middleman*

        Thanks! I completely agree that I would be infuriated to be let go without being provided a reason, and I wouldn’t expect any less from a subordinate of mine and I wouldn’t blame them. I don’t want to make myself a bad guy here and I felt the instructions my boss gave me would push the balance in that direction.

        As for explicitly telling him that; the reason I held off from making it quite that clear is that I don’t want him putting on a front for the very brief duration of the probationary period, just to drop it afterwards. And given his behaviour I have no reason to expect anything else if I approached it that way. I’d be more satisfied if he could set things right without it needing to be made that clear.

        I should mention as well that this is a part-time employee who has another part-time job, so me letting him go won’t prevent him from paying rent or anything. Not that that is an excuse not to do things ethically or professionally.

    4. ted mosby*

      Your boss told you NOT to provide feed back?? People are so nutty. I honestly think even if he’s awful it’s a little mean never to give a warning or explanation, even if that warning is “roll your eyes one more time and you’re gone.” He sounds insufferable, but people aren’t mind readers. Since you never gave feedback, there was no way he was ever going to improve.

      Sounds like you got stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one! I hope everything works out for you.

      1. videogame Princess*

        I think the boss doesn’t know how to end a discussion, and typically gets dragged into arguments when he provides a reason.

        1. Middleman*

          He once explicitly told me “I’m trying to learn to be more assertive.” Sadly, this latest piece of direction suggests to me he’s not trying hard enough.

    5. Mephyle*

      I’m pretty sure he’ll still be surprised at being let go.
      Alison has mentioned in the past that it’s important not only to give feedback but to explicitly tell the employee that their job (or in this case, being kept on beyond probation) is at risk if their performance doesn’t improve in these issues, and be specific about what changes you expect to see for them to keep the job.

    6. Anonforthis*

      It’s always best to let the person know why they’re being let go. If anything, it hopefully helps them learn a lesson on what not to do in their next job and it allows them to figure out a way to present a positive or at least neutral answer to why they’re no longer in their last position. Not having a concrete or viable reason as to why he was let go could really hurt him in the long run.

  4. Mike C.*

    I have a really difficult time believing that any sort of coding question that can be solved by googling is one in which googling would be considered cheating. If a similar situation came up at work, why wouldn’t you use all the resources available to you? Places like Stack Overflow are made specifically for this, after all. Otherwise, the question would be trivialized by someone who could simply regurgitate the answer and you aren’t learning anything about the candidate.

    If they wanted to see how someone would tackle a novel problem, they would make them tackle it right then and there in front of everyone.

    Really, this letter sounds like you’re mad about breaking up with someone and you want to keep them from getting a job. Of course he’s going to take that job if it’s the only one he can get, he’s an adult and needs to eat. What did you expect?

    Unless there’s a of whole bunch stuff you aren’t telling us, just leave it be and focus on you right now.

    1. CMT*

      I agree with you that if the answer was something easy enough to google, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal to do so. It might make the OP seem kind of petty to bring that up. (Unless, of course, she knows that’s not the case.) I say take the $5,000 and treat yourself, OP.

      1. kimmyontheinternet*

        I disagree. I work in tech and we absolutely consider it cheating if you look up answers during a phone coding interview, and will disqualify participants who copy and paste answers or look things up online. Just because an answer is online doesn’t make it fair game, since the goal is to see hoe you think and problem solve, not how well you can Google. Copying and pasting in a coding interview is the tech world equivalent of copying someone else’s college entrance essay.

        Yeah, in the job you absolutely can use whatever resources are available to you, open source licenses permitting, but during the interview process it is very much about doing your own work.

        1. kimmyontheinternet*

          **how, not hoe. Phone typing fail.

          Anyway, I think the LW is fully empowered to bring up the cheating issue with her boss because it’s definitely an integrity issue in tech. On the flip side I’d be surprised if they don’t already know about the cheating. It’s usually very obvious.

        2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          I just consulted my partner, who’s in tech, and he had to think about it but he came down on the side of ‘it’s ok’. He says that if you don’t want somebody to ‘cheat’ then set specific problems with strict time limits so that they can’t; otherwise Googling is a fair way of approaching it as you would on the job – and also that Googling is a skill in its own right.

          So I guess this will be a know your audience thing for the OP.

          1. UK JAM*

            Yes, we set coding tests to be done remotely and we absolutely expect the candidates to Google. It’s one of the top skills to be successful in this job! They’ll never find the complete answers though, just techniques which will help. So it definitely depends on the exact test in question.

          2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I would think it depends on the shop. Some tech companies use video conference software and in-person coding tests to make sure the candidate *doesn’t* use Google to answer basic coding questions. Once they come in the door and begin working with advanced code, Google becomes their best friend, but to derive a specific numerical sequence, design a basic algorithm, or display knowledge of arrays (for example), those answers should come naturally, not from the InterTubes.

            1. manybellsdown*

              Yes, I think it depends as well. Mr. Bells had a programming test at his last interview, and there was NO phone or internet permitted during the test. So for some things he could only explain *how* he would do it, because he couldn’t actually run the data.

              He got the job, btw. ;)

        3. V*

          I work in tech too, and one of my first steps for problem solving is to search Google! I’ll then read through the top results until I find 4 or more reputable sites with good answers, figure out what the best approach for my particular issue is, and try it out in my environment.

          I wouldn’t sit there searching my phone during a face to face interview, or try to google the answers during a phone interview, but if I’m given 24-48 hours to work on a code sample at home, I’d be using Google and other reference materials as part of my normal development process.

