unfair internship, talking about therapy in a job interview, and more

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

1. CFO is pushing for an unfair, unethical internship for her son

Our VP of compliance emailed and my direct supervisor and me (we’re in Human Resources) to say that the CFO’s son is going to do an internship with her (the CFO). He will be doing financial auditing on behalf of compliance. She stated in her email that she didn’t think it was a conflict of interest. She also said we should amend our conflict of interest policy because it currently says that as a member of the executive team, the CFO cannot hire a relative. Also, despite the fact that we have never had a paid intern before, she said that the CFO/mom is giving up part of her budget to compensate him $13 an hour. As a side note, this is a higher hourly rate than many of our entry-level employees. She then asked us to let her know if we had any issues with the arrangement.

I strongly felt it was unethical so I wrote back and highlighted my concerns: he would be auditing work done by his mom and her department, which could cause internal control issues and may compromise the accuracy of his findings; him being paid, especially out of her budget, could be seen as preferential since we’ve never paid an intern before (we have around 30 unpaid interns at any given time); and lastly, I felt the policy should stand because nepotism can cause several problems.

She came down to my office shortly after and told me I need to work on my communication as my email was very harsh, shocking, and unsettling. I had had a colleague of mine read my email before I sent it and she had helped me soften the language considerably so I definitely didn’t think it was “shocking” or “harsh.” She stated that she was only telling me that for my own growth and development. She then proceeded to explain the situation to me again and insist it was kosher and said she would proceed. My supervisor, who had previously agreed with me, completely backed down and said she should go ahead with the internship. Am I living in a twilight zone or is this really weird and unethical? And wasn’t her reaction weird and defensive?

What?! Yes, it’s outrageously unethical for all of the reasons that you named. (And you don’t deliberately rewrite a conflict of interest policy to allow someone to commit a conflict of interest.) And yes, your VP of compliance (compliance, of all things!) is being inappropriately aggressive and defensive, no doubt because she’s trying to push through something that is unethical and wrong and she doesn’t want anyone pointing that out.

I don’t know that you have any recourse here, unless you’re willing to go to your own boss’s boss (or to someone over the VP and the CFO). But it’s unethical as hell.

2. Should I talk about my experience in therapy with my job interviewers?

I’ve had a relatively successful (high pressured) career for the past decade, but in the last couple of years I decided to start seeing a private therapist to help me deal with some of my underlying painful issues that stemmed from my childhood. I had been trying hard to block them out for years, but I couldn’t any longer. This has really helped me gain a much better perspective on my career and on life in general, as I feel that due to these “blind spots,” I hadn’t been reaching my full potential.

I have taken some time out of employment in the last few months, due to being made redundant and choosing to spend time working on myself and up-skilling. I am soon to begin job hunting again and I would like to know whether you think that hiring managers would view my post-traumatic growth (since childhood) and (more recent) transformation as positive things and whether I should use the fact that I have overcome adversity in my personal life as a positive attribute to demonstrate to them that I may have faced difficult obstacles in the past but I have learnt from them and made changes to my life to move forwards.

I am concerned they may find the whole topic uncomfortable and therefore discriminate due to this fear. Alternatively, I do not want to come across as though I am hiding anything significant from them so that they don’t feel that they could trust me or my ability to do the job.

Noooo, don’t do that. It’s too personal and doesn’t belong in a job interview. I agree that that kind of growth is tremendously important — but lots of things are tremendously important in people’s lives and are still inappropriate for a job interview (like the details of your marriage or your religious faith). It will make people uncomfortable, and it will make you look like you don’t understand professional boundaries.

3. Employer called and complained about my interview performance

I recently made my way through four rounds at a nonprofit start-up in NYC. I was confident and felt I was the ideal candidate for the role. Last week, after an intense final round interview I was told that they would have a final answer for me in relation to the job early to mid next week. Come Friday, four days after my final interview, they asked to set up a call early next week. This seemed strange to me; typically if I get offered a job they call and tell me right away or send an offer letter, and if I don’t get offered a job, they also call or send an email saying as much. I tried not to think too much of it—”Hey! Maybe they’re going to offer me another role,” I thought to myself.

Yesterday at 5 p.m., I received a call from the COO who set up the call. She had not been present at any of my in-person interviews, as she was out sick. She told me that when the six or seven people who interviewed me compared notes, they all said that I had “super relaxed body language/demeanor and almost seem disengaged” and that I had “too casual a presentation of self that could be perceived as disinterested.” She told me over the phone repeatedly that I was perceived as unprofessional and that I seemed to have stopped trying to get the job. I was also accused of texting during the beginning of one of the interviews and failing to make eye contact with my interviewer, something that I would never do during a job interview. I was very shocked by this information, as I felt that I was very professional, friendly, engaging and confident. Even more strange, they told me this information but still wanted to keep me in the running for the job, asking for my references.

I gracefully bowed out of the running for the position, as I felt if they were to offer me the role I would not be able to put my best foot forward knowing that so many employees felt this way about me. I am still shocked as to why they thought this was useful information to share with me if they wanted to potentially offer me the position. What are your thoughts?

That you were right to withdraw from consideration. If you had done the things she said, and they had drawn the conclusions they seem to have drawn, they shouldn’t want to hire you anyway … so the whole call is weird. It would be different if she had called to say, “Look, we’re interested, but some concerns came up that I wanted to talk with you about” in order to get a better feel for the situation and so she could decide if it made sense to proceed or not. But it doesn’t sound like she approached it that way; it sounds like she just called and berated you, which is never appropriate.

As I’m reading this over, I’m wondering if I’m wrong and it was more of a “hey, we’re interested, but some people who met with you felt like you weren’t interested in the position, and I’d love to know how you’re feeling about things” … and if maybe the body language, eye contact, and texting thing were given as examples of what made people feel that way. But I suspect that’s not it, because it sounds like she approached it all in a pretty aggressive way (repeatedly saying you were unprofessional, etc.).

I don’t know what’s up with the texting thing — maybe you were turning off your phone and someone thought you were actually using it to text, or a similar miscommunication, or maybe someone is confusing you with another candidate (which would be rare, but could happen).

4. My coworker asks me to cover for her so she can take lots of personal calls

The owner of my company has a son who shares the office. The son is a lawyer, and we are a service company.

My phone rings for both my company and the lawyer. The lawyer has his own secretary. However, she is not always able to be at her desk, and when that happens, I must answer their phone. When I first started here, I was told to only answer the lawyer’s phone when his secretary was not present. They had a different secretary when I started, who was fired. The new secretary is always taking personal phone calls on her cell and work phone. The lawyer is never around to notice. Lately it’s getting worse and worse, and she asks me to answer her work phone so she can continue her personal conversations. How can I handle this situation?

“Jane, I’m happy to answer the phone for you in a pinch when you’re away from the office, but I really can’t do it the rest of the time because I have other work I need to focus on.”

Alternately, you can talk to your own boss and say this: “My understanding is that I should answer the phone for Jane if she’s away from the office. Lately she’s asking me to answer it even when she’s here so that she can take personal calls instead. I’m going to talk with her about it, but I wanted to check with you first to confirm that she should be handling Cecil’s calls when she’s here rather than leaning on me to do it.”

Hell, you could even talk to Jane’s boss, the lawyer: ” I’m happy to answer your phone when Jane is away from the office, but she’s been taking an increasing number of personal calls and asking me to answer her work phone so she doesn’t have to interrupt those personal calls. I need to focus on other work and really need Jane to handle your phone when she’s here.”

5. Applying for my old job

A few years ago, I left my position at a small nonprofit. I began working for a larger company and now, as I am preparing to move on from that position as well, I contacted a former colleague to ask if I could use him as a reference. He responded to say that, if I were interested, my old job at the nonprofit would be available again soon, as the four people they have had in that position since I left have not worked out.

While I had good reasons for leaving that job when I did, I would definitely be interested in returning. It offers certain flexibility that is more important to me now than it was when I left. (My financial and family situations have both changed, so now flexibility is more important to me than salary.)

How should I go about this? Do I just apply like a regular candidate? If so, how should I write my cover letter? It was only a few years ago that I worked there and everyone knows me really well so I can’t really introduce myself and my qualifications in the same way. I feel weird writing a cover letter that basically says, “You should hire me because I already know all the staff and did an awesome job at this job 3 years ago….remember?” Should I address the reasons why the job is a better fit for me now than when I left?

Some people have advised me not to apply in the traditional way, but to contact my old boss and ask her to sit down for a chat with me and then explain that I would be interested in returning. Is that better? Or does it just put her on the spot?

I’m not a fan of scheduling meetings for something that’s easily and quickly asked over the phone or in email. I’d just send your former manager an email saying that Falcon Warbleworth mentioned to you that your old job might be opening up and that you’d love to talk with her about moving back into it, if she thinks that you’d still be well matched with it. You can add, “I’d be glad to submit a formal application if that’s the best way to proceed, but wanted to touch base with you first.”

{ 289 comments… read them below }

  1. MK*

    #3, my first thought was that they intended to offer very low compensation and were trying to give the impression that the OP barely made it as a candidate so that she won’t push back on that.

    1. LisaLee*

      Yeah. It seems super odd for a company to waste time having an aggressive phone call with a candidate when they could just send a two second rejection email. Unless there’s some ulterior motive.

      1. Artemesia*

        I was having trouble imagining what that one was about but these insights make sense. Or there could be a rogue executive whom they usually keep hidden away who broke through the lines. You know like the member who is hidden during rush.

        1. Vicki*

          OMG, Bob got out of his office!
          Wasn’t Mary Sue supposed to be watching him? Where is Mary Sue?
          Has anyone seen Bob? Keep him away from the candidates! And the donuts!

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        And doubly odd they’d invite her back four times before they decided to mention or notice she didn’t show enthusiasm?

          1. Artemesia*

            Too bad you didn’t say that at the time. But then who has a quip on the tip of the tongue when confronted with something ridiculous like this. I have never understood negging — if someone deigns to be with me in spite of ‘whatever’ why would I want to be with them? Being crazy about me is my minimal requirement for a serious relationship.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep. And it worked about as well as negging does for most people: i.e., not at all, sending its target to the Hills of Nope beyond the river of Hells No.

    2. Sherm*

      I had a similar thought, not just compensation, but overall that they wanted to take the OP down a few notches and make OP feel that the job was definitely not a done deal and that further proving of oneself was needed. Hence the “concerns,” that OP was overly relaxed, not interested enough, had the gall to text — as opposed to being too timid, not playing up one’s strengths enough, etc.

      1. Vicki*

        She’s too relaxed, he’s too tense, she only asked 3 questions, he asked too many. He stared at me; she didn’t keep eye contact.

        And then they whine that they can never find any good candidates to hire.

    3. RVA Cat*

      My main thought is that OP #3 dodged a bullet, because who wants to work for that loon?

      1. Panda Bandit*

        Me too. If an employer is going to behave like that then they can go pound sand.

    4. BK*

      Hey all! #3 is about me :)

      They had already told me what compensation was, and while it was lower than expected, it was on par for a non-profit, so I don’t think that’s it.

      1. AnotherHRPro*

        Sorry this happened to you, BK. I’m guessing the exec that called intended to gauge your interest-level & provide some feedback but went totally overboard and off the rails. Either that or these people are crazy! There is no benefit to an organization to hires someone they think is very unprofessional and even less benefit to spend time berating candidates.

