5 more updates from letter-writers

Here are five updates from letter-writers who had their questions answered here this year.

1. My assistant won’t tell me when she’s going to be out sick

I ended up having to fire her four months later. After you answered my question, I spoke with her and made it clear what my expectations were. As previously, she expressed regret and said she completely understood what was expected. A few months later, she was sick, and just barely followed my instructions about notifying me – sending two-word emails each morning (“out sick” and “still sick”) with nothing further as to when she’d be back, how serious it was, nothing. She didn’t respond to my email or phone call, and ended up being out for an entire week. Now it was a matter of not being able to depend on her to do her job, and on the subsequent Monday I called and left her a voicemail telling her she was fired (I didn’t want to do it via voicemail, but had no other choice). She didn’t check her voicemail until the next shift she was scheduled for (two days later) and called me in tears, begging for her job back. Truthfully, the entire thing completely shocked me; never in my experience have I known anyone (older than 20) to treat their job with such indifference.

On a side note, I want to say that your pointing out that my instructions were being ignored opened my eyes to the fact that she was doing that in other areas too — doing things how she thought they should be done, regardless of the fact I had told her I wanted them done a certain way. When I was interviewing for her replacement, I was clear to candidates that was vital. I am now more conscious of it and made it clear to my new hire from the get-go. So thank you for your advice, it really did make me a better manager!

2. My manager thinks I’m late when I’m not (#5 at the link)

Good morning Alison! Thanks to all for the excellent advice. Kudos to Katie the Fed and Turanga Leela for best advice ever!

The boss’s zeal to crack down on perceived lateness lasted about three days. One morning, she was leaning against the wall with a clipboard, commenting as we all went by “You’re on time, you’re late, you’re late” etc. And then it was back to not really caring.

Her latest endeavor? Boss needed to talk with one of the staff members, so rather than picking up the phone or walking over to her office, Boss asked two different people to tell Mariposa to call her. Somehow Mariposa never got the message and Boss says, “OMG, we have a major communication problem around here.” As a solution, Boss decided we needed to leave Post-it notes at our desks at all times, detailing where we ran off to, so she would know exactly where to find us. Which would be somewhat helpful…if she would ever leave her office to check in with the staff. Luckily that lasted for about a week before she lost interest.

I am looking for a new gig and thinking about going back to school. Whatever I decide, I will leave AAM a Post-it note so you know where to find me : )

3. When a candidate asks for more money a week after accepting an offer

I don’t know what is going on, but this continues to be a problem. We had three positions open. Two people accepted, started right away, and are doing fine. However, since I wrote this letter, we have had two other people accept, ask us to hold a position so that they could give extended notice and then take a week or two off before starting, and then attempted to renegotiate before they came in. So, this has now happened to us a staggering three times.

It really sucks from an employer’s perspective because we declined other qualified candidates, held a position open, continued to get bombarded with work, and then found ourselves back at square one months later. Personally, I think people are accepting offers, getting long lead times on the start date, and then leveraging them against other positions while they continue to interview.

It is a really crappy thing to do and I can’t tell if this is the “new normal” and/or if someone out there is advising people to do it. But I really can’t see it happening the other way around. Could you seriously picture a candidate giving notice at their existing job, stop working, and then just before starting having the employer call back to say it realized the offer was too generous and was going to trim it by 20%?

My advice to interviewees: Your working career is a 50-year marathon, not a sprint. What you say and do can affect you for years to come, possibly decades. These three individuals have had their names forever committed to memory and will not only be ineligible in the future, they will likely be ineligible at other locations if anyone from this firm leaves and goes somewhere else.

4. Did I violate work-friends protocol?

Alison, you were correct about this. I was being a bit paranoid and my work-friend is very much not a plan initiator. I haven’t noticed any fake phone calls either. My update (over a year later) is that we are friend-friends now and I’m really glad to have met her. I’m probably a bit overly pushy, but still not in Keith Hernandez territory. And we haven’t done anything mentioned in the original post, which is totally fine and normal: no helping moving, no sleepovers, no bridesmaids, no holidays.

That said, one of the highlights of my year was a team bike ride and this friend was one of my teammates and it was awesome and tons of fun! And yes, I initiated the bike ride.

Thanks to all the reader suggestions about meeting people in a new city; that was definitely adding to my anxiety about the situation. In general, I have no problems meeting people but finding people I super connect with is – for me – much harder.

I’m hoping we stay in touch in the future. I’m leaving my job soon so we can’t remain work-friends.