          Honestly, one of the things we look for when hiring is the ability to go out and research problems on your own; I’ve worked with a couple people who couldn’t handle that, and wasted a lot of time reinventing the wheel instead of just getting a copy of the plans from Google.

        4. Quirk*

          It depends, I’d say. If they’re asked how to solve a problem over the phone and they copy and paste an answer without understanding it, further questioning should elicit their lack of understanding and that should rapidly disqualify them. If they’re asked how to solve a problem and they know where to look for the algorithm and can skim the key points well enough to continue a conversation… well, you want people who will begin from the state of the art algorithms rather than just rolling their own, and you don’t really need them to have all the internal details of implementing, say, Boyer-Moore or Knuth-Morris-Pratt in their head, so knowing enough to know where to start looking things up is often entirely sufficient. I would of course prefer the candidate to indicate they’re looking things up in this instance, but I wouldn’t throw a hissy fit if they didn’t and they could carry on dialogue smoothly while doing so.

          However, a lot of places ask code trivia questions in online tests, obscure rules lawyering that very rarely matters in practice. Some of them explicitly allow Googling, some of them don’t. It’s a bad way to interview, and tells you very little about the quality of the candidate’s code (more than this, in fact, people who use little known corners of the language in production code without substantial provocation are practically a menace) but I would be inclined to expect a good candidate faced with such an unreasonable test to Google away and ignore whether the test permits it.

          If the candidate’s getting past interviews with copy and paste the main thing I take from that is that it’s a portion of the interview with very little value anyway, and I would hope the hiring decision was not strongly based on it. One thing you can do worse than put weight in an unhelpful interview technique is to strenuously resist efforts to game it.

          OP is not coming across very well in wishing to rescind the recommendation.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            more than this, in fact, people who use little known corners of the language in production code without substantial provocation are practically a menace


        5. Apollo Warbucks*

          Well unless all you want to test someone’s memory, I don’t see the harm in using Google to help find an answer as sometimes knowing where to the find the answer is just as valuable as actually knowing the answer and I don’t consider it cheating to check details or syntax to answer a question unless there has been a clear instruction not to.

          I know some languages very well and can write code on the fly and it’s fine, but other languages I only know a little and would need to use Google to help point me in the right direction. In no way does that detract from my ability to produce good quality work and it still requires some skill and knowledge to be able to apply the code that’s been taken from Google to something usable in the work place.

        6. Mike C.*

          If they’re testing you on something so trivial that it can be found in it’s entirety on the internet, there’s something wrong with the interview.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            Agreed, the questions shouldn’t be that academic.

            Almost every tech hiring manager I know will paste part of the candidate’s code into Google to look for evidence of direct copy/paste, much like professors compare papers and sources to look for plagiarism.

            Google won’t get a candidate very far through the process, just as a plagiarized paper is not going to receive a stellar grade.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              I agree with your general point, but I think one big difference is that a lot of code shared online is open source and intended for sharing and re-use. The general assumption for academic papers and essays is that everything written is original unless quoted and/or properly cited/attributed.

              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                Very, very true. But there is a difference between using open source code vs. posted solutions online. Additionally, hiring techs are likely aware of those open sources and consider them as well.

                The video interview is usually the screening, not the final interview. There are degrees to which Googling may or may not be allowed depending how the hiring process progresses or the nature of the open position.

        7. Dan*

          I work in tech too. If you’re asking questions that can be trivialized down to a google search, what have you learned about the candidate? The “how you think” questions I would ask are about higher level problem design. I’m better off designing my questions expecting that the candidates will try and do a little googling. That’s so much more representative of the real world anyway.

    2. De (Germany)*

      “I have a really difficult time believing that any sort of coding question that can be solved by googling is one in which googling would be considered cheating. ”

      Yes! Usually, programming tests for programming jobs include coding whole applications (small ones). Not some kind of technical questions that can be solved like this.

    3. hbc*

      I dunno, I guess I can fully imagine that a company would want to test that you have some Coding 101 skills and set up the test badly. Couldn’t think of a novel way to test it, didn’t think to put in a time limit to eliminate Googling, whatever. I can easily imagine someone thinking that a question “Use C++ to print ‘Hello world'” would be a good check of whether a person paid minimum attention in class, or thinking that they’re so clever in coming up with the idea of solving Connect 4 when it’s done all over the place.

      Just because it’s easily googlable doesn’t mean it’s not cheating to google it.

      1. Random Lurker*

        Not knowing what the question was, I see how it could fall on either side of “cheating” and “it’s OK”. When I’m interviewing entry level developers, I usually ask them questions on the differences between a couple of functions, or what library they would want to call to do something. If someone had to google one of these answers, I’d call that cheating – I’m looking to hire you for what you know, not what you are able to lookup. But if I wanted an example of code showing how you’d call a specific function, I think I’d be OK if someone copy and pasted something.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah, we don’t even do a take-home skills test. We ask a few questions on the phone screen (what’s the difference between Truncate and Drop, what’s your favorite function in SQL, stuff like that). If they make it past the phone screen, then we have them do a few whiteboard exercises (they can do it with pencil and paper if that’s more comfortable). We aren’t looking for slick, quick answers and it doesn’t even have to be syntactically correct; we are just looking to see if you know anything at all about SQL. It’s very apparent, very quickly, when people don’t. (Oddly enough, these people also usually rate themselves quite highly, like 9 or 10 out of 10, on their SQL skills. That’s another red flag.)