        I think you made the right choice about pulling out of the process. I would have done the same. Companies and interviewers are generally trying to put their best foot forward during the interview process (just like candidates) and if you are already seeing crazy, that is not a good sign of how they normally operate.

        1. AnonInSC*

          I agree – withdrawing your application was a right call. It’s a two-way street and the exec showed you the crazy. You would never be good enough.

      2. Bwmn*

        It just seems like the entire call was so antagonistic after 4 rounds of interviews, that it’s just better to know now than find out later.

        The only thing that would make any vague sense to me is that the people within this nonprofit are intensely passionate regarding the cause and were concerned that your level of commitment to the cause wasn’t quite as high. It still places such a call within the context of being a test, and isn’t a good sign. But I can easily see certain nonprofits getting very bent out of shape regarding how emotionally committed someone would be.

      3. Somov*

        My immediate thought was that the COO got her notes mixed up and her comments were meant for another candidate… I’m sure that’s a long shot, though.

        1. LD*

          It may be a long shot, but it’s not unheard of. A former coworker of mine got dinged in a performance evaluation by feedback that was intended for a different person. The former coworker even asked her manager for more details because the situation did not sound familiar. And she was able to provide evidence that the situation occurred with someone else but her manager just blew it off. Yes, her manager was a loon. It’s may not be common, but it occurs, and that doesn’t change the fact that the OP dodged a bullet. I wouldn’t want to work with a team/manager that was that disorganized and also aggressive with feedback. I appreciate knowing how I’m doing, and I appreciate tact.

    5. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      #3 – if none of this were true – the first thing I’d ask is “are you sure you are calling the correct candidate? Because I didn’t text, I did retain eye contact” — and so forth.

      Are you sure this individual isn’t confusing you with another interviewee? Back in the day, I had that happen…
      If they have their facts wrong, challenge it.

  2. Katiedid*

    OP #5: I was in pretty much your exact shoes a few years ago. I called my old boss and said basically what Alison suggested. She was surprised at first, but just told me to send her my resume and cover letter directly and I skipped the first couple of stages of the process (since I really had already done them and they still had that information on file). As it turned out, I was the only one they brought in for an interview and I’ve now been back for about 5 years! I would definitely be prepared to discuss why you left and why you want to come back, although it sounds like you’ve got that covered. Personally, I think it does help that you’ve been there before. What better way to demonstrate that you can do the job well than the fact that you’ve done the job well for them; they don’t have to try to suss that out with examples and then wonder if they’re right. I also spent time in the interview talking about how the experiences I had while I was gone would make me even better at the job than I was before (which I think it did). Good luck!!

    1. TheSockMonkey*

      I went back to my old job after being gone for 2 and a half years. I stayed in contact with my former boss and while complaining a little about my job I had moved to, she asked if I would want to go work for her again. I had to apply, but skipped the interview. Also, because I was established, I was able to negotiate a better salary and better benefits. May not be the case in your situation. But, if they liked you and want you back, if you see a chance to negotiate, you should do it.

      Contacting your former boss is definitely the first step. It felt weird in a “am I taking a step backwards?” Way to go back to my old job, but it’s definitely a better fit for my life. If you can make it happen, do it!

  3. Artemesia*

    Wow. It is astonishing the kind of unprofessional behavior job applicants and employees have to put up with. I would think the intern situation would have to be fake i.e. the compliance officer wanting to break every rule from conflict of interest to nepotism for Sonnyboy but then I remember the story about the boy from Memphis who sued to have his internship grade raised from A to A+ in his internship so he could be Valedictorian over the girl who received that honor. He did his internship with his mother who gave him an A. That one actually happened too. I am unclear what role the OP plays in the organization but this is one that should go to the CEO and board unless the place is run by unethical creeps.

    The critical call from the executive who didn’t even interview the OP? Who could make up something as ridiculous as that. She dodged a bullet there. WOW.

    1. Mookie*

      Brian Delekta. He and his mother lost the suit, but they won the war: he’s a lawyer now, too!

      1. Artemesia*

        I would think they would be the laughing stock of the legal community. How would you live down something that shows you to be an unethical tool?

    2. Sadsack*

      I agree regarding the unethical CFO. This has to be brought to someone else’s attention. Are they going to fire you? You’d go to unemployment and explain that they fired you for refusing assist in unethical behavior. I don’t know what type of business this is, but once other stakeholders (other employees, shareholders, the public) find out, that is going to be some negative PR for the business. Someone higher up has to have some sense and shut this down.

    3. Allison*

      Just looked this up, it’s important to mention that Mommy gave him at A+, but the school district he was doing the work experience class through (which was different than his own school district) only recognized A’s, not A+’s. His school district, however, did recognize A+ grades, but since the other school district could only give him an A, his school district let that stand and didn’t raise it back up to the A+ he initially got. So it is kind of complex even though it seems petty and entitled. Still a dumb lawsuit though.

      1. CADMonkey007*

        Don’t mess with the folks playing the valedictorian game. When I was in high school, the superintendent of the school district made the change to have AP classes be weighted when factoring GPA. The year following this change, guess who graduated valedictorian under the new weighted system? The superintendent’s daughter. She was like 11th or something under the old system. I’m certainly not opposed to weighted grades, but that was shady timing.

        1. bearing*

          In the days of yore when I was a high school student, a private university in my town offered a sizable scholarship bonus to valedictorians.

          Money was on the line!

          1. Chinook*

            Some places give valedictorian scholarship bonuses? Man, all I got was a bronze medal with the Governor General’s face on it. (They give gold to the university ones).

            1. Joline*

              I’m really curious about which one, but that comes close to likely randomly asking a stranger on the internet how old they are (ish).

          2. MaggiePi*

            Yep, huge (possibly full tuition) scholarships at my (public) high school based on class rank.

        2. themmases*

          My high school weighted certain courses– AP but also regular honors courses too– and I knew many people whose only unweighted class might have been gym. So some of them took it pass/fail so it couldn’t bring down their GPA.

          Our valedictorian and salutatorian were separated by 0.03 GPA that year. The salutatorian was a legit genius who was already some kind of research assistant at a national lab in our city. The valedictorian was just the guy who won.

          1. Kelly L.*

            We had weighted courses, but you couldn’t change how your gym got counted, and everybody had to have gym except for the semester you had driver’s ed, which was also not weighted. So, since it hurt everybody equally, it really didn’t hurt anyone.

            1. videogamePrincess*

              Pottery brought me down from being #9 to #13. I was way too upset for the circumstances.

            2. Gillian*

              Our school district had a weighted system but didn’t give any extra weight for fine arts or athletics – so all the kids who were trying to be “well rounded” for college were ranked way below the kids who did nothing but game the system by taking the “easy” honors academic electives.

              Our salutatorian missed out on being valedictorian because she was on the tennis team for a semester. And the ones working their asses off doing things like winning city-wide art competitions or making all-state orchestra had the same impact on their GPA as if they’d coasted through another semester of Health.

                1. pope suburban*

                  I don’t know that that’s really the same thing as coasting through freshman-level courses. A lot of technical courses require a lot of effort, and good reasoning abilities. I’m sure that there’s a way to exploit vo-tech for a higher GPA, but one can do that within the academic track too.

              1. BeautifulVoid*

                Ours was the same, except there was an AP music theory class, and I’m pretty sure there was some sort of AP art class too, which got weighted. That 107 in AP music theory did niiiiiice things to my GPA that year. Too bad I could only take it once.

          2. Snargulfuss*

            Our AP courses were weighted and my class standing dropped because I was the editor of the yearbook (non-weighted class) my senior year. I thought it was unfair then – and still do now – but in the end it doesn’t really matter. Those of us who were most concerned about it were the ones who weren’t going to have any trouble getting into college.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yup, I remember a bunch of us gnashing teeth over whether we were, like, fourth or sixth in the class. It matters in some specific situations–like a scholarship where you have to be valedictorian, say–but in general, everybody in that boat is getting into most places.

            2. F.*

              I can assure you that 38 years later, no one (including myself) cares that I was a co-valedictorian (one of 10 out of a class of 550; 4.0 was the highest you could get). Nine of us were in the honors classes (no official AP classes in my school back then, but they were college level, and some even counted for college credit), but I bet the person who took the regular classes worked just as hard as we did.

              As my parents always told us, it’s not the brains you’re given, it’s what you do with them that counts.

          3. CADMonkey007*

            The difference between the #1 and #10 student in each class is such a minimal difference, what’s the point? My opinion is to do away with the antiquated val/sal system and do distinctions instead like in college. Cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. That way students are “competing” against themselves not each other. If you need a student to give a speech, then have the class vote!

            1. StarHopper*

              That is about what happens at the school where I teach. Valedictorian/Salutatorian are contrary to our school’s founding principles, so we don’t have them. Faculty votes for one speaker and the senior class votes for the other speaker. It works!

          4. Kat M*

            At my high school, you could get out of your gym requirement by playing a sport or in the marching band.

            Quite a few academically ambitious string players switched over to brass to take advantage of that GPA booster.

        3. the gold digger*

          I changed schools my senior year. Old school had been on semester system; new school was trimester. I had a B+ in 9th grade and As the rest of the time, which would have put me at salutatorian at my old school but knocked me out at the new school. I am not bitter. I AM NOT BITTER.

        4. Qmatilda*

          In a tracked school system and no weighted grades the popular game when I was in high school was for those in the running for Valedictorian to drop down a track in their challenging subject so they could ensure an A. My class ended up with 16 valedictorians. It was silly.

        5. Temperance*

          Interestingly enough, my high school used a system that reverse-weighted your grades, essentially punishing students who chose harder courses. For example, there was “applied chemistry” and “chemistry”; applied chem was a simpler class that did not require labwork, and only met 5 periods per week, while chemistry had a college-level textbook and met 7 periods per week. Your GPA was calculated based on the amount of times that your class met each week.

          All of the honors/accelerated program students were forced to take regular chem instead of applied, so we had a harder class that took a chunk out of our GPA. The other students were able to take a 5-day elective, which included art, shop, home ec, etc.

        6. SusanIvanova*

          It was widely known that one of the English teachers in my high school had given one of the valedictorian candidates a lower grade than she deserved because the teacher didn’t think a girl who wasn’t planning on college deserved to be valedictorian. But it was on the subjective part of her grades, so there was no proving it.

      2. Observer*

        Still petty and entitled. As the appeals court noted, neither the grade nor the valedictorianship are “property right worthy of constitutional protection”, which is what the pair argued.

      3. Artemesia*

        His MOTHER gave him the A+; his MOTHER. I can see allowing a high school kid to do a field placement in Mommy’s office but no way that should factor into his grade point. Mommy can’t give Sonnyboy a grade ethically. This one should not have been even A but pass/fail at best.

    4. Chinook*

      ” I am unclear what role the OP plays in the organization but this is one that should go to the CEO and board unless the place is run by unethical creeps.”

      This may be due to the fact that my current industry encourages reporting of unethical behavior, but I think the OP’s role within the company is irrelevant to whether or not she should report this behavior. And, if the CEO and board think it isn’t a big deal, they should report it to the outside regulator that probably exists since they have a compliance auditor (so that means they need to be in compliance with something) while looking for another job. If the company turns out to be okay with this behavior, it could reflect poorly on the OP’s ethics in the future as she would be tainted by their actions.

      1. Artemesia*

        I mention the OP’s role only in the context of her vulnerability to having her career trashed not appropriateness; however she is already on record, so perhaps that ship has sailed.