5. I don’t have experience with a program my interviewers want, but I’ve been studying it (#4 at the link)

My update is a happy one. I took your advice almost word for word, and scored an entry-level position with the company I really wanted to work for. I feel like I’ve really grown here. While work is work, my time here has been the best time I’ve ever spent working.

As a matter of fact, I’ve was given a promotion after 8 months in the entry-level position I was hired-on in! I’ve only been in this new position for a month or so, but I’m enjoying it a lot! I owe it all to you and your community’s advice. Thank you!

{ 63 comments… read them below }

  1. VintageLydia*

    “I am looking for a new gig and thinking about going back to school. Whatever I decide, I will leave AAM a Post-it note so you know where to find me : )”

    Literally LOLed!

  2. Dawn*

    Thanks for the update on #5! That’s really great to hear as I’m working on learning several programming languages in order to further my career, but I’m not going to school to get a degree in programming so I’ve been wondering how much of a difference it’ll make down the road. Sounds like quite a bit, as long as I invest my time wisely and make an effort to show competency.

    1. KR*

      Honestly in my experience in the IT field, when you don’t have a lot of experience certifications are the best way to show your skills because usually once you get your degree in a computer field, the knowledge is already partially outdated.

      1. Dawn*

        Late reply to this, but yeah, that’s exactly my thinking behind deciding not to pursue a master’s in Data Science. It’s such a new field I figure by the time I finished in two years the landscape would be completely different.

    2. ScaredyCat*

      In my experience, these degrees in programming or engineering are generally prerequisites, should they be specifically mentioned. If they’re absolutely imperative, you’re probably going to be rejected at the resume checking process.
      I’ve never seen any kind of requirements for masters degree, unless they job’s in academia. Lots of people still go for a masters, but in my opinion this doesn’t give them any kind of an advantage over other colleagues.

      What DOES count a lot, aside for your performance during the interview, are technical certifications. Eg: Sun Certifications for Java, MSDN certifications for .NET, Oracle Certification for database administrators etc.

      Of course, all this is just my experience, after being in the job for 8 years. There might very well be places that DO require some sort of college degree. Or at least relevant studies (eg: studied engineering for 2 years, then dropped out).

  3. Bowserkitty*

    I’m surprised the assistant in #1 didn’t get her act together. Letting your boss know when you’re sick, and especially for multiple days – isn’t that pretty rudimentary for anybody in the workforce? I hope she learned her lesson.

    1. Michaela T*

      Especially when they would accept detailed voicemail/texts/emails! OldJob had a rule that employees couldn’t use any of those, and instead we had to speak directly with their managers when calling off. I would sit there on sick mornings calling every two minutes trying to catch my boss at her desk, a couple of times I slipped into a Nyquil coma during the wait and didn’t get my notice in until hours after I was supposed to be in the office. CurrentJob allows emails and I’m much happier for it.

      1. myswtghst*

        I am so grateful my boss is okay with text / email (she just asks that we contact her before we’re supposed to be in, and send a quick note to the team so they know we’ll be out). I’m able to do all that from my phone without even getting out of bed, which is doable even when I get a migraine and can barely function.

      2. SophiaB*

        Our consultants have to phone the Project Management Office if they’re off sick and report to someone in real time, but most of them send an email as well. If the Admins catch it soon enough, they can usually kick off the ‘mark as sick’ procedure from the email alone, and consultants can just call to confirm whenever they’re ready. So long as our PMs and customers know the situation, the ‘talk to a live person’ part is covered and Managers only get testy about it if you’re a repeat offender. Making people sit by their phone and wait when they’re feeling like death seems unreasonable.

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      That’s the weirdest thing I ever heard!!! I was in the ER earlier this year and I was texting my supervisor multiple times, he even said to relax and don’t worry (it was right before a major deadline so I was worried about missing work and affecting my teammates). Clearly the assistant didn’t give a shit about her job–but why would she cry about it.

      So so soooo strange!!!

    3. Amanda*

      The way I see it, the manager had asked the employee to stop coming into work sick and to notify her if she did come into work. Which the employee did – and then was promptly fired for it. Although I know the vast majority of work places look down upon an entire week out sick, the employee really did follow the rules – she didn’t come into work, didn’t do anything work related during her absence (check emails, return work phone calls, etc), and she was out until she was completely better. I’m not saying that the other red flags that the manager mentioned are not grounds for firing, it just seems unjust to me that the main reason for her being let go is that she was (perhaps too rigidly) following the rules that were explicitly stated by the manager.

      1. Ashley*

        Where did you get that from? The OP said she just wouldn’t show up when she was sick and not tell anyone. And she continued the same behavior and was fired.