    4. MK*

      “Really, this letter sounds like you’re mad about breaking up with someone and you want to keep them from getting a job.”

      I think this is the crux of the matter. Regardless of whether googling counts as cheating or not, I cannot imagine a scenario in which the OP’s boss doesn’t think this is personal. It might not be completely fair, but it makes the OP look bad, irresponsible at best and vindictive at worst. Let it go (after all, me might not get the job) and, since you can’t seperate your private feelings from your work life, keep your private stuff away from your job in the future.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes. OP, it sounds as though you are seizing on this Googling to justify what you already want to do – kill your ex’s chances of getting this job – because it’s (at least on the surface) objective, not personal. But really, would you have rescinded your recommendation over this when you were still mad schmoopy over this guy?

        Consider also that rescinding a recommendation makes you look suspect about recommendations, period.

    5. MashaKasha*

      + a lot. In my opinion it’s actually better than googling “interviewing at X company”, finding a tentative list of their questions, and coming to the interview with all the answers memorized. (We’ve had candidates do this at OldJob.) Like you and others said, being able to use Stack Overflow and such is a skill essential to one’s work. Memorizing random code syntax is not.

      On a personal level, I’d never do this to anyone. Especially an ex. I’d come across like a shitty ex by doing this. Which may actually affect my dating life going forward, it’s a small world, word gets around etc… dating isn’t all that different from workplace interactions in some ways. Also, FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS! That’s a generous finders fee. I’d just take it and enjoy.

      1. Dan*

        Yeah… I broke up with an ex awhile back, and tried to ignore her. She would write to me, “we work in the same industry! We travel the same circles! You can’t ignore me!” Fast forward a few years later, we now work for the same company, although this one is pretty big, to the point that I’ve been here for two years and I’m not entirely sure that she knows that I even work here.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          I dated someone I worked with (actually, I dated several over time, and this was the only weird ex), and after we broke up she ignored me to the point of not making eye contact or saying hello when we passed in the hall. This was in an office of about 100 people. Everyone knew everyone. Thankfully, we didn’t work on the same team or have any working conflicts (something I did consider before starting up a relationship), but I was unimpressed.

      2. Anna*

        That is a lot of cashy money, but then I know companies are desperate for people who can code, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they have that big a bonus for those kinds of positions.

        Also, OP, let it go. This isn’t significant enough to bring up and I’m not sure your motives are above reproach.

    6. Ad Astra*

      Well, I hear you, but we don’t know what restrictions the company gave when they tested him. It would be smart to allow for some quick googling in a test like this because that most closely matches the working environment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if HR insisted on an unaided test. If you’re explicitly told not to look something up and you look it up anyway, there’s an integrity issue at play.

      Of course, if you recommend a qualified applicant for a job and then try to sabotage his chances because of a personal conflict, there might be another integrity issue at play there, too.

    7. Stranger than fiction*

      Agreed. I think the “cheating” thing was just something the Op is looking at as a reason to rescind. Just see how it plays out, and realize that all kinds of breakups and disagreements are going to happen in life, sometimes at work, and sometimes we just have to suck it up and compartmentalize and do our jobs.

  5. Eric*

    For #2, the cheating issue aside, I feel like walking back a recommendation shouldn’t be too hard, as long as you can think of a valid reason why they wouldn’t be good at the job. Something along the lines of “When I recommended Joe, I was excited about the possibility of working with a good friend. But the more I think about it, I feel like this wouldn’t be a great position for him because of XXX”. So long as an offer hasn’t been made yet, I don’t feel like it is too late to do this (Not addressing the unfair to him aspect).

    Also, if I was a manager, I’d be upset if you didn’t mention the personal relationship gone bad aspect until after a hire was made.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      This would kill the OP’s future credibility as a recommender, though. Employers expect you to have thought through the qualifications of people you recommend before you make a formal recommendation, though, and not just recommend people you want to spend time with. It’s different than if you were asked unexpectedly, “Hey, do you know So-and-so? He just applied for the design team,” and you gave a spontaneous positive review.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Also, I’d be annoyed as a manager if you hadn’t mentioned the personal relationship, even if it had stayed great! That is something that should absolutely be disclosed.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          Both of these things! Either the OP was recommending him because of his great qualifications for the role or shouldn’t have been recommending him. His qualifications won’t have changed, so the recommendation shouldn’t either. And I would hope OP mentioned the relationship up front, in which case it’s ok to say “actually, that’s gone a bit pear-shaped”. That might affect his candidacy and might not, but it’s about the only way for OP to approach this and maintain credibility, and whether it does or not is up to the hiring manager.

      2. fposte*

        Agreed. At bottom, this is “I wanted to work with him when he was my sweetie, and now that he isn’t I don’t,” and that just isn’t a place to land publicly or privately. OP, I totally understand that it could be awkward to work with him, but I think you just let it go and find a way to deal.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Also, wouldn’t people wonder if she did it just to get the $5000 fee? Is it possible they would ask for it back? Even if both of these don’t apply, I’d side-eye this really hard if I worked there.

    2. WorkingMom*

      Honestly, I think if the OP can put aside personal feelings and decide if this person is still a strong candidate for the position and would excel in the role – then just leave it be. Yes, you’ll need to deal with seeing this person; but that’s life. However – if you gave the recommendation more on the side of “I want this person to live closer to me” and not because he/she was truly a great fit for the role, then I think you need to go to the hiring manager and say, “I recommended person X for this role. At the time, I thought he/she would be a good fit because of X, Y and Z. I have since become aware that this person is not going to be a great fit because of A and B. I’m sorry for the challenge this may cause; but I want to make sure I share this new information with you, as I no longer think this person will be a good fit for this role.”

