discouraging friends from applying for a job on my team, coworkers won’t stop texting at night, and more

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

1. Can I discourage friends from applying for a job in my department?

I just finished grad school in a field where work is hard to come by. I did find a job after graduating and have been there about six months. It’s actually not in the field I studied, but there are lots of transferable skills, and I really love it.

One of my coworkers is leaving, so we’ll have a vacancy soon in my department. My problem is that I have lots of former classmates who are looking for jobs, some of them friends. I’m sure a handful of people I know will apply and want me to put in a good word. With many, I’d feel comfortable telling my boss (the hiring manager) that I don’t think it’s a great fit. Others I don’t know well, so I would say leave the assessment up to her.

My problem is two close friends. They’re really smart and competent, but I wouldn’t want to work with them. I like to keep work and my private life separate. Maybe that’s selfish when my friends need jobs. I just don’t know if either of them would be very committed to the company since it’s outside our field, a pretty low salary, and they think they can do “better” even though they’re not finding anything right now. I also worry that it would be hard to keep things professional in the office with my best friend, who’s very chatty, sitting next to me. The other friend can be very negative, and I worry she’d harp on the few drawbacks of the work so much it’ll turn me sour on a job I now enjoy. Is there a way I can discourage these friends from applying? Or raise my concerns with my boss in a way that doesn’t make me look like I don’t trust myself to maintain professional boundaries?

I think it’s reasonable not to want to work with close friends. There’s lots of potential for complications — such as blurred boundaries, inability to get away from work talk, and weirdness and tension if one of them doesn’t get along with another coworker (or your boss) and wants you to take sides. And it’s also legitimate to just want to keep your work life separate from the rest of your life.

These are close friends, so can you be honest with them? I’d say something like this: “I’ve heard way too many horror stories about how working together can ruin friendships. I’ll help you in your job search in any way I can, but I have a strong preference not to work with a close friend.” A good friend will respect that.

If that doesn’t work and one of them applies anyway, it’s fine to say to your boss, “Jane and I are close friends, and I’d actually rather not bring such a close relationship into the office. I was up-front with her too that I felt that way.” (Of course, all this assumes that they even hear about the opening and express interest in applying. They may not.)

If your company had the only work in your field and your friends were desperate, my answer here might be different. But it sounds like the job isn’t even in their field, and we’re talking about a single job opening, not blocking them from a whole host of jobs.

2. My coworkers won’t stop texting me after-hours

I originally wanted to take a position at my current company because it seemed like a friendly work environment. In the past two years I’ve been there, it has been nothing but attention-seeking coworkers! It has gotten so bad that I put headphones on while I am working just to concentrate. The icing on the cake is the multi-recipient texts that I get after work from my coworkers! And it’s all about how they are not feeling well, etc., etc. I have an old phone so when I get those messages responding back, they freeze up my phone! I’ve never had this problem before, so I don’t know how to stop it. If I tell them not to include me on their message list, I will look insensitive. And this even happens when I’m dealing with my own sons who were sick. I really don’t want to deal with them after hours. I don’t even talk to my family that much!

I do my best to deal with my own problems (being a single mother in debt) and this is just draining me! Even my boss texts me after hours about payroll, which I feel should have been taken care of during the workday.

You’re falling into the classic “I want them to stop, but I don’t want to ask them to stop.” You can only have one of those things — if you want it to stop, you need to say something. It doesn’t need to sound insensitive; I’d simply say, “I try to disconnect from work once I leave the office, so I’d prefer not to receive texts in the evening.” Or if it makes it easier for you, you can say that you pay per text, or that the texts are freezing up your phone (which is apparently true).

If it keeps happening after that (which it may, since people may just keep replying to existing group texts, and that will include you), you may need to remind them a couple of times. But “you’re freezing my phone up” is hard to argue with.

3. I keep hearing “we need you to be flexible”

I’d like to make more sense of a phrase I have been hearing on and off in the work world over the years: “We need you to be flexible.” This is usually said in response to requests for training, or in interviews where I list my strengths as liking to be systematic and respecting policy and procedure.

I had an interview the other day for at a health insurance company. My interviewer asked me to list my strengths. I said that I liked to work systematically, and respect and even like policies and procedures. I thought these were strengths, in contrast to workers who overlook or flout procedure. My interviewer laughed as I spoke and said the job “may not be a good fit if you like to be systematic” because “things change every day, and the way we did things yesterday may not be the way we do things tomorrow or today.” She said she had been in the insurance industry for many years and did not think that state of affairs would change. I had worked in health insurance for a short time in the 1990’s in a different capacity, and I did find the offices I worked for to be maddeningly inconsistent regarding procedure. I was baffled and appalled then, and was disappointed and appalled at my interview the other day.

What qualities or behaviors are being asked for when they say they value “flexibility” and since when did a desire to follow rules and be policy driven and systematic become a weakness?

Flexibility means rolling with changes and not getting too rattled by them. Sometimes an environment has so many unnecessary changes that “we need you to be flexible” is a symptom of dysfunction, but there are lots of fields and roles where it’s just a normal and necessary part of the work. I can’t speak to health insurance in particular, but if you’re hearing over and over that it’s a thing in your field, I’d believe it — and would do some soul-searching about whether that’s something you can live with reasonably happily.

It’s also worth noting that if you’ve been hearing “we need you to be flexible” for years, it might mean that you’re unusually rigid, in a way that’s a problem for a lot of workplaces. There are some fields where rigidity and strict adherence to systems is a plus, but there are others where it would make you ill-suited. If I were you, I’d figure out which fields and jobs reward that approach, so that you’re somewhere that’s well-matched with how you like to work.

4. I want to encourage my boss to apply for a promotion

My boss is everything you’d want to see in a leader: she gives our team clear expectations but the space to maneuver as we see fit, is always willing to talk through an issue, give advice, etc. When there’s a screw-up, she’ll own it in a way that protects our unit while still holding us accountable internally. We have ample opportunity for professional and personal development, and she sets the gold standard by walking the walk in all respects of the job. She’s the type of boss that you’ll go through hell for, because you know she’ll do the same for us (and likely already has).

We work for a decent sized agency(50-60 FTE employees), and we just learned that our organization will be looking for a new CEO in the near future. Is there a tactful way for me to tell her I think she should apply for the post? She’s a senior manager (a step below the executive team) but she knows the culture and already has a great rapport/relationship with a few of our key outside partners. I think she would make a great “face of the franchise” as our agency continues to grow.

I have no idea if she’s considered this role, if she’s interested in it, or if her personal life would allow it (the role is known to be consuming.) As her direct report, is there a good way for me to ask her about it?

Be direct! Tell her all the things you said in your first paragraph, and then say, “I think you would be fantastic as the new CEO. Is that something you’d ever want to do?”

She may not want it (there are real downsides to those jobs, as you note), or she may not want to tell you that she’s throwing her hat in the ring (often people want to be discreet about it), but I’m sure she’ll be really appreciative either way.

5. How do I explain my reference is hospitalized with psychosis?

I worked as a research scientist for seven years at an academic research institution. I always thought my boss (a professor) was “eccentric.” Over the seven years, everyone working close to her noticed that her interpersonal skills significantly declined, and I felt she was constantly overly critical of me.

I left the job 2.5 years ago, mostly because I felt really burned out from being mistreated and I had a few medical issues to deal with, but in a few months I’d like to start looking for a new job (not in the research field). I just learned from my former colleagues that my former boss has been suffering from prolonged psychosis (most likely schizophrenia), and has been hospitalized on and off for the last two years. She will remain in a hospital for unknown period of time, as doctors have not figured out to control her symptoms.

How do I explain to a new potential employer that they cannot contact my former boss as a reference? Sometimes online application forms ask for your most recent supervisor, and simply have a checkbox to let them know if it is okay to contact them. I feel hesitant to check “no,” as it looks like I have something to hide, and my application will get tossed out during the first stage of screening. And how do they feel about my listing a former colleague who used to be a student in the group whom I worked very closely with (now an assistant professor at an university), and a collaborator (professor) at a different/distant institution who also played a supervisory role to me?

That question on application forms is only about your permission. It’s not about the reference’s availability or how difficult/impossible the person might be to reach. Think of it as if your former boss was traveling internationally and was difficult to reach; you wouldn’t withhold your permission for an employer to try, but you’d explain at the appropriate stage that she won’t be easily reachable. It’s the same thing here. Give your permission for them to contact her, and then when you’re further along in the process and reaching the reference-checking point of things, you can explain that she’s currently hospitalized and not not reachable, and you can offer up other references in her place (ideally past managers or other people in a position to assess your work).

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*


    Here’s the way I look at these types of things: Your loyalty and obligation is to your own livelihood. If you think something is going to jeopardize it, and you want to say no to it, then do so, and do it without guilt.

    Your friends don’t come before your livelihood, even if they have no job. If they get hired, work next to you, and things go south, where does that leave you? American culture frowns upon being this direct, but if you’re not looking out for your own interests, then nobody will.

    1. Caroline*

      I agree to a point. But looking out for yourself also applies to OP1’s friends. If they need a job, then they need a job!

      OP1 says that this job wouldn’t be in their field and isn’t particularly well paying, so it’s not like she’s barring them from their dream job, but still, everybody has rent to pay (well, most people). If the friends have been looking for a while and need a job ASAP, then they may have to put their livelihood first too and say to OP1 “I understand your concerns about working together, but right now, I have to take every possible opportunity to get a job”.

      Obviously that may not be the case, the friends may already be in good jobs and are just looking for something better. But if it is, I would hope that OP1 would understand that what she’s asking may not be possible for them.

      1. Gaara*

        If I were unemployed and needed a job, I would absolutely take that line: “I understand your concerns about working together, but right now, I have to take every possible opportunity to get a job.” No hesitation, not even for a second.

        I’d be surprised if that’s an unusual position on this issue. So, OP1, I’d be reluctant to bring up this issue with them because I doubt it would have the effect you want–them not applying for the job–and could easily lead to one or more parties having hurt feelings and a damaged friendship.

    2. MK*

      To begin with, “jeopardising your livelihood” is a bit melodramatic in this context. The OP prefers to keep her work life separate from her personal one, and these two friends have traits (chattiness and negativity) that are undesierable in coworkers, but the probability of them leading to a situation that might endanger the OP’s job is frankly soap-opera-remote.

      Secondly, there is a distinction between what you owe to your friends and what you owe to your friendships. I wouldn’t expect my friends to act as my employments agents, or to recommend me for something I am a bad fit for. But if they actively try to discourage me from taking a job or the employer from hiring me for no other reason than their personal reference for strict work/life separation, then I would think they are put of line.

      And it’s a separate issue to set boundaries with friends who are also coworkers. If her friends are hired, the OP should certainly set them to make both relationships function smoothly, including perhaps a strict “no private talk in the office, no work talk out of it” rule.

    3. OP1*

      American culture does frown upon being this direct (I’m American, and that’s part of the reason I’m struggling with it), but the idea that your first loyalty and obligation is to yourself is also a pretty American one. I actually live in a country where people are much more direct, but where there’s also a stronger sense of solidarity and loyalty to friends. My (local) friend would I think be rather hurt if I told her I didn’t think she should apply just so I can keep my work and social lives separate. But I think I can be direct with her that I think working together might damage our friendship, which is true, and from her perspective a more legitimate reason not to want to.

      1. hbc*

        OP, what struck me about your post is not that you don’t want to work with close friends (understandable), but that there are “many” where you’d tell your boss they’re not a good fit, apparently mostly due to the fact that the job isn’t in their field. But that seems to describe you as of 6 months ago, no?

        This might be unfair, but it gave me an impression that you’re being a bit…territorial about your job, that you think you’re the only one from your graduating class/program who can do this job and appreciate it. If you really can’t think of one person where you wouldn’t either say “No” or “I don’t know,” I’d recommend staying out of it, because you’re not sounding very neutral.

        1. OP1*

          I think my wording was a bit unclear there. There are some people from my program I wouldn’t see as a good fit, because they frankly really struggled with skills that are important in the job. There are some people I don’t know well enough to know if they have those skills, because I didn’t work closely with them during the program. And then there are the two friends in question, who I know to be very competent in those areas from working in projects with them.

          I just don’t trust them to not quit in six months when something more prestigious comes along and not complain about the salary while they’re here. I’ve only been here 6 months, and don’t feel like I have enough of a track record to stay untarnished by them if I vouch for them and they do that. I’d really like to stick with this company long-term, so I’m hesitant to jeopardize my reputation here for something’s they’d see as a stop-gap solution, especially since they both have other sources of income (parents and a part-time job respectively) that’s enough to live off while they look.

          1. Doriana Gray*

            There are some people from my program I wouldn’t see as a good fit, because they frankly really struggled with skills that are important in the job.

            But isn’t your job in a different field than the one you studied? Or is it tangentially related? Because if it’s a different field, I’m not sure how you’d know these people wouldn’t be a good fit based on struggling with things that don’t necessarily apply to the job they’d be doing. I guess I’m just confused here.

            1. OP1*

              It’s tangentially related. I’m talking things like writing, interpreting texts, public speaking. Those were all kind of important in our classes, but majorly important in the job I do.

              1. Doriana Gray*

                Ah, okay. That is a little troubling then. However, with the right coaching, who knows if your friends would actually get better at these things.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But that’s true of any candidate, and generally you don’t hire based on what someone could maybe develop into with coaching; you hire on what you know is actually true.

                  Y’all, it’s a single job, it’s not in their fields, and it’s totally reasonable to say, “eh, not this one job.” This is not some great moral crime.

                2. Doriana Gray*

                  Alison, I agree it’s not that big of a deal. I was just trying to get clarification as to what was behind OP’s thought process, that’s all. It makes sense to me once she gave more context other than “I just don’t want them here.”

          2. Gaara*

            Who cares they quit in six months? Don’t “vouch for them.” That’s a big jump from telling the not to apply! If asked, just say they’re you’re friends and have good skills or something. But if they can get the on their own, how does it hurt you if they eventually leave for a better opportunity?

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              Well, their manager is going to care if they quit in six months, and depending on what the OP says or does not say, it could ding their reputation.

            2. Koko*

              Actually, it has impacted me significantly having coworkers leave at inopportune times. Of course there’s never a great time to quit, so I don’t necessarily fault someone for their timing. But I would fault someone who accepted a job and then put us right back into the short-staffed + spending time on hiring position six scant months later. Because when we’re short-staffed some of that burden falls on me.

              As a manager, I would have serious reservations about hiring someone if I was told that they were an imminent flight risk.

              1. A Cita*

                Yeah, but there’s no way to know that the friend would leave early. That’s speculation on the OP’s part, even if it is informed speculation.

                I see it like this: OP loves the job even though it pays very poorly. There are other reasons to love the job. OP’s friends might also feel the same way once they are there. Bottom line: this employer doesn’t pay at market/or well (according to OP). Therefore the employer needs to figure out retention strategies: either increasing rate of pay or making up for pay by other factors. Sounds like other factors are in play here, and OP’s friends might appreciate those other factors once they’re in the job. Simple business strategy: if you offer low pay, you need to expect higher rates of turnover. It’s not OP’s job to manage that for the company (whereas, if it were closer to market rate, and it was just a concern about friend leaving because of type of work, then yes, I’d agree that it would be important info for the company to have–if it weren’t speculation).

          3. Lily in NYC*

            You are way overthinking this. Just tell them the job is being posted but that your boss already has an idea of who s/he wants to hire. Or that it will probably be an inside promotion. Or that your more senior colleagues have already referred several people and that you haven’t been there long enough to have “clout”.

            1. OP1*

              You’re right, I am. I assume my boss would prefer someone with an academic background in the field to make up for my deficiencies in that area, so I can mention that that will likely be among the more heavily weighted criteria, discouraging them honestly and more subtly. Maybe this is less likely to be a problem than I fear.

          4. Caroline*

            There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that you can’t vouch for them if your bosses ask about them (or if your friends ask you to recommend them for the job). You are completely right that if you can’t wholeheartedly say that they’ll be great at the job and will commit long-term to it, then you absolutely shouldn’t lie. However, that’s a very different prospect than actively telling your friends not to apply.

            Also, you mention that your friends don’t need the job, because they have parents and a part time job to support them. They are very lucky to have that support, but neither is a full time job, so I can understand their desire to apply. It’s also important to remember that money isn’t necessarily their only motivation to be looking. Having a gap on your CV after graduating (rightly or wrongly) makes it much harder to get a job, and the longer that gap is, the harder finding that first post-graduation job becomes. So by reducing their pool of potential jobs now, they would quite possibly be reducing the pool of jobs that will consider them in the future.

            What I’m trying to say is that I can completely understand you’re reluctance to mix your personal and professional lives (I feel the same). But you’re asking a lot of your friends if you ask them not to apply. So if you do go that route, it would be wise to be prepared for them to apply anyway and be upset that you asked them not to.

            1. lanie*

              This. So much this.

              I think it’s perfectly okay to say you keep your personal and professional lives separate, and that you aren’t able to give them a reference or put in a good word. But I think if someone is looking for a job, and says “I understand, but I need a job. Any job.” you should respect their decision. It’s not a matter of “if they’re a good friend, they won’t apply.” Keep it all on your side – you said you can’t help them get a job. You can’t put in a good word. You keep your personal and professional lives separate. But you should also accept that if they need a job, or a job change, or whatever, you talking with your supervisor against them as a potential applicant could hurt their lives and their ability to get a job. Your personal feelings should not affect their professional lives.