  4. Undine*

    OP #1 – Personally, this might be the hill I would die on. You’re looking at a situation where your best-case scenario is that your company’s CFO has incredibly poor judgement. Either that goes all the way up the chain, in which case you really don’t want to work there, or someone higher up needs to know. I would find it terrifying to go higher, but for me, ultimately I would never be comfortable working there if something like this had happened and no one addressed it. There is a risk, but if the higher-ups agree with your concerns, they will respect your integrity.

    Obviously, sometimes people are not in a situation where taking this risk is possible. But in that case, I would start looking for another job. This is not the place for you.

    A CFO who believes it’s okay to bend the rules for her convenience? Bad idea.

    1. Shell*

      There’s bending the rules, and then there’s rewriting the rules so you can flagrantly break said rules (that no longer exist).

      Wow. Just…wow. And this is the VP of compliance?!

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Does Silvio Berlusconi work there by any chance?

        He changed the laws so that some of the stuff he did wasn’t illegal any more…

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I was thinking of King James! “I want another wife, but it’s not allowed…hey, I’ll just change the rules!”

            1. fposte*

              Right. James (at least if we’re talking James II) was “I want this other wife,” so Parliament said, “We’re going to change the rules.”

              1. Michelle*

                More info on this, please? I hadn’t heard about it, but when I looked up James II from several sources, I only found that he was married twice, with no other information.

                1. fposte*

                  Way belatedly–James II’s second wife was Catholic. I cheaply oversimplified for the parallel, but his becoming Catholic, marrying a Catholic, and having an heir who’d be Catholic made him hugely distrusted, plus he was also so unpopular with Parliament that enemies bonded over their dislike for him; he basically was run off from his throne and replaced with his Protestant daughter from his first marriage.

            2. Blurgle*

              That made me laugh too. James VI/I wasn’t particularly interested in having even one wife, except to bear heirs.

        2. Artemesia*

          That happens in the US congress every day; some of the most egregiously unethical things done by the financial industry were made legal by being snuck into other bills over the years. Heck right now the industry is having a hissy fit at being required in new legislation to not cheat seniors by putting them in retirement investments that are not in their interests. The industry stands to lose billions a year by being ethical. They are protesting that they should be able to continue to push inappropriate investments on naive seniors.

      2. Minister of Snark*

        Yeah, compliance.

        I don’t think that word means what she thinks it means.

        1. F.*

          I don’t know why they don’t just do what many other companies’ executives do: you give my kid an internship and I’ll give your kid one. (wish I were kidding, but it’s true)

          1. JMegan*

            Seriously. I mean, it’s still totally shady, but at least there’s some plausible deniability there. Most people who try to break (or bend) the rules put at least half an ounce of effort into making it *look* like everything is legit. OP’s company seems to be taking a scorched earth approach to the rules of compliance, internships, and common sense.

    2. Jeanne*

      This sounds like a larger company if they usually have 30 interns. Many larger companies these days have a compliance hotline you can call. They contract with another company for this. If they have one, call it.

      But I have to agree with Undine. I would not want to be responsible for this. There are too many things wrong. The auditing conflict of interest, changing of responsible policies, diversion of budget funds. You may be able to get away with saying “I’m sorry but I am not willing to do that” when asked to change the policy or do the hiring paperwork. But I think ethically you should try to notify an executive. It would scare me because it’s scary to jeopardize your job. However, being able to live with your actions has value.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe*

        I came here to specifically mention the compliance hotline. Every company I’ve ever worked for has one, so that you can anonymously report compliance violations without fear of retribution. Check to see if your company has one, and if so, call it NOW.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Except, I’d guess, it’s almost certainly going to filter to the…compliance officer? Who will ignore it officially and unofficially it would blow back on the letter-writer and their boss.

          1. Chinook*

            I have to agree that, because the compliance officer is the one violating the rules (as well as the CFO but there is at least deniability on their part because they may have checked with the compliance officer to see if it was okay and not followed through if they were told it wasn’t. It is possible that the compliance officer took the initiative to change the rules, though I would still be giving the CFO the side eye), then going through an internal system won’t work. You either have to go directly to someone above them or to an external party.

            And I also agree with the idea that this is the hill to die on. If this is what the compliance officer is willing to do in the open (and in writing via email!), what exactly is she doing behind closed doors?

        2. OP*

          Unfortunately our Compliance hotline is managed by this same VP. All calls are screened through her.

          1. Shell*

            I am raising my eyebrows so hard I think I just sprained my face.

            I don’t suppose there’s a boss to the VP that you can report this to?

          2. ginger ale for all*

            But wouldn’t it be interesting if she received say perhaps over a hundred phone calls from over a hundred different employees, or at least 30 plus one? And I do wonder how 30 unpaid interns are going to rate the internship and speak about the company at their school once they find out Mommy ‘s little boy got paid and they didn’t. The compliance officer is playing with matches.

            1. seisy*

              And surely these internships, if they’re doing anything as work-like as this potential one, are illegal if they’re unpaid.

      2. AMG*

        Plus, it will offer you more protection if you call the whistleblower hotline. There are laws in place to protect people in your situation.

      3. Liane*

        They can help, as can a company ethics hotline. Last year, my friend, Barry Allen, put in for an internal position (higher position in another department) and was about to be offered it. But Cersei, a toxic manager he has never worked under, but dislikes him, decided to sabotage it.
        Magically, a PIP documenting Barry had harassed Cersei multiple times, appeared in his file, a PIP Barry and his manager had never seen much less signed, even though their signatures were on it!
        Barry called Ethics that afternoon, and next morning a Corporate HR rep was in the office. The office HR rep was walked out within hours for the forged signatures on the falsified PIP. Cersei, alas, didn’t get a walk of shame, but a vicious writeup and is being watched. She also isn’t permitted to do PIPs.

        1. Janice in Accounting*

          Whaaaaaaat??!!! This happened in actual life? How on earth did they think it would work?!

      1. Grey*

        Right. I just headed here to say, C.Y.A.

        If this gets ugly, you don’t want anyone to question why you ignored it, or allowed it.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Came here to say this as well! You know what would be really “very harsh, shocking, and unsettling”? The results of the real audit! That is some scary, shady stuff they’re trying to pull and you guys are right that they’re making OP their accomplice.

    3. Jack the treacle eater*

      Seems to me this is potentially a ‘hill you want to die on’ question. Challenging your CFO like this could certainly end in tears. For crucial self protection questions might be how well regarded is the CFO in the company, and how much influence does she have; how much does this compliance issue expose the company to external sanctions or legal action; how critical is the unethical behaviour of the compliance officer in a wider context; how much is the OP exposed if everyone goes along with this and the situation is exposed or has consequences later; has the CFO’s ‘change the rules’ email gone to her superiors, board, other directors and what was their reaction?

      I’d hate such an unethical practice, but sadly I’ve learned that raising concerns in a business where no-one senior cares, or do not themselves have ethics, achieves nothing and harms yourself. These days I’m afraid that if the unethical behaviour is not going to rebound on you, the chief officers and directors are not going to see the problem and it is unlikely to cause the company major issues, I’d let it slide in the interests of self preservation. Not ideal and somewhat cycnical, I know. Having said that, if it’s likely to rebound on you or the company and if you feel the high ups will care and take action, yes, shout it from the rooftops.

    4. Momiitz*

      Helicopter parenting at its finest. The CFO’s son doesn’t need the salary because he will probably always live in his mothers basement.

    5. Internal Auditor*

      What bothers me most about this is putting the CFO’s son in any sort of audit / compliance role. It gives the appearance of him being a mole. The Internal Audit function has to be as independent of the CFO as possible. In publicly traded companies, the head of the internal audit must report to the board, not the CFO or CEO. Regardless of the overall policy, this is a very bad idea.

      1. Big McLargeHuge*


        Any CFO worth a damn should know that this is not okay… I would be concerned on the compliance side that the CFO has something to hide and is placing the son there to ensure it isn’t found. I’m getting nervous just thinking about it and it’s not even my company!

      2. Analyst*

        Where is CEO in all of this? Is anyone involved a CPA? Are we talking a public company because the SEC might be interested to know about this.

          1. Anna the Accounting Grad*

            > CFO is a CPA.


            How… how is that possible with no notion what ‘conflict of interest’ means?

          2. Anon for this*

            Sorry that your workplace is throwing this unethical quandary in your face and asking you to nevermind it! That really really sucks. My experience at a large nonprofit providing services was great for a while, until things with upper management got super toxic. My advice to you would be to start job searching now. You can then afford to become a whistleblower once you have another position lined up. Because when this gets out, funders will get angry and cut funding. Then there will be mass layoffs. This happened at my old employer, which is now a shell of what it used to be.

            1. Jo*

              Hah, this is happening at my current non-profit employer right now. Nepotism is insidious and impossible to root out once entrenched. *headdesk*

    6. Anananon*

      We just had a similar situation happen with HR trying to hire an intern without following protocol and offering an insane wage. Unfortunately, the same HR person is also the compliance officer. Someone had to report it directly to the CEO and the whole situation was stopped and swept under the rug.
      My faith in my company went completely out the window.

      1. RG*

        I guess it depends on how you define “swept under the rug” – if it’s not enough to warrant a firing, I don’t see the point in telling anybody and everybody about it.

    7. AliceW*

      I actually have to disagree with the black and white response to OP#1’s question. I work in compliance and perhaps the OP did not have all of the information the VP had in making their determination. Many interns do not have any significant responsibilities and are certainly not auditing other departments. That might be the fancy job description but in reality they are entering data in spreadsheets and making copies of documents and are not making any inputs into any potential findings. Also “auditing” for compliance purposes may not mean an official audit such as a financial audit. It could simply mean an internal review of procedures. Also, let’s face it. Nepotism exists. C-Suite executives may want to hire family as interns and pay them. I can see why you can’t hire them a full time employees, but as interns or temporary contract employees this is not always a conflict of interest. Depends on many factors.

      1. Chinook*

        I will agree with AliceW that the issue of hiring the CFO’s son may not be a huge compliance issue. My ethical concern is with the OP being asked to rewrite policy to allow it to happen. This is a complete conflict of interest. If the company wants to change policy like this, it should be coming from someone who doesn’t directly benefit. To me, this is like having our teapot coating standards rewritten by our coating supplier so that their products are preferred (a real discussion since my teapot company is currently writing down these standards for the first time). Sure, they may be experts in their field and their products may be superior, but any outsider would be correct to question their bias and whether or not what they wrote was the best for our company and not theirs.

        1. AliceW*

          Just saying that they may not need to re-write the policy, just clarify it to indicate that the restrictions on family apply to full-time employees, which might have been the original intent of the policy for all we know. Maybe they don’t normally hire interns or temps or contractors and this is a one time case. I also doubt an intern would audit or oversee anything important, certainly not company financials or controls. They may actually be performing minor tasks only with no potential for conflict and any work they do would be overseen by another senior employee. While there are serious conflicts of interest that firms need to consider, a young kid working for their mom’s company fetching coffee and making copies while “auditing” something for purposes of padding his resume isn’t necessarily a red flag. Again I don’t know the facts, just what the OP has represented.

      2. Kelly L.*

        But if the CFO wants to hire her kid, she shouldn’t hire her kid to oversee her own work. If the CFO, for example, starts embezzling, is her own kid going to stop her? Unlikely. That’s what makes this so fishy.

        Internship for CFO’s kid–eh, it happens.
        CFO’s kid is going to be paid while other interns aren’t–jerk move, but a defense could probably be found for it.
        CFO’s kid is going to be overseeing mom’s work–Nope nope mega conflict of interest. At least put him in a different department.

