I badmouthed my employer to classmates, references were contacted before I was even interviewed, and more

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

1. I badmouthed my employer to classmates and now feel awful

I work at a organization at a university. My feelings about my employer have been mixed – though I like my coworkers, I go from extremes of disliking the job and being critical of the organization’s mission to feeling grateful for the job and accepting.

As part of my appointment, I get to take a class at the university. Recently, I shared my negative feelings about the organization I work at with some of my classmates. I was so passionate and fired up that I said some bad things about the organization I work for. I also revealed some information that is not security sensitive, but shouldn’t be shared with outsiders. I told them about a few projects that we’re trying to work on that are not working out, and about how overworked and underpaid everyone is. I was a bit too honest about how I disagree with some of the organization’s activities and approaches. I was generally very undiplomatic and rude.

I immediately realized how rude, unprofessional, backhanded, and uncalled for my behavior was, especially given that I don’t have a very close relationship with my classmates. The people at the organization I work at have also been nothing but good to me. I am at times resentful because I am underpaid and overworked, but this is the nature of the position. I am overcome with intense feelings of guilt, anxiety, and regret, and I’m unsure of how to proceed. Should I reach out to my classmates and apologize for my behavior? Should I speak to my coworkers?

Well, it wasn’t great, but you probably don’t need to beat yourself up over it this much. I’d go back to the classmates you spoke to and say, “I’ve been feeling mortified about what I said the other day. You caught me on a bad day, and I shouldn’t have said those things. The people I work with have been great to me, and I feel awful about what I said. Please block it from your memory!”

Beyond that, just take it as a lesson to watch what you say to people you’re not close with in the future. And I wouldn’t bring this up with your coworkers; you’d almost certainly be creating an issue when otherwise one won’t exist.

2. Can I offer to volunteer if a job offer doesn’t work out?

I recently applied for a position that would be a step back/sideways in my career, but which still appeals to me for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons—working part-time—is something that I can only swing financially if my spouse’s employment situation changes. Since you can never know what’s going to happen/how long a hiring process might drag out, I applied anyway and have now been invited for an interview. This is proceeding faster than my spouse’s opportunities, so although I’m going to go ahead and interview, I think it’s likely I will have to turn down the position if it’s offered.

If they do indeed offer me the job and I do find that I can’t take it, or if they don’t offer me the job but the interviewer and I had good rapport, is there any graceful/non-weird way to offer my services as a volunteer instead? I happen to have a software certification that I think they will have trouble finding in other candidates, and I wouldn’t mind helping with that aspect in an unpaid volunteer capacity because I’d like to be involved with the organization and I enjoy that kind of work. I would even be interested in training their new employee for free if they can’t find someone else with the technical knowledge they want. It’s a non-profit, so volunteering itself is not a strange thing. However, I don’t want to come across as non-genuine in my initial interest in the job (I would love to take it, I just might not be able to), and I definitely don’t want to make the person they do hire feel weird or threatened. So should I offer to volunteer instead of work for them, or would it just come across as odd?

It would be fine to offer that! They may or may not take you up on it, but there’s nothing wrong with offering it. If they do turn you down, it might be because they don’t have the resources or systems in place to manage volunteers well (pretty common — it takes more time and energy than people tend to think it will) or because they’re wary of relying on volunteer help for this particular thing (volunteers are notorious for committing and then not following through, and there are some types of projects where it’s not worth the risk). But it’s still totally reasonable to suggest it, and they might say yes.

And it definitely won’t come across as if you weren’t genuine about your original interest in the job; very few, if any, people apply for and then turn down paid jobs as a strategy for sneaking into a volunteer position instead.

3. My references were contacted before I was even interviewed

I was offered an in-person interview three weeks from now. I normally notify my references right before interviewing to give them the heads up. However, the day after I agreed to do the in-person interview, one of my references contacted me to tell me she had already been contacted by my potential employer for a reference check. Are there reasons that employers check references before interviews? Is this typical practice? I was under the impression they usually do this after the interview.

It’s uncommon but not unheard of. But it’s a really weird and inefficient practice; since most people who get interviewed don’t end up becoming finalists, it wastes a huge amount of time to contact references before even talking with the candidate and establishing some real interest in moving the person forward in the process.

The exception to this if if the hiring manager knows your reference personally. In that case, it’s pretty normal to reach out informally before an interview. (In that case, it’s generally a time saver, because getting the opinion of someone whose judgment you know and trust and who you’re especially confident will be candid with you can help you make the right decision about whether or not to interview the candidate in the first place.)