              If I had a friend who did that to me, when I needed a job, I wouldn’t have that friend anymore. It’s horrible on both a personal and a professional level.

          5. Observer*

            No one is saying you have to be dishonest. But, you really don’t know what their plans are and whether they plan to commit. You’ve made the commitment, why is it not possible that they would? Accepting a job doesn’t mean a lifetime commitment, you know. And, you don’t seem to have any basis for assuming that they’d be out of there in 6 months, other that it’s not their field.

          6. Addie Bundren*

            “I just don’t trust them to not quit in six months”

            Is there something specific they’ve said that’s caused you to develop these suspicions?

        2. OP1*

          That said, I think you’re right that I’m feeling territorial. I’m really happy with this job, and I fear (perhaps irrationally), that one of my friends will ruin it for me (either by harming my reputation by association or changing my perspective on it) and then bail.

          1. Rat Racer*

            I feel for you OP, would just point out the importance of having a strong network of professional colleagues. If you block your friends from this opportunity, what’s the likelihood that they will be willing to help you in the event that you find yourself out of a job someday?

            1. Bwmn*

              I think this is a very important point.

              I think that particularly when we’re new to jobs, it’s very easy to see primary loyalty as going directly to our employers and trying to build a professional reputation. But a huge part of going to Grad School is about building professional networks who will be there for you outside of direct professional supports.

              Just within this series of questions, you have someone who presumably did very good work for a supervisor who now is unable to be a reference due to being hospitalized for psychosis. References may drop off the map for one reason or another, so having that larger network to support you can be critical.

    4. mcfly85*

      I agree fully with Alison’s advice to OP1, and absolutely it’s your perogative to keep work and personal lives separate.

      I’d just urge the OP to think about the fact that those lines might still get blurred down the road, and to start thinking about ways to cope with that. My grad degree is in a really niche field, and jobs are hard to come by. I also made great friendships in grad school and really prefer to keep the different areas of my life separate. I’ve found it’s been tricky sometimes – though I haven’t worked directly with anyone from my grad school group, I’ve known people who have, worked closely with people who have, and our paths have crossed professionally in all sorts of ways. At first it was a little nerve-wracking, but I’ve had to sometimes pull back on the friendships a little as a result. For example, one of my school friends is prolific and a little obnoxious on social media. I can’t be having her tag me where my current boss will see it, so I had to shut that down.

      Long story short, if it’s a small industry, there will be times your paths will intersect.

      1. MK*

        It is the OP’s “perogative” to keep work and personal life separate, as far as as her own actions go. She is not actually entitled to this separation; her employer would be justified to hire the best person for the job and expect her to be professional, if that person happens to be a friend of hers, and her friends have every right to apply for the job, if that’s what’s best for their careers.

        1. OP1*

          I agree with this, but in this case I think my friend wouldn’t be the best person for the job. Not because of the nature of the job itself, but because of the potential for a negative dynamic. So I can’t in good faith say I can’t recommend her or think she’d be good for the job. But saying “She’s a great painter and would do a bang-up job decorating teapots, but I don’t think we should hire her because she’s my friend” seems like a weird argument to make. And I think if I say she’s my friend and don’t tag a disclaimer about my concerns onto that, my boss might interpret it as an endorsement.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            You can do a luke-warm kind of thing where you say she’s your friend and she’s great, but you’ve never known her in a professional context, so you can’t really speak to that. There are definitely ways to only say positive things, but in a tone that doesn’t give too much of an endorsement.

            I was in a similar position after grad school, and discouraged my friend from applying, partly because I thought she’d drive me crazy at work and partly because I didn’t thinks she’d work well with my boss. I laughed and laughed years later when the two of them got into a fight on my Facebook page.

            1. Sad Kitty*

              I would, too, perhaps try that line about knowing them as friends/classmates but having never worked with them professionally, not being able to vouch for them as an employee. I think that is honest and fair.

              Also, do they even know about the job opening (i read fast earlier today and left and came back, maybe I need to reread again) because I don’t think there is anything wrong with just not mentioning knowing about the opening(s) at all.

              If they happen upon it on their own, that’s different.

              1. Doriana Gray*

                I would, too, perhaps try that line about knowing them as friends/classmates but having never worked with them professionally, not being able to vouch for them as an employee. I think that is honest and fair.

                I use this line all the time too, and not just with my friends. My mother has a bad habit of trying to give me the resumes of the people she works with and asks me to give them to my HR department. Uh – no. I don’t know these people, I don’t know their work ethic, and I’m not putting my stamp of approval on anything having to do with them because if it turns out they suck, that’s going to reflect on my judgment. Nope.

          2. Zahra*

            Actually, for your negative friend, you should absolutely mention to your manager that she has had a negative attitude in X and Y circumstances (with some general details). I’m not a manager, but I think that’s absolutely something I’d want to know and something that is more black and white than “I’d rather not work with my friends”.

          3. Sunshine Girl*

            Have you worked with her before in a work environment? I know lots of people personally that can be negative and bitchy who would never act like that in their work environment. Or are you worried that they will just channel their negativity at you specifically?

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If I had a good employee who told me they were uncomfortable about the idea of working with a close friend, that would carry a ton of weight with me. I can’t imagine hiring the friend in that case, unless they were truly head and shoulders above all other candidates, and even then I’d have real hesitation. It’s not all that different than “I’m uncomfortable working closely with an ex,” which I’d also respect. Most managers don’t want to knowingly bring potential interpersonal issues on to their staffs.

            1. ha*

              I don’t think I could take such a line with someone who’s only been there a short time – they would have to be a “rock star”. I do think the OP is overthinking this, and simply stay out of it, with both her friends and employer.

        2. the_scientist*

          I wanted to offer a different perspective on this. There were 13 people in my grad school cohort. We are in a field that has plenty of job opportunities available, but those opportunities tend to be quite concentrated. As a result, 3 of my classmates work at the same company as me, plus at least 4 others who were a year ahead or behind us. We all work in different business units on different teams so it’s not like we’re working on the same projects or right beside each other, but it’s completely and totally fine. And realistically, as long as i stay in this city, I’m going to be working at the same organization as at least one of my classmates. The OP can do whatever they want to regarding offering or not offering recommendations, but they can’t prevent their former classmates from applying, or prevent their company from hiring them, so they may just have to get over it. And personally, if a new-ish employee approached me and said “I think this person you interviewed would most likely leave as soon as they can get a ‘better’ job”…..well, depending on well I knew the employee and how much I trusted them, I’d be inclined to view a statement like that as petty.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I think it depends the person and the nature of the concerns.

            If one of my employees came to me and raised concerns, I would listen. They likely wouldn’t automatically disqualify someone, but it would get me to ask deeper questions.

            For example, “they consistently missed deadlines for group projects, causing others to have to do extra work/redo projects,” is a pretty valid concern for me. In the interview I would ask something like, “tell me about about a time where you let your teammates down and how you recovered.”

            1. the_scientist*

              It also seems like what OP1 is really asking is “can I flat-out tell my friends not to apply for this job”. Which, no. I mean, you could absolutely ask, but given that your friends are unemployed and job-searching, I can’t imagine the friendship continuing after that, and there’s no guarantee that they will listen to the OP and not apply despite being asked not to. And then OP’s really got some awkwardness on her hands, if now ex-friend gets hired. Telling a friend “you can’t apply to this job because I don’t want to work with friends” is totally different than being honest/blandly neutral when the hiring manager actually seeks out an opinion, or even from approaching the hiring manager and saying “I know this person and am concerned that they won’t be a great fit because reasons”. I’m not advocating dishonesty, because that can jeopardize OP’s reputation, but I think the OP is being a little territorial, and absolutely selfish. That is, of course, OP’s prerogative entirely, but they’ll have to deal with the fallout from that.

              1. OP1*

                The advice I was looking for was more along the lines of “how can I discourage this?” not “how can I stop this?” Of course my friends can apply if they want to regardless of what I think, and if my manager wants to hire them knowing that we’re friends that’s her prerogative too. I’m just wondering what role I should have as the person in the middle to make the parties on both sides aware of potential drawbacks they might not see.

                1. the_scientist*

                  Be aware that your friends will make judgments based on your actions, just as you are currently judging them. If your field is small, EVERYONE is going to find out how you acted towards them. How will your actions reflect on you? What happens if you need professional assistance or a favour in a few years? You can’t really tell someone that you don’t want them to apply for a job in this context and then expect that person to be thrilled to hear from you and willing to help you out later on. The territorial behaviour is a bit different than warning a coworker that the work environment is stressful and/or dysfunctional, or that you don’t think they’d get along well with management, both of which are helpful things for a friend/professional associate to know before interviewing or applying.

                2. A Cita*

                  Such an important point. Like it or not, these cohort members and friends are a big part of your professional network. Since you’re early in your career, you may not realize it because right now, that’s not evident. But you have to look at the big picture. Yes, manage your professional reputation in your current job by not recommending people whose work you have no experience with. Stay neutral. But also consider your reputation with your future professional network.

                  Don’t let a short term personal annoyance (working with friends) tank your long term professional network (since in your case, friends mean current or potential professional colleagues).

                3. insert witty name here*

                  “I’m just wondering what role I should have as the person in the middle to make the parties on both sides aware of potential drawbacks they might not see.”

                  IMO, you have no role. Sure, if you’re asked then you can provide your opinion. But you have no responsibility over the decisions other people make.

                4. Blossom*

                  Absolutely agree with “insert witty name here”. You have no role, no responsibility here. If your friends see the job and talk to you about it, you’re under no obligation to either encourage or discourage them, and they are under no obligation whatsoever to take your advice. If your friends apply for the job and mention your name, and your manager asks you about them, you can just say you have never worked with them in a professional context, and let the hiring process take its course. It’s your manager’s job to work out whether they are right for the role – part of that could involve asking you about them, but I think you’re giving too much weight to that and not enough to the application, interview etc (and hey, it might turn out that they are better suited to it than you think; your manager might see something that you don’t). If they get the job, that’s life – it might not be your ideal scenario, but that’s the least important part of this whole equation. And, from what you say about their skills and the existing skill balance in the team, that may be unlikely anway. Honestly – let go of this one.

              2. themmases*

                Honestly this letter sounds to me like the OP doesn’t like the friends or the job that much. The friends are negative, chatty, unreliable, and think the OP’s job is beneath them (charming friends, if true!), and the OP dreads working with them so much that they are worried about this situation that hasn’t even started to happen. The job is in a different field, underpaid, and the kind of thing other people in OP’s field would leave in a heartbeat. Hearing one negative person talk about it would probably ruin it for the OP.

                If I were them I’d try to think about why the thought of this unlikely-sounding scenario is so upsetting. I have had friends I felt this way about and at best my underlying feelings with insecurity and inferiority… At worst I was right about them, and they weren’t really my friends.

                1. Chocolate lover*

                  I don’t know about the OP not really liking the friends part. I have friends that I adore, that I absolutely would dread working with on a regular basis, for a variety of reasons. Some qualities, such as reliability, are important to me in my personal life, but are FAR more important to me at work. I have friends that can occasionally bit a bit flaky, which I tolerate in my personal life because I love them, but I wouldn’t be ok with at work.

        3. Murphy*

          Exactly this!

          I get where the OP is coming from (kinda), but (and I’m going to be really honest here), if one of my staff pre-emptively told me they didn’t want me to hire their friend because they wanted to keep work and personal life separate I’d give a bit of a side-eye. My response would probably be something along the lines of, “I understand, but I need to hire the best person for the job and if that happens to be them then I expect you to find a way to deal with that situation.” And I would expect that to be the last I ever heard of this.

      2. OP1*

        Thanks for this advice. It’s probably the case that if I can’t trust my friends not to tarnish my reputation at work or to be so negative as to change my outlook on my job I should distance myself just a tad from those particular friends anyway.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          OP, I have perfectly lovely friends that I would not want to work with, or would not be willing to leverage my professional relationship to recommend them from a position.

          1. NJ Anon*

            Agree 100% I have great coworkers that I would not be friends with outside of the job and great friends that I wouldn’t want to work with.

        2. Kyla*

          While I disagree with your stance on making it difficult for your friends to get work and pay their own bills, I don’t think there is any reason to distance yourself from your friends because they may not be someone you’d want reflecting on you at work.

          People have the right to a private life and personality outside their jobs.

        3. Bwmn*

          I would personally really urge you to think if you can see any way to change this thinking. Instead of how not to work with them, how can you find a way to work with them?

          Maybe it means not being the best of friends, and rather just friendly acquaintances – but if you feel totally unable to work with these people, that may ultimately backfire in terms of long term networking. You mention that your field of study is niche and it may be that one of these friends gets that job within the field before you. By not helping/supporting them now – that may ultimately mean that you’re not in a position to get that support later.

          I have a friend from grad school who I recommended for a job to my mentor at work and she ultimately did not handle the interview process very professionally. Nothing that would make any AAM “can you believe this” list, but it was not the best. At the time I felt really embarrassed and as though I could never recommend anyone again and I had someone how tarnished myself. Not only was that not true, but the friend I recommended is now one of my strongest professional network supports.

          Whatever momentary new grad embarrassment there was at one point has totally passed and I’ve been left with a great professional peer and mentor.

    5. Kyla*

      I find it hard to reconcile with this thinking.

      I have rent/bills/student loans to pay. Jobs are not easy to find. If a friend blocked me from a job while I continued to be unemployed, I’d be extremely upset.

      I understand you may prefer not to work with close friends, but at the end of the day, your friends need to keep a roof over their heads. Your preference no to work with them should never trump their need to pay their bills.

      1. OP1*

        My friends can pay their bills. If this were a concern for them or could become one in the near future, I would be approaching the situation very differently. I want to make a career out of this job, and they were shocked I would take a job that paid “only” 30,000 with a master’s degree when I took it. Now, six months later, they’re interested. I guess after their period of unemployment, they gained some perspective, and I can’t knock them for learning. But I hope you can understand why I’m not jumping at the chance to risk my reputation for them over a job they strongly implied was beneath us.

        1. Sad Kitty*

          I think it’s been said time and again how often new grads “expect” to be handed a shiny new job with a $60k salary and the best benefits all because they made it through undergrad/grad school and often approach the professional world with that attitude in the beginning. It takes a little bit of life for them to realize that that isn’t how it works, so I think you may be being unfair in holding their original attitude about the salary/field against them. As you noted, 6 months later they are interested, because now they understand you have to pay dues in time/experience, not just because you have a grad degree.

          So, who’s to say that they wont also enjoy/appreciate/respect the opportunity and look to grow and gain in the same way you have? Just because you were less green about how to build a career after graduating than they were?

          While I wholly understand your hesitation to work with friends, I kind of read her that you are just a bit territorial of “YOUR” job and perhaps don’t want them to mirror your path, or maybe do better than you once in it, because it was “YOURS FIRST!!!!”

          I am sure there is a lot of good advice in this thread, as the AAM community is always great so you can get a lot of perspective. I don’t think you should discourage them from applying and who even knows if you’ll be asked to be a reference when the time comes? Who says you will be sitting beside them every day at work if they’re hired? Who says they will be on the same projects as you??

        2. ElleKat*

          As others have mentioned – your reputation is at risk if you make recommendations.

          I, too, am finding it difficult to understand why a friend would try and prevent me from applying and/or being hired. There were others in my program that obtained jobs in my organization and based solely on my experience with them in course/group work – I wasn’t able to accurately predict who made a great employee/was a good fit and who was not.

          When asked, I demurred and let the candidate stand on their own merits.

        3. Observer*

          You are not risking your reputation. If you pushed your manager, gave them glowing recommendations and / hid important information when asked, that’s one thing. But “allowing” them to get the job – something that is not yours to give – does nothing to risk your reputation. As long as you don’t push, and you give honest feedback if asked, you stand on your own merits.

          Also, it sounds like you have a bit of bitterness there. Let go of it. If you can’t at least don’t let it affect your behavior. It sounds like a touch of “I’ll SHOW you” happening here. That’s a VERY bad idea. Both personally and professionally.

        4. insert witty name here*

          “My friends can pay their bills.” You think your friends can pay their bills, but you don’t really know. This is starting to remind me of the guy who told me I shouldn’t be applying for jobs because I’m married so I don’t really need the money. (And no, I didn’t hear that decades ago, it was recently.)

        5. Kyla*

          So they learned something the hard way…….it happens all the time. There is a reason ‘experience is the best teacher’. That doesn’t mean they will not be committed to their job now they have learned that they might have to earn $30k a year before they can earn $50k a year. I once quit a job a bit too rashly and had to live off my credit card for a while…..having to pay that card back with my disposable income for a few months reinforced a very harsh lesson as did the months of stress trying to find a new job. Yes, the job I quit was toxic and awful, but I learned the hard way that sometimes you have to suck it up until you get a new job lined up.

    6. Fifi Ocrburg*

      “American” culture is far more direct than most other places! If you’re in the Mid-West, maybe not, but much of the country is very direct.

  2. Dan*


    There’s a couple of things going on here. Process is a good thing when it keeps things from falling apart or getting lost in the shuffle. It’s also important when consistency and/or efficiency is required. But too much process creates unnecessary bureaucracy which actually keeps things from getting done.

    The other thing is that someone who really likes process is telling me that they don’t think very well autonomously. IOW, they’re saying, “I want to be told what to do and how to do it. I don’t want to take responsibility for thinking independently.”

