how to manage someone who wanted your job

A reader writes:

I’m starting a new management position where I will be the boss. My new manager wants a clear cut idea of how I will be walking in and starting off. According to my new boss, one of the people working there may have some resentment toward me — I am replacing a person who has been her boss, mentor and friend for a number of years and apparently she wanted my job.

My approach to a new situation is to feel out where she is coming from and how well she’ll work with me. I will rely on her pretty heavily initially and I would prefer a team effort — however, my boss wants to know in the next couple of days what exactly I will do to move this situation forward quickly and efficiently.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read my answer here.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Cake Name

    >I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today,

    there’s only one letter

    1. Kate

      Ok good! I was wondering if it just wasn’t loading on my phone, or how I was missing the other letters!

  2. Susan

    Alison gives such good advice. I think the “don’t assume anything” is spot on.

    My thoughts is I wonder if the former manager is feeling awkward about not giving the position to someone who was her friend.

    At my first job out of college, *everyone* was friends. It was weird in retrospect. I still see former coworkers post on Facebook and they’re constantly at events outside of work together, and it seems like they’re genuinely friend-friends not just work friends. That made the environment in the office very fun, but it also makes it hard to reprimand anyone. And when promotions came around, it was also very awkward because people took things personally.

    Because the letter writer said the former manager and employee x were friends, I wonder if it crossed into this blurred territory, and she just feels awkward for not hiring her. It can feel a bit like betrayal. But she is right to hire the right person for the job. I think it’s not impossible that while employee x feels a little hurt, she won’t express any animosity against the new manager, and the former manager just feels awkward and is giving advice from that place. It’s also possible that employee x will be resentful, but I think it’s unhealthy to go into the work situation with that sort of me-vs-you assumption.

  3. Engineer Girl

    I’d add more to the suggestion. It’s possible that she’s well qualified and doesn’t understand why she didn’t get the job. Maybe it’s because she was too closely aligned with the old boss and management wanted a different direction. Maybe she was fooling herself on her qualifications. Maybe she has a huge blind spot in her behavior. Maybe someone higher up doesn’t like her and is holding her back even though she’s the most qualified candidate. Or maybe the hiring committee is discriminatory. You need to find out so you can work this issue. Management is concerned – either she’s expressed objections to how the position was filled or management knows they screwed her over and are worried how she’ll react.
    I think it’s wrong to tell her to suck it up and get in line. As an internal candidate she needs to know why she didn’t get the job. As her new manager you should help her work on those deficiencies. You’ll end up with a better employee.
    I’d schedule a meeting with her and lay it out on the table. “I heard that you applied for this job too. I want to help you get ready for the next opportunity when it becomes available.” And do just that.
    If, in the meantime, she gets snarky then it’s time to have the conversation about getting in line. But not until then.

    1. TootsNYC

      I’d schedule a meeting with her and lay it out on the table. “I heard that you applied for this job too. I want to help you get ready for the next opportunity when it becomes available.” And do just that.

      That’s exactly what I did. In fact, I met her -before- I started.

    2. A Bug!

      Yes, I agree that there may be a possible (c) explanation: there’s reason for the employee to have a legitimate beef over how the hiring process was handled, and the OP’s new manager knows it, but isn’t being upfront about it. Of course it’s too late now, but hopefully OP was alert to that possibility.

    3. SJ McMahon

      At an old job, someone who was hired for a position for which I was an internal candidate did this, with a slight twist. He said, “I can’t figure out why I have this job and you don’t, because you’re clearly just as qualified as I am. I know you want to advance, and I want to help you do it. I’m going to need your help, too, in order to succeed here.”

      While I’d felt stung that I hadn’t gotten the job, I wasn’t about to take it out on him – for all I knew (before he said this) he was a more qualified candidate, and acting unprofessionally would have gotten me nowhere in any case. But his approach shifted our relationship and my entire situation for the better. Instead of competitors, we became allies. I became more motivated to better my situation, and his candor and our ensuing professional relationship ten years ago is one reason I’m in the job I am now – a job that suits me far better than the old one in every possible way!

  4. Brett

    This was unbelievable timely. I was promoted yesterday, and my boss informed me right away that one of the people I am managing wanted the position. Now I don’t have to search the archives :)

  5. TootsNYC

    In this letter, I find myself frustrated that the new boss is putting all the responsibility on the OP.

    Alison, you’ve said many times that when an internal candidate doesn’t get the job they’ve applied for, it