4. I gave notice and my employer told me to leave immediately — do they still need to pay me for the notice period?

If I gave two weeks notice and was released on the spot but am not able to start my new job for two weeks, does my former job have to pay me for the two weeks?

They do not. Some employers have legitimate or semi-legitimate reasons for wanting people to leave as soon as they give notice, but it’s good form to pay you for those remaining weeks regardless. But good form doesn’t mean legally required, and they can stop your pay on the last day you actually work, even if that day is not the one you chose.

In most states, you could probably collect unemployment for those two weeks since you were unemployed during them through no fault of your own.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. Anxa*

    #3 If it weren’t for this website, I wouldn’t know how uncommon this practice is.

    “since most people who get interviewed don’t end up becoming finalists, it wastes a huge amount of time to contact references before even talking with the candidate and establishing some real interest in moving the person forward in the process.”

    Unfortunately, if a company is using those long questionnaires, they can outsource that wasted time to your references. It’s incredibly frustrating.

    1. Over Development*

      My new job did this!

      I got an email saying the hiring process had been delayed and then about 3 hours later got a text from a reference saying they had received a reference questionnaire!!

      I jumped on the phone to call my other references, but it was so awkward.

      1. Artemesia*

        This is so abusive. I am happy to give references, but I hate filling out those long questionnaires and if it is being done casually for people not even in the finals, it sucks up time that is wasted. How many times will a person’s references want to be called on like this. I usually do a letter and keep it on file and then it is no big deal to tweak it and send it — but filling out questionnaires is tiresome. Companies who do this are a scourge on the people’s good will.

          1. Over Development*

            Luckily it was only six questions and I got the job…and it was only the second time they had been called in this search.

            But I felt so bad that they got random emails.

  2. Graciosa*

    For the situation in #1, it helps to identify the people with whom you can safely share your employment frustrations (in my case, a few carefully chosen family members and friends who have nothing to do with my industry and know how to keep their mouths shut). We’re merely human, and sometimes need to share this kind of thing, so don’t beat yourself up for that alone.

    The trick is to make sure that going forward you only do so in ways that won’t hurt either your employer (to whom you owe a duty of loyalty while you work there) or your own reputation.

    1. MK*

      Exactly. Venting about your job (or your partner or your mother or your car or whatever) is perfectly natural and most people understand that what you say in a moment of frustration may not be your true feelings, or at least not the whole story. But in this case the OP works for an organization at a university an complained to people in a class at this university, a class she takes as part of her appointment. That adds a level of inappropriate to the situation that wouldn’t necessarily be there if she was a student working at an unrelated job and complained to her classmates about her workplace.

    2. Adam*

      Agreed. I vent about my job all the time, or at least just often enough that my friends find my organization’s exploits hilarious and aren’t sick of me yet. I just don’t go into great detail since it’s not necessary, some things shouldn’t be said aloud, and to my friend’s probably kind of boring anyways.

      You just have to know how to keep things balanced and where the line you don’t want to cross is.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      My SO is the best for this. We work in different arms of the same industry (we’re both in tech, he’s a dev and I’m an analyst) so we encounter a lot of the same annoying crap. We also both laugh-cry at the conference call simulator.

      On the other hand my parents are USELESS for venting. My mom is a retired primary school teacher and has no idea what I’m talking about, and my dad solved all HIS work problems by taking over a consulting firm and making all the rules himself (and has no idea why I don’t want to go into management — “because I hate managing” is not a good enough answer?!).

      1. Oryx*

        Did I write this? Because, all the SO stuff and even the parent stuff sounds so much like my life.

  3. Blurgle*

    For #4, in most Canadian provinces your employer indeed does have to pay you for those two weeks – may indeed need to pay you more than two weeks’ salary given the circumstances.

    1. Jessie*

      I just want to add that they only have to pay you what would have been legally required as notice. So, if you give them one month notice, but only have to give two weeks – they would only have to pay for the two weeks.

    2. Kit*

      In Nova Scotia, if you don’t give 2 weeks notice you have to pay your employer! The only exception is if your hours or pay are cut, then you can quit without notice.

      1. MK*

        Is it enforced in practice? It’s the same in my country, but employers never get paid anything; they don’t expect it or demand it, so it’s just been an empty law so far.

        1. Kit*

          They can withhold your last paycheque, but if you quit on payday I can’t see them coming after you.