    I work in a research environment where most people work independently, and our bosses are not experts in what the individual people do. The processes that work best for us are just loose guidelines. People who are very good at following process will not succeed in our environment.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      The other thing is that someone who really likes process is telling me that they don’t think very well autonomously. IOW, they’re saying, “I want to be told what to do and how to do it. I don’t want to take responsibility for thinking independently.”

      And that is a problem if you want to work in the insurance industry. OP, I don’t know what job function you were applying for, but if it was a claims position especially, you have to be able to make independent decisions. That’s a core function of that job. And claims procedures can change case by case. Sure, there are certain baseline best practices that have to be met across the board, but you won’t handle every claim the same way because the facts change. Same thing for if you’re in underwriting.

      1. nofelix*

        I work in a creative field and find these comments confusing. Independent thought and procedural thought should not be in conflict. If a process is causing needless work or getting the wrong results then it’s simply the wrong process and should be revised.

        1. Three Thousand*

          Sometimes just the fact of having too many processes in place to do everything indicates that people are learning overly specific lessons from past experiences. If something is going to work differently most times, a prescribed process for that thing might not be useful to have at all.

          1. Mike C.*

            Sometimes it also means you work in a highly regulated field, and there just so happen to be a lot of ways for people to be harmed or killed.

        2. misspiggy*

          Yes – and somebody who loves systems would be well placed to fix process weaknesses, no?

          1. Observer*

            Not if they are change resistant.

            Also, the OP doesn’t sound like she loves SYSTEMS as much as policies and procedures. The fact that she was “appalled” when her interviewer told her that things constantly change speaks volumes.

            There is also a big difference between liking rules in general, and liking specific rules. There is also a difference between liking rules and respecting them. And sometimes, it’s even ok to not respect the rules, even as you follow them. “I like rules” and “I flout rules” are not the only positions. They are two extremes on a continuum, and I can think of very few positions where either is appropriate, although to be honest, I could see more for the person who likes rules in general, than the person who flouts them.

        3. Doriana Gray*

          Independent thought and procedural thought should not be in conflict.

          But they can be depending on the person. I know quite a few people who get bogged down in rules and doing things in a particular order, and can’t really see the big picture when it comes to spotting inefficiencies and bottlenecks in processes and then fixing them.

          1. Sunshine*

            Yep. In my industry, we do have basic rules and procedures in place for most things we handle. But the job still requires a lot of interpretation and decision making. And there are too many variables to possibly cover every potential need in writing. So a candidate who says they are good at following rules would give me pause.

          2. Vicki*

            As someone who has done a lot of research and study in psychological Type and Temperament, I have to say how much I’m enjoying this thread — it absolutely speaks to Temperament differences in people!

            Of the four temperaments (c.f. Kiersey) one is Really Into Process. Process and Policy are their guiding star. Another one of the Temperaments basically thinks that rules are for other people. Dan’s research colleagues are statistically likely to be primarily in the third group. The fourth group leans toward independent thought with a high focus on how that affects people.

            It’s such fun to read all of your comments and play “Guess the Temperament Group”.

        4. doreen*

          It’s not always a matter of “it’s the wrong process”. Sometimes people want the procedures and policies to cover every possible fact pattern, so that there’s a right way to handle every situation. They want ” When X , then do Y” rather than ” It’s a case-based decision” My employer is trying to get people away from looking for a policy for every decision and people can’t stand it. They want to be able to point at a policy when something goes wrong rather than making decisions and being responsible for them. They want the equivalent of ” When someone has 8 unplanned absences in a year , initiate disciplinary action. Nothing else matters – it doesn’t matter if two absences were due to a blizzard, or if the person has had an exemplary attendance record for ten years and hit a patch of personal issues. All that matters is the number of absences”.

          But they only want this sort of policy for decisions they make- they certainly want someone to take circumstances into account when the decision is being made about them. So they don’t actually want that absence rule- just something equally rigid in their specific area of decision-making.

          1. Mike C.*

            Yet without those sorts of guidelines, it’s really easy to start treating people differently based on internal biases or huge and arbitrary differences between managers. In your example, it would be easy to say “the beatings begin at eight unexcused absences”.

            1. Kat M2*

              At the same time, I noticed that you used the term guidelines. It’s fine to have general guidelines, but again, you’re always going to have exceptions and that’s where you need flexible thinking.

            2. OP3*

              That’s exactly right, I’m really trying to avoid the arbitrariness that I’ve seen so much of, or the lack of communication I’ve experienced so much of.

            3. Murphy*

              But it’s ok to treat people differently sometimes. In the absence example, the reasons, past behaviour, personal work ethic, and impact on the greater team would all be factors I’d consider before deciding what to do with someone who hit the “8 absences” limit. If I had to treat everyone the same I’d lose my mind (and maybe my best staff). Life (and work) isn’t that black and white.

        5. OP3*

          I agree. I’ve found myself scratching my head when I ask “what is the procedure here” and get feedback about “independent thought” — I’m finding it baffling that asking about procedure is considered th opposite of independent thought somehow. In reality, you really have to know and master the procedures in your job to have well informed independent thoughts ABOUT the tasks and processes–i.e. what works and what doesn’t. If you are brand new someplace and need to put a client through an intake process and don’t even know where the forms are located, there’s a problem. You can’t just be expected to reinvent the wheel every time, from your first day, esp when there already are essential processes in place.

        6. ColleagueofOP3*

          i know this is an old post, but wanted to comment. full disclosure I’m an old colleague of OP3 used to work with her years ago in an office environment some medical records and billing. she was a long term temp then, and a good one. she told me about this site and i finally found her post! i think you are right on the nose. i found that we were damned if we did damned if we didn’t. we were supposed to follow procedure, but we weren’t trained in what procedures were. that especially affected the temps. I felt that if we were trained procedure we could implement it fairly independently, but being expected to guess and guess correctly was the (foolhardy) reality. Drove me crazy then and I think that’s exactly what OP3 is talking about.

      2. Mimmy*

        I’m not in insurance, but this was my issue at a previous job providing information & resources. I completely underestimated the variety of situations – 200 calls, 200 completely different stories. Sure, there were common general issues, but not all X cases had Y solution. All of our call logs were reviewed by the supervisor, but I was constantly adding notes to mine, which clearly indicated that I was afraid to independently problem-solve. Drove my poor supervisor nuts. Not to mention that I process information more slowly than normal, so listening to the caller’s story, taking notes, and coming up with suggestions was next to impossible sometimes. I liked the email inquiries better :)

        1. OP3*

          I sympathize. The way I look at something like that is it would fit in with my idea of being “systematic” Even though the same interventions may not always be used in each case, the 200 different cases don’t necessarily mean 200 completely unrelated responses. Situations fall into certain categories, and I might apply some principles to some types of cases, and different principles to other types of cases. (assess for safety in domestic violence cases, ask about resources in harrdship cases, etc). There are a number of things that are easier to me now than when I was brand new in the field, but I found the same types of things after I got my degree as I did in the jobs I did before graduate school– there is a tendency for supervision to simply omit crucial information and it hampers function. When I’m assertive about this deficit, and request training or resources, I am told things like “be flexible and patient, you’ll get the hang of it” which is not very helpful and seems like an evasion of responsibility on the part of supervision

          1. LBK*

            But sometimes there isn’t really way to train someone on something like critical thinking and adaptive problem solving. You learn by doing and synthesizing solutions to previous issues. Over-reliance on on-the-job training in the modern working world is a documented phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be legitimate or genuinely the most efficient way to train someone. It’s a better use of my time for me to answer the one-off outlier questions as they come up than it is for me to spend 6 months outlining every possible situation and having you memorize the potential solutions (that you’d probably forget by the time the situation actually came up in live work anyway).

            I also dislike over-proceduralizing things because I do think they clash with independent thought; all too often, there’s 10 ways to get to the right answer, and I don’t like writing procedures that prescribe a certain method that doesn’t necessarily have any particularly benefits over doing it any of the other 9 ways. I much prefer someone look at the desired end result and use their existing knowledge to walk back the steps of how they should get there, with documentation only providing general tips about potential pitfalls or caveats to the standard operations.

            1. LBK*

              To extend this theory into my actual current job, I did run a lot of stuff off procedures when I first started, but mostly as a means of familiarizing myself with the system. Once I felt comfortable doing that, my training transitioned from “here’s a list of steps” to “here’s what this report represents, here’s the source for this 1 weird piece of it that’s not in the usual system, you piece it together from there.” That kind of training is what enables me to handle ad hoc situations that don’t have directly applicable procedures because it’s training me to convert pieces of info into a final product, rather than converting an input of clicks and typing into an output of something I may not even understand the purpose of.

          2. ColleagueofOP3*

            I’m an old coworker of OP3 and I finally found her post. I believe this is exactly what she means. I remember problematic issues like you describe in the environment that we shared a few years ago. You are right, I do believe it is supervision evading responsibility.

    2. A Dispatcher*

      Agree totally on OP possibly coming across as less than autonomous. My job obviously relies heavily on policy, procedure and law, but one also has to be able to make split second decisions at times and you can’t always consult a supervisor or your P&P. I’m not familiar with insurance but I can certainly imagine many scenarios where you will run across situations that aren’t cut and dry textbook examples that one can easily find in the policies that would require some judgement calls.

      It’s great to be able to follow regulations but if you’re coming across as too rigid , employers may fear you’ll require too much hand holding or that you’ll be coming to supervisors to make judgement calls you should be able to handle yourself.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Good points. I think the Op needs to maybe come up with a new strength to play up during interviews that would be more universally positive, or at least as an alternative strength. Unless he or she is positive from the job description that that’s what they’re looking for. I know job descriptions are often vague, but maybe you can get more clues from their values on the website or something or simply ask for a more detailed job describe before the interview.
        Not quite the same, but a similar situation happened with my sister. Years ago, I referred her for an opening at an old job of mine. Her go to was saying she goes to work to work, not to make friends. In this instance, that counted against her. It was a very friendly, social organization. But her thought was that’s a good thing no matter what. It can be, but not everywhere.

    3. stevenz*

      The larger issue is the whole concept of “continuous change” trumpeted as the ultimate in flexibility and “innovation.” I work in an organisation that changes so continuously and at every level that it’s chaos. Departments are getting “reorganised” a couple times a year, teams get shifted from one manager to another, physical locations are shuffled around, reporting lines change. There are ever more “business plans”, “behaviours”, “strategic initiatives”, “models”, and “change practices.” (Shoot me now.)

      As a result, there are many newly formed or reformed departments and units that admit that they really don’t know what they are doing yet – and they legitimately don’t. Problem is, they are changed again just when they start to hit their stride. The organisational and physical moves means there is just time to make relationships and figure out how one’s work relates to the work of these new people when, all of a sudden, they’re gone and there’s a new group to get to know. A person who was once a key contact in another department and very knowledgeable is now the assistant manager of napkin rings somewhere else. The desk where a good colleague sat is now a “hot desk” occupied by random strangers if at all. Nothing is allowed to embed for long enough to understand if it works or not. So – when does constant change flop over the line to poor management? It did so here a long time ago. All this “innovation” is killing productivity, morale and the mission.

    4. OP3*

      Thanks Dan. Can you clarify for me why hearing that someone likes process equates to them lacking autonomy? Thanks.

      1. Marian the Librarian*

        I don’t think one thing necessarily ALWAYS leads to the other, but I’m not surprised interviewers are taking it as a red flag rather than a strength. There are some jobs that require flexibility and creative thinking, and saying that you prefer the opposite way of thinking might knock you down a peg from being the “ideal candidate” even if you are fine being creative but PREFER following procedure.

        My husband once interviewed someone that was stymied any time they were asked to think of a new idea. Any time he asked them a question, they would say “I’d look it up in a book,” (they’re scientists) and my husband would say, “But what if there is no book?” and they would be completely unable to come up with the next step.

        If you’re completely fine even when there’s no “book” (metaphorically), then my advice would be to find a different strength to emphasize because currently you’re coming across as inflexible even if that’s not actually true.

    5. Marian the Librarian*

      The other thing is that someone who really likes process is telling me that they don’t think very well autonomously. IOW, they’re saying, “I want to be told what to do and how to do it. I don’t want to take responsibility for thinking independently.”

      I completely agree with this, and have taken it as a red flag in the past when a potential hire said “I like/need to follow the rules and like things to be very black and white.” When that person was hired despite my misgivings, the person turned out to be someone who needed a concrete set of instructions for every possible eventuality and someone who simply could not work independently when given a task without a step-by-step process. The position required that person to think on their feet, and they were always deeply uncomfortable with that. Even worse, as their manager, it was deeply frustrating to have to waste time walking them step-by-step through processes they claimed to have experience with and knowing that if I wasn’t there to do that, nothing would get done.

      Needless to say, it was not a good fit.

  3. periwinkle*

    #3 –
    Maybe manufacturing is the right type of environment for you? My employer is a very large manufacturer and engineering is in our organizational DNA. We have processes and policies and processes and procedures and did I mention processes? Not everyone here functions in a systematic method (I’d go absolutely mad if I did) but it’s pervasive in a risk-averse environment like this. In many roles here, if processes aren’t followed, Very Bad Things can happen. The company appreciates people who are thorough, detail-oriented, and process-oriented yet can still think critically and use their professional judgment.

    On the other hand, “you need to be flexible” in response to a request for training probably means they don’t have any training budget left.

    1. OP3*

      Well, I’m trained as a counselor, so I’m not sure if there’s a role for me in manufacturing. I hear what you say about engineering though, and as counselor I have some familiarity with personality testing. One thing I do know is that at least according to the Meyers-Briggs type indicator, my personality type is the same typology often found in engineers.

  4. A Non*

    #3 – The health insurance industry is changing pretty rapidly right now thanks to the ICD-10 billing codes coming into effect (we’re going from 13,000 possible billing codes to 68,000!), Obamacare in general, and good organizations will be reviewing their systems more or less continuously to work on security and HIPAA compliance. Being rigorous about following procedure is good, but how do you handle when procedure changes?

    I work with some people who get upset and frustrated with any process change, even when the change is dramatically for the better. They are a real obstacle. Please don’t be them.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      Yeah, I’m not too familiar with health insurance, but I am familiar with P&C insurance, and flexibility is a must because like you said – things change. Regulations change, the policies themselves change, and so the people working for the company have to be able to adapt. Following rules is all well and good, but sometimes you have to know when to bend. Some procedures are cumbersome and inefficient, and being able to identify those bottlenecks and possibly get higher-ups to make necessary changes (or to give you the green light to make the changes yourself) is an asset in this industry. Keep this in mind, OP.

    2. Searching*

      Yep. I work in the health insurance industry, and while there certainly are departments that have a lot of policies & procedures that need to be adhered to, the company and the industry as a whole are undergoing many, many changes. “Dealing with ambiguity” is a skill/competency that is listed as a requirement for many jobs that I see posted on our job board, and something that was discussed at every performance evaluation I had in the last 5 years. It can be daunting, because on the one hand we are expected to deal with change and be flexible/adaptable, but on the other hand, to introduce changes we have to go through lengthy approval processes/committees etc. A tricky balance at best.

    3. Mookie*

      These are great points, as are those in comments regarding LW3 above, but “flexibility” feels imprecise and a little misleading to me when used to frame a situation in which procedures are continuously updated and tweaked for everyone and where one must be prepared to improvise. LW3 didn’t say she couldn’t adapt to policy changes, but suggested (as I read it) that she needs access to wherever they’re codified as they shift and that she expects to have training or formal guidance at some point when new policies become permanent. Having a systematic approach to work doesn’t make one inherently inflexible, is what I’m saying, and the word can be very loaded (and it does frequently translate in practice to to having no personal life or lacking access to promotion if you do, having regular overtime, being expected to be on-call for surprise shifts, being scheduled in unpredictable or inconsistent ways, being tasked with obscure duties requiring completely different skill sets, etc). In an interview, I’d expect the hiring manager to expand on that subject (and it sounds as if she did) and for the interviewee to elicit a few examples if the notion of improvisation or very fluid approaches to new problems worries them.

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah super agree with this. ‘Flexibility’ around new procedures hopefully means following them as they change and resolving any ambiguity, which requires a methodical approach.

        1. Mookie*

          Right, tweaking and maximizing efficiency is what many methodical people do best. But if flexibility means chaos and no accountability then… hell, that’s the job for me. I’m real good at that sort of thing.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        Yes, I think there may be an issue with the OP being misinterpreted. I work in healthcare and any deviation from a process must be documented. But if there was an emergency, everyone wouldn’t stand around and say, “Sorry, we don’t have a written process to address this,” instead, they would do what needed to be done to address the situation.
        I think of flexibility as the ability to adapt to change. That is different than adhering to policies, procedures, and laws.

      3. Observer*

        Well, the supervisor did, and explicitly said that there are constant changes in rules and procedures. And the OP said that this specifically was “appalling.”

        1. OP3*

          Yes, having complex processes change on a daily basis IS truly appalling. How can anyone learn and master the job when there is no consistency?

          1. A Definite Beta Guy*

            I agree with this, actually. I work in health care and work health insurance, too. The idea of essentially processes changing every day terrifies me.

          2. Observer*

            By learning to understand the larger framework in which the changes are happening; staying abreast of the developments in your field and outside your field that could affect your field; and learning the patterns that tend to show up. Patterns DO show up, even in fields subject to a lot of change.