      2. Christy*

        Ah, but that’s not the original issue. (I was thinking the same thing as you, with the original letter lurking open in a tab in the background.) Turns out, the employee wasn’t coming in sick, she was out sick and just wouldn’t tell anyone about it after the first day–she’d just reappear in the office *eventually*.

      3. Charityb*

        She wasn’t following the rules at all, not even technically. She just left whenever she wanted without telling anyone when (or even IF) she was coming back, which seems totally unreasonable and stressful for anyone who needs to work with her. Even if this was her only problem, I think that definitely merits firing.

      4. neverjaunty*

        The employee continued to do exactly what the problem was in the original letter – sending an “out sick” email, not responding to anyone’s attempts to contact her, and then showing up a week later without any attempt to update her boss on her status. I honestly don’t see where you’re getting the idea that she followed the rules too rigidly.

      5. A*

        Really, what the employee did pretty much qualifies as job abandonment with that many days out and no contact or head’s up to the office when/if she’d be back.

      6. Anonsie*

        I feel for her a little, too, although she was definitely demonstrating a pretty solid lack of good judgement all around so I also don’t think the LW was really overboard either. Overall, I think this assistant had a pretty good laundry list of issues and was really resistant to following instructions from the LW. There is a very high probability based on what we know that she was not going to work out in that position.

        At the same time, I’m bothered by how it actually happened, because it seems like the LW took something as a last straw that wouldn’t have been egregious on its own which feels to me like a bad idea. Especially since it sounds like she didn’t actually go over some of the other issues she mentioned here with the assistant herself, and she says the brief emails are “just barely” following her directive; from the assistant’s side, one repeat mismatch on professional expectations got her fired. From the LW’s side, the assistant had a lot of problems, but it appears most of those weren’t actually reviewed with the assistant at all aside from this. Even if the firing is probably inevitable, that’s a pretty important middle step in my mind.

        I wonder if there may be some element of the LW being a lot more passive with her instructions than she thinks she’s being. I wouldn’t assert that she is, but I would highly recommend that she really really examine how she gives directions and expectations to people as well. Even if the assistant was the entire problem and was never going to follow what the LW told her, I can also imagine that I would be bothered by the amount of direct communication she’s describing here if this was my supervisor.

  4. Renny90*

    Thank you all for the updates!

    Letter writer #3: It isn’t abundantly clear to me how you proceeded with the original candidate who pulled this stunt. Did you rescind the offer?

    1. Lady H*

      Yes, I’m so curious about this as well!

      I’m also curious if the salary they’re offering is as competitive as the OP said it was in their first letter, but there’s no reason not to believe them. It truly is weird it keeps happening.

      1. NJ Anon*

        My question would be whether OP tells the interviewee/new employee that once the salary is decided on, there is no negotiation and hold firm to the start date. You get x and you start on x . Otherwise move on to a different candidate. I honestly have not heard of this happening where I am and maybe it’s an industry specific thing.

        1. Honeybee*

          Yeah, I was thinking you shouldn’t even have to tell a new employee that. I thought it was pretty standard that once you agreed on salary and start date that negotiations are over.

      2. Beezus*

        I wonder if the job market is heating up, either in their area or in their industry or both, and this is how it’s playing out.

        If start dates seem to be part of the issue, I’d be asking candidates to choose between extended notice at the employer or time off between jobs, but not giving them room for both. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to target start dates no more than, say, four weeks out, and letting candidates decide how they want to allocate that time. I do think that some time off between jobs benefits the new employer a bit, so I wouldn’t give anyone the side-eye for wanting that.

  5. Renny90*

    Why does letter writer #4 keep mentioning Keith Hernandez? I googled the name and it’s a baseball player but I couldn’t find any articles about him being inappropriate with his teammates or anything like that.

    1. Harriet Vane Wimsey*

      Seinfeld episode where Jerry met baseball player Keith Hernandez. Jerry had a man crush on him, but got upset when he asked him to help him move. Too much, too soon. Jerry was upset!

        1. OP #4*

          Yes thanks for explaining Harriet Vane Wimsey. Jerry met this guy (who happened to be Keith Hernandez) and they hit it off. However Keith immediately skipped several friendship levels and went from ¨let´s hang out and chat¨to ¨hey man can you help me move this weekend?¨Which is something you wouldn´t ask a new friend to do.

          1. Artemesia*

            And I am sure that became part of the script because the real Keith Hernandez had something of a reputation for blundering especially when he was a sportscaster.