      3. Ann Furthermore*

        I have to disagree. My company normally makes all of us sit through ethics training this year — although not this year, which is interesting, since there are some potentially hugely unethical things happening at the moment…I guess they didn’t want to answer any difficult questions.

        But, when it does take place, we are told over and over again that the appearance of impropriety can be every bit as damaging as actual impropriety. This definitely has the appearance of impropriety, at the very least. And when I took auditing in college, this idea was discussed over and over again, both during classroom lectures, and in the textbook.

      4. LQ*

        Here’s the thing, even if there is absolutely nothing ACTUALLY wrong with this (which I highly doubt) the appearance of something being wrong with it (and it is just rife with that any way you slice it) should absolutely be an issue for the person in charge of compliance.

    8. Edward Rooney*

      There are a few points in the letter than I think should not be a focus of the analysis of the situation. “we have never had a paid intern before” – First and foremost, I believe most internships should be paid, not the other way around. Also, if this intern is an accounting/finance student, 99% of all internships in this field (in my personal experience) are paid.

      “the CFO/mom is giving up part of her budget to compensate him $13 an hour” – Budgets are the responsibility of the CFO, if she wants to reallocate budget to add a new hire it is well within her discretion.

      “As a side note, this is a higher hourly rate than many of our entry-level employees” – $13 for someone with an accounting background (assuming he is taking accounting classes in college) is a fair wage depending on the location of said intern. If the entry level employees are customer service type employees I would expect a more specialized role (even if it is an intern) to make more than minimum wage.

      The key focus should be on changing the rules (which I am not 100% clear on, could the CFO’s child work in Marketing or not in the company at all?), as well as the huge conflict of interest of auditing the work the CFO is responsible for.

      1. OP*

        Re: unpaid internships, were a nonprofit agency. It’s very common to have unpaid interns in the human services world.

    9. Charlotte Collins*

      Is there any way to anonymously report ethics violations? If not, your company definitely needs one.

      Keep documentation of everything that happened. Especially of the fact that you voiced your concerns.

    10. leisuresuitlarry*

      If it’s a large publicly traded company, in the US at least, the board of directors probably has an audit/compliance committee. The head of that comittee should definitely be in the loop on this issue.

      I’m not surprised by a CFO that’s trying to bend rules. I’m not even that bothered by it. But the shriveled up part of my soul that used to be an auditor is disgusted and offended by the gutless vp of compliance.

    11. TootsNYC*

      Wouldn’t the CEO end up being aware?

      I’m wondering if the CFO asked CEO, who didn’t want to be “the meanie” and say no, so the CEO said, “Talk to Compliance VP.”

      and Compliance VP hasn’t figured out that the main qualification for her role is to be able to say “no” to the people over her head.

      1. OP*

        Probably accurate. The CFO and VP of compliance are also very close friends which I think is complicating this.

    12. Chickaletta*

      Not to mention that this is an auditing position within a financial department. If the son is hired and something goes wrong down the line the whole company could be in a load of trouble, even more so if your company is public. There are federal regulations like SOX that control who and how people within the company have access to financial data, and although I don’t know if you can have an immediate relative audit one’s data, I’d be very careful about this, especially if the company is changing policy just to allow it. This isn’t just about your job, or the CFO’s job, this is about the entire company opening themselves to financial risk and hefty penalties.

  5. Doriana Gray*

    OP #1 – Your VP of Compliance should be fired immediately. She is opening up your company to adverse regulatory/legal action, and I’m really surprised she would even go along with this madness. I also hate that your manager didn’t continue to back you up on this – what’s happening here is extremely unethical, and your VP is acting in bad faith. Talk to the CEO immediately if you can. And if you work in a highly regulated industry, hammer home that fact with the CEO and that your compliance guidelines were written with the express purpose of complying with state and/or federal guidelines.

    Meanwhile, you might want to keep a close eye on these people to see what other rules they feel like arbitrarily casting off. I can only imagine the other shady stuff going behind the scenes you don’t know about.

    1. neverjaunty*

      And all that stuff about “personal growth and development” – wow. The VP clearly knows she’s in the wrong and is trying to shout you down here, OP.

      Make a written record and push back.

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah, the obvious attempted strong-arming is really unprofessional and off-putting. The last thing the VP of compliance should be doing is getting angry at people bringing up reasonable compliance issues!

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        There already is a written record of this – the email the VP sent you explaining the situation, including that they’re amending the conflict of interest policy (!) to allow it. You could forward that to the other execs and the board – that’s a pretty clear smoking gun. And, should you feel inclined to blow the whistle, to the relevant regulatory authorities and/or an investigative journalist or three.

        1. HumbleOnion*

          I’d be very tempted to print that email & then accidentally leave it in the printer for someone else to discover.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I had to re-read the letter because I couldn’t believe that the VP would put such a thing in an email. I thought I remembered that the OP sent her concerns via email and that the VP then came to her desk to verbally discuss it. But, not, the VP actually put her plans into writing, so OP has that and her response outlining the potential pitfalls. Then the written communication goes out, but what the OP already has is pure gold as far as any reporting she’d like to do is concerned.

        3. snuck*

          Forward the email to other parties (relevant ones) attached to a meeting invite to “Discuss Changes to Conflict of Interest Policy”

          Appropriate receivers would be Head of Compliance, Legal, CEO (ask for a representative), Accounting (because this involves money), HR and maybe a small number of managers who generally get involved in either policy or HR issues.

          Make it a group decision!

    2. FTW*

      I’d also think abour proposing an internship for the CFO’s son that would be appropriate. It might make the whole thing go over better.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        The OP should probably make this past of her proposal, but I think the CFO and compliance officer already already know what an appropriate internship looks like, and that’s not good enough for Sonnyboy; for him, they want to make an inappropriate one.

    3. Sean*

      Keep detailed written record and start looking into ‘whistleblower’ protection in your jurisdiction.

      I agree that your job may require you to push back on this. However, you also are likely to be legally protected for any retaliation taken against you – whether you are fired or all of a sudden your work is deemed unsatisfactory – that comes as a consequence.

      Also, be aware that the company’s counsel/legal team does not represent you. They represent the company. If you are in a position where you are retaliated against, they are on the OTHER SIDE. Keep that in mind in all conversations.

      1. BethRA*

        This. I was about to suggest forwarding copies of any related emails to your personal account, and I think I would do this myself in your situation regardless of how I decided to proceed.

    4. Hellanon*

      And if a company is regulated highly enough to need a VP of compliance, what the heck are they doing getting an unpaid intern to do their audits? That sounds seriously fishy!

      1. JMegan*

        Yes, that stuck out to me too. I mean, the whole thing is off the charts unethical and weird, but that was definitely part of it. I would think auditing would be a higher-level function – something that an intern could learn, but to have them actually doing the audits right out of the gate?

        OP, I hope you can protect yourself, and also GTFO of that place as soon as possible. I’d love to hear an update when you have one!

      2. Kyrielle*

        To be fair, this would be a paid intern. In an exception to, you know, company norms for interns….

        This whole situation makes me *so* wary, and I’m not even there.

      3. LQ*

        This intern would be paid, but still an intern of any kind, and under the supervision of who? His mother/boss/person the audit is covering?

        I feel like there aren’t enough ellipses in the world to cover how I feel about that.

  6. Doriana Gray*

    OP #2 – Definitely agree with Alison – don’t bring therapy up in an interview. Therapy is wonderful and I’m all for people doing whatever they need to to get mentally and emotionally healthy, but bringing this up in an interview is going to make hiring managers not only question your professionalism, but also your mental stability. You don’t want people drawing negative conclusions about you before they know anything about you in a work context. If asked about an employment gap, just say that you had a minor health issue that you needed to address, you did, and now it’s under control and you’re ready to get back to work. It touches on your situation without getting too personal.

    1. Sherm*

      I agree. Even though it’s supposedly 2016, it doesn’t take long to find some sad letters and comments in AAM about the stigma of therapy-related issues being alive and well.

      1. Student*

        Look, your co-workers (and especially strangers that you would like to consider you for employment) are not your support group. It’s possible to not stigmatize mental health issues and simultaneously not want to hear about them in a job interview or at work. I don’t hate or stigmatize people with digestive problems, but I don’t want to hear about my colleague’s diarrhea problem under any circumstances whatsoever. Same deal with my colleague’s mental health – I can respect it without wanting to hear about it.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In this case, though, it’s not about any stigma; it would be inappropriate to discuss in an interview regardless, especially as an example of overcoming adversity (the way the OP was thinking of using it). It would be like talking to your interviewer about how you overcame a rough patch in your marriage.

        1. Random Lurker*

          I agree that it is not appropriate for an interview and shouldn’t be mentioned because it doesn’t really help demonstrate why you would be a go fit for an organization. However, I think that the stigma needs to be a concern as well, since a candidate has no way of knowing how an interviewer views these issues.

          I’ve been in therapy for depression and anxiety for some time. The number of ignorant comments I’ve heard people make about how that makes you a damaged/inferior person is staggering. That is why nobody I work with will ever know. Some people WILL judge you harshly for it.

          1. fposte*

            The thing is, if you talk about it in an interview people will judge you harshly for your unprofessionalism whatever your health struggle. So some people may feel they were being dismissed for their depression when really they were getting a mark for pure inappropriateness.

            1. sunny-dee*

              This so much. It shows such a lack of boundaries and awareness that I would be really, really put off by it in a professional context where I probably wouldn’t care at all if it were a casual chat with a friend.

          2. ThatGirl*

            My husband is a licensed mental health therapist, which might be the one profession where talking about your own therapy should be OK (many therapists have their own counselors) and yet… I still wouldn’t advise him to do that.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          This. If I had a candidate discuss their therapy during an interview, I would be worried about what they may potentially bring up to a client.

        2. Elsajeni*

          That’s true, but I do think the issue of mental-health stigma is also in play — as you said, going into detail about knee surgery would be inappropriate, but hardly anyone would find fault with just mentioning that you’d had knee surgery. A lot of people would consider it inappropriate even to mention that you’d been in therapy or that you’d been treated for depression. Obviously neither one is appropriate to be used as an in-depth interview answer about how you overcame adversity, but only one gets the full “don’t say anything about it, ever, and if asked directly make a vague reference to ‘health issues'” treatment.

          1. sunny-dee*

            But not all health issues are created equally. There is no ick factor with knees, but I really wouldn’t ever, ever, even a little want to hear about a coworker’s prostate exam or Pap smear. That is way too personal. Individual therapy is intimately personal. I just don’t want to know. (Again, speaking professionally, not for friends or family.) Ditto for someone’s marriage counseling. That is just too intimate to drag outsiders in to.

      3. Artemesia*

        Quite apart from the stigma which is unfortunately real, is the lack of judgment that discussing this would show. I would not be concerned (in fact would be positively impressed) by knowing that a subordinate engaged in therapy to deal with personal issues. I would be seriously concerned at their sense of appropriateness, judgment, boundaries if they discussed this in a job interview. It would be like discussing a religious conversion experience or for that matter insights they gathered while taking LSD — just so entirely inappropriate that it calls into question their judgment.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      you had a minor health issue that you needed to address, you did, and now it’s under control and you’re ready to get back to work.