            This is not for everyone, and that’s fine. But, you need to realize why this would be an issue in some fields. Healthcare is undergoing a lot of changes right now, from a number of different directions. There is no way it’s not going to result in frequent changes in process and procedure for quite a while to come.

      4. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Yes, so much. “Flexibility” is a huge red flag word as far as I’m concerned – it means either just what Mookie said (weird unpredictable schedules and disregard for your personal life) or a chaotic mess where procedures are constantly changing, you’re constantly getting directions that contradict each other, and you are never sure if you’re doing your job right. Nope nope nope.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, “flexible” in my line of work means you have to be able to drop anything at any second and go put out fires. I’m pretty tired of hearing “Thanks for being flexible!” I didn’t get a choice about it.

          1. John Cosmo*

            Or “flexible” means having more work dumped on you. Let’s make another exception to established procedure and then we can blame you for not getting all of your work done on time and not making your work quota.

        2. OP3*

          Precisely. I’ve been in too many situations like that, and I think workers suffer for it and ultimately patients suffer. I don’t know what stands in the way of stability and consistency, but the lack of stability and consistency is just not good.

      5. OP3*

        I agree, and I sort of feel like my interviewer acted oddly by laughing at me and by assuming that being systematic was the opposite of being flexible. I agree that the word flexible can be used in ambiguous and misleading ways. I’m very disappointed in one boss who thought of me as inflexible because I wanted to be more systematic about billing the insurance for our clients (she actually told me that she thought my putting claims in folders and the folders in a filing cabinet was “a crazy way to do it” but my successor at the position was more systematic still) and I had numerous suggestions for, yes, changes, to avoid the numerous unnecessary crises that hit us on a near weekly basis. She felt this reflected badly on me that I wanted to prevent perfectly preventable crises rather than cancel my day at my other job to deal with crises at her office. I feel the lack of flexibility may have been more on her end for refusing to consider any of my suggestions– which would have included dreaded procedures– that could have prevented many last minute crises altogether.

    4. nofelix*

      Surely an industry like healthcare where there are a lot of regulations and dire consequences for flouting them is exactly where you want someone who likes rules and will stick to them even when it’s difficult? I sympathise with the OP talking about their previous workplace – if the new regulations are onerous then the solution is to step up and resource compliance, not ignore the law because it’s annoying!

      Agreed though: sticking to an old regulation after it’s superseded is utterly pointless.

    5. t*

      I also work in the health insurance industry, and my job is to automate as many processes as possible. So the roles you’re looking for where you consistently follow a well defined process are being replaced with computers. The skill we need are folks who can make judgement calls in the face of ambiguity, because I can’t (yet) program a computer to do that.

    6. Rat Racer*

      Another health insurance person here to say that the only constant is change. Granted, the company I work for sheds org structures like a perpetually molting snake, but all health insurance companies are trying to adapt to a fluid policy environment and a rapidly evolving economy of care. I think that trickles down to all aspects of the business, whether you’re a coder, a finance person, in sales, marketing, you name it. Personally, I like the variety (most of the time) but it’s challenging – especially if you’re someone who likes predictability.

    7. WorkingMom*

      I have interviewed people for roles within healthcare – and I can recall interviewing a very nice and professional candidate, when asking behavioral-based questions about how the candidate would handle deadlines from clients that aren’t going to be met, I couldn’t get the candidate to get past the “but I wouldn’t miss the deadline” part. What I was looking for was communication, and adjusting client expectations. Sometimes, even though you do your due diligence and plan ahead, something beyond your control delays a client deliverable. I needed someone who would be able to communicate that to the client. Instead, the candidate was not able to see past the “how could a deadline be missed?” part of the conversation, even when I expressed the delay would be out of their control. In this example; no matter how great this candidate was in other areas, I knew they would not fare well in this role because being able to live in that state of limbo at times is a key part of the job. It’s OK if your skills don’t match up perfectly with the job. That’s the point of the interview! You don’t want to learn to say the right thing to get the job, and then end up hating it, because you hate that “state of limbo” I described, that you’d be expected to thrive in.

  5. nofelix*

    For #2 – I’m just really surprised people still send group texts!

    Facebook messenger and WhatsApp both have great “mute for x hours” functions that are very useful for group chats, so you don’t hear about any messages until you’re free. Maybe nudge your coworkers into the 21st century.

    Alternatively, can you not just put your phone on silent? Or if it’s so old that it freezes up when you receive a text maybe just replace it or get it fixed. Your co-workers are not going to be aware this is happening because it’s a rare bug. To me, giving your number out and then being like you can’t text me because that’s a big inconvenience is a little weird, is it really more convenient to ask everyone to stop texting you compared to fixing the technical problem?

    1. A Dispatcher*

      Group texts are the devil… my mom and her sisters just looooove to send these during the day, which is awesome when I’m trying to sleep (working overnights stinks sometimes).

      1. Artemesia*

        Do you have to have your phone on when you are sleeping during the day? Are you on call? I always silence all notifications on mine when I use it for an alarm clock since I too would be awakened by the sounds. Otherwise I keep it in another room at night.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          Can’t silence it because of work, and because my mother is one of the offenders (or actually usually included in the offender’s group), I don’t want to take her off of my priority list in case she does actually have an emergency and needs to reach me.

    2. Backwoods Ranger*

      It could be an issue of smart phones vs older cell phones. I have used an iphone for two years and have a friend who is holding on to her old nokia. She can get simple one on one texts, but group texts, especially group texts between smart phones where people send pictures or use the emotes all come in as incoherent jibberish. Sometimes I forget that she doesn’t have the same features I do and she has to send me a ‘what the heck is that?’ reminder text if I send something she’d need an ap for.

      That, plus I personally prefer to draw a firm line between work time and personal time so I can understand not wanting to discuss payroll or other non-emergency/time sensitive things off the clock.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Oh God, I have a friend who loves to do these too. And yes, they freeze up my old phone. Normal texts don’t, so for nofelix, this doesn’t mean my phone is insufficient for all texts! But these, for some reason, are such big files that there’s an actual loading bar while they load, and it takes forever. And then every reply is the same way. And I don’t know most of the people she’s group-texted, so I’ll get one huge file from her saying “Anyone want to go for a walk tonight?” and then 10 huge files from strangers going “No, I have to do the laundry.”

      2. S0phieChotek*

        Yes this happens to me too. We have group texts at one of my side jobs–mainly people asking others to fill in at the last minute on a shift, but they you get everyone’s excuses and the manager and others are always sending photos of the schedule and emoticons which I can’t get on my old phone. Fortunately it does not freeze my phone but I always worry I am missing something important if it’s a photo I cannot see.

      3. Elsajeni*

        I have an iPhone and I even have issues with group texts sometimes, especially when they involve multiple carriers and multiple types of phones. (They don’t freeze up my phone, but they don’t show up properly, either, and I can’t reply to the whole group, which sort of defeats the purpose of a group text.)

    3. Rebecca*

      The OP stated she is a single mother, in debt, so replacing her phone may not be possible right now. I think she needs to ask them to not include her in texts unless it’s something urgent that she needs to address right away (and if she’s non exempt, that’s another issue). If coworkers continue to group text, OP could block their numbers so her phone is not frozen up and it’s available for her to use.

      1. Chocolate lover*

        Agreed. She may not be able to, or more importantly, may not want to. it’s well within her right to ask not to be bogged down with group texts about non essential conversations after hours (such as conversations about being sick.)

        My bff has an old, non smart phone. It’s all she wants, doesn’t care about extra features and isn’t willing to spend money on phone features for other people’s convenience. I don’t blame her.

      2. Lindrine*

        I was going to suggest the same thing. If it’s not emergency stuff and is just more work, OP could say I have an older phone that can’t really handle these group texts. Then see if you can block messages from these people. If you can’t, then start turning off your phone at critical times so you can rest. If they complain, you can say “Whoops! older phone with phone problems!”

    4. On the Phone*

      Well, a smartphone with plan can cost hundreds of dollars while asking her coworkers to stop including her in conversations she doesn’t participate in anyway costs only the air in her lungs. She’s not responding to any of these texts, so it shouldn’t be a big deal to her coworkers to take her name off.

    5. Kelly L.*

      It’s not texts in general, it’s group texts in particular. For whatever reason, they’re bigger files, same as if people were sending big images.

    6. Pwyll*

      I don’t know, I just don’t think “my phone is freezing up” is the right reason to give. The reality is that she’s a busy single mom to multiple children, who needs to devote her attention to raising them when she’s not at work. Most coworkers are going to understand that, so I don’t think it’s necessary to blame a technological problem (that I feel would cause people to ask 1: can I help you fix that and 2: why don’t you get a new phone?)

      Instead of the tech, I’d just say something like: “I’m sure you can understand what it’s like to be juggling things with raising my boys, so I really try to keep my phone just for emergencies. You remember what it was like when Tommy was sick last time. Would you mind not including me on group texts? You can catch me up at work the next day if something important happens. Thanks so much!”

      1. Kelly L.*

        Honestly, with co-workers, I’d rather blame my phone all the livelong day than invoke my (hypothetical) kids. And if they told me to get a new one, I’d jokingly ask if they were buying.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Well, the blaming of the phone is part of the request. I’d say “Hey guys, would you mind leaving me off the group texts, they freeze up my phone.” I don’t see it as any less likely to get them to stop than “Hey guys, would you mind leaving me off the group texts because of my kids.” And less likely to nudge any sexists among them into mommy-tracking me.

            1. my two cents*

              it’s 100% fine to blame the technology, instead of sharing additional details about one’s homelife/schedule/kids/pets/etc. All OP should have to do is stop by the group-texter’s desk(s) quick, hold up her ancient phone, and say “My old beater phone completely locks up with group texts. Can you try to leave me off of them?”

              I had a Nokia MusicXpress for ages – the printing on the buttons had completely worn off, but I wasn’t about to replace it until I absolutely had to. I couldn’t send/receive emails on it, and for some reason it wouldn’t accept picture texts or huge walls of text. Occasionally I had to text the sender back “Hey. No idea what you sent, but my Nokia won’t let it come through.” Not a big deal.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            I was about to say she could always change her number and conveniently forget for a while to update her coworkers…but then I realized with kids that’s a pain because she’d have to update the schools, doctors, etc etc.

      2. HowDareThey*

        I think it sounds fine to cite technical problems for a reason to be unsubscribed from the texts. When it comes to being busy and occupied, you can just ignore texts or delete them. But she is finding this creates an actual problem with her phone, so she can cite this in setting boundaries.

    7. ThatGirl*

      Not everyone has or wants to use FB messenger or WhatsApp.

      And honestly while I have a perfectly good iPhone, I’d be bugged by lots of random texts from my co-workers, I don’t really text them unless there’s something urgent and work-related. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to want to stop.

    8. Stranger than fiction*

      Hate group texts because I get all the replies that are mostly numbers of people I don’t know.

  6. Backwoods Ranger*


    Perhaps as someone still struggling to find year round work, I have a bit of a different perspective on this one.

    I think having a conversation about the job opening is a good first step, for all you know they may not even be interested in it for the reasons you have already listed. Explaining that yes, there is an opening but that you know it isn’t in their ideal field or salary range in addition to your concerns about work impacting your friendship is a good start. But their answer may be that they need to pay bills or for other reasons have adjusted their expectations after spending some time out of school. They might be able to reassure you that if it comes into being, they will do X and Y to maintain work and friendship boundaries.
    If they are otherwise competent and ethical people, I am uneasy with the suggestion of undermining their application. I can respect a friend who tells me that they only know me in a social context and don’t feel comfortable vouching for work they have never seen. But if a friend went to the manager and spoke against me for a job I needed to pay bills because I get chatty during beer nights, that would honestly be the end of the friendship.

    You know your friends better than I do, but I also know that the way I act when catching up with college buddies is not how I act at work. It may be naive, but I trust my close friends to know that. I work in a very small, close-knit field and having overlapping careers with previous classmates is inevitable. I have worked with classmates that I may not have personally recommended based on previous experiences, but more often then not they end up being professionals who grow into their roles.

    Are you sure you are not looking for traits in your friends to justify defending your work/life boundary? Chattiness and negativity both can context dependent when it comes to socializing vs working. If you have serious concerns about ethical or other issues then, of course, bring it up, but if you don’t know how they act in a professional work context, then I would stay out if it and let the chips fall there they may.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      This is kind of what I was thinking. We hear about how romantic relationships at work can cause issues, but we also know that sometimes you can have a married couple as coworkers and, if they’re professional about it, you may not know for months or years that they’re married until it finally comes up in conversation! If a married couple can behave professionally as coworkers, why not friends? I think “don’t apply here, because I don’t think we’d work well together” is a very intrusive thing to ask, so I wouldn’t do it unless I was very certain that it would be disastrous and that they were very likely to be hired.

      1. neverjaunty*

        We also hear about lots and lots of situations where married couples or friends working together at the same workplace create lots of problems because strong personal this make it difficult to keep a professional relationship.

    2. Kyla*


      I have rent and bills to pay.

      If a friend was content to allow me to continue to struggle to find work because s/he didn’t want me in her office, I’d never speak to them again.

      My personality outside work has nothing to do with how I do my job.

      If OP is worried they might have performance issues, all she has to say is ‘I only know them socially, I can’t comment on them as a professional’. Simple.

      1. Bwmn*

        I agree with this completely – but I can’t help but think how while the situation has the OP being employed now and the friends job searching….that can always change. Six months, six years from now the OP may be job hunting for 101 reasons – and having people think of you as a friend in that regard is just not a bad thing.

        I have friends from grad school who I’ve been crazy drunk and irresponsible with and had emotional ups and downs that impacted school at different times – but those I was close enough with to have shared with, they know that is simply not related to how I am at work.

        1. Estefanía*

          Yeah, this is something bugging me a little with this post.

          Some of the most responsible and hardworking people I know also really enjoy partying or clubbing ot music festivals in their free time. That doesn’t mean they are not responsible at work.

          It is entirely possible for people to be responsible employees capable of showing up on time and sober while enjoying letting their hair down in their free time…..it is after all, their own time to enjoy how they see fit.

  7. 30ish*

    For OP1, I have a bit of a different take (maybe influenced by the fact that I’m currently job searching). I think you should just take a passive stance. If any of your friends apply and manage to catch the hiring manager’s attention, then give your honest opinion about them, based on their qualifications for the job (but don’t speculate how committed they would be to the job etc., you don’t really know that) . If your employer asks whether you would mind working with a friend, you can mention your reservations then. But I don’t think you should actively try to discourage your friends from applying or go out of your way to discourage your employer from considering them. It just seems like a bit of a crummy thing to do. And I tend to think that, even if you don’t like working with close friends, you don’t own that workplace and when positions open up your friends should get a shot, just like anyone else. Working with a close friends is not ideal but you would find a way to handle it if necessary.

    It also seems that you don’t have too much to worry about here if your assumptions are right. If your friends really believe they can find something better than this job, this will probably show at the interview stage at the latest. Your “negative” friend will likely come across that way in the interview. It’s difficult to completely hide these things. Given that the likelihood of one of your friends getting the job is low anyway, I don’t see the need to alienate them by telling them they shouldn’t apply.

    1. Backwoods Ranger*

      This also.

      They may not even mention it, apply or get an interview so there is a possibility it will be a non issue. I usually prefer to talk things out ahead of time, but perhaps there is no need to make waves. Staying out of it until someone makes it your buisness is also valid.

      If asked, you can tell friends you don’t know enough about their work to personally vouch for them but wish them luck. A manager can be told that you know them socially but not professionally and leave it at that.

      I can understand not wanting to work with close friends, but if you are all in the sane field and in the same area running into each other in work contexts is a possibility. Learning to set boundries in a professional manner in less then ideal settings is a skill that will serve you well. As ackward as it can be to work with a friend, it is more ackward to work with a friend who knows you don’t want them there.
      I would encourage you to consider not burning the bridge with them even if you don’t go out of your way to get them on this team. You never know if the roles may be reversed in the future.

    2. Sunflower*

      I agree. I would maybe mention to your friends as an FYI the starting salary- that alone might deter them and take care of the problem for you. Also I would not mention anything to your manager about not wanting to work with your friends. Your manager really doesn’t care and wants to hire the best person for the job. I also agree about not speculating on things you don’t know- esp in such a competitive/tight industry. The same way it wouldn’t look good to give a good reference and have the person fail, it would also look bad to give someone a bad reference and have your maanger find out they were hired elsewhere and are doing a great job.

      Personally, if I was in one of your friends situations and you told me not to apply because you didn’t want to work with friends, I would completely ignore you and apply anyway.

      1. OP1*

        This is also a good point. The salary component gives me good cover to not proactively tell my friends about the position as well, taking the more passive stance suggested above. If they come across it, I can just say since they think my salary is shockingly low I figured they wouldn’t be interested.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          This is what I was going to say. It’s usually easier to gain forgiveness than permission. If they find out on their own that there is an open position at your company and confront you with the whole “why didn’t you tell me?!” it would be much easier to do as you suggest above.

          Also, it would take you out of the whole “why haven’t they called me for an interview?” stuff after.

    3. OP1*

      I think this is a really reasonable perspective. Thanks for bringing me back down to Earth a little.

    4. Zahra*

      If you take this tack, you can always mention to your manager that you’ve worked with about half (or whatever is appropriate) of your class and that, if they apply and she wants your take on them, you’ll be available.