      The key here is to separate if this person really would be great in this job or not. If they would be – then best to deal with it. If they would NOT be, you need to share that info and explain why now. Better to go back and change your recommendation now before a decision is made, than not say anything knowing that this person is not likely to do well in the job. That would be worse for your reputation than to revise your recommendation before decisions are made!

      1. Ad Astra*

        I really think the OP’s energy is best spent trying to find a professional way to work with/around an ex. It can be done! For some reason, I get the feeling that this particular ex/relationship won’t gnaw at the OP after enough time has passed. For me, there are some exes I’d feel just fine about working with and some that I couldn’t handle being near. Obviously I don’t know these people and I could be totally wrong, but I suspect this will turn out to be more like the former for OP.

    3. Future Analyst*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t do that unless I never plan on recommending anyone (ever again), AND if I don’t mind that my boss now doesn’t trust my judgment. Unless there was substantial and new information that came to light (an arrest, a grave lapse in judgment, etc.), I wouldn’t withdraw a recommendation, with the hopefully obvious caveat that I truly thought the recommendation through in the first place.

  6. Merry and Bright*

    #4 The whole business of recruiters calling at unscheduled times (or even out of the blue) can get pretty crazy. Then there are the ones who don’t call at all. I have learned to take it on the chin and move on.

    But the mindset about apologising and feeling eternally grateful for attention paid to you by a recruiter can be ingrained by poor careers advice at school or college, hence the feeling you should apologise when a phone call comes early. Once you do shake it off and realise the recruiter is no better or worse than you are, it is so much easier to shrug it off.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, I underscore the no apology necessary. The email should’ve gone something like “I had our call on my calendar for 11:30, was there a miscommunication?” and “I’m any this week day after 1:00pm, when can we reschedule?”. No fault no blame.

      1. Merry and Bright*

        Yes, agree completely. I’ve learned to work with recruiters like other professional acquaintances and it is quite liberating!

  7. Al Lo*

    #1 – I also work at a fairly small non-profit where our CEO doesn’t really take a salary — or if she does, it’s mostly donated back to the organization . She’s the organization’s founder, and, as often happens when an organization is starting out, has taken on different roles as the organization has grown, to the point where succession planning means handing off about 5 different portfolios, either putting them under different departments or hiring individuals to take them on. It’s tough – we all know that the financial burden to replacing her is a significant one, and it’s been a multi-year process to take the next steps.

    On the flip side, the organization wouldn’t have made it to the point that it’s at (30 years old) without her willingness to spend those first years doing it for the love of it, not for the money. I think a lot of non-profits start out that way, and getting past the hurdle of transitioning from the founder to someone else (which doesn’t sound like the OP’s issue) is a huge milestone in the stability and longevity of the organization.

  8. Blue Anne*

    For #2, that really might not be considered cheating. When I worked at a tech company they left Google open on the computers used for the coding tests, and whether or not you used it was taken into account, but it was considered to be a good thing – no sense re-doing the work if you can easily find some code to drop in.

    But, if you’re not sure, it might make sense to point out that he THOUGHT it was cheating. So something like “I’m not sure whether candidates are supposed to use the internet during the test, but my friend told me that he did even though he thought it was cheating. It made me a little uneasy and I thought you should know.”

    1. Jozie*

      It wasn’t clear to me that he did think he was cheating, or if he simply told OP that he copied and pasted and OP is phrasing this as cheating.

      I do think this sounds like a potentially tough working situation for OP #2 and I empathize, but I think this is grasping at straws a bit and I am not sure there is legitimate cause to reasonably retract a recommendation.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yeah, I guess I took “he informed me that he cheated” as the applicant believing that he had cheated, but reading it again it could very well be that he just told the OP what he did and the OP interpreted it as cheating.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Except that OP appears to be concerned about this as cheating only because she broke up with this guy and doesn’t want him to work at her company anymore.

      1. Lily*

        OP seems to be petty and selfish, willing to jeopardize his chance of getting the job just because she doesn’t fancy him anymore.

  9. Milton Waddams*

    #5: A rough spot. With the gap, a lot of (good) places would never interview, but without it, the job is gone anyhow if anyone finds out.

    A harsh reality of the way the selection system is set up now is that one bad job often leads only to other bad jobs, regardless of a candidate’s actual qualifications, and with each new bad job it’s harder and harder to convince anyone that there’s a structural issue going on. (Especially if they risk lying to get out of the feedback loop.) People who have spent their career at healthy companies sometimes really struggle to understand “how the other half lives”.

    White-collar companies where the turnover rate is so high, that the “senior employee who has been there for years” has been there for three years.

    Companies where the management treats ex-employees like scorned lovers and gives poison pill references to anyone foolish enough to ask.

    Companies so dysfunctional that just accomplishing basic tasks requires enough (disposable) labor that there’s no room left for any “above and beyond” on a resume without completely trashing the company to set the context.

    Companies where the training philosophy is “throw them at the wall and see who sticks”.

    Companies where people don’t have desired certs because they require a supervisor sign-off on work experience, and bridging the subject would immediately cause them to believe you were leaving them.

    These companies feed off of one another, because they cheerfully hire “job-hoppers”, don’t bother with references, and “see who sticks” doesn’t require any certifications.