      Or, that you decided to take the opportunity of being downsized/made redundant by taking a short sabbatical. Just about everyone understands the concept of that. You don’t have to bring up therapy, but if further questioned, you could say that you took time to work on yourself/pursue your passions or hobbies and just generally take stock of your life so that you could proceed with getting a new job refreshed and ready to dig back into work.

  7. MathOwl*

    OP # 2: I agree with Alison that it’s best not to mention therapy in a job interview. You do mention however some upskilling that happened during that period away from work and it might be a good idea to draw attention to it. The break from work could be seen as time taken off to grow as a person in general. This includes learning about yourself through therapy, but also learning and building skills that can safely be brought up. While I don’t hire people, I would definitely be impressed by someone telling me they are motivated about learning and growth enough to go about doing it by themselves.

    Also, I’m glad that things are getting better and the best of luck on your job hunting!

  8. Dan*


    I hate to say this, but I’m not as outraged as most. I’d probably let it slide. I mean, we’re talking about an intern here, not a paid full time employee. Every place I’ve ever worked has treated interns differently than the rest. First things first, an intern in compliance is going to be doing work with lots of oversight, so this isn’t a situation where the fox will be guarding the hen house if you will.

    Second things second, I’m not bothered in the slightest that the intern is actually getting paid for doing work. The shocker to me is that the other interns don’t get paid. In my line of work, even the high school interns are paid. If I’m further going to be bothered by the intern’s pay, it’s because the full time staff get paid so low, not because $13/hr with no benefits is unconscionable.

    Really, the only thing that bothers me is that some VP wants to rewrite policy to hire an intern. I think they could stay out of hot water by just asking that the policy be amended to say “interns excepted from the policy.” Again, my reasoning is that any intern is going to be doing heavily supervised work, especially in compliance. If we were talking about bending the rules for someone in compliance doing independent work with no oversight, yeah I’d be worried.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      The intern isn’t working for compliance – he’s working for his mother, the CFO, doing financial accounting on behalf of the compliance. How much oversight and objectivity do you think mom’s really going to have here? Especially when she’s already proven that her judgment is suspect by even suggesting this idea in the first place.

    2. LisaLee*

      It would be one thing if the intern was just filing or whatever. But having a CFO’s son dealing with financial details is sketchy at best and disastrous at worst.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        It’s not sketchy for the son to be handling financial matters for this company in general. The CFO of my parent company’s son works at the parent company in the finance department, and it’s fine because he’s not in his dad’s immediate chain of command. Even when he was an intern, he reported to a staff manager who also doesn’t report to his father.

        No, what makes this situation sketchy is that CFO wants her son to report directly to her while supposedly handling the compliance team’s financial matters, she wants compliance to have HR totally rewrite the rules dealing with the chain of command seemingly without getting input from the CEO who usually signs off on these things, and the VP of Compliance is going along with this instead of doing her job, which is to protect the company from even the slightest appearance of impropriety. If CFO’s son was actually working in and reporting to someone directly in compliance, this would be almost a non-issue. It would still be unethical to change the policy to allow for him to be compensated when none of the other interns are, but they could easily fix that by paying the rest if the interns going forward. But the way they’re planning on doing this now is highly questionable and again, acting in bad faith.

        1. Kate M*

          Well, the unethical part of being paid would be the other interns not being paid, not this one being paid. Like, if an intern is doing the work as described here, the ethical/legal thing to do would be to pay them. Not paying the other interns is unethical/possibly illegal. But all the other stuff is shady AF.

          1. Doriana Gray*

            It’s not the being paid part that’s the problem at all as discussed below – it’s the fact that his mother wants a compliance policy changed to benefit someone she has a personal relationship with.

            1. Kate M*

              But that’s what I’m saying – OP adds “paying the intern” to the list of unethical things, since no other intern is paid. I’m just saying that that is the one thing that shouldn’t be on the list of complaints, since it isn’t unethical.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The OP isn’t saying paying the intern is inherently unethical; she’s saying that choosing to only pay the intern who’s the CFO’s kid and not the others is unethical.

                1. Kate M*

                  But then it’s the not paying other interns which is unethical, which doesn’t have anything to do with this intern. That’s a whole separate issue. It’s like, when you have years of mistreatment and someone is finally treated fairly, you don’t say “hey, that person is getting fair treatment, we have to bring them down to our level with everyone getting treated unfairly.” If interns aren’t being paid (in an illegal way), that has nothing to do with this intern, and is a separate problem.

                2. Dan*

                  You know… I honestly don’t see paying this intern and not paying the others as an ethics issue. Fairness? Different story, but ethics and fairness aren’t synonymous with each other. And I don’t generally die on the fairness hill at work; so many things in life (and at work) aren’t fair, and they just have to be dealt with.

                  To the point about the intern getting “paid better” than full time staff? FT staff presumably get benefits while the intern doesn’t, and that’s worth something.

                  But what bugs me the most is that these staff members get paid so little, and that interns don’t get paid at all. I suspect that this issue with rewriting the “rules” to accommodate the kid is only one of many things not right with this company.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes, I think everyone understands that point, but there’s an additional layer of problem here, which is preferential treatment to the CFO’s son.

                  But the OP says elsewhere that they’re a nonprofit, which are allowed to have unpaid interns, so this all ended up being moot!

    3. Jeanne*

      I’m not sure you understand how important this is. Compliance and auditing can make big problems for companies. The son is apparently being hired based on his skill of being a relative. And to highlight the problems, they have to change company policy to put him in that position. Interns do various levels of work and this sounds like real duties for real pay. (Whether or not interns are paid otherwise is complicated and depends on the company and the industry. The CFO is saying her son deserves pay but no one else does.) I don’t see anything no-big-deal here.

    4. MathOwl*

      I’d argue what worries me the most is not so much that the intern is treated differently, but actually better than many regular employees. As a recent intern myself, I would have been really embarrassed to have been given better standing than regular employees, as I had much to learn from them and that’s why I was there. I don’t like the fact unpaid internships are so widespread either, but if the company is willing to bend the rules when the CFO’s son wants a job, I think it should consider revising how it treats its regular people and other interns too (if you pay one, why not pay all the others?).

      1. Jinx*

        I believe all interns should be paid too, but the issue in this case is that only the CFO’s son will get paid while every other intern doesn’t. That’s not “oh good, they’re paying one of their interns” that’s “being the boss’ son is more valuable than anything else”. That along with rewriting the policy to allow it looks so, so bad, even *if* the whole situation is above board. Which I highly doubt it is, given the way the CFO and VP are acting.

    5. Melissa*

      I have an accounting background and all of #1 was like a giant red flag waving in my face. I wouldn’t even want to be on the external audit team looking at that company, much less working there internally. CFO’s described actions sound like alarm bells for what else is going on with internal controls and professional ethics…

      1. UK Number Cruncher*

        My accounting background is in the UK but it screams ‘threat to independence’. There are five classic threats to independence (self interest, self review, advocacy, familiarity and intimidation). This situation ticks at least three of those (self interest — it’s in his interest to give a positive opinion; advocacy — of course he’ll be on his mum’s side!; and familiarity — oh lord yes he is too close too the VP to be objective).

        The son is auditing his mother’s team’s work, he can’t possibly be independent! From what I know of US controls, it’s got incredibly strict and there is no way this should be allowed.

        If you your company is large enough to have an audit committee, OP, you should consider raising it with them, anonymously if necessary. Hell, if you have external auditors, quietly introduce yourself when they visit and ask to speak to the Partner in charge of the audit. If there’s a whistleblowing programme in your firm, contact it.

        The actual damage that could be done might be minor (passing a few controls tests incorrectly) but this is such a red flag about the VP’s ethics I would be highly critical about the rest of her work and the environment within the company.

    6. Bleu*

      The CFO in many organizations is equal to the CEO — not below. There was a letter here maybe a couple years ago where an executive assistant complained that the CFO wanted his phone calls to be handled differently (I forget how, straight to voice mail when he was preoccupied, something really minor). And the AAM response was to actually call the CFO a coworker (instead of an executive or senior or even an adviser) who was out of line….

      So I don’t happen to agree with the situation described in this email concerning the CFO and internship — but the response again completely misses the whole reality of what the CFO is as to not exactly make sense as is, either. (Often the CEO isn’t “above” the CFO, I mean, if the CEO wanted her daughter to be her intern, that might change the entire discussion among everyone from the company board members to AAM regarding how or whether the OP should compose an email rejecting that.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In the U.S., it would be really unusual for a CFO to be equal to the CEO; typically, the CFO reports to the CEO, who reports to the board.

        I’m not sure how the references to the other post (this one) fit in here, but in that post I didn’t say the CFO who wanted his calls screened was out of line; I said it was his prerogative to request that and the OP should comply. And it’s pretty common to use “coworker” to mean “a colleague who isn’t your boss.” (In fact, the dictionary definition is “colleague.”)

        1. Bleu*

          I think the OP at this point could use advice on what to do now, having written an email described as harsh to someone who in any corporation in the world either reports directly to the CEO or directly to the board. I think the OP’s job might be in immediate danger.

          1. nofelix*

            It seems more likely that the email wasn’t harshly worded, but that the Compliance VP was objecting to the issues being raised at all. Since she’s in compliance, likely she’s the gateway to getting this intership approved and so the pressure is on her. She’s angry at the OP because stating the problems out loud has made this task difficult.

            The VP and possibly the CFO will likely want to throw the OP under the bus to discredit or remove her objections. So firstly that has to be dealt with by making the objections known to the CEO and reporting to any compliance hotline / process.

            1. Mookie*

              Right, she’s deflecting the LW’s legitimate objections by pretending that the real issue at hand is the LW’s professionalism and communication skills. It wouldn’t matter how the e-mail was actually worded. The VP’s trying to signal to the LW to pipe down or she’ll be regarded as a troublemaker.

            2. Doriana Gray*

              And OP should also go talk to her company’s legal department who would generally be involved in any compliance-related policy change. Ask if they were aware of this request to change procedure, OP. I’d be really surprised if they were (but then again, they may be just as unethical as the compliance VP, which is a scary thought).

              1. Sunshine*

                This is what I would do. I would approach it as if to ask the CEO for his approval of the decision made by the CFO and VP, in the interest of covering all bases before changing the policy. Either he shoots it down and it’s handled, or he agrees with them and I’m job-shopping.

              2. Chinook*

                “And OP should also go talk to her company’s legal department who would generally be involved in any compliance-related policy change. ”

                I forgot about that. I am managing the uploading of all our Standards and one of the approvers of every document is the Legal department. If I was the OP and didn’t have an external ethics hotline to call, I would be able to send a first draft of these changes to Legal to as a legit step in the process so that they could ensure we meet regulatory requirements and update their concordance table (and be grateful for once for the bureaucracy).

                1. Doriana Gray*

                  That’s what I was coming back to say – OP should draft the document and then send it to legal for approval. Watch how quick this gets shut down (assuming legal’s on the up and up).

            3. RVA Cat*

              I also think that the VP is angry because not only did OP #1 voice these objections, they were in an email which is now evidence should any investigation ensue.

              Honestly, OP#1, I don’t think you will be able to prevent this from happening. What you will need to do is, if at all possible, keep yourself from becoming involved. That may mean resigning or being fired rather than doing something that is unethical and possibly illegal.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                “I also think that the VP is angry because not only did OP #1 voice these objections, they were in an email which is now evidence should any investigation ensue.”

                The VP set herself up for that one when she outlined her shady plan via email and asked for any concerns. I guess she thought the people down the org chart would just rubberstamp their agreement and she’d move along with the plan with no obstacles?