  6. Chickaletta*

    #3 – This short-term thinking is happening the other way around too. You asked, “Could you seriously picture a candidate giving notice at their existing job, stop working, and then just before starting having the employer call back to say it realized the offer was too generous and was going to trim it by 20%?” Well, I quit my freelance business to go back to employment, was hired in August, and let go in November because they didn’t “have the money for my position after all”. So, here I am back to square one, after turning down other offers to take the one that was a bust, and meanwhile my freelance clients have moved on. So, yes, I can picture employers doing exactly what you described.

    As to why it’s happening both ways, who knows. Maybe because the economy isn’t picking up, people change jobs more often, and many employers don’t see employees as long-term assets anymore either. I was amazed during my interviews last summer how many interviewers referred to the position as a stepping-stone, something that would help me in my next job search. All around, employers and employees both are taking job positions less seriously.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      Sure, this stinks, but employers do stuff like this all the time–rescind offers, lay people off only a few months after they’ve uprooted their lives and moved to new locations, tell employees to take a pay cut or find work elsewhere, etc.

      1. OP3*

        You may be right. When employers do it, they get clobbered on Glass Door or similar sites. It is stupid, sticks with them, and impacts their ability to recruit and retain good people. But I suppose that’s someone else’s letter, not mine.

        PS – love your screen name.

        1. Evie*

          Op3 – I suppose it’s very industry specific but in one of the industries I’ve worked in (a niche part of education which attracts a lot of undergrads and new to the workforce types therefore lots of workplace inexperience and turn over) there is a process where if people are known to be very flaky/unreliable etc by families trying to hire, their names can be listed within agencies as “not to hire” types. So in some circumstances at least there can be consequences for employees who pull these kinds of stunts.

      2. Artemesia*

        yep. I know someone who gave up a really good job for what was a step up at a new company which promptly re-organized and let her go before she even got started. And I know several people whom I know are first rate who lost new jobs due to re-orgs within months of uprooting their lives.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Yup. In my industry, it happens quite often that someone will be hired and then a client announces that the account is going away or they’re dropping the scope of work. If there are enough other accounts with openings/extra work that the new person can be moved to one of them, then no harm, no foul (except that the hiree doesn’t get the exact job she signed up for). But if the loss is a major blow to the agency and they have to cut staff, it’s way easier to tell the person who was just hired, “sorry, no dice” than it is to clean house and fire the lowest performers (especially if they don’t do great work but have gotten into the client’s good graces with a charm offensive).

          Re-orgs too. Every time an agency gets someone new in at the top, you know some heads are going to roll, and the most vulnerable are the ones who were just hired and anyone from the old regime who gets on the wrong side of the new one.

          It’s a crappy thing to do to a new hire, especially one who was employed somewhere else before taking the job. But it definitely happens.

      3. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Yep. And it’s a whole lot worse when employers do it to employees, because it’s usually far more of a disruption to someone’s life to lose a job (or get a pay cut, etc.) than it is for a company to lose (or have awkward dealings with) one employee. The power balance here isn’t even close to equal.

    2. Erik*

      I’ve seen companies rescind offers after someone accepts them, changing the salary after the fact stating “we felt that you make too much”, and pulling other stunts. Then people are back to square one. I’ve personally been through this, where a company changed their mind and rescinded an offer, only after I had already cancelled all other interviews and was unable to set them up again. Pissed. Me. Off.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        Yeah, my husband just had an offer rescinded last week, after he’d already accepted and gone out of his way to go to their office and do his new hire paperwork. It definitely stinks.

        1. Artemesia*

          My husband gave up a great job to follow me — and it was much harder to catch something new than we anticipated as he had done so well where he was and in getting multiple offers for his first post grad school job. He finally had two pretty good offers about a year after the move and ended up taking the one that paid a little less but had some features he particularly wanted. The guy who took the other job lasted a month before it was eliminated in a re-org. I was so grateful that my husband hadn’t gone for that one — it was hard enough to be out of work for a year without then getting a job and having it evaporate.

          I feel for your husband and hope something good comes along soon. I have a close relative going through this right now — a totally unexpected layoff just before Christmas. Couldn’t suck more.

    3. Eta*

      Yep. My friend went through a few rounds of interviews, was offered a job, accepted it, and was a couple of days away from starting it when she got the call that the salary they’d offered her hadn’t been approved by the highest muckety-muck and would she accept 30% less (which was less than she’d been making at the previous job she left)?

  7. Observer*

    #3 Given how many times this has happened to you, I would seriously think about looking at your recruitment. Of course, it could just be a fluke, but when so many of your offers end up this way, it’s worth looking at what you can do to change it.

    1. OP3*

      The two who accepted and stuck were for those with 5-7 years experience. They accepted, stuck, and are happy and doing well. The three who originally accepted and then later tried to renegotiate were for 2-3 year spots. I think it was a lack of maturity and real-world experience in the job market. We now look for more seasoned, more reliable, and better informed candidates.