    1. Colette*

      There are things you can do to increase your chances of getting a good job. The first one is to increase savings and minimize debt. The less desperate you are, the longer you can hold out for a good job. (There are some people for whom this isn’t possible, but there are many more for whom this isn’t easy.)

      The second thing you control is maintaining positive relationships with former coworkers, including those from volunteer jobs. You need people on your side to get you on the hiring manager’s radar and, potentially, counteract the lack of references from previous jobs.

      1. Mando Diao*

        Maintaining ties with past coworkers is crucial. It’s not ideal, but references from peer-level coworkers and an academic advisor or two can help you get a decent B-grade job, and then THAT is the reference you need to finally move up a few years later.

      2. Mike C.*

        Increasing savings and minimizing debt is rather difficult to do when you’re stuck in a terrible job in a nation with 40 years of wage stagnation.

        1. fposte*

          Sure, but tons of people are doing it anyway–that’s a lot of what the over 1/3 of 18-30s living with their parents is about.

          1. Anna*

            I hope that’s sarcasm, because that isn’t an option for most people who still can’t increase savings and minimize debt very easily.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t read it as sarcasm, but as simple statement of fact. The fact that something isn’t doable for everyone doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t point out that it’s an option for some, and one that’s working for them.

            2. fposte*

              Yes, it was straight out fact. And it’s an option for nearly half of the men in that age group and over a third of the women, so it’s clearly a pretty significantly available option.

              I’m not saying it’s a great thing. But I think we talk about workplace stuff on two levels, the macro and the micro–what the larger system allows and how you can negotiate it to your best advantage when you can’t change it–and I think that’s reasonable. I think sometimes on finance we end up acting as if it’s not acceptable to talk about negotiating the micro when the macro is screwed up–but the micro is what most people have any power over at all, and I think it’s as disempowering to say “It’s not possible to save money” as it is to say “You need to cut back on lattes.”

              1. Zillah*

                I agree. There are larger structural problems that absolutely do need to be addressed at some point, but at the same time, I can’t shoot myself in the foot on principle.

                1. fposte*

                  And I’m never, ever going to say everybody can bootstrap, or you’re being a spendthrift for wanting to have a telephone, or the absence of savings is a moral fault, either.

        2. Colette*

          Sure. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing what you can – particularly when the alternative is to do to continually be forced to take dangerous or dysfunctional jobs that affect your health.

    2. Mando Diao*

      I think a lot of people slide right into their careers after college/internships, and they don’t have an understanding of what it’s like to be an adult who still has to sift through job ads on Craigslist. Some fields leave you hanging after your internship; some used to allow for immediate hiring after graduation but no longer do. Plus, if you end up with a crappy job and a crappy boss, the common advice of “well you don’t want to work there anyway” misses the point. You DO work there, you know?

      I’d like to see some research on how the explosion of start-ups and small businesses has affected general employment. My area was hit very hard by the recession, and we still haven’t fully recovered from Hurricane Sandy. We don’t have the luxury of waiting around for better job offers (even if we’re qualified), so we end up working at these new small businesses with no HR, usually run by bosses of the “I came up with a decent product/service, and I can no longer manage everything on my own, so I need staff but I don’t have any knowledge of the legal or business stuff.” My region actually prides itself on having all of these entrepreneurs, which seems cool at the outset, but it means that no one is running a business properly. Even the “big” firms in my area are small businesses.

      1. Stitch*

        I’m surprised at how well Milton Waddams and Mando Diao’s posts describe my current situation. Is such a dysfunctional workplace really this common?

        At least I know how to spin my experiences, and I’m close enough to my college graduation that nobody is too fussed about (under)employment gaps. But dang, it’s going to be hard for me to move on. The owners are notorious for poison pill references (but I have a good working relationship with my pseudo-managers, so references shouldn’t be the end of the world.)

        They “can’t afford a janitor” so the employees are expected to clean and do other basic tasks, usually without pay. Then they wonder why it’s taking us so long to finish our projects, or why shifts are so hard to fill.

        The training mentality is, and I quote, “sink or swim”. The high turnover is, of course, “Just how things are” and therefore they can’t afford better training on people who’ll leave in a year.

        Now they’re pulling the “We’re a small business and can’t afford a holiday party, but we want to do something fun, so everyone’s going to pitch in for Expensive Activity, right?” On top of the low pay to start, I’m just like, uhm, no?

        I still work here because I love the job itself, and moving on will require a big jump. I just hate how the place is run.

        1. Biff*

          I think that workplace dysfunction is a growing problem. I don’t know that I can point my finger at the cause, so I can’t say for certain, but my ancedata says it is.

    3. Seattle Writer Gal*

      “A harsh reality of the way the selection system is set up now is that one bad job often leads only to other bad jobs, regardless of a candidate’s actual qualifications, and with each new bad job it’s harder and harder to convince anyone that there’s a structural issue going on. (Especially if they risk lying to get out of the feedback loop.) People who have spent their career at healthy companies sometimes really struggle to understand “how the other half lives”.”

      THIS x1000.

      2 years and 180 job applications later I am still trying to break out of a downward career spiral after quitting my job of 4 years with nothing lined up. I’m still friends with co-workers at each job I’ve had and they all assure me I’m great and wonderful to work with!

    4. Green*

      I don’t really think it’s a “rough spot” on whether or not to lie on a job application though.