                1. Chinook*

                  fposte – as I tell any of my students – if you are going to do evil, at least do it well. There is no excuse for being a lazy and stupid evil mastermind and I don’t want to be embarrassed to admit that they were once one of my students. :)

    7. some1*

      If this is really on the up & up, though, why loop the LW and Compliance VP in at all? It seems like the CFO knew this would be seen as shady but expected them to go along with it because of her position.

      1. my two cents*

        …which is likely the reason why the CFO scolded LW in person, instead of just responding to the email. The email wasn’t bad – the CFO was just trying to intimidate her into backing down, under the guise of LW being ‘rude and unprofessional’.

        CFO knows exactly what she’s doing, and is even willing to set aside part of her own salary. her kid might as well just stay at home playing candy crush on his phone all day, and let cfo mom foot the bill.

        1. my two cents*

          whoops – cfp and VP are two different people. Well still, scolding someone person as a response to a normal rational email is a HUGE red flag.

          1. some1*

            I agree – it’s so messed up that the CFO wrote in her email that the LW could tell her if she had issues and then punishing her for it.

    8. Oryx*

      The fact that it’s “just an intern” doesn’t exempt the company from following the rules and, in fact, because it’s an intern there’s a lot of third-party jurisdiction regarding internships they need to comply with, so if anything this is both an internal matter that needs to be handled seriously but there are also exterior forces at play that could make it even more egregious if this goes forward.

    9. AnotherHRPro*

      For me the biggest issue is that this is a slippery slope. Generally speaking, Interns really can’t get into too much trouble on the job. They don’t know much and need to have a great deal of guidance. And maybe the work this intern is going to do does deserve pay vs. what other interns are doing. It is possible. And the OP doesn’t say the intern will report directly to the CFO/Mom so maybe they will report into someone else. BUT…what is next? A full time offer in a few months? Continuing to revise policies that the CFO doesn’t care for or finds inconvenient? There are reasons for these policies and individuals that have a personal stake in a situation don’t always appreciate the bigger picture. Of course you believe that you and your son won’t do anything inappropriate, but the next exec that wants to do the same might.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        And the OP doesn’t say the intern will report directly to the CFO/Mom so maybe they will report into someone else.

        This from the OP

        Our VP of compliance emailed and my direct supervisor and me (we’re in Human Resources) to say that the CFO’s son is going to do an internship with her (the CFO).

        makes it sound like the son will be reporting to his mother. And the OP said the CFO plans to pay him out of her own budget. If he were reporting to someone else, I would imagine the OP would have said so though I could be wrong. (And for this company’s sake, I hope I am because this is a mess otherwise.)

        1. Artemesia*

          And there is no ‘her own budget’ — it is the company’s money and this intern is getting a fat check while the 30 others work for free. If she were paying him from her own pocket that might be different. You would still have the conflict of interest issues around compliance, but using company money crystalizes it. I once hired my high school daughter to work on a research project; it gave her experience with data analysis and management. I didn’t even try to use grant monies to pay her as I did others who worked on the project; I paid her out of my own pocket. (and when it came time to blind code data which is one of the checks in the research process when using qualitative data, she did not participate in that coding — it was important that the researcher not be in a position to influence the coding and that meant of course also the researcher’s daughter. It would have been impossible for her to cook the data because she would not have known which group the various subjects were in BUT it was still inappropriate for her to do it just as it was inappropriate for me to do it.)

    10. Jennifer M.*

      As someone who has spent most of her career working in compliance, this is a BFD. He is set to do auditing! The nature of his relationship with the CFO is a giant red flag. Now if he were going to shadow the internal audit team and do some printing and filing, yeah, that could maybe be okay but actually doing the audits is horrible. If the kid has the same last name as his mom and an outside auditor saw documents with his signature, I would think that the least they should do is ask about the name match and that could lead to a whole thing.

      (Not to mention that every place that I have ever heard of that allows kids of employees to be interns had a rule that it had to be in a different department than the parent. Though this would likely not be feasible at a small business.)

    11. Sunflower*

      Normally I would say you are right that an intern is not going to be given an real authority or working with any truly important documents. But considering all the other wacky things this person is doing, I wouldn’t put it past them.

      A lot of interns are unpaid and receive school credit.

  9. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. It all sounds extremely fishy. The part about not paying interns and then Mummy finding USD 13 per hour for her offspring is really off. The OPs colleague suddenly not backing her about the ethics of the situation would have me worried too.

    1. nofelix*

      Indeed. What was the money intended for, since interns aren’t traditionally paid at the company? And if there is spare budget to pay an intern then candidates should be interviewed.

  10. Vicki*

    #1 – I think the most telling part of this letter (probably unconscious on the OP’s part) is this:
    “She then proceeded to explain the situation to me again”.

    There is a world of unstated weirdness in “explained the situation”.

    Whats does the CFO have on the VP of Compliance?

    1. Mookie*

      The explanation involved Masonic handshakes and a complex series of eyebrow twitches and nose-touching, I reckon.

    2. nofelix*

      Exactly. This screams of the Compliance VP scrambling because she is being forced to approve the internship. Maybe it’s just professional ambition earn a favour from a superior, but why break ethics rules for that.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        This compliance veep has really fallen down on the job here. Her job is to protect the company from running afoul of the rules set forth by regulatory bodies, not to curry favor from an unscrupulous CFO. This position requires you to not only know how and when to say no to unreasonable and/or unethical requests (and you will say no often in this role), but also to be able to advocate your position with internal stakeholders, including the CFO and CEO. If she caves to outrageous demands made by one person with questionable judgment, how likely is she going to be able to put her foot down when the CFO, say, decides they need to change the policy on accepting large gifts from vendors?

        I really wish I knew what industry this company is in because if it’s one with federal and/or state regulations out the ass, these people are begging to be investigated.

  11. Kathlynn*

    LW 1. The fact that the internship is unpaid sound off. I mean, does it (and probably the other 30) internships meet the standards that the US government/courts has set for unpaid internships? Otherwise, your company is actually required to pay your intern(s).
    specifically this requirement: The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
    I know you likely can’t change your company’s stance on paid vs unpaid internships, but I don’t think it’s unfair to pay the intern in question. Unfair for the other interns yes, but not because he’s being compensated unfairly, but because they might deserve the compensations too.

    1. Jeanne*

      They might or might not need to pay the interns. The rules are complicated. This company sounds large enough to have a lawyer on staff or on call. Hopefully, it’s been checked out. But I believe paying one intern because he’s a relative and not paying the others is unethical. And it could possibly open them up to legal issues even if they could legally not pay them before. What makes the son’s work different? They would have to justify it.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      Ok but the fact is the other interns are not paid and wether they should be is a completely different discussion. The CFO is being inappropriate in trying to he more favourable terms for their child than not only the other interns but also other junior employees.

      Then there’s the part about their child being involved in the oversight of their parents work. The whole situation is off and really should be brought to the attention of the CEO.

      1. Kathlynn*

        I don’t know enough to discuss the pay rate. And it doesn’t matter if the other interns are being paid or not. They *are* a completely different discussion. This potential intern’s right to get paid or not isn’t.
        And as I’ve said multiple times, if the internships don’t meet the requirements for unpaid status, the interns should be paid. *but* the OP probably doesn’t have the ability to effect this.

    3. nofelix*

      If this intern is to be paid for legal reasons then all of the other 30 would need to start being paid now too, or at least have their working arrangements evaluated.

      Also anyone with half a brain can see the ethical and morale problems in only obeying the law when it becomes beneficial to an executive’s son.

      1. Kathlynn*

        I think you should reread my comment. I never said that the other interns shouldn’t be paid. Actually I said the exact opposite, that they probably should be paid.
        The thing is, with the information provided, we have to assume the OP has no control over this, beyond mentioning it to the appropriate person(s)
        And it doesn’t matter who the intern is or isn’t related to, in regards to the paid/unpaid status of their internship. Because while it’s unethical etc. to hire the person because of their family connections, it would still be unethical and etc. not to pay them if they are legally entitle to the pay. Just as it’s unethical not to pay the other interns if they don’t meet the requirements for unpaid internships.

        1. Sigrid*

          It does matter who the intern is related to, if that is the only reason he is being paid. Given that the money to pay him is coming directly out of his mother’s salary, it’s clear that the reason he is going to be paid is not that someone realized that the company’s internships in general, or this internship in particular, fall under the category of paid internships, it’s because his mother wants him to get paid. This is not an example of “finally, proper treatment of interns”, this is an example of egregious nepotism.

          1. Kate M*

            *This is assuming that the other interns are not getting course credit or whatever is legal for them not to be paid.*

            But the unethical thing wouldn’t be paying the intern, even if they are related to the CFO. If they are doing the work described (even if everything else is completely shady), they should be paid legally. The unethical part would come by not paying the other interns, assuming that they do similar types of work (i.e. things that benefit the company and not just the interns). Just because it took nepotism for them to start following the law doesn’t mean that the “following the law” part is wrong. They do need to make sure that it’s even across the board according to responsibilities/legalities, but there is no reason this intern shouldn’t be paid (and lots of reasons they should be). That said, there are tons of reasons why this intern shouldn’t be hired in the first place. But paying them is not part of the unethical things going on here.

            1. Sigrid*

              If this intern is paid, and the other interns aren’t, and they are equivalent internships under the law, then yes it is unethical. It is unethical to treat one intern differently based on who that intern is related to.

              1. Kate M*

                I feel like we’re going in circles here, but if all the internships are subject to be paid according to the law, and only one is, paying the one intern isn’t the wrong thing. That would actually be complying with the law. Not paying the others is. You don’t equal the playing field by illegally not paying the new intern. You even the playing field by paying the other interns. You don’t say “if we’re breaking the law by not paying the others, the right thing to do is break the law by not paying this one too.”

                1. Sigrid*

                  I don’t think we’re going to agree on this one because we’re approaching it from different directions. To me, the “paid vs unpaid” thing is irrelevant, the issue is nepotism; to you, the nepotism thing is irrelevant, the issue is paid vs unpaid.

                  In this particular case, it turns out to be a moot point, as the OP has now said they’re a non-profit, which is allowed to have unpaid interns.

          2. Anon for today*

            Not to nitpick, but the son will not be paid out of his mom’s salary, but her budget. Completely different things.

      2. AnotherHRPro*

        Not necessarily. You don’t have to treat all interns the exact same way. If the other interns do not have responsibilities that provide value to the company, the employer is not required to pay them. It sounds like the plan is for this intern to have real responsibilities which would mean they would need to be paid. All that said, this is still all a very bad idea.

  12. Jeanne*

    For #3, the whole phone call sounds very weird. But I think you did the right thing. The COO is giving you important information about how she operates. If you were so awful to interview, why were you invited back through 4 rounds? Someone in charge liked how you presented yourself. But now she prioritizes a lack of eye contact. Was that in a group interview? Things like your being too casual are hard to quantify. Seems like she should either believe them and take you out of the running or meet you herself. The whole idea of that phone call makes no sense. What if working with her was like that all the time? I wouldn’t want it.

    1. BK*

      Thanks for the comment re: my situation. It was not a group interview, but back to back interviews with six or seven people. To me it felt like the COO was trying challenging me to be subordinate, in some ways like she was putting me in my place.

      What was especially strange was that the entire office’s median age is 26, I am 29, and the whole place was very informal. I was at worst mirroring my interviewers, at best, being a few notches above their demeanor to show my professionalism.

      The whole thing seems very odd to me.