    5. Granite*

      I also think there’s room to say you’re so recently out of school that you don’t have enough experience to accurately evaluate your peers. A reasonable manager will understand the difficult position you’re in, especially if more than one classmate applies for the job.

  8. BRR*

    I disagree with #1 in reguards to trying to get your boss to stay away from them as candidates. I have no issue with telling your boss a friend is applying in respect to transparency but I don’t think you should go further. They might like and be successful in the role if they get it. I agree with not wanting to work with friends but it’s unfair to try and block them just because of your preference.

  9. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    #3: Oooh boy. This is a pertinent one for me right now, as I’m working on training and doing QA for an overseas team that has issues with rigid thinking, and I’m working hard to find a way to explain to them that the function I’m training them on really needs a degree of fluid thinking that weighs policy against logic and past experience.

    I think this is one of those times when you need to consider not what the words are you’re trying to use, but what the concept is that you’re trying to get across, and how you can phrase it so that the concept is what the hiring manager hears.

    From my impression of what you’ve said, what I might hear is that you sometimes work slowly (systematic = an inflexible order of doing things, may not be responsive to shifting priorities or emergency work), and that you may not recognize a situation that is exceptional or nonstandard (closely following procedure & policy). I think you maybe want to do some considering about whether this is true of you — are you responsive to changing situations? If a piece of work you’re presented with doesn’t quite fit into the standard procedures, what do you do about that?

    If it isn’t — if you do have that flexibility, but are just struggling to convey that you enjoy a job that has some solid structure to it, I’d suggest changing up your language a bit. Try for “organized” instead of “systematic,” for example — it doesn’t have the potentially negative connotations about inflexibility.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, this is what I was thinking. If you’re coming across as saying, “I need structure,” that’s a pretty significant weakness that it’s reasonable for employers to be wary of.

      1. JMegan*

        I think framing it as a “strength” vs a “weakness” is doing a bit of a disservice to the OP, actually. (Not directed at you specifically, fposte, but to the OP as well, since she used the words in her letter.) Because liking to be systematic and respecting policy and procedure absolutely *can* be strengths in the right job, but they can also be significant weaknesses in others.

        OP, I would encourage you to view your respect for P&P as more of a skill or a preference, rather than a strength. This is a thing that you’re good at, and it has value, but so does the opposite skill (or preference) of flexibility. So you want to look for jobs where that skill is important and useful, rather than ones that require a high degree of adaptability. Your interviewers are giving you good information when they say a particular job isn’t a fit for you – listen to them!

        1. JMegan*

          Also, I had to laugh just now. As I was composing the above reply, I was interrupted by a phone call.

          The context is that part of my job involves managing the Policy Document Library on the intranet. We have templates for all the different kinds of policy documents (policies, procedures, guidelines, etc), as well as written procedures for how to fill them out. So literally, I manage the policies on how to write policies – this appeals very much to the systematic and process-oriented part of my brain!

          The phone call just now was from someone wanting to know how she could best fit a particular type of content into our template, because there was not an obvious way to make it work. So we problem-solved a bit, and came up with a solution that allows her to use her content but maintains the integrity of the template. There is no process or procedure for that, obviously – the procedure simply says “Use the template.” So I had to use the flexibility and creativity-oriented part of my brain to come up with a solution.

          The takeaway there is that even the most process-oriented jobs often require a certain amount of flexibility and problem-solving skills, because you just can’t write procedures for every single situation. And also, the timing of that phone call couldn’t have been more perfect!

        2. fposte*

          That’s what I mean, though– you have to frame it so that you’re not coming across as “I fail without structure.” “I love systems and I love creating processes to increase efficiency” is a positive. “I like to be systematic” sounds rigid. “I think it’s important to serve our clients’ needs without losing sight of the policies we’ve created” is a positive. “I like policies and rules” sounds rigid.

    2. Chinook*

      “I’m working hard to find a way to explain to them that the function I’m training them on really needs a degree of fluid thinking that weighs policy against logic and past experience. ”

      Do you give them Standards as well as Procedures? Right now, my company is working at putting in writing everything we do and we are finding that, while it is a pain in the butt the amount of work it is, clarifying the difference does allow for more fluidity when something doesn’t go as planned. The way it was explained to us is that Standards are all about the end goal and may include references non-negotiable procedures and are documents you could give to a contractor to tell them what we want done. Procedures are much more rigid and based on those standards and often include a section on Abnormal Operating Conditions (AOC) which allow for moving away from your procedures as long as the standards are met.

      Ex: You have a repair in the field that has to be made that includes 10 specific steps. The Standard would be that it must be repaired to such and such a spec and include certain safety procedures. The procedures include the 10 steps plus an AOC that includes dangerous wildlife in the area. The steps say don’t stop once you started welding. AOC implies that, if you see a bear, put down the torch, take a photo as proof as possible (they all have cameras to document processes) and safely leave the area. The possibility of AOC allows for fluid thinking when something unpredictable happens while still requiring them to strictly follow procedures 99% of the time..

      1. OP3*

        I think what I’ve always valued, and jobs have often lacked, is clarity on which procedures are non-negotiable. I could make judgment calls all day long, and get called out on every one of them the next day because “fluid thinking” let me to violate something non-negotiable. Once I know what’s non-negotiable and what is negotiable, it’s a lot easier to do all kinds of work. However, it’s often difficult to get clarity on that.

        I’d really prefer to do an excellent, or at least good, at least acceptable, job in the first place than to have to redo every judgment call i made the day before due to lack of clarity on the non-negotiables.

        1. JMegan*

          That’s actually a really great way of framing it! You could say all of that pretty much word for word to an interviewer, and you’d be just fine. Make sure you can back it up with some specific examples of when this has happened to you, including what you learned from the experience. Even if what you “learned” was that your boss was terrible – the interview-appropriate way to say that is that you learned to ask questions and clarify expectations ahead of time. ;)

  10. CQ*

    #3 – is it that you don’t like change or do you have a problem keeping up when changes aren’t announced?

    I have a problem at my current job where we have lots of policies and procedures and rules, which is fine. I like to work systematically, too, but I can be very flexible as long as someone lets me know that’s something has changed. But at my workplace, the problem is that you’ll be doing Procedure A from Day 1 and then all of a sudden, someone’s yelling at you that the proper procedure is Procedure B and “it’s been this way for years” and “how can you not know this?” and “everybody knows we don’t do Procedure A anymore!” and it’s like… well I was trained with Procedure A and nobody told me when we switched to Procedure B, so?!?!

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Uggghhh, I hate that! Even great, flexible employees aren’t mind readers, FFS!

    2. pieces of flair*

      LOL, do you work at a university by any chance? Because this describes my job pretty well.

      I’m a little surprised to see so many people saying that being systematic and good at following procedures are viewed negatively. I would describe myself this way, but I would also say I’m flexible. I have no problem adapting to (or developing) new policies and procedures and I can certainly exercise independent judgment.

      I think there’s an important difference between flexibility and inconsistency. Ability to adapt to changing needs and new situations is a good thing. Inconsistency in the application of rules and procedures is really not.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Inconsistency in the application of rules and procedures is really not.

        But there may be situations you come across in a work context that seem to be inconsistent, but may not actually be inconsistent. To take it back to insurance, and claims in particular, it’s very possible to get two claims on your desk that seem to be identical at first glance. So you would think you’d handle Claim A like you’d handle Claim B – that is until you start digging into Claim B and realize there are some tiny nuances that you didn’t see when you first got the claim, and it’s actually not going to work to handle it the way you would Claim A. An outsider looking at these two claims without having context may in fact think you handled these situations inconsistently when you really didn’t.

        OP needs to take Alison’s advice and do some self-reflection to figure out why she keeps hearing the same feedback about being flexible. If her problem is with inconsistencies, they may be trying to tell her (unartfully for sure) that what she views as inconsistent is really not in their field. And if her problem is with the perception that she’s going to be rigid and not be able to make split second decisions without consulting a manual, then, like Alison said, she needs to determine whether that really will be a problem for her. If it is, she’s targeting the wrong field(s).

      2. Artemesia*

        If this is causing problems in the hiring process several times then the OP needs to be reflecting on what she is projecting. Sure ONE employer might misinterpret her statements as ‘she is too rigid’ but if lots are, then she is projecting ‘I am rigid and not adaptable or initiative taking.’ Whatever it is she is doing, she needs to do something different.

      3. OP3*

        Yes I think some of the problem is others’ perceptions: That consistency and the valuing of consistency is somehow regarded as the negative characteristic of inflexibility. It sounds almost as if someone is not doing a good job at maintaining consistency, and then when challenged on that they simply flip it around and make it seem like consistency or the worker who values it is “inflexible” and therefore the problems, rather than management working to make sure consistency is in place.

    3. Alli525*

      Oh man, are you me? This is exactly why I get frustrated at my job too… or they’ll implement Procedure B without consulting any (ANY) of the people whom the switch will affect, to the point where it throws a massive wrench in everything and makes our jobs more difficult for no apparent reason. Bleeeerrrrrrggggg.

      1. Grapey*

        Ask your manager for more clarity into changes. I’m on the side of things where people come to me to make changes, and 90% of my job is spent making sure nobody else is adversely affected. The other 10% is dealing with the apathy and training of those that are actually affected but that’s another story.

        I’d prefer to go to process owners about it, but even they have no clue what their direct reports do on a day to day basis, so much of my time is spent actually following people around that do the day to day work.

        It’s frustrating on both sides, trust me.

      2. Tau*

        Are you me? Some changes are coming in from high up that will make it literally impossible for me to do my job and nobody who made these decisions appears to have noticed. I foresee fun!!! times ahead for my whole department.

        1. John Cosmo*

          In my job, my supervisors seem to want to reduce my workload by eliminating certain steps and procedures, which would be great, but they don’t seem to be aware of why the procedures are necessary in the first place (Admittedly, we’ve had a lot of turnover among supervisors).

          A lot of the seemingly unnecessary information I gather and verify is going to be needed by the different branch offices that will eventually deal with our customers. If I don’t get the information when I first write up the order, then I’ll have to go back and get it for the branch office at some point in the future, when it will me difficult to get back to the customer or go over the original order forms and when I probably won’t have time. It makes sense to do it at the beginning of the process, but when I point this out, I’m told that I’m being “resistant to change.”

          1. Tau*

            In my case, it’s something like: we are a global company with the express goal of making chocolate teapots. Chocolate teapot makers basically never need to use the caramel machine in their work. In fact, it tends to be misused, resulting in nonfunctional teapots, spout disasters, ruining the lid makers, and the like. As a result, the directive has come from high up that there will be no more access to the caramel machine. After all, no one really needs it, right?

            …except that my little-known department does analysis of different caramel types. We cannot do our jobs without access to the caramel machine. I’m about 99% certain that the people who went “no more caramel machine for you!” did not have the slightest idea there were actually any caramel analysts in the company at all, because that field has nothing to do with chocolate teapots. But we do exist, and now we have been told we will have no more access to the caramel machine, and I foresee a future where I come to work and twiddle my thumbs for eight hours until my boss gets the wheels of bureaucracy to grind to a conclusion of “whoops, guess you guys need that after all”.

            (I exaggerate. I could write documentation.)

    4. Mike C.*

      Tell me about it, christ. Then folks actually have the nerve to act like you can’t “roll with the punches” as you throw away tons of hard work because no one bothered to talk to you.

    5. I'm a Little Teapot*

      You just described my last job. With the added bonus that the new way of doing things was usually not documented anywhere, and that I’d get flat-out wrong info from my supervisor and contradictory directives from different people. And my supervisor was rarely at her desk and almost always ignored any questions I sent her by email. Aaauugghh.

    6. OP3*

      It’s not change per se, but ongoing inconsistency and poor communication are poor practices.

  11. Monique*

    For number #1, it sounds like your friends haven’t found jobs yet, someone with your shared background is qualified to work at the company you work for (judging by your working there), and there is a job opening. I imagine if your friends had lots of other options, they wouldn’t still be job searching at this point.

    Alison said that any good friend would understand if you asked them not to apply, but if that were me, still searching and needing a job quite badly, I wouldn’t understand why my friend would think their preference not to work with friends more important than my ability to pay the rent and buy food.

    I don’t think you could ask a jobless friend to forego applying for a job they have a real shot at for reasons to do with your general preferences and enjoyment. That’s asking your jobless friend to be a good friend while not being a great one yourself.

    1. OP1*

      I agree with you about this, and I can remember how stressed I was during my own job search. My friends both have means of supporting themselves while they look (one gets money from her parents and the other has a research assistantship through October), so I think they are less desperate than I was. But I’m still sure they’d both rather be employed than not.

      1. Monique*

        I do sympathise because I wouldn’t want to work with my mates either, but in practical terms, I just don’t see how your friendship could survive if they ever found out you’d actively prevented them from getting a shot at one of the few jobs they stood a chance to get. The thing is, even if they’re not as desperate, I don’t think your friends will thank you for deciding how urgently they need employment for them, and it’s always hard to get the full picture, even from close friends, where money is concerned, because it can be such a shameful thing people tend not to be too open.

        Friend 1 may hate having her parents pay for things. There may be all sorts of strings attached. Her parents may be threatening to stop paying. They may not be able to afford it for much longer. They may be lending her the money instead of giving it to her, so she’s building up lots of debt. Friend 2’s research assistantship may well leave her short of money every month, or only cover the necessities, leaving her unable to buy a plane ticket to visit family.

        I just don’t see any scenario where, as your friend, I’d be able to let it go if I found out you’d actively prevented me from getting one of the few jobs I had a shot at. Having said that, I don’t envy your position. I think the best thing you can do is not talk about it to your friends or your manager, and let the chips fall where they may. If you are asked a question, answer honestly and kindly, but don’t start any conversations yourself.

  12. Caryatis*

    LW2: you have a phone problem, not a coworker problem. While I don’t disagree with the advice, expect you will still get some texts because people forget to leave you off a group text or want to contact you personally. And texting is a very normal thing to do! If a new phone isn’t in the budget right now, you’ll have to deal with a bit of annoyance. Ultimately, you need to get a phone that can receive texts–resist the temptation to blame your coworkers because you choose to keep a phone that doesn’t work.

    1. Mari Rios*

      Really the freezing up isn’t the only issue…the main issue it is after work hours and I am getting stupid texts about people’s personal lives. I only gave up my number to them, thinking it would be in case of an emergency.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Half the time I mute group texts with my friends, so I can’t imagine being on an inane thread of cat pictures with my coworkers.

        We have a coworker with an old school phone, so when I send the “I’m stopping at Starbucks, what I can grab for you?” texts, I add, “can someone please ask Jane what she wants?”

      2. i'm anon*

        If that’s your real issue, saying, “Sorry–I gave you my phone number in case of emergency, but I’d really rather not receive a text unless it’s about an urgent work matter that can’t wait until the next working day” should clear it up.

    2. Chocolate lover*

      I disagree that her phone “doesn’t work” just because it’s not convenient for her co-workers. If it serves the purpose she has for it, then it works.

      I have a smart phone with full texting features, and if my co-workers included me on things like that, I’d also ask them to stop. Though other than a few people, my office doesn’t share phone numbers at all, and rarely use them.

      1. Mabel*

        I had to give my manager my personal mobile number, and I was briefly worried that I’d be hearing from her all the time, but she stopped using it after only a few non-urgent texts.

    3. A Dispatcher*

      Texting your coworkers is not a very normal thing to do in some work places (many, probably), and unless I’m someone’s supervisor and have requested/said notice via text is okay, I certainly don’t want to get texts from them after hours telling me they’re sick. Maybe a one off, “Hey Jane I’ll be out tomorrow so the notes you need for project x are in this drawer in my desk” every once and a while, but group texts after hours, particularly about non work related things, NOPE. And I have a brand new fancy pants phone, so that’s not the issue. Boundaries and work like balance are important.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        All of this. The OP doesn’t have to get a new phone to accommodate her no-boundary-having coworkers. This is absolutely not a phone problem.

        1. Cat*

          I think it’s worth noting that at this point, it’s not really a co-workers problem either, unless where I missed they’ve been asked to stop and haven’t. They’re not no-boundaries-having for not intuiting the relationship their coworker wants to have with them without being asked.

          1. Doriana Gray*

            I’m sorry, but texting coworkers outside of work for non-work reasons to me is exhibiting a lack of boundaries whether or not the person asks you to stop. You may see it differently, but I wouldn’t even think of doing something like this. We work together – we’re not friends.

    4. Kelly L.*

      It’s not texts-in-general. It’s only group texts. My phone can receive regular texts all the livelong day, but group texts make it flip out. I imagine OP’s phone is like mine.

    5. A Cita*

      Who said OP was choosing to keep a phone that doesn’t work? She said she was a single mother, in debt. Not everyone can afford a new phone or new phone plan (which a new phone would most likely require).

      And it’s absolutely not unreasonable to ask to be kept off those personal texts at night. She has a child(ren) to care for after hours. Her time is for family.

    6. ThatGirl*

      I disagree that texting your co-workers regularly is a normal thing to do. My co-workers have my phone number so they can reach me when I’m working from home or in case of something urgent, and none of them have ever texted me at random after work, nor are there group texts going around.