  10. AnotherFed*

    #2 There is probably no way to rescind the recommendation without your reputation taking a hit. Even if you report him for cheating (I’m assuming you know the rules on your company’s test better than a bunch of internet strangers), if it comes out that you recommended this person while dating and then rescinded the recommendation after the breakup, it looks like a vindictive act. At a minimum, your credibility on recommendations is shot, and at worst, your reputation takes a major hit for bring your romantic drama into the office.

  11. AnotherFed*

    #5 You are better off with the gap and a pretty simple explanation – taking time off with a new baby – than in lying about whether a company is still your employer. For now, leaving the current job off the resume and addressing the gap in your cover letters would be a much better way to approach it than lying and only looking for employers who will not check – then you are stuck working with a bunch of people no one checked references on, which makes it more likely to have crappy managers and coworkers.

    1. some1*

      I agree. Unfortunately, because of how this went down, the employer could be wondering if the LW is trying to cover up getting fired.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I agree. While there are some companies that prefer to hire the currently working, there’s still just as many others that won’t think anything of a couple months’ gap. And absolutely, a new baby is a very good reason indeed. If for some reason they do come across your short job in a background check, you could always say you realized shortly after starting it was not the right fit so left if off your resume. But no matter what, the lying about your length at the previous job is way worse.

    3. JJ*

      I am the one who asked about number #5 and like a lot of people had said lots of jobs now don’t treat employees well and promise a lot of things and when you actually start its nothing like that. In my case I left my last job after being treated poorly and being targeted because I wasn’t in the “in” group so I jumped at another job which turned out to be better in expanding my skills, but management and overall way company is run is just as bad. So I guess I figured while it was making it seem like I was their longer, my qualifications and my interview would be enough to look past 2 months difference as in the past I had worked at a union job which had lay offs every year so in keeping away another gap guess took a chance that didn’t pay off in the end.

  12. Apollo Warbucks*

    #2 There isn’t any way I can think of that you can go to your boss and ask them to rescind the offer

    I recommended an ex-lover/friend for a position at my company. I was mostly prompted by a generous $5,000 bonus, and I really wanted him to move to my city.

    So you were prepared to mislead your company when you thought there was a benefit to yourself and now want to put a stop to the hire for personal reasons? You’re not covering yourself in glory here and will make yourself look pretty bad trying to take this to your boss now.

    1. Charityb*

      I have to agree. I don’t think that pulling the recommendation now is worth the heartache; there’s no guarantee that the ex will take the job or even be offered it, and it doesn’t sound like they will be working closely together in any case. It will seem like petty revenge on the OP’s part (even if it isn’t) and as other posters noted could impair her ability to recommend other people later. Too many downsides and minimal upside — unless she is scared for her safety or something it might be better to just wait out the situation.

  13. MashaKasha*

    #1, is OP’s boss five years old? How are OP’s coworkers going to not allow an adult to follow up with a decision she’d already made? They won’t let her take a pay cut? or else what?

    Not in a nonprofit, but I know at least two people who, on some occasions, shared their personal bonus with their subordinates. In one case, the manager got a bonus and the subordinates didn’t; in the other, the manager was in a higher bonus bracket and got something like 10% or 15% while the employees got 3% or 5%. Everyone survived. No one pushed back. I think it’s a phenomenal thing to do that does a lot for employee morale and loyalty. But I do agree with AMA’s points on the ramifications this pay cut might have, since it’s a change to base pay, not to a bonus.

    1. fposte*

      There are also versions of this that happen behind the scenes, since managers are always divvying up budgets; what’s unusual here is that everybody knows.

      1. OP #1*

        Agreed. If the manager had gone to the board with this, it might have happened without anybody knowing how, and we’d all be grateful for our raises. Instead it has become an item of discussion for people (myself included) who should have no input into how much the manager or other staff get paid.

      2. Zillah*

        Yes, this! My mother is a special ed teacher, so she has several TAs in her room. I know that a few years ago, her boss told her she was getting a raise (which most teachers weren’t getting to begin with), and my mother negotiated for it to go to her TAs instead. AFAIK, though, nobody in her room had or has any idea – it was handled in private, as these things should be, tbh.

    2. Bwmn*

      As the manager has to take this idea to the board, it’s not a done decision and not truly the manager’s decision to make. I’ve been in the nonprofit field for my entire professional career – and I would be with the employees saying ‘no’ to the manager taking a pay cut.

      I pursued this field aware of the financial limitations and how it’s necessary to put in 2 years here, 3 years there to get to a place of making better salaries. I took my present job aware of what I was being paid but also aware of what I could get paid if I can move up. I would be furious if I found out that those future options were being cheapened just so I could make a little more an hour in the present.

      1. OP #1*

        That definitely makes sense. In my case, it wouldn’t bother me. I mentioned upthread how it is very unlikely I’ll ever be a manager in this industry. Our managers are also *almost* unionized — there’s not much penalty for going against the union, but most boards follow union guidelines when hiring managers. This pay cut would likely be a temporary one for the position (which of course leads to other issues).

        It’s really a weird industry. My position is usually the second-highest in terms of pay on the local level. We’ve got our own union with pay and workload guidelines, no employer takes them even a little seriously.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      I was confused on that also. They aren’t going to allow her to take a pay cut? Management does have to choose where to allocate funds and make tough choices when funds are tight but it seems strange everyone knows about it. I think something like this should be between the manager and her manager or she and the board. It’s not something staff should generally know about, IMO.

      Plus I agree with AAM it sets a bad precedent with future candidates they try to hire for that role salary-wise.