      1. Jeanne*

        Something is messed up at that company. You don’t want to be treated like that constantly. Breathe a sigh of relief.

  13. Merry and Bright*

    #1 Funny how people start off on the defensive and tell you there is no conflict of interest – when there is. Classic. Anyway, if there is no conflict you wouldn’t “need” to get the policy rewritten.

    Also, the family intern would be doing work for compliance? As others have said, it just gets worse.

  14. Nico m*

    #1 – go to the CEO

    If the big cheeses want mummysboy to have a job then they must either officially change policy or employ him in another role.

    Some little shite getting 13$/hr he doesnt deserve isnt really a big deal.

    But driving a steamroller thru policy is.

    #3. Reads to me like either

    The caller has a favorite candidate and is lying you make you drop out.


    The panel are useless idiots who have managed to mix you and another candidate up.

    1. Chinook*

      “#1 – go to the CEO

      If the big cheeses want mummysboy to have a job then they must either officially change policy or employ him in another role.”

      The issue is that they are asking the OP to change the policy. To me, that is a bigger ethical violation that the CFO’s son being given an internship. If a company has a compliance officer, that means they must be compliant to an external body and their policies must reflect that. Sure, policies can be changed but the person requesting/approving the change should not be the one to materially benefit AND the policy still needs to be in compliance with external regulations (which, as accountants here have pointed out, it would probably not). And, since knowing whether or not and how a company is in compliance is the main job of a compliance officer, what she is asking the OP to do is 10 types of wrong (plus she is going about it the wrong way by leaving a documented trail – which just means she truly has no clue).

  15. L_A*

    #3 is very odd. Why on earth would someone have gone through multiple rounds of interviews if she weren’t interested? People have different personalities. Some are bubbly and gregarious. Some are reserved. Some are more polished, others speak with a regional dialect. Some are extremely tense when interviewing, some are not as phased by it, whether due to practice or natural anxiety tendency. When interviewing candidates, one may not be a good cultural fit. There is nothing wrong with giving honest feedback so long as it is constructive. I used to have a colleague who would spend months going over resumes before selecting the best 2 or 3 to call in. Then in the interview, instead of starting a conversation about which skill was needed and why, she’d sit there and tear the candidate down. “Oh, we’ve been looking for an engineer with experience doing x and z processes, which I see you’ve done… But oh, look here it says you worked in a non engineering role for a year in between there, can you please explain that?”… and oh, where is your degree from? Ive honestly never heard of it (being a not unheard of school)….. you get the point. Consider yourself lucky. You could have signed on and dealt with this behavior for a very long time.

    1. Nico m*

      Im curious: If a candidate – fairly and politely – pushed back , was that counted as a Good or Bad thing?

      1. nofelix*

        Could go either way depending on the reasons for the criticisms. Tactically the best chance to get the job is to accept the criticisms and apologise, but as Alison said, is this a job you want?

        Politely pushing back on a simple issue is reasonable, but a slew of issues like this couldn’t be resolved without a prolonged defence which could turn easily into an argument.

        1. BK, OP #3 Here!*

          The COO did ask me to address the issues she brought up. I was pretty shocked, so at the time I politely told her that I was surprised by the comments, and if she could give me more specifics I would address them head on. However she didn’t give any examples, just kept repeating the same things over and over again: unprofessional, demeanor could be seen as uninterested, etc. It left me with little to say, so at the end of the conversation I told that I was sorry I was perceived that way, in no way was in disinterested in the position and of course felt I was being my most professional.

          To me it felt like a few things: I was being critiqued on my presentation of self—was it how I was sitting in the chair in the interview? Was I *too* confident? Too relaxed and at ease? I also felt like I was being asked to beg for the job.

          A few things to keep in mind for context: the media age at this non profit start up is 26. I am 29. The role was an ops/admin associate, and I was a bit overqualified for it. They even told me so. In some ways I felt like they were maybe being slightly ageist, like they were expecting some super young, fresh out of college person to apply, and here I was, 29 year old with lots of white hair coming in, sitting in front of people much younger than me who I’d be reporting to. I know I am speculating here, but my gut tells me it has something to do with age in some way. Also, I was interviewed by all women, and am a women myself. The fact that they were critiquing my “presentation of self,” I hate to say it—felt sexist and anti-feminist.

          1. Jinx*

            I think they gave you valuable information on what the job will be like, and you were right to back out of the process. It drives me nuts when people respond to “do you have an example” with repeating the general comments. :/

            1. Nobody*

              Yeah, I would be concerned about this, too. How would performance reviews go at this company? Is this one of those places where they’ll give you a low rating because you don’t smile enough?

          2. Anon for today*

            You’re very lucky they showed you this side before you joined them! You dodged a major bullet here. Good luck on your search.

          3. MissDisplaced*

            I think as most have said OP, it is a bullet dodged.
            I mean, it’s never easy to hear feedback that is not good… however, given the lack of more specific examples (you were slouching in your chair, texting through the entire interview, you didn’t shake their hands, etc., etc.) there isn’t much more to say or do. For *whatever* reason they just weren’t into you I guess, and/or one or two like you, but other do not.
            Could be age, but honestly though, 26 and 29 is not a huge age gap.

          4. Christian Troy*

            I’m the same age as you and every so often I end up interviewing for a job where it really feels like I’m “too old” for the role, not because I feel like I can’t and don’t want to do the work but because the people previously in the positions are in their early 20s. I don’t think your gut is off by thinking that your age may have something to do with it and while I’m not getting into discrimination off topics, the reality is I’ve heard enough interviewers make slip up comments about “someone my age” to know it is what it is.

            I think you made the right decision by pulling out of the process because it probably would only get more uncomfortable if you had to work with these people full time.

          5. voluptuousfire*

            Yep! Sounds about right. I posted below and perceived age can certainly come into play with startup environments. A few years ago and I worked at a startup and I was 34 and the median age of the people there was 27, with many skewing younger, just out of college. I happen to look younger than I am, but the age difference was obvious after awhile (different workstyles, me not interested in working 12+ hour days just because, etc).

            Also the person I reported to was 24 and I think a bit intimidated by having someone older report to her. That I think lead to a lot of awkwardness in our interactions.

  16. Hi, I'm OP #5!*

    Thanks for posting my question, Alison. Things with my old boss are moving quite quickly — she contacted me after the colleague floated the idea to her that I might be interested in coming back. We had an in-person conversation earlier this week. It wasn’t really an interview, but she did ask my salary expectations and said she would be getting back to me. I am not sure what to expect as the next step — a job offer/decline? Or a request for a cover letter and resume? If it’s the latter, any suggestions for how to write this? Should I edit out (my resume is already too long) some of the details of what I did at her organization (since she already knows) or should I keep that in because it’s the most relevant? If I am asked to submit a cover letter (would this be a weird request?) what should it say?

    1. Mookie*

      One thought, regarding how to handle the position on your resumé, is that more people are likely to be reading it than just your boss. If the turnover rate for the position is high since you left (and you really need to know why that is and if it applies to the rest of the department), you’ll want to highlight your previous accomplishments (and find out in advance if anything you implemented has changed, has been successful, or has been poorly received by new staff). Unless no one’s left or been hired since then, you probably shouldn’t neglect that. Morale may be low because of turnovers or the department may be wary about retaining new hires in your position only, so this is a great opportunity to reassure them of what you’re capable of (while demonstrating in the rest of your resumé what new skills you’ve acquired and what your accomplishments look like elsewhere). This is also where a cover letter might be helpful, if asked to provide one.

      1. Hi, I'm OP #5!*

        Thanks! Turnover has only been high for my old position. A few other folks in be org have moved on due to salary needs, but for my old position the reason people aren’t working out is that they just aren’t well-suited to the demands of the position. So that bodes well for me, since I *was* well-suited to the position when I was there and I suppose in my cover letter I can explain why I find the work to be a challenge — and one that I find well-suited to my skill set?

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          I had a former staff member return and our application rules meant they had to submit both a resume and cover letter.

          In her cover letter, she highlighted her achievements in the role and then discussed how the work of her current role (and her successes there) would translate to her position. She also had a sentence or two about how she could improve/grow the role she would return to.

          I appreciated that her letter demonstrated why she would want to come back and why we would want her back.

    2. John*

      I wouldn’t edit out the stuff you did in Old Job. After all, that’s the role they are looking to fill, so your resume needs to highlight your ability to do that job successfully. If your resume is properly accomplishments-focused, you can help refresh Old Boss’s memory about how good you were in the role.

      In the cover letter, I would reference your phone conversation and restate your interest in the role and why. (“As I hope I successfully conveyed on the phone, I’m excited to explore whether my return to the role would be a good fit for your organization. From my perspective, the timing of this opportunity seems fortuitous, for X and Y reasons.:)

    3. Naanwhal*

      OP 5, I was in a very similar position recently. I spoke to my old boss on the phone (she seemed to be expecting my call), I expressed my enthusiasm for returning, she clarified the role and sent me the internal ad. I then applied through HR with a cover letter and resume like I would for any other job. In my letter I focused on what I had been doing for the past 4 years and the skills I had learned, and finished by mentioning my previous role at the company, and what I had enjoyed there (the Company environment, professional development opportunities). I addressed the letter to my old boss but was aware that HR would vet it before passing it on to her. I went in for a formal interview because she likes to do things by the book, and was offered the job one hour later :)

  17. Another Day Another Dollar*

    #1. My hope is that any change in the company policy on nepotism is not just up to the CFO but would need to be reviewed by other executives as well. The CFO’s judgment appears really off and if she worked for me would raise a lot of red flags; however, it doesn’t mean it will for her boss. In any future discussion of this change, I would keep it strictly factual and focused on disadvantages to the company. If there are any advantages (can’t think of any), they should be mentioned too. With someone like this CFO, I’m guessing how it looks will be important so another piece of any discussion might be standards and policies in comparable companies or in the field. I’m sorry your boss threw you under the bus, OP, but it may be an indication to you of how your boss thinks the politics will play out here….

  18. Newbie*

    LW #4: In addition to Alison’s advice for clarifying the expectation for phone coverage, consider the impact to your workload for any conversations with your own boss. It’s one thing to be annoyed at having worked dumped on you unnecessarily (I certainly would be annoyed). But linking that to the impact to your work could more quickly lead to resolution. Handling phone calls for the lawyer could mean you’re not available to answer your own phone, complete tasks timely, etc. Whatever the situation is, convey to your boss that you’re not able to effectively and efficiently complete the work you were hired to do when you have to cover for the secretary while she’s on personal calls.

  19. hbc*

    OP1: I’m sure your email felt like an attack…because there are just so many things wrong with what she’s doing. I’d separate them out and deal with each aspect individually.

    -Giving a relative preferential treatment/giving one intern money/paying an intern more than staff. Surely a morale issue, but probably not your call to make, and certainly not illegal. I’d let it lie, but depending on your structure, the head of HR or the CEO might need to be looped in.
    -Paying someone from another department’s budget. Is that possible? Who needs to approve budget movements like that?
    -Changing the policy. I actually don’t mind when a particular issue comes up and it causes people to realize a policy has problems that require a rewrite, but it needs to go through a process. I sure hope there’s a process for this beyond an executive getting to wave away rules they don’t like. Follow the process.
    -Conflict of interest. This is a Big Deal. I cannot even imagine an auditor’s reaction to finding that the person in compliance reviewing the CFO’s numbers is related to the CFO, got forced in on a quickie policy change, and is being paid out of the CFO’s budget. Tell everyone you can think of who might care (legal, CEO, head of HR), both because it’s the right thing to do and because you need it on the record that you aren’t responsible even if you end up being forced to make it happen.