    7. Observer*

      It’s not that her phone can’t get texts, but that it can’t handle the volume. And, really, it’s not reasonable of people to expect her to spend money so they can just keep on including her in after work texts that are not really her issue any way. That’s a fair amount of boundary crossing, in my opinion.

    8. Anonymous Educator*

      Have you considered looking into having your carrier block texts from certain numbers? A lot of carriers have this option.

      I would tell your co-workers not to group-text you because it freezes up your phone, and if they keep doing it, just block their numbers from texting you at all. Since you don’t have a smartphone, you’ll have to do it through your carrier’s website instead of directly from your phone, but it’d be worth doing.

  13. Roscoe*

    #1 I’m going to slightly disagree here. If they do find out about the job on their own and ask you to put in a good word, I think there is no problem with telling them your concerns, and leave it to them what to do. However just because your preference isn’t to work with them, I don’t think you should actively try to sabotage it. If your manager wants to hire them, I think its fine to disclose you know them (it would be weird not to). And I also think its fine to say you can’t speak to how they would be to work. But I think it is somewhat crossing a line to basically tell your boss you don’t want to work with them. If these are truly your friends, you shouldn’t try to keep them from getting a job. I’m sure some will disagree, and thats fine. I just don’t thin its something you do to a friend.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I think you struck a nice balance with you answer.

      The only note I would make, is that as a manager asking a relatively new grad about someone they went to school with, I would want to hear about how they were in a school.

      In fact, if an employee said, “I don’t know them professionally.” My immediate follow-up would be about group projects and class work.

      1. Roscoe*

        Sure, but in this case, OP has nothing negative to say about those things, they just don’t want them working with them for personal reasons

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I would also take an employee saying they didn’t want to work with someone for personal reasons under consideration as well. I would probe the employee, and it wouldn’t be the largest factor, but I would consider it.

          My team has a good dynamic that we have all worked really hard to build after some bad juju from before I came in.

    2. themmases*

      I agree, from the OP’s description it doesn’t sound like their friends or classmates have even found out about this opening– they just fear that people will, and that those friends or classmates will apply, and that they will then ask for a reference, and then that they will either have to say no or end up working with a friend. But the first step of that whole chain of events hasn’t even happened yet! OP is getting worked up about something that may never happen.

      Wouldn’t it be simpler to just not share the job opening, and not over-promise the type of reference you can give if somehow a classmate finds out about it and asks you to put in a good word? If you don’t know anyone who would be a good fit for a job, the normal course of action is to just not share the ad. I’ve also not gotten jobs where a friend referred me and I understood that it was only a personal reference and there were no hard feelings.

  14. Roscoe*

    A good dating anaolgy I can think of for #1 would be like if I wanted to date my friends sister. He can talk to me about his concerns and how it could affect our friendship if things go south. I could respect that as well. But ulitmately its my choice on whether or not I want to pursue that relationship. I wouldn’t have a problem with him telling me his concerns, I would have a problem with him actively trying to stop her from dating me or break us up. Thas kind of what you are doing here. In my example and your case, you may ultimately be right. But its not really your call to make.

  15. TMW*

    #1. I totally understand your concerns. Once, I recommended a friend for a position that was not in my department, but that reported to a manager that I knew. My friend got the job, but she wound up not getting along with the manager. Needless to say this was AWK-WARD!!! So ever since then, I proceed with caution when referring friends for positions where I work. While I want to help my friends, I don’t want to hurt myself in the process.

  16. Camellia*

    For #3, it can depend on the context. In IT, “be flexible” and “think outside the box” is usually wimp-manager-speak for “I need you to work tons of overtime because I’m too cowardly to push back against the totally unreasonable deadline the business is pushing on us.”

    1. Susan*

      Sure, but “sticking to procedure” can mean “I see you are on fire, but until you give me the requisition form for the bucket of water to throw on you, I can’t help”. Extremes in both sides are dangerous.

      1. Observer*

        This, too. I’ve been in situations not as dire, but truly calling for some flexibility in applying the rules. Things can go very wrong when this is not recognized.

      2. OP3*

        It’s hard for me to imagine someone behaving this way. There is a difference between needing crucial input to do a complex job correctly and common sense. But even coping with emergencies safely is best accomplished with some training. Emergency responders do have procedures, and I would really hate if if I knew that first responders had had the same training experiences I have had. I would not feel safe if I felt that people in emergency response were untrained or expected to simply cope on instinct rather than being asked to internalize life-saving procedures. Unfortunately there has been a habit of supervisors assuming that everything I need to know to do a job is simply “common sense” no matter how unique it is to the job. Or they assume that the minute they hire you, all of their years of hard-won experience is simply downloaded into your brain and they don’t need to explain anything.

        1. Observer*

          Sure, first responders should have training to deal with things that most normal people don’t. But, sometimes you need to deal with things NOW.

          As hard as it is to believe that people would act like this, they DO. For a fairly high profile case, I refer you to what happened when that Air Korea plane a crash landing. The cabin crew did not start the evacuation immediately! They waited for permission from the captain! In fact, they waited a full 4 minutes! In fact, it wasn’t until they saw smoke coming from the tail that they asked permission to start the evacuation. That’s NUTS.

          And, this is a MAJOR improvement for the airline. At one point, they had one of the worst safety records in the world, and a major part of the problem was the rigid adherence to hierarchy, even in the cockpit. I’m going to include a link in the following comment.

        2. Observer*

          On a separate note, this can be an issue in less dire situations as well.

          I’ve had major systems crash because our regular processes were not responsive enough for the situation. Now, most of the time these processes are annoying, but necessary and work well enough. But, every so often, you run into a situation where you need to do something NOW and a process that takes 3 days to a week is just too long. (It’s not that much work, but effectively, it can take that long to get to the point where you can make the purchase etc.) Fortunately, in my case, the policy makers DO learn, and if something really is an emergency, we’ve figured various ways to work around the issue, depending on the circumstances.

  17. Rusty Shackelford*

    These are close friends, so can you be honest with them? I’d say something like this: “I’ve heard way too many horror stories about how working together can ruin friendships. I’ll help you in your job search in any way I can, but I have a strong preference not to work with a close friend.” A good friend will respect that.

    If that doesn’t work and one of them applies anyway, it’s fine to say to your boss, “Jane and I are close friends, and I’d actually rather not bring such a close relationship into the office. I was up-front with her too that I felt that way.” (Of course, all this assumes that they even hear about the opening and express interest in applying. They may not.)

    I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed this strongly with Alison’s advice. First, because I do not actually think a good friend would say “I really need a job, but you don’t want to work with me because I’m your friend, so of course I won’t apply at your workplace.” And I don’t actually think a good friend would ask that either. If you’re close enough friends to say “please don’t risk our friendship by working with me,” you’re also close enough to say “I’d love it if you came to work here, but I do have to ask you to not share your frustrations about the job to me, because I really like it here and hearing you complain about it would stress me out.”

    And I really, really can’t imagine asking my boss not to hire someone because I personally did not want to work with a friend. I can see declining to be a reference, or saying something like “we’re friends so I couldn’t be neutral enough about her skills to be an appropriate reference,” but just saying “don’t hire Jane because I don’t want to work with a close friend?”

    1. OP1*

      I have major hesitations about flat-out stopping their applications too. I think your idea of a policy of no negative work talk should that friend be hired is a good one. And I guess if my chatty friend were to get the job, a “Can we talk about this later? I need to concentrate on work” would be enough to show those around us I’m not complicit in the chatting.

      Still, I appreciate Alison’s validation of my concerns. It’s a complicated issue, which is why I wrote in. I think I’m right to feel anxious, but preventing any complications isn’t the only option. They can be handled as well.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, I agree that there are a lot of potential issues, and it’s good to think about them before they come up.

    2. Kyla*

      Yeah, I have to disagree with Alison too.

      ‘A good friend will respect that’.

      Um. My bills and student loans couldn’t give less of a **** if my friend doesn’t want me to apply for that job…..

      1. OP1*

        I should have mentioned that my friends aren’t having any issues paying their bills right now. If they were, I’d absolutely be willing to stick my neck out to help them. I’m sure that doesn’t mean they’re not stressed and extremely anxious about their unemployment, but they’re definitely getting by.

        1. A Cita*

          Yes, but it’s not just about paying bills. It’s about having a gap on your resume, not having career related work on your resume–all this can snowball into pretty big issues later on in your career–how fast you advance, if you advance, professional opportunities, salary growth over the career life cycle, recent, relevant work history. It’s a pretty big deal.

        2. Mags*

          But just because they’re managing to pay them doesn’t mean debts aren’t stacking up! I’m part time employed and receiving financial help from family to pay rent etc. but that money isn’t a gift- it’s a loan with the expectation I’ll pay it back as soon as I am full time employed. (And with the price of poor treatment from relatives who disapprove of my not “trying hard enough” to get work. ) I don’t tell my friends about that since it won’t help matters and only make them feel bad, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the case.
          Don’t reccomend them to your boss, but stop trying to sabotage them before it even comes up.

        3. alexalapitica*

          You aren’t living their lives and don’t know the details of their financial situation, regardless of what they share with you. A part-time job can always cut your hours and parents can cut you off at any time. You are being really unkind about this. What if you need a good word from someone to land a job someday? Most people do get jobs through their networks so I don’t understand why you want to burn this bridge.

          1. leslie knope*

            i agree. what if they don’t want to be relying on their parents anymore, and that’s why they’re trying to get a job in the first place?

        4. Kyla*

          With all due respect, how do you know that?

          How do you know they are not paying for things on credit or borrowing money from parents?

          You seem to have made up your mind about not helping them, but I think you can’t assume anything about another person’s finances……even if they tell you something. I know I’ve lied to ‘save face’ when I’ve been struggling financially before. I didn’t want to admit to others I was too hasty quitting a bad job without another lined up.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But it’s a single job opening that’s not even in their field. The odds of one single job opening being the one and only solution to keeping you solvent is very low.

        1. A Cita*

          Ugh. Stop ruining my stance with logic! :)

          Yes, that’s true. But it also sounds like jobs are hard to get in their field; these friends are getting jobs in their field or even related fields. Big picture, sure, it’s just one opportunity. But when you’re in that situation, it feels a lot more significant.

          There’s also the bigger issue around what OP might be doing to her current and future professional network by trying to block her friends, because in her case, friendship overlaps with professional cohort. So general “rules about working with friends” are a bit different.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I can see that.

            It’s interesting to me how differently most people seem to see this than I do. I wonder if this is a side effect of me thinking about work stuff all day long — maybe I’m bringing more of a clinical lens to the question than I should be.

            1. A Cita*

              Well, I think it might be a matter of not having been a job seeker in this economy. You know how you say that people who don’t hire regularly don’t always understand how hiring managers think? Could the same be true for job seekers? I think in most cases, it really doesn’t matter for your advice because understanding the hiring manager point of view is what’s really important for landing a job. But in weird instances like this, maybe having been a recent job seeker makes a difference? (And I haven’t been a recent one myself in 5 years, but that time of job seeking in this economy 5 years ago has still left me with some low-level emotional PTSD :D .)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Definitely could be. I think about this kind of thing all the time (is my perspective limited by X, am I advising on something I’m not equipped to advise on, etc.?) but maybe I’ve underestimated it here.

                1. Mags*

                  I think so, I’ve been job hunting for a full time position for five and a half years, all the part time positions I have love me and would hire me full time if they could, but there’s a lot of competition and few openings. Getting told by an ex friend not to apply because I’d be a distraction they wouldn’t be able to concentrate on their work around? Um, no in the current economy, job market, that’s not realistic.

                2. Observer*

                  I think you have.

                  I try to avoid dramatics, but any friend who asked me to not apply to her workplace, when I haven’t been able to find a full time position in my field or one related to it for over a year, and then went to the boss to stop it, would be an ex-friend. No need to worry about how being in the same workplace would impact the relationship.

                  Yes, it’s only one opportunity, but when opportunities are few and far between, “just one opportunity” means a lot.

                  I think you’ve overlooked something else here. If I were on the boss end, and someone in my organization did that, I would be looking at this person very, very hard. I’m going to have to ask myself who else will she stab in the back when she perceives it as being in her interest? Is she going to be the kind of colleague who won’t share information with others, to make them look bad / make herself look good? Is she going to the be the person who hoards information on key systems so she cant’ be fired? Is she going to be the supervisor who shorts her team in some way or other because she thinks it will help her rise in the hierarchy? None of these things are inherently illegal. But, they are not fundamentally different than sabotaging another person’s – a FRIEND’S chances at a good job because it suits her preferences.

              2. OP1*

                Part of what drove me to write in is that I already had both Alison’s and the dissenting commenters’ perspectives swirling in my brain at once (don’t worry–this thread didn’t just replicate that. It also gave me new ways of looking at both sides).

                The bottom line: I feel like not working with my friends is the best thing for me, but also that them having the job would help them more than it would hurt me. A classic moral conundrum!

                1. A Cita*

                  OP, please keep in mind that these aren’t just your friends; they’re your current and future professional cohort. So you’re preference not to work with them may not be feasible in the long run. And you might be doing more harm to your future career and networking abilities in the long run than you are considering. Would it help to think more clearly about it if you reframe it in your mind that, yes, they are friends, but more importantly, they are colleagues. And in fact, you’ve developed something very valuable to your professional future–you’ve cultivated relationships with potentially important professional contacts (which is not evident now, this early in your career, but will be later on). How you handle that now will pave the way for the future. Can you set aside short term personal preference for the long term advantages? Think about it like chess–it’s not just the immediate move, but it’s taking the whole board into consideration. It’s the long game.

          2. Elsajeni*

            Yeah, I think the professional-cohort aspect is a real issue. I made friends with people in my teaching-licensure cohort, but we made those friendships knowing that we’d all be going into the same job market, so we wouldn’t always have the option of maintaining perfect work-life/personal-life boundaries — there was a strong chance that some of us would end up working together, and of course lots of us would be competing for the same jobs. Essentially, we had to treat each other as already being “work friends,” instead of thinking of ourselves as purely social friends and then having trouble integrating our social-sphere friendship into the workplace.

        2. MaggiePi*

          Though I understand what you mean by this, I disagree with the idea behind it. I am only one person, so all it takes is one job opening to make a huge change in my life. It may not be the one and only solution, but it may be one of only two or three legitimate options for the year.
          Especially if these friends are limited by personal reasons to need to stay in a certain geographical area, one job that’s even tangentially related to their schooling is 1000x better than no job, and 100x better than a desperation job with no education requirement and no hope.

          1. MaggiePi*

            I say this all as someone who has worked with a friend and my spouse. With close relationships, it can have bumps, but you talk it out. If you’re both committed to making it good it can be good.
            With those who can’t/don’t want to talk about the bumps, maybe becoming less personally close and more focused on being colleagues is the right answer. You may both be able to help each other professionally in the present and the future without becoming besties and that’s okay.

        3. alexalapitica*

          All it takes is one job when you’re unemployed, and a lead where you actually know someone? That’s an opening that could BE a job. OP is being extremely petty if her worst problems with her friends is that they are chatty and occasionally negative – those things are not roadblocks in most jobs. If she had specific performance concerns I’d at least understand, but it doesn’t seem that way. She’s also continually speculating that they don’t even “need” this job, as if being underemployed and relying on parental assistance is better. Finally, I’m sure if the situation were reversed, OP would want her friends to throw her a bone if she was looking for a job. To undermine them like this is awful, and definitely not being a good friend.

        4. Kyla*

          Depends on the community you live in though, although perhaps my view is shaped by growing up in a very small community where there aren’t tons of jobs and me thinking how I’d feel if I was living there and a friend basically said NOPE, you can’t work there because I do. That knocks a lot of places out of the running…..and what if the person looking for a job has 5+ friends who take the same stance as OP1?

    3. A Cita*

      Yeah, you I love me some AAM. I don’t comment a lot, but I read religiously. Religiously. And I have to regretfully say that I disagree with Alison in this instance. I think her advice would be spot on in an ideal world–great economy, loads of opportunity, plenty of options, employers who don’t judge employment gaps in this economy, who don’t base salary offers on past pay, who don’t frown on the recent grad who has a hard time landing a job in their field, who recognize transferable skills, etc. But that’s not the world we live/work in.

      1. BioPharma*

        I’ve been helping a friend find a job, and when one opened up in my group, I was very hesitant, but how could I NOT refer her when she’s been struggling and I’ve been experiencing it “with” her? She made it to an in-person interview and didn’t get the position. I have very mixed feelings, but I know I would have felt TERRIBLE if I didn’t support it. I guess I was choosing her employment over our friendship, in a way!

      2. Shell*

        I agree with this. I think Alison’s approach here is a tad too clinical.

        I feel for the OP because I’ve felt the same way a number of times. I did warn a very close friend that I couldn’t champion her as a reference because I haven’t worked with her in a professional capacity (we’ve been employed at the same company, but in different departments, so I honestly could not objectively assess how well she worked in a professional capacity). And I would definitely take the middle passive ground of not enthusiastically endorsing their applications, disclaiming that I don’t know their work professionally, but not outright sabotaging their application.

        But I’m pretty terrible at networking and I think this approach may have (and probably will) cost me professional opportunities in the future.

  18. newlyhr*

    #5: I can’t believe it but I slightly disagree with Allison (I hope I don’t get struck by lightning). If a former supervisor really isn’t reachable I think I would let them know up front and offer up someone else in the organization who can attest to your work. I might write a note stating that the direct supervisor is on a medical leave of absence and not available, but you can talk to person X about my work. I just know that some organizations would consider a lack of response from a reference to be a red flag about the applicant. In a competitive job market, it’s important to remove obstacles to your candidacy.