      1. Chriama*

        Or maybe look at how your process goes when dealing with more inexperienced candidates. Give them the offer in a low pressure way and tell them to get back to you within a few days so they don’t feel rushed to say yes right away. Offer to put them in contact with HR or benefits people so they can understand everything before they say yes. And maybe even have a form they sign and say back saying they accept your offer so it seems more ‘official’ than an email or a verbal agreement would.

        If course maybe you don’t need to do this, but if it’s happening that often it’s worth taking a look at what you could be doing better. Presumably candidates with 5-7 years’ experience are looking for more money and more responsibility than you’d offer for a job requesting 2-3 years’ experience, so I don’t think cutting out a major part of the candidate pool because you’re worried about *possible* immaturity is really the best strategy here.

        1. A Different NJ Anon*

          Or maybe they can just make better offers from the get-go.
          It’s amusing to watch management on the receiving end of their own shenanigans. They’ll cut headcount without a second thought to boost their own bonuses, but when one of the plebes looks for a better deal? They’re shocked! Shocked!

          1. chicken_flavored_deodorant*

            Yeah, if anything the behavior of the new hires seems to be a counterpart to skeezy employer practices of requesting salary history, etc. in order to make a lowball offer. Delaying and then demanding a raise returns a bit of power to the new hire in an otherwise uneven employment market.

        2. Anonsie*

          Agreed. This is too unusual and too consistent to be a coincidence on the part of the applicants only. Is the whole hiring process so split up that perhaps these less experienced candidates are getting the impression that the position isn’t final/negotiations are ongoing due to something that’s happening shortly before their start date? Do they not realize that your earlier conversations are being considered final on your end for some reason?

          For example, let’s say you call you extend the offer + salary and talk possible start dates, and also note that the offer is pending a background check or something like that. They get a written offer and benefits information later, shortly before they start. They work on the start date with you then leave that exchange thinking, alright, that’s a start. When the background check is done and they send me the benefits info, THEN I’ll see what to negotiate with. You leave that exchange thinking they’ve totally accepted, possibly due to the specific language they use, which was possibly too definitive sounding due to their experience level. I’ve had several hiring processes that went exactly like that, and while I negotiated up front I could really easily see how people who don’t have a ton of experience with this would take it differently.

          1. Mando Diao*

            I’m getting the impression that people with 2-3 years of experience are being offered lower pay/positions, but not on an appropriate scale.

            The fact that so many applicants found better positions is a sign that OP3’s company isn’t offering enough.

            1. the_scientist*

              Yes, the OP says that the salary she offered the candidate in the original level was 22% higher than his previous salary, which means nothing. His previous salary could have been incredibly low. I am always suspicious of companies that ask for salary history before making an offer (which it sounds like OP3 is doing) because in my experience that history is ALWAYS used to lowball the candidate. And then when the candidate tries to negotiate, the message is often “well, it’s more than what you make at your current job! Take it or leave it.”

              I think OP3 also needs to look at their hiring process more closely- this has happened too many times to be a coincidence, so there is something going on and I don’t believe it’s exclusively “immaturity” on the part of more junior candidates. I think it’s more likely that a combination of a lowball offer + terrible benefits package, or that all the details required to make a decision about the salary aren’t being communicated early enough, or that the language being used isn’t clear to someone with limited work experience.

              I also want to discourage the OP from looking for people with 5-7 years of experience for positions that require 2-3 years, because that doesn’t make sense and it’s a recipe for dissatisfied employees who leave ASAP.

              1. KM*

                Agree with everyone — if this happens over and over, there’s something messed up about the offer.

        3. recent grad*

          These are really good ideas, regardless of whether the offers themselves are that competitive. I would appreciate employers who dealt with me this way, especially if they outright said “take a few days to think, look at benefits, etc.” so I felt I had full information before even verbally saying yes.

  8. Doriana Gray*

    OP#2, your manager is a loon. So glad you’re considering leaving for a new job/going back to school. You don’t get paid enough to deal with that level of crazy.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes and on this one, I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned it to boss’s boss or something, like “hey not sure you’re aware Jane is doing this but…”. But maybe she is the big boss admittedly I don’t remember.

      1. OP#2*

        She is not the Big Boss — but she is getting pressure from the Big Bosses to get a handle on the department. I just don’t think any of her ridiculous approaches to “leadership” or “management” work.

  9. Ruffingit*

    Am I the only one with the sick sense of humor that thinks the manager in #1 should have texted her assistant on Monday with “Fired” then followed up on Tuesday with “Still fired”?


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