      2. jhhj*

        It’s not automatic, though — they need to provide proof that they had costs from someone quitting without notice. (Eg, hiring a temp and paying more to the temp agency, paying overtime for other employees, etc.)

  4. Panda Bandit*

    #1 – It’s okay to complain about the things from your job that frustrate you. Just limit it to friends and family that you trust and who aren’t connected to the company.

    It’s also okay that you have mixed feelings about your job. You described everyone as being overworked and underpaid and that’s not a good place to be. Consider applying to other jobs because you sound pretty stressed out from this one.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      Yeah… this wasn’t the OP’s question, but she needs to find a new job. The feelings of anger followed by feelings of guilt and thankfulness despite being underpaid and underworked are not healthy. It’s a blessing to be employed, yes, but this job seems to cause more stress than it’s worth.

  5. Alanna*

    Way, way, way back in the day, baby Alanna applied for an Oxfam America job and didn’t get it. I started volunteering there right afterward, because researching Oxfam made me believe in their work. Next time they had a relevant opening, the head of HR actually tracked me down on vacation to ask me to apply. If you can volunteer with a sincere heart, it’s useful.

      1. hayling*

        No it’s definitely related. If the OP withdraws her candidacy now but builds rapport as a volunteer, they will probably keep her in mind in the future for other opportunities.

        And what a great story!

      2. OP #2*

        I agree that it’s related, and I appreciate you sharing your experience! One of the reasons I’m interested in volunteering is that I would like to be around if that job or another one opened up at a time where I was in a better position to take it.

  6. Not an IT Guy*

    #4 – I once had a job where you had to agree to forfeit up to two week previous pay if you didn’t give notice. I have to wonder if that was legal due to contract law and seasonal employee status, I can remember what we signed allowed them to get away with a lot.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      If this was in the US, I would question whether that contract was actually enforceable, under the “must be paid for time worked” umbrella. It seems on par with workers not being allowed to opt out of overtime pay or working off the clock.

        1. Kit*

          As I just mentioned up thread, that’s actually the law in Nova Scotia. If you don’t give two weeks notice, your employer can retain your last two weeks of pay, unless you are quitting because your hours or pay have been reduced. I can’t imagine that being the law anywhere in the US (maybe Montana?) though.

  7. GH in SoCAl*

    #1, do you have the option to find a therapist? I found that having one to vent to about things like this has been great — it saves me from dumping a lot of crap on my friends or family (or worse, mere acquaintances, which absolutely has happened to me on a bad day as it did to you). And bonus, it has actually helped me be less prone to wild ups and downs in my perception of my work (and life).

    There’s a good chance the venting itself will blow over, with the people who heard you out just taking it in stride. But this could be an opportunity for you to get out of the internal pattern of frustration/gratitude/frustration/gratitude.

    1. Alanna*

      Or a coach. A coach is a great place to dump workplace complaints. Mine knows the name of every annoying colleague I have :)

    2. louise*

      My therapist has been vital to processing workplace crazy! Don’t know how I would function without her, really. Took the leap to finding a therapist after an AAM thread last summer where people were talking about EAPs and I wondered if ours covered any therapy. It did, and I found someone I’ve been going to ever since.

    3. Devil's Avocado*

      Agreed! My therapist helped me see that the “venting” I was doing (to friends and family) really didn’t serve me well at all, and in fact made me feel much, much worse about my job because it was just making me obsessive about all the stuff that made me angry.

  8. Dangerously Cheezy*

    #4 – I was lucky that when I gave 2 week notice (and was subsequently escorted out) that my new job could take me in immediately..

    I had thought that I was entitled to 2 weeks pay, because by law – they were required to either give me 2 weeks notice or pay in lieu of notice. I felt that it applied to the situation, I was not quitting effective that day but at a future date, so by having me leave immediately I felt that they effectively fired me without cause or notice.

    But after many conversations with the board of labour, I was told that because I gave my notice I quit and it didn’t matter what day they showed me the door. They explained it to me that it is like quitting that very second but I am asking my employer to make a deal for me to stay an additional 2 weeks and it is the employers option to accept that offer or allow me to leave immediately.

    I think it is wise for anyone to try and arrange a flexible start time with a new job, the latest you could start will always be typically 2 weeks but employers know that sometimes you will be available the very next day if you are thrown out.

    1. Just me*

      Happened to me. Looking back I wish that I just up and quit on my preferred day. I might as well have. My former boss burned his own bridge.