    1. F.*

      I would leave out the part about the leave of absence being medical. It is really none of anyone’s business why the person can’t be reached.

      I agree about not being able to reach the reference I was given being a red flag. Definitely provide an alternate. In my own case, I have no idea how I will handle providing references for most of my past employment. I have been at my current employer and under the same manager for nine years, but my two previous managers have retired, and the company provides only factual employment verification. Turnover there was very high, and I have only one coworker (from twelve years ago) with whom I have stayed in touch.

      1. OP5*

        Thank you for your comments! At what point in the interviewing process do you think it is appropriate to talk about your former boss’ condition, if and only if I was specifically asked why the former boss is unavailable? I assume it is always NOT a good idea/appropriate to bring up someone’s mental illness into the conversation, correct?

        1. JMegan*

          That is correct! And in fact, I would go further and say not only that it’s not a good idea, but that you absolutely should not mention her mental illness, under any circumstances. For most people, it will be enough to say “My former boss is unavailable, so here are two other people you can contact as references.” If someone asks for more details, just repeat it, and redirect the conversation to the references who are available.

          Anyone who pushes for more details after that, not only doesn’t deserve them, but is giving you valuable information about what they would be like to work for. Pushing for information that is probably personal, and is clearly none of their business, is a pretty big boundary violation, and chances are that would come across in other circumstances as well. I wouldn’t consider it a dealbreaker on its own, but definitely consider it a red flag if your potential future boss starts behaving like this.

          But like I said, it probably won’t come up. “Unavailable” should be all the information anyone needs. Good luck on your search!

        2. Laura (Needs a New Name)*

          The academic element of this is relevant, I think. Academia is a tiny little world, so if anyone at this position is coming out of the same academic field odds are someone already knows about this lab. In terms of applications just asking for basic information, I think you should just list the accurate information – Research Scientist at X Institution, Lab of Professor Z. If they ask for contact information, see if you can put N/A in that box. If/when they ask for contact information for references, you can say “I worked as a research scientist in Professor Z’s lab. S/he is no longer active at the institution, but my colleague Dr. Y would be happy to speak with you about our work together over the 4 years we overlapped in the lab.”

        3. HowDareThey*

          Absolutely. Your former boss has a right to her confidentiality. If you were to mention her condition in any way, it could reflect poorly on you. Is there any particular reason why you feel it would ever need to be mentioned?

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      When I send over my references, I often have to note (whether it’s on a phone call or in the email) that the reason I have provided coworkers for two of my three positions, is that my supervisors at both places passed away.

    3. Natalie*

      Eh, a prospective employer shouldn’t be checking references before they’ve spoken to you anyway, so I wouldn’t bother putting a note and an alternative contact on the application. Just provide it if and when you get an interview and move to the reference checking stage.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly — this is just about getting through the initial application and not having “no” in response “can we contact this manager?” which looks like a red flag.

    4. Anxa*

      I think it would be a completely different situation if the references you submitted were unreachable or difficult to get in contact with. These don’t sound like references, though.

      If I know it’s going to be tough to get in contact with previous employers, I’m hesitant to put ‘no,’ because it makes it sound like I’m not giving my permission to contact them, which I think suggests I have something to hide. I don’t know who is still working in some of these jobs. If I put ‘es,’ is it really up to me to email them? So often these are ATS where they clearly don’t want a lot of contact from applicants. I feel like I’d really be overwhelming HR if I were to call for every application to explain which business has closed, who has died, etc. Now, if they ask for references, I can do a better job of choosing references who would be available.

  19. Gaara*

    OP3, I wonder if what you’re really trying to do is contrast yourself with “workers who overlook or flout procedure”?

    Employees who disregard rules just because they can are bad employees (even when they’re a genius fictional TV doctor with a painkiller addiction). But as you’re seeing from the comments, when you say you’re a rule-follower, this implies to others that you’re rigid. Not flouting the rules is one of those basic things you should expect of an employee, so I’m not sure there’s a good way to say you won’t not flout the rules. It’s like in dating — not being a jerk is basic minimum requirement of a romantic partner, so it’s not actually a selling point to say that you’re not a jerk.

    If this is right and that’s the point you’re trying to convey, I would just drop it as a talking point.

    If, however, this is something that’s really important to you to screen for in your work environment, then I would keep bringing it up and remind yourself that when someone has a negative reaction, that tells you that you don’t want to work there. If so, I wonder if you’ll need to look for a type of job where structure and rule-following are particularly important (such as the military or some government jobs).

  20. Juli G.*


    Have you and boss/team talked about communication practices? This was one of the first things my last two bosses and I did. We all liked to text things whenever we thought of them with the understanding that responses may not happen outside business hours (unless it was urgent). So a lot of times, I’m ignoring the 8pm texts from my boss and responding 6:30 the next morning. This works for both of us and guidelines were set in advance.

    I would take some time to talk to your boss about preferred communication style. And then discuss with the team from there.

    One caution – if they want to continue group texts and you opt out, you may miss out on information from time to time. This may or may not be an issue.

    1. Ama*

      Oof, I’m sure that works fine for you but I would hate that so much. I’m just not capable of getting out of “work mode” if I’m getting notifications that I have pending work issues, even if I know I don’t have to deal with it right away. I even hide my work email app on my phone so I can’t see the notification of how many unread messages I have unless I intentionally check it.

      But that does illustrate your point that the OP needs to discuss communication preferences with her boss/coworkers and see if there’s a compromise that will work better.

  21. Nervous Accountant*

    #1—it’s totally legit to not want your friends at your job, but out of everything, the “I can do better” sticks out the most. The fact that they think of this as a last resort would make me actively discourage them……someone like that would bring a poor attitude to the office and that could make things unpleasant. Yes, not everything is rainbow and butterflies at work but having your nose up in the air doesn’t help the employee much either).

    1. MaggiePi*

      I agree, if they still feel that way. Since it’s been six months, their expectations may have crashed into reality and adjusted accordingly. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t hold it against them now.

  22. Nervous Accountant*

    #2–not sure if this has been brought up but is there a way to turn off certain notifications? Is it a group chat where they talk to each other? I use whatsapp and I’m in several group chats. If I don’t want to read the msgs for any reason (but not leave the group altogether) I just turn my notifications off so they don’t bother me.

    1. Kelly L.*

      If it’s what I’m thinking of, it’s more like emailing a big list of people and then having them reply-all, except as a text.

  23. Sunshine Girl*

    #1 I have had a very similar situation in reverse.

    My friend and I had both spent a long time in Japan, and came back with experience and as Japanese-English bilinguals. Her, several years before I returned. She had worked about three jobs in the last 7 years I was in Japan, and bounced around from translators for Japanese companies to other more important business roles.

    When moved to the same area she lived upon returning to the states, I of course talked to her about job options. She mentioned that they had some openings for bilinguals, however she said she wouldn’t recommend the job, that she wasn’t happy with it, and had tried to leave, they convinced her to stay by saying she’d get a promotion in six months, a big raise, and her boss promised to be more involved /supporting of her work.

    So I tried a different job, and was miserable. I had a really abusive, rude woman I worked directly under in a small office, and my friend seeing how miserable I was invited me to apply for the job at her company that had been open the entire time.

    I ended up getting that job, she was worried the whole few months about how it would be working with a friend. It ended up being great though! We would go out to lunch, or have impromptu hang out sessions after work, our desks were actually next to each other, but we didn’t really work together as she was a manager and I was entry level. But it was still a great experience. Actually after I was hired we hired a few more new people and a couple of toxic people left, and everyone is pretty sure by the end of that we couldn’t have been working in a better environment. Within months my friend was so much more happy with work too!

    I recently left because I got head hunted for a job I couldn’t turn down, but the managers, and GM were all really supportive and thought it would be a good thing for me. She texts me now and complains how I am not there lol!

    I get that some of these people aren’t your close friends, and it’s fine to deal with how you want. However, I would really suggest if it it’s really a close friend I would talk to them about what the job is really like, the good and the bad, and explain to them the worry about leaving for better money / something in the field you all studied. However, you seem to really have enjoyed your job now even if it isn’t in the field, don’t assume that someone else might not as well.

  24. Temperance*

    Re LW#3: I used to work with a woman who I would describe as rigid and inflexible. It was very difficult to work with her on the team because her expectations were impossible to meet … and she was the receptionist. She wanted a formal process for every little thing that could feasibly come up, and when we told her that it wasn’t possible, she had a meltdown and started ranting about professionalism. She was irate that we didn’t have a set time every day to handle mail and package delivery, for example, because we can’t control when the USPS or couriers show up.

    You might want to work on your rigidity and try to be more flexible. Knowing rules and processes is important, but knowing how to be flexible is equally so.

    1. OP3*

      It sounds as if the woman was not actually up to the position. Maybe it was a temporary thing, or maybe it was a personality thing or even a learning disability. (I hope I’m not going too far out on a limb against th policy of not diagnosing people, I did read the guidelines and I know from my own professional ethics I certainly cannot genuinely diagnose someone I have not evaluated.) I have had encounters with individuals who struggle on that level. I don’t know how old the person was, but even when I was quite young my struggles were not that intense nor my needs quite that precise. I’ve worked as a receptionist and although I was not well suited to the constant multitasking and the constant need to be outgoing and social–receiving the mail was one of the easiest and most liked duties for me, it didn’t matter what time it came. I think that’s only an issue if there is no way of predicting when it’s safe to take a break or something.

      So I think some of the other posters have hit my need more closely in recognizing I’m having a problem framing things. I think the problems that come out of how I express my need for and respect for process are sadly being interpreted as “rigidity” by some– and the communication aspect is what I actually would benefit by addressing.

    2. ColleagueofOP3*

      Full disclosure: I’m a former coworker of OP3 and finally found her post. We used to work together n an office environment years ago. In no wise did I find her to be “rigid” but we definitely experienced problems in our shared environment where procedures were vague, changed without notifying anybody, and punitive or at least rude behavior if we violated procedure (that we were never trained in.) I think some commenters are jumping to conclusions that everything is OP3’s fault. She was a helpful young temp when I worked with her, but we shared the frustrations of a poorly run environment. Now that she has gone to graduate school and become a counselor she is still running into some of the same problems with poor management and I think that’s a shame. Luckily I work in a place for the last several years where things are more reasonable and consistent and things are better explained. This is a management and staff development issue in my book, not a character issue for poor OP3.

  25. J*

    On #4: I would prefer my direct reports not talk to me about whether I will be going for a promotion or not. Is that weird? It would only affect them if I decided to accept one as they would be getting a new manager following that. (Any promotion I got would mean I would be working in an entirely different building.) A supportive email would be nice but I don’t want to have a F2F conversation about my career plans.

    1. Granite*

      The key is to phrase the comments in a way that clearly requires no response from the supervisor other than a thank you for the compliment. Don’t ask if they are applying, anything like that. Just give the compliment and walk away.

  26. MC*

    LW3 – You may want to seek out more regulated industries in which to work. The more regulations, the more likely the need for documented processes. In some industries you document what you’re going to do, document you did exactly as instructed or document where you deviated.

    1. OP3*

      MC, thanks. I used to believe that insurance was very regulated. And possibly it is. There is just something about the way they do things which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I have some experience in health insurance in a different capacity. I have applied recently because my credential (mental health counseling) could command a good salary in that field. The way they discuss having strong training and mentoring is attractive to me, but then I hear things like “well we just never do things the same one day to the next” is unnerving to me and does seem to speak to dysfunction on their end.

  27. Mimmy*

    OP3 – Lots of great advice here. I tend to cower when I hear “you need to be more flexible”. I think I’ve gotten a little better over the years; I am definitely a rules & procedures person and do not like constant change. However, I am beginning to understand that I don’t need to be so mired in details that I don’t see the big picture. Plus, I can accept an occasional change in procedure as long as you let me know.

    So if you’re getting a negative reaction to saying that you’re systematic and respect rules & procedures, consider how you are framing it and try to reframe it so as to not come across as so rigid. If that’s not possible, you may need to rethink the types of jobs you are applying to.

    1. OP3*

      I agree there must be a framing issue I wish I understood better. I am a rules and procedures person, to a point. The possibility that presenting my respect for process is read as “rigid” is to my chagrin, as I find rigid environments incredibly hard to work in, as many do. The only time I can remember anyone outright calling me “rigid” came out when one of the most rigid bosses I have every had got angry at me and called me rigid. About 20 years ago. I believe there was significant projecting going on, but I may have learned more undesirable lessons from some of my poor experiences than I thought and I may be impacting how I frame things.

      I think I’ve had the misfortune of being in incredibly rigid environments were any departure from the rules was perceived as disrespectful and irresponsible, and in incredibly “loosey-goosey” environments where everything was done “seat of the pants” but you were still held accountable for not following unspoken expectations. My coping strategy coming out of that has been to respect rules and procedures and assume it will be seen in a positive light, but also to highly value both training and clarity of communication, and to feel anxious when it does not happen. The way I frame it may somehow not be reflecting well.

      1. Mimmy*

        From reading AAM, I’ve learned that being in certain negative / toxic work environments can skew your perception of normal workplaces or cause certain habits to become ingrained, so you are not alone there.

        I can’t stand rigidity either.

        I wish I had some good scripts to share, but alas, I don’t :( (Alison is the queen of scripts, lol). What I can offer is my best wishes in your job search.

  28. shep*

    OP #1 – I totally understand your concern here. I made the [relatively minor, but embarrassing] mistake of helping a fellow graduate student peer (we were both still in school but looking for part time work) set up an interview with my workplace at the time. She claimed to be moving to my city, but she flaked about forty-five minutes before the interview, citing some bizarre credit card fraud incident within a day and a half of moving to the city, and was en route to her hometown to move back in with her mother whilst canceling the interview over the phone.

    This is what she told my boss’s boss. I was flabbergasted, and got a moderately annoyed, “Just how well do you know this person?” line of questioning from said boss.

    Even with people I DO know well, I’d rather not work with them, despite how much I like them, excepting MAYBE one person.

    I’d just err on the side of not mentioning the openings to these friends, or as others have suggested, intimating that your supervisor seems like she already has someone in mind if they know the open position exists.

    1. shep*

      (Or also just confessing, as I have occasionally and very honestly, to being too new and/or uninvolved in the hiring process to have much say.)

      Also I totally forgot to mention that this person I knew in grad school and tried to help very swiftly dropped everything to move to NYC, even though she felt “unsafe” in my city, which is nowhere near NYC in reputation. Which is not to say NYC is UNsafe, but I totally caught this whiff of truth-stretching/flat-out lying to get out of going to this interview. It wasn’t a great job, but she’d wanted to move to my city, and I think she realized once she got there that she DIDN’T want to be there, odd credit card story aside. I feel a bit like a curmudgeon saying this, but I think since she had the luxury of LOTS of parental financial support, she felt like she could do whatever she wanted, damn the consequences. Not out of belligerence, but definitely a lot of ignorance.

  29. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Hi Alison –

    Just a heads up that the ads in the box just above the comments are still autoplaying for me (Chrome, using an adblocker).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They’ve changed it so that the sound plays when your cursor is over it. I’ve asked them to develop a version that doesn’t do that, and it sounds like it will be changed very soon — but almost certainly not this week. (I removed it altogether last week when they first made this change to it, and site revenue plunged … so it’s back, but I’ve made it clear they need to fix this.)

  30. OriginalYup*

    #3 Flexibility

    I work in a different field so YMMV on this, but an interview candidate saying they “liking to be systematic and respecting policy and procedure” would make me wonder if they’d be more invested in following procedures than in solving problems and getting the work done. I love processes and systems and would be immensely happy if I could flowchart my entire work world. But the work I do – and am hiring others to do — is too complicated and situational to have every nuance spelled out. There are just too many variables and competing factors involved for me to create a policy that is true all the time, every time. So I need someone who can consult a procedure, get the gist of it, and adapt as necessary for situations that aren’t covered by a manual or procedure.

    I recently worked with someone who viewed themselves as systematic and process-oriented. (Which, to my mind, are both great qualities in general.) But this person was insanely difficult to work with because they couldn’t grasp *why* a certain procedure shouldn’t be applied universally. Their attitude was very much “This is the process and everything must fit within it and anything that doesn’t fit is wrong and bad.” And I spent hours explaining that yes it would be great if we could do everything the same way all the time, but the contract for client X says we must do it this or the regulatory requirements of country Y require we do that, etc etc. The whole thing was a mess because it became all about the process/form/schedule being uniform instead of the actual work getting done.

    So it might be worthwhile for you to consider why you like to be systematic and follow rules. Is it because the resulting work is higher quality? Is it because there’s greater efficiency in having an official reference point that multiple people can consult? If you can dig into that, you might discover different language and framing to use in interviews, like “I like to be systematic in order to stay on top of large volumes of work” or “I respect policy and procedure because compliance with best practices is very important to me.”

    1. OP3*

      This feedback is excellent and offers some clarity and usability, thanks. I think the last paragraph is a good description of why I like systematic work, framed positively. It’s been my observation that lack of systematic planning leads to unnecessary errors and do-overs, and all sorts of preventable problems. I think that work resulting from systems is of higher quality (for any kind of production work or admin work) and that for any kind of customer service or client contact, policies and procedures and principles allow us offer consistently excellent service to everyone.