    4. OP #1*

      Absolutely, the phrasing “will not allow” was directly from one of my coworkers, and another said he would simply refuse the raise knowing where it came from. I get how sometimes a manager could do something you could vehemently oppose to the point of saying “not allow it”, maybe something illegal? But from my POV, I have no idea how this escalated so quickly. If somebody wants to give me a raise, I smile and say “thank you”. Even in a case like this where there are legitimate reasons that it might be a bad idea, I’m pretty happy to let that be somebody else’s problem.

    5. EW*

      Yes, I agree! This happened to me too, a few years ago, but it was all done very quietly behind the scenes. My manager chose to take a (pretty significant) pay cut in order to allow for (pretty significant) raises/promotions for me and 1 other staff member, who were probably earning a little under half her salary. We were of course grateful for the raises, and shocked when we found out later (and by accident – someone else let something slip) how it happened. I agree with other posters here it makes sense for this to be done quietly and not out in the open — except that I really wished I could have thanked my boss! Even when we found out what had happened, she didn’t know that we knew, and we didn’t want to raise it.

      Of course, it’s terrible that nonprofits are so financially squeezed that this is even a thing. But from the manager’s point of view, it’s great for morale as well as retention. It says a ton about how much they value those employees, to be willing to go to bat for them and more.

      I had never considered the other issues that Alison raised, about setting a precedent and all that. I guess that wasn’t as big a deal in my boss’s case because she is close to retiring at the end of her career, so she doesn’t have future salaries resting on this reduced salary. But I do agree that this may not be a smart move for the organization – because it trains them to think this is ok, or that it’s ok to not budget for ‘normal’ raises. It could also put other managers in a tricky position, if they are not in a position financially to take a cut, but might still feel just as strongly about their employees. Still – if your boss is proposing to do this, take it! And thank them, make sure they know how much it means to you – not just the money but also their vote of confidence.

  14. RG*

    #2, like others, I believe that the nature of the test question really determines whether or not he cheated. I mean Googling a question and implementing the best solution is par for the course when it comes to coding in general. So if really depends on whether the interviewer would have allowed Google in this case, and, if so, the question. Implementing code that uses a regular expression? That’s fine – I’m pretty sure most people don’t remember the rules off the top of their head. Fizzbuzz? Not OK. It really does depend on the question.

  15. Erin*

    Slightly off topic but I’ve seen it so many times I can’t resist: I always get a kick out of it when OPs say something like they work at a “a relatively small company of about 250 people.”

    My last job had 4 people in the company. One of my current ones has 5, and the other one has about 15, with another 15 to 20 in other offices.

    I must just have completely different work experiences. :)

    1. fposte*

      There are actually standards for this, though I don’t know that the OP was drawing on them. The U.S. Small Business Administration sets max employee numbers for qualification in a variety of industries. As it happens, 250 is small even for small business–for most fields you’re a small business up to 500 employees.

      1. F.*

        Unless you’re in the USA and subject to the Affordable Care Act and all the myriad regulations and forms, then you’re an Applicable Large Employer with only 100 employees. Go figure.

        1. non-profit manager*

          Actually, you’re an applicable large employer with only 50 full-time equivalent employees. But you’re still in the small group insurance market until you have 100 employees.

      2. De (Germany)*

        Wow. In Germany “Mittelstand” (medium sized businesses) end at around 500, everything above that is large. I wouldn’t call anything with more than 50 employees a small business.

    2. non-profit manager*

      I agree. I work for an organization that will reach 50 employees very soon, and this is the largest organization I’ve been with (other than part-time/temp jobs while in school).

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Even though I realize what the other are saying regarding classifications of “big” and “small” businesses, I’m with you. Almost all the companies I’ve worked for are right around 50 people, so 25o sounds big to me too, even though I know technically it’s not. :)

  16. Laurel Gray*

    For #2 I think this all comes down to a lesson learned – be very careful about mixing business and pleasure. Not saying it can’t be done, but it has to be done with caution. You recommended someone based on your own personal needs. Now because your feelings have changed, you want to go back on your word with your company like you are doing them a favor when this is really about you. I think you have to just eat this one and let the chips fall where they may.

  17. Allison*

    You should absolutely tell someone why you’re firing them. Not only can it be really frustrating to be let go with no explanation, but if this person doesn’t know that their behavior will get them fired, they may act the same way in another job! It’s true that their career isn’t your responsibility, and if you really dislike someone it can be tempting to let them crash and burn, but giving them an explanation is pretty simple and can really help them in the long run. If they try to argue, you can simply say “this isn’t up for discussion.”

  18. Anonymous Educator*

    I’m not sure what to think about #1. I appreciate Alison’s perspective (of course) about the market rate for that position for the future. But doesn’t it really depend on the numbers we’re talking about and the actual disparity in pay? And perhaps the manager knows she’s making well above market rate already?

    I’m just throwing out some hypotheticals, but if it’s something like this

    Manager: $205,000
    5 Employees: $35,000 each ($175,000 total)

    and then moving to this

    Manager: $180,000
    5 Employees: $40,000 each ($200,000 total)

    I don’t see a problem at all.

    But if it’s more like this

    Manager: $75,000
    5 Employees: $40,000 each ($200,000 total)

    moving to this

    Manager: $60,000
    5 Employees: $43,000 each ($215,000 total)

    and I don’t know that that’s really a good idea.

    1. OP #1*

      It’s somewhere between those two scenarios. I don’t have all the figures handy, but manager makes about $100,000, plus insurance and pension. I think the total pay between the other four office staff is about $110,000 — none of us receive benefits aside from vacation and sometimes continuing ed. (Pay within the office staff also widely varies, partly because of different needed qualifications, and partly because some are part-time.)