  9. fposte*

    #2–we almost always have people volunteering after they didn’t get a job with us. I’m always impressed at that kind of dedication, and we’re very happy to have them.

    1. overeducated and underemployed*

      That is really nice. I had one rejection a few months ago come with a suggestion to volunteer and the remark that they do hire out of the volunteer pool, but unfortunately I can’t afford to, my work has to pay right now due to childcare costs. (Didn’t write back to explain that, because it wouldn’t have helped anything.)

      1. fposte*

        We only mention volunteering in our rejection letters to student applicants, because they’re going to be in close proximity to us anyway and a lot of them do volunteer; it’s included in a statement that they’re welcome here and we hope to see them in another capacity, so it’s not, I hope, coming across as a request for free work so much as a “don’t feel weird about this and we still want to see you when you come.” I wouldn’t do it with a non-student applicant, though.

      2. MK*

        That strikes me as somewhat inappropriate and a bad idea in general; it can come across as if they are using the lure of a paying position to get people to volunteer and it can lead to bad feelings, if someone does volunteer and then isn’t hired when a position opens.

        1. Kyla*

          Yes, this would make me mad as well.

          I am a Gen Y in the position where I literally can’t afford to volunteer or do unpaid internships. I don’t have a wealthy family to fall back on and need to pay all my own rent/bills/expenses. I need paid work to do that. I’d RATHER intern/volunteer in my field than work in retail, but sadly, my financial situation other ideas.

          It annoys me that some rich kid will go and volunteer and get hired out of it. Just another way the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

          1. Green*

            I largely agree with your comment, but I wouldn’t assume everyone who does unpaid internships or volunteers is rich — lots of people are financing everything on loans because they know unpaid gigs can get you jobs. That’s not how it should be, obviously, but they’re not all “some rich kid.”

          2. OP #2*

            I agree in a lot of ways as well, but I would add that most of the people I know volunteer AND work; they don’t volunteer instead of working for money. I certainly have to have paid work–as I said in my question, I probably even can’t afford to move from full-time to part-time work, so I am considering volunteering for free in addition to my full-time job to get the experience and become involved in this organization.

  10. Pete*

    #3 – I can imagine a hiring manager deciding to check references first if she had previously reached the final hiring stages with her desired applicants only to hear bad references that she couldn’t ignore. She could easily believe she wouldn’t have wasted time if she had known the references up front.

  11. TootsNYC*

    For #4, with the employer declining the notice period:

    i would be sure to quietly make sure everyone you worked with knows this happened.
    So that when they leave, they can plan their timing. And they can decide to quit without notice–or at least be prepared to ahve the company treat them the same way.

    At least someone else can benefit from this, instead of losing 2 weeks of pay you didn’t realize you’d lose.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I think Alison has mentioned this before in previous posts—you can tell a lot about your manager based on how she handles others’ departures. Unfortunately, OP#4 didn’t get that opportunity, but the OP’s former co-workers can definitely benefit from that knowledge. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with managers who (even though some of them have been unprofessional in other ways) have allowed me to give several months’ notice (even for non-teaching positions) and not tried to push me out.

  12. Bee Eye LL*

    #4 – This practice is often done where employees have higher level security access, especially with IT-related jobs. I once gave notice and was out the door an hour later, but they did cut me a check for the next two weeks as a courtesy.

    What’s funny about all this is that employer’s will DEMAND you give them a two-week notice before leaving, but they could just as easily tell you go to get out and not extend you the same courtesy.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Seriously? If you wanted to do damage to the company, couldn’t you have done that without giving any notice? Why punish people who do give notice? In other words, if someone gives notice March 1 for March 15, but you assume she’s going to do damage March 14, so you let her go on March 1… that makes no sense. She could have just as easily not given you any notice and done damage on March 14 and left the same day.

      1. Anna*

        I’ve only ever seen it done that way when it was finance people who were laid off. They had to leave immediately, even though there was nothing hinky about anything.

        1. Just me*

          Nope. I work in editorial, and my boss got all pissy that I was leaving. In the middle of planning the MONTH I gave them, he called me down and told me to get out. Sometimes you just have crappy people who can’t bear to not be calling the shots. It reminded me of break up – “I’m breaking up with you.” “Well I’M breaking up with YOU!”