      For me, how to handle nuances is best addressed by referring to broader principles such as “the client’s health” “harm reduction” “accuracy and timeliness in processing claims” or “adhering to doctor’s orders” or whatever. That way when you do have to make a judgment call, you have a consistent framework to call on. If challenged to defend a decision on the fly, it’s essential to be able to back it up with company principles. It’s very disheartening to do your best in a tough situation and instead of some credit for your efforts, you find you violated a very critical rule you were either never told about or wasn’t explained in such a way that it would seem to ever apply to the situation at hand. (such as providing a letter to a patient verifying charges and later finding out the manager had to sign off on it, or refusing to provide a letter on the grounds you didn’t have a written consent and many angry phone calls later being told in this case verbal phone consent was enough, etc)

      I’ve been in too many situations where very critical things were not explained–and the situations in which things went wrong are not so unique that training could not have prepared us. Being given the outlines of core procedures, the do’s and don’ts that are truly critical, and the basic principles we should be thinking of when asked to make a decision, is crucial for any good performance. I would very much like to achieve excellence, and see far too many situations in which completely unnecessary errors are made and clients are unnecessarily upset, all due to lack of guidelines on critical matters. Therefore, procedures, systems, and basic principles have become extremely important to me, yet I don’t express it in an effective way. Your last paragraph will be a great help to me doing a better job spelling out my concerns.

      1. OriginalYup*

        I’m really glad this was helpful, and your explanation makes a ton of sense. One thing you could think about is asking it as a question to your interviewer, rather than bringing up as something related to your own work style. It’s a completely legitimate question to ask a prospective employer what kind of training and support they offer to ensure that everyone is meeting a similar standard of service, and to want to know their guiding principles for employees exercising their own judgement within complicated scenarios.

    2. OP3*

      I also think the way you described the difficult worker in paragraph 2 reminds me of many people I’ve known and worked with, and to some extent of myself at a much younger age in some of my most difficult environments. Sadly the communication was so poor in such settings that managers may have seen my efforts to clarify as character problems on my part, whereas I saw the issue as a training issue on their part and dysfunction on the entire office’s part. I did some temping when I was young, and would have situations where I felt very frustrated with lack of guidance in some offices and no problem of the sort in other offices, where they took it as a matter of course that they were to show the newbie what the procedures were.

  31. Addie Bundren*

    #1, I think part of your problem lies in the fact that you delineated these people as “friends-only” in the first place. While you now work in a somewhat different field, you went to grad school with people who would have been your future coworkers in that field–it doesn’t seem inappropriate that they would see you as both friend and a professional contact, and it would seem strange for you to decide retroactively that they had only ever been personal acquaintances. As others are saying, don’t jeopardize your own network by drawing these lines so harshly.

  32. Steph the PM*

    OP1 – here’s how I think that you should approach this. I think it’s worth considering this in sort of two paths. One where you build credibility with your manager, and the other where you manage your relationships with your friends.

    I would proactively go to your manager and indicate that you know the position would be (or IS) of interest to multiple people you know either socially or from school, and you’d be happy to provide your take on their candidacy if he/she’d prefer. Then, you wait to hear from your manager. I can’t think of a hiring manager in my world who would not come to you to get an inside track on someone they’re considering hiring. When asked, for those that you don’t think would be a good fit, you indicate why and/or why not (specifically). For those you believe (close friends) would be a good fit, answer truthfully – they’re a great friend and would be an excellent fit in these 12 areas for these reasons but a concern that you have is that they want to focus on XYZ and given their salary expectations as well as salary discrepancy between this role and role focusing on XYZ, you would see them as being a flight risk/short term hire. You also indicate that they are your very close friends so it’s difficult to be fully objective, and given a choice, you’d prefer to keep work and friendships fully separate although you know that YOU’D be able to handle it professionally. Then, it’s your manager’s choice and you’ve approached this professionally and objectively and built some credibility. Maybe they want a short term hire, maybe they’ll pass over the candidate, etc. Basically, what AAM said.

    I also think that it’s worth noting and underscoring to your manager that it sounds to me like you know most of these people from an academic-setting (school), and/or socially. This is telling and can inform a perception, but it’s a different context than knowing how someone functions and performs at work. I would recommend using that to couch your recommendation to your manager. It’ll give her/him a better picture of the context and “quality” of your recommendation.

    For your friends, I think that this is tricky. Do they already know about the position, or are you potentially over thinking their interest in this role? If they don’t know about the position, I’d do nothing unless asked about it. If asked about it, I’d speak the truth – “I love my job for these 4 reasons, but the salary isn’t one of them (however specific you want to be). Core features of the role are X and Y, and I know that you want to do Z, which isn’t in place here.” Then wait. If asked for more details, answer them, but also indicate what AAM suggested, “hey, Beth, we’re such good friends. I’ve heard bad stuff about friends working together, and this role works extensively with mine. I’d really prefer to not work with such a close friend.” Then wait. If asked to be a reference, you can either say (as I have), “I can only vouch for your academic work and what you’ve told me about your skills, I don’t feel that I’d be the right reference that Craig/Mary would be expecting” or “I really only know you socially, so I can’t speak to your work skills. I’m not the right reference for you but I can tell you about the role or the hiring manager’s name or whatever. ” You’ve stated your opinion, been baseline helpful, and not thrown a tantrum about it.

  33. Is it Friday yet?*

    In a previous position, a friend applied for a job in my office. I did not participate in the hiring process for the position (although in other cases, I would have), and while I didn’t go out of my way to offer my feedback, when directly asked, I did say I didn’t want to work with her. Our relationship was a bit strained at the time, and I most definitely did not want to see her every day, much less at work. There were better qualified candidates who were better fits for the job anyway, so my opinion wasn’t a deciding factor in her not getting the position.

  34. Observer*

    OP#3, as others have mentioned, the fact that you are hearing this a lot is an indicator that you have an issue or are not communicating properly.

    There is a WIDE spread between your position that you like policies and procedures and being someone who flouts them. If that dichotomy is coming across, it’s not surprising that you are getting negative reaction. Besides the rigidity, it also sounds like you don’t see how people can do something they don’t like or do things in a way they don’t like.

    What are you going to do when there are no formal policies about something? Are you going to be the kind of supervisor who “can’t” say something to someone about a problem because it’s not in the handbook? Are you going to be the person who tangles with the boss over something she wants, because there is no rule about this?

    Have you ever called a support line where the support person was clearly following a “systematic” approach, ie a codified decision tree that allows no skipping? Maybe you haven’t or maybe it worked for you – it does work a lot of times. But, if you have ever called on a problem that clearly didn’t meet the criteria of the first steps of the decision tree, perhaps it might be easier for you to understand why this phrasing would raise some red flags.

    Lastly, I found it interesting that you were told to be more flexible in response to training requests. What kind of training were you asking for? What other resources were available to you?

    1. OP3*

      I wouldn’t describe the requests to be flexible as “constant” more that it has come up here and there. One situation I recall asking for training on is when I was a brand new counselor in a methadone clinic. On my first day my boss brought a client into a colleague’s office but the colleague wasn’t there. My supervisor decided to use this as an opportunity to train me as it was my first day and I had not done an intake yet. The case was an unusual one so required special attention. The boss then disappeared, leaving me alone with the client and no idea what to do. After nearly 20 minutes alone with th confused client, I ended up having to get the front desk to try to find the boss, then I had to get another, busy colleague to help me and ultimately they had to take over this special case. When I expressed my concern, my boss told me I needed to be more flexible and patient. I never did learn where he went to that day.

      To me, the words “be flexible” raise red flags, as they often refer to dysfunction and an ironically inflexible unwillingness for management or organization to cope with the dysfunction.

      1. OP3*

        No other resources were available. All of my training sessions with the nurses and with th front desk were cancelled already for unknown reasons, vaguely that the boss wanted to train me himself but did not. The procedure manuals in the office did not really address our wing of the facility. The forms were unknown to me. My only resource was a busy colleague. I couldn’t think of any way to be proactive and independent. It didn’t seem right to tell the client to leave, it didn’t seem right to make up an intake procedure on my own, and I couldn’t think of effective alternatives.

    2. OP3*

      Another example from the same facility: I followed procedure (to the extent it was explained to me) to get a client’s medication adjusted. I submitted the request to the medical staff and the medication change was approved. I had not been told that I then had to make a series of entries into the computer system after my meeting with the medical staff, before they would comply with the medication change they had just approved. It was appalling to me that I had not been given full instructions on how to complete something so important as a medication change. I am not medically trained myself, I am a counselor. When I asked for more training on important procedures, I was told to be more patient and flexible. Management was never proactive in making sure that I knew what needed to be done for patient care. I had to make very significant “mistakes” based in ignorance and then do considerable digging to figure out how to fix them. If that is what is meant by flexibility, it just sounds bad. Nope, nope, nope.

      1. Observer*

        What you are describing is a fairly poorly run facility. On the other hand, when there are explicit procedures for something like a medication change, you don’t have to be a person “who like policies and procedures” to expect to be given a list of required steps.

        The thing is that if all of your advice to be more flexible came from this facility, it would be a perfect example of what Alison mentioned about the advice being a cover for dysfunction. But, how often is this coming up and from how many different places?

        Your original letter does indicate one type of situation where the ability to deal with constant change is absolutely necessary. You don’t seem to be very comfortable with that. If that’s the case, it’s something for you to think about when looking at jobs and industries.

        1. OP3*

          I used to believe it was completely normal, as you say, to expect to be given a list of required steps. It is this kind of simple, reasonable request that has me hearing “you need to be patient, you need to be flexible, you need to figure things out on your own.” I feel I’ve been given very dysfunctional advice couched in language that is made to make the speaker sound reasonable, and to make me sound like a chump, when I really do need proper instructions to do a complex job correctly. I have had these occurrences in different work environments. I’d say at least 7 environments I’ve worked in have been significantly unreasonable in not providing me with needed knowledge or resources to complete the job. My requests for the correct steps are criticized and insufficiently independent or inflexible. I sometimes feel like I’m being gaslighted and I wonder how I can avoid such dysfunctional environments and receive more reasonable training. My questions about training, policy and procedure are a part of that quest. I guess I found out how bad this place was at the interview, but sadly too, as they indicated they provided significant training and mentorship. Maybe that would have been enough to overcome their chaos.

  35. Faith*

    #3 –

    I don’t know if my approach would be helpful to you, but perhaps it may help. I’m in consulting which means my activities vary by the client and by the crisis du jour, as well as by the work styles of project mgr (boss), fellow consultants I may be working with closely, by the client’s culture, and by the work styles of my client counter part(s).

    I like structure.

    Now, my main “job” is the same (I implement back office financial systems) pretty much every project. If the project itself is unstructured (typically a recipe for some type of failure) I impose a structure on my little corner of it. I’m relatively methodical in my approach and stay very focused on the end result.

    This allows me to roll with the punches that I have no control over. I have serenity in that I’m still following my structure (with my spreadsheets tracking tasks, unanswered emails, questions I’m attempting to get answers for, etc) but I don’t expect the rest of the project team to visibly tackle things the same way.

  36. Nicole Michelle*

    For OP#1, are these people you happen to know through classes or worked with directly? You can always have an “out” so to speak and say to your friend AND boss, that since you haven’t actually worked with this person directly you can’t say if they’d be a good fit or not. And then keep the job posting on the down low completely, don’t even mention the job unless someone asked!

  37. Kimberlee, Esq*

    #3 – I agree with a lot of what has been written here, but I want to reiterate what Alison says; that this might not be the right field for you, if you’re finding that you consistently get feedback about needing to be more flexible. I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum from you; I’ve learned that I thrive in ambiguous environments and would go nuts in an environment where there were specific processes for everything. My current role has to balance the nature of the company with the fact that we need more structure, but it’s truly a balance… I’ve learned that trying to impose or enforce certain processes on my team just comes across as tone-deaf. There always systems improvements that you can make on the margins, but many places just don’t want more than that; they employ people who don’t thrive under those conditions, and they don’t see a business need for them. If you’re finding that there are certain environments you really do well in and others that you do not, it’s not necessarily a flaw with either you or the workplace, but it’s definitely something you want to screen for when applying to other jobs.

  38. That Marketing Chick*

    #3 I’m wondering if you would be great as a Six Sigma lead / project manager of some type. Organizations across the board need help with the processes and continuous improvement… if you thrive on order, it could be a really good fit!

  39. gumdrop*

    #3 – I can identify with wanting to follow rules and procedures. When you are given guidelines, you understand the expectations your employer has of you, as well as how to reach them. Also, in a health insurance environment, I know policies and regulations are very important for many reasons.

    I do agree with Alison saying that if you are hearing “you need to be flexible” a lot, that it is worth it to take time to reflect on this feedback.

    That being said, I do have concerns with an employer saying that policies and rules change every day. I say this from personal experience! I recently had an employer who told me the same thing, that policies change every day, that sometimes things are done in a way that doesn’t seem to make sense, rules change, but that is “just how it is here” and I will have to get used to it. At the time, I thought it was no big deal, but a few months later I was kicking myself, wondering why I had ignored these big red flags. I know that this is my personal experience, but it feels eerily similar to a situation I went through and would not wish on others.

    I also agree with other commenters who suggested that it may be worth it to look into some different lines of work, in order to find one that really suits your personality, work style, and goals.

    Good luck OP!!

    1. OP3*

      THANKS Gumdrop!

      I think there has been a lot of great feedback and food for thought. Being told I need to be “flexible” is really something I hear not daily, but periodically, every few years or so as I enter new environments or if I suggest that we do changes differently at work, etc. It doesn’t come up constantly by any means, but is often said in a way that is dismissive of my concerns. That has further reinforced my feeling that it is a red flag and a catch-phrase for defending dysfunction. It could be I’m encountering poorly structured environments too often, or that I’m entering environments that are poorly suited to me. The reason health insurance has been in my life so often is partly because temp admin opportunities there used to be frequent, and now i both have that background experience as well as a master’s degree and professional license i mental health counseling. That type of credential can reap a high salary in these positions. Some aspects of th positions sound very attractive but a recent interviewer saying “procedures change every day” made them look bad to me, and sadly my respect for procedure seemed to be laughable to her. Something just doesn’t feel right about that. I wish I had a clearer picture of what people do to thrive in those environments, day to day, and whether I could match that (with the training and mentorship they claim to offer, maybe I could)

  40. HowDareThey*

    To #5: If your reference is unavailable, you may not have to say so to begin with. If they call you saying they cannot reach them, or if you really feel you must say something up front, it may be useful to indicate that you have heard that they are ill and may be in the hospital currently. You would not want to share their diagnosis or condition at all, especially something as sensitive as psychosis. There is no reason anybody would need to know that. It’s just by happenstance that you found out why she was hospitalized, and it would be bad form to break her health/medical confidentiality. It’s only respectful to allow that she have that privacy. You may be able to use someone in the dean’s office as a reference, and using colleagues as references is not unheard of, especially if a direct supervisor is unavailable.

  41. OP1*

    Thanks everyone for all your thoughtful comments on my (apparently rather contentious) question. I still haven’t decided exactly how I’ll handle the situation, but whichever decision I make will certainly be better considered for having read all the perspectives in the comments section (and your answer, Alison). I’m as always impressed by the quality of the discussion on AAM!

    1. Sodapop*

      This is a tricky issue and I don’t blame you for thinking about how you’d handle a decision one, two, maybe even three steps ahead of a situation even happening (as another poster pointed out above). Another pre-emptive over thinker/over worrier here.

      I guess for me personally what it’d come down to is: I would try to never treat a friend worse than a stranger in the street. In your shoes I may refrain from proactively telling them about position X but the idea that I’d go to my manager and encourage them from hiring my friend would just not sit well with me.

      Five years out from my MA now I have also learned that you never ever know where your next professional lead is going to come from. You will interact with these people in the future esp if it’s a small field.

      good luck!

  42. ColleagueofOP3*

    After finally finding Op3s post, I read the replies with curiosity and interest. I agree with some and am really puzzled and surprised by others. Maybe because I know her and worked with her in the past, when she was an office temp before going to graduate school. It seems clear to me that there are a lot of poorly functioning environments out there that project their failings on to their workers. And yes, it can happen in more than one environment and not be the worker’s fault, it’s happened to me in my long years of working. The only thing that is OP3’s own issue really is she isn’t always adept at shutting out non-helpful feedback and may try too hard to apply it. Having a clearer idea of real useful procedure might minimize this. But I”m shocked that some people are saying she needs to do things like “soul searching” (not sure if i got the phrase right, but the gist) about “why she wants to apply to jobs in the health insurance industry.” I don’t think that’s a soul-searching question. I think it’s obvious. She has some experience in it, and her current credential in mental health is sought after for a good salary. It could be that the current chaotic and dysfunctional environment of health insurance will not change, that it’s a bad industry and a bad fit for her. That remains to be seen. But if they truly expect to change everything every day and expect everyone to just adapt on the fly, that just sounds crazy and wrong on the industry’s part. Sorry, but it does. IT sounds like something needs to be adjusted in the industry, with or without the help of systematic people like OP3. But for OP3 herself, she may well be spooked by a series of poorly run environments where procedure was utterly crucial to the work, but we were expected to guess at procedure and were not taught. We shared such and environment about 10-15 years ago. It would drive anyone crazy. It did both of us.

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