    1. Mary*

      I agree. The conflict of interest is a very big deal and you in HR need to put your hand up and say this is not right. Which you did in your email response. So push the issue on up to your boss or your bosses boss, as you said your supervisor caved.

      Stick to the facts
      I was asked to do this, here is my reply. My concern is that this breaches our policies on x x x and we are exposing the company to serious risk with regards to external financial auditing in the future or x x x Please let me know what further actions I should take.

      So get your bosses boss to follow up with you and take responsibility for the mess. Copy all interested parties, to keep it all out there in the open.

      Best of luck.

    2. Jeanne*

      Paying one intern and not others could actually raise a legal issue. There is a law about when interns need to be paid and when they don’t. If one gets paid the rest might be able to sue for payment under the law.

      But of course the conflict of interest is the worst.

  20. AnotherHRPro*

    OP #1: First of all, all of the issues you raised are very valid and you are right to be concerned. My only feedback would be that you probably should have had an initial conversation with your boss about your concerns vs. sending it via email. After that conversation, a follow-up email documenting your concerns would have been fine. I have found when you disagree with something a conversation allows for a back and for discussion of the issues and while you would raise the same exact points, it allows for your manager to tactfully change their perspective without a written document out there where you are disagreeing with them. Yes, this is managing up and it is requiring you to be political, but the situation you are in is very political.

    So, where do you go from here? You raised the issue and documented your disagreement. You could possibly raise the issue with your manager’s boss (I’m guessing the CEO) or you can go into damage control and figure out ways to minimize the conflict of interest and risk to your organization.

    1. KR*

      OP says in the letter that they had another coworker read over their letter before they sent it and that previous to when the unethical boss came down and threw a fit, the boss agreed with them.

  21. Bend & Snap*

    #1 I’d simultaneously flag for the CEO and be job hunting to haul ass out of there. That is crazy. And awful.

  22. LawCat*

    Wow, #1, terrible situation to be in. Unlike others, I wouldn’t die on this hill. I’d reiterate my concerns to my supervisor, but go with whatever call the supervisor made with no bypassing to the supervisor’s boss. Whistleblowers can find themselves fired and, worst, blackballed in their line of work. Not worth the risk in my book.

    I’d be looking for a new job if this goes through though. That would be my remedy. No way I’d want to keep working for my supervisor or a company that breaches ethical rules.

    Also, if word gets out (and it almost always does), this whole thing will make for some bad morale amongst interns who don’t get paid, actual employees earnings less, and everyone who remembers that whole ethical/conflict of interest thing they had to abide by.

    1. Temperance*

      I honestly think that bringing this intern onboard is going to cause bad blood even without anyone finding out about his pay. It’s going to be obvious that he didn’t earn his spot.

  23. Bea W*

    “You need to work on your communucation.” = “You need to work on understanding the CFO pitches a fit when she doesn’t get her way and will be allowed to make everyone’s lives miserable if she meets reasonable resistance to her sketchy demands.”

    This reminds me of a CFO and a bunch of other high level execs at a former employer. It was a nightmare for anyone who wanted to advance their career while being ethical at the same time. If no one has your back you might want to keep your eyes peeled for other oppurtunities outside the company. This is really bad news.

  24. Jinx*

    “(And you don’t deliberately rewrite a conflict of interest policy to allow someone to commit a conflict of interest.)”

    My jaw dropped to the floor when I read that bit of OP’s letter. The proper response to “this is unethical” is definitely NOT “just rewrite our definition of ethical”.

  25. Temperance*

    Re #1: LW, I’m glad that you spoke up, even though you’re working at an organization with apparently no ethics. It makes me really angry when children of privilege get special treatment, even moreso when the privilege is this egregious. You appear to be the only person with a backbone and any semblance of integrity.

    Re #2: LW, do NOT talk about your experiences in therapy in interviews! It won’t show that you have been through a lot and persevered, but that you are ignorant of professional norms. It will suggest that you will be similarly inappropriate on the job and maybe an over-sharer.

    1. Chinook*

      “Re #1: LW, I’m glad that you spoke up, even though you’re working at an organization with apparently no ethics.”

      I have to disagree that the actions of the compliance officer means the whole organization has no ethics. After all, the OP and the colleague who read over her letter do otherwise it wouldn’t be a letter to AAM. Right now, there is only proof that the Compliance Officer is unethical and the CFO has asked said Compliance Officer about hiring their son has an intern (because we don’t know what the CFO would have said if they were told “no, don’t do it” and are just assuming this policy change is coming from them). Judgment about the ethics of her employer should be withheld until she see the reactions of those above the CFO.

  26. Cass*

    I think I’ll soon find myself in a very similar position to OP#5. I tried negotiating for a bit more money and it didn’t work out. I’ve increased my experience a lot since I left – hoping if I apply and get the job again I can merit the increase this time.

    1. Jeanne*

      I actually despise that companies make you do this. You have to leave to come back with the promotion and raise you deserved when you left.

  27. regina phalange*

    I would love to see an update from OP1. Everything about that is not okay. Good for you for pushing back and how horrible of your boss to just roll over and play dead when the VP of Compliance threw a fit. That is definitely a hill I would die on. So many things wrong there.

  28. Erin*

    #2 – If I’m reading this correctly, you’ve been out of work for a few months or so to work on these personal issues. No, I don’t think you should get into therapy at a job interview, but you do need to have some sort of explanation for why you’ve been out of work. If you haven’t been volunteering or freelancing or taking a class – or otherwise keeping one foot in the door to the working world – you’ll have to think of something else.

    Alison, I know it wasn’t the OP’s exact question, but what should her explanation be when asked at an interview why she’s been unemployed for a little while? Would taking time off for a personal or a family matter be sufficient enough, or would that still be too…personal?

    1. Judy*

      I think usually it’s “Taking time off to deal with a medical issue that has been resolved”.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Couldn’t you just say you’ve had the luxury of taking some time before looking for your next job? I feel like up to six months that wouldn’t seem so off.

  29. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: OP, This is what I would do:

    1. Print out hard copies of all emails relating to this and take them home.
    2. Forward all emails relating to this to your personal email account.
    3. If your company has an ethics/compliance hotline, call it and report this issue. At my company, there is a whole department that handles these sorts of things that is completely independent and reports directly to the board.
    4. Start looking for a new job.
    5. When you resign, deliver copies of everything directly to the CEO, and the audit committee, if your company has one.

  30. Observer*

    #1 Don’t change the policy. This is going to blow up, and if your name is on the policy change YOU are going to be the one to take the fall. Your argument is that you are not the one who can make this change. Yes, you are in HR, but policy changes of this sort must come from the top and should include the CEO, head of HR and the head of Legal.

    As someone else noted, if you have a compliance officer, then you are almost certainly in a sector with a fair amount of regulation. Which means that there are also rules around what your personnel and conflict of interest policies need to look like. In fact, this is the kind of thing that the Board should probably be involved in. I’d certainly want to make sure they are aware of this. I’d also think about reporting the change, if it happens, the relevant regulating bodies, if you can do so safely.

    Something here is a bit unclear – are the VP of Compliance and the CFO the same person, or two people? And who pushed you, the CFO or Compliance VP? In any case, it strikes me that there are some significant issues at the top of your organization. That would worry me enough to seriously think about looking for new opportunities anyway.

  31. voluptuousfire*

    #3…I’m not surprised that you ran into this at a startup (even a non-profit startup). I’ve interviewed extensively with them and not all of them have the best track record when it comes to candidate experience. Some startups have that “you should be damned glad we deigned to interview you!” mindset and if you don’t appear to drink the Kool Aid during the interview, it’s held against you.

    You ultimately dodged a bullet, OP #3.

    1. BK, OP #3 Here!*

      Yes! “You should be damned glad we deigned to interview you!” Is definitely the vibe I was getting. They are obviously a newish org and are in the process of scaling, and I think that has a lot to do with all of this.

  32. StellsBells*

    RE: #2 – there are instances where talking about mental health struggles in an interview can remain in the boundaries of professionalism, but they are few and far between.

    I often talk about my Social Anxiety Disorder when asked about overcoming adversity in interviews, but when I talk about it I discuss the things I’ve done professionally to help grow out of those shortcomings (as if it were any other banal personality flaw). So I talk about how I took certain jobs or roles because they would force me to deal with this issue since I’m always driven by my need to do well in my job. BUT, in the interview I don’t go into deal on how I dealt with it in terms of my therapy or in my private life. I did a lot of that too, but it isn’t relevant to the conversation.

    So I think it would be OK to mention overcoming a particular issue if you can tie it to your work experience – so you might be able to talk about how you personally had issues with a particular blind spot (say dealing with really difficult people) that you were able to work on and move past. You don’t need to discuss that you had a hard time dealing with difficult people because it triggered memories of an abusive parent so you went to therapy and can now disassociate coworkers from that period in your life.

    If you aren’t sure you can discuss it without it getting too personal, though, then better safe than sorry and don’t mention it. Just talk about how you took time off to deal with a medical issue (or personal issue) but you maximized that time off by working on gaining new skills X, Y, and Z.

  33. TootsNYC*

    ” He will be doing financial auditing on behalf of compliance.”

    Would you really have an intern doing financial auditing? Back when I had copyediting interns, they were never the final proofreader; I would never rely on an intern to do actual, meaningful work.

    Maybe that’s what’s happening here, that he’ll do the audit work, and a full-timer will then re-do the work and provide feedback.

    But it’s just such a tricky part.

    I want to know what dirt the CFO has on the compliance officer.

  34. TootsNYC*

    #1: “She then asked us to let her know if we had any issues with the arrangement.”

    Um, yeah….

    That wasn’t what she meant to say. She meant to say, “Tell me it’s OK so I can say I got your approval before I went ahead.”

  35. MommaTRex*

    #1 – You ARE living in a twilight zone. The zone is centered and focused around your work place. That is crazy stuff. If you were living out here with the rest of us in the normal world, your response would be lauded as intelligent, ethical, and appreciated. You may want to consider firing your employer as your employer and joining us.
    MommaTRex, CPA

  36. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2. NO. Do not discuss therapy. Red flag. Sirens. Klaxons. Bells. Whistles. Etc.

    That could SCARE the hell out of an interviewer — because – he/she is reading “this person has serious baggage which, we really don’t want to bring in house.”

    And if you bring it up in an interview, it shows poor judgement… even if your interviewer is sympathetic, and even if he/she has gone through the same thing.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah, I’ve been in therapy too and I would be so uncomfortable if someone else started talking about theirs. It’s so personal. It’s also like talking about your dreams – really nobody finds it as interesting or insightful as you do.

    2. Awkially Socward*

      And aside from the above mentioned issue of being comfortable, even people who have undergone therapy can still have issues with people who have undergone therapy: when *they* went, it was because they were undergoing a seriously upsetting time – when *other people* go, it’s because they’re unstable and weak minded.

  37. ginger ale for all*

    There is one other point about LW 1 that hasn’t been mentioned yet – the awkwardness that the son might feel working there. I once candy striped at the hospital that my mom worked at and I desperately tried to get assigned to any department other than my mom’s. I hated it when there was no other choice but hers. I hated how some of the people who knew who I was treated me. I wonder if the son’s enthusiasm matches his mothers or is this something mommy told him to do.

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