    2. Milton Waddams*

      This is remarkably common in the U.S. I don’t know if it’s something about certain corporate cultures or what, but whenever an employee quits without giving 2 weeks notice, they become The Enemy for at least a few weeks, regardless of their actual job performance (I hate to imagine the effect this has on their references), but they don’t bat an eye at immediately tossing out any and everyone with zero notice.

      I guess maybe it’s a side-effect of growing up a Pointy Haired Boss during the recession, where there is this illusion of an endless stream of desperate and interchangeable Dilberts. :-)

    3. No Longer Passing By*

      Certain positions have security concerns that may require immediate departure. If you’re paid for the 2-weeks time, I don’t understand why you’d be upset by this. Is it the being escorted out part (feeling like a criminal).

      1. Milton Waddams*

        I suppose part of it might be that if the employee cheerfully spent years not spilling the beans, the idea that the minute their employment status changes they become a potential Enemy of the State tends to have a way of souring goodwill. It also paints a very different working environment, if the sort of incident they are imagining is remotely common — what does it say about a workplace culture when employees are treated with such fundamental disrespect that they would be willing to sell out their country to spite their asshole manager?

        I mean, the whole thing about contractors following the mushroom management philosophy, “kept in the dark, fed a steady diet of bull$hit, and then canned” — it’s supposed to be a joke, right?

      2. Just me*

        Yes. Being logged out of my comp and forced to leave like I did something wrong, when all I did was give notice.

  13. LC*

    I do reference checks for my company. We always do them before the candidate shows up for their in-person (most people have a couple of phone interviews beforehand). We also do their background checks beforehand. The reason is that we want to be able to offer asap if we like the candidate (the candidates typically have multiple offers that they have to choose from). The other reason is that sometimes a HM will using some of the information gleaned from the reference checks as a discussion topic in the interview.

    1. hayling*

      Isn’t that a huge time suck, though? For example, you may interview 10 people but only 3 make it to finalists…you’re more than tripling the number of reference checks you have to do.

      Also, really, you’re doing the candidates a huge disservice. They’re probably applying to lots of jobs and going on a number of interviews. If their references got a call for every interview, that’s going to start to annoy their references pretty quickly, to the point that they may tell the candidate not to put them as a reference any more. I urge you to reconsider this practice.

      1. Ryan*

        I think there is a middle ground here. I often contact references for candidates that we have scheduled an in person with. It provides useful information to ask about during the in person. I don’t do it for every candidate who gets a phone screen, but for the final 3-4 candidates. As noted, saves time after and avoids the awkwardness/time waste of being excited to hire someone and then having a bad reference send you back to square one.

        As for burdening candidates references, I only do it when they’re a inalist and tell them ahead of time that I plan to do it so it’s not a surprise. I’ve found it very useful in planning in person interviews and know where to probe deeper.

      2. No Longer Passing By*

        I don’t understand this policy. A background check costs approximately $200 per person and just because you are interested in an applicant doesn’t actually mean that they’re good for your particular vacancy. I may invite some candidates in for a face to face interview because they’re good on paper or passed the telephone screen and then find out that they can’t pass the $40 skills test or there’s a critical fit problem during the interview. Plus in some states, you can’t run background checks unless you’ve already issued a conditional offer.

          1. Anna*

            I think if you’re paying ANYTHING for a background check on someone you haven’t even spoken to in person, you’re doing it wrong.

            1. LC*

              Yes, obviously what makes sense for you HAS to make sense for the industry in which I work. Thanks.

  14. College Career Counselor*

    In higher ed aministration, I’ve seen the reference check before interview become increasingly common. In my experience, it’s not done for every applicant, but is either for every applicant who is going to get a phone/skype interview with the search committee OR for every applicant who is coming for a campus interview. In the case of the phone screen scenario, that’s probably only if the pool is pretty small (six or so).

    In my experience, the questions asked have been about the candidate’s working style, ability to interact effectively with various internal and external constituencies, specific work with student groups, areas of strength and areas of challenge, reason for leaving the last job, etc. I think it’s used to identify things to ask the candidate in more depth, to confirm the decision to bring someone to campus, and to save time on the back end.

  15. Pwyll*

    #4 – If you haven’t already, I would reach out to your new employer to let them know of your availability. I’d just let them know your employer let you go when you gave notice and you’re ready and able to start at their convenience. They just might let you start a week or two early.

  16. Bowserkitty*

    #3 – I agree with Alison, it’s a time waster in most cases.

    I’m still not convinced my current employer even reached out to my three references because none of them had/has said a thing to me.

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