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        So roughly $100,000 for one person vs. $27,500 per person for the other four (with no benefits)?

        In that case, yes, I’m in favor of your manager taking a pay cut, and you’re right to to be, too.

        1. seisy*

          It’s something I’ve noticed in more than a few non-profits: a tendency to pay way, way, way, way below “market rates” for the core employees, but upper management will be paid quite comfortably. Depending on the type of organization and its structure, it seems pretty foolish to view the core teams as expendable, replaceable, and not important enough to invest in qualified employees. There’s one particular organization I worked for that was in a state of constant crisis because it couldn’t keep any of its core employees, wouldn’t offer high enough salaries to hire any who had any experience or knowledge, and thus the infrastructural knowledge of how to run the organization and fulfill its most basic operations was in shambles. The thing was a zombie, lurching along. A zombie with a very well paid leadership team who just couldn’t understand why by every measure, the organization’s performance kept falling like a stone…but were sure the answer was just that the rest of the staff just needed to *work harder* because it’s ~all about the mission~ after all. (a phrase that’s used to excuse any number of sins in my experience)

          1. OP #1*

            I can relate to this completely. In the cases I’ve observed, I think one significant problem is that the people deciding the salary amounts (i.e. the ones doing the initial hiring) don’t really have a good idea of what can be gained by investing in and recruiting high-performance staff, or what can be lost by being content with somebody who has a resume but basically treats it like volunteer work.

            “All about the mission” and similar phrases definitely are used to excuse a lot of poor decisions. And it works on the staff, both because we do genuinely care about the mission and feel good helping with it, and also because statements like that will guilt us into being content with bad situations “for the greater good”. Seriously considering moving to a more corporate job.

            1. seisy*

              I am working hard on trying to move to a more corporate job for just that reason. Unfortunately, I’m finding it very difficult…in part because of some completely bizarre perceptions of non-profit work, including that it’s a kinder, gentler world than the “real” business world, full of people who are just too delicate for the rigors of business.

              1. OP #1*

                Apologies if this is getting off-topic, but I’d really love to hear more about your experiences trying to make this transition if you’re willing to share… I think it’ll likely be one I have to make at some point. I have all kinds of questions, like what field you’re in, if it’s been tough interviewing or just getting interviews, whether or not you had to re-train, etc.

                Thanks for sharing, best wishes as you are working to switch tracks!

                1. seisy*

                  You can send me an email at if you’d like! I used to work in volunteer management/membership recruitment, and I’ve applied to…well, a huge variety of jobs, but given my skill set and my location, it’s started to be more and more startups. I started to get a *lot* more interviews once I moved to the city most of the jobs were in, but so far, what i’ve gotten is more interviews than I can count (partially because they’re so extensive – my last job interview consisted of 3 phone interviews, a work test, and a 5 hour in-person interview with three different teams), and absolutely no job offers. It’s incredibly frustrating. Especially when I’ve been grilled extensively and with suspicion over my background in non-profit work.

                  I suspect I might have an easier time of it if I’d been in something a little more easily definable in the non-profit world – like finance, or marketing.

            2. Anonymous Educator*

              I wish this “all about the mission” stuff would go away. I try to be careful about the charities and non-profits I donate to, but I don’t consider employee salary to be “overhead” (CEO salary, maybe… depending on how high it is).

              If I see a non-profit is willing to invest in paying its employees a livable wage with good benefits and time off, doesn’t overpay its executive director or CEO, doesn’t constantly mail me newsletters instead of emailing, and seems to focus at least a slighty larger percentage of its efforts on its actual mission (which shouldn’t be “underpay our staff”) instead of fundraising, I’m all for that.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          And OP, don’t let other people minimize the significance of even $100 a month at that pay level, either. The office staff are likely not even making a living wage depending on where you live, and that’s if they’re single and without dependents. Even an extra grand or two a year could make a big difference to you all, depending on your circumstances, and some of you might have very different circumstances than others.

  19. Merry and Bright*

    +10 to Alison’s comments about Serious Loon Territory. Bit by bit you can lose your sense of what normal is like or should be. But I have picked up that behind all this there seem to be some positives which the OP says she couldn’t replace easily, which are beneficial to her as a single parent.

    1. Merry and Bright*

      Sorry! I don’t know how this comment arrived here as I was on a completely separate post.

  20. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2. Definitely not. You broke up. OK, that’s OK. You recommended this individual for a job and have even said he’s qualified.

    Now that he’s not dating you, he’s NOT?

    In the professional world, you MUST learn to handle these things. This is not junior high .. “ewww don’t invite Tony to the party, he broke up with me, I don’t want to see him…” yet doing such an action – rescinding a recommendation not because his qualifications don’t match up, but because you’ve had a falling out.. comes across as somewhat juvenile.

    Let the chips fall where they may. In my profession, where people move around a lot, you sometimes end up having to work with people you didn’t get along with before, in, as we say “a prior life”. But if you can’t get over that, then, you won’t be able to work…

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      I’m also side-eying asking the ex not to take the job if it’s offered to him — also feels a little juvenile and not reasonable. He’s not really obligated to fix your mistake by sacrificing a job he needs.

  21. SunnyLibrarian*

    For the love of God. Do not wait until the end of the probation period! I had someone do this, they had me do literally a year’s worth of work in three weeks (because I was a newbie and didn’t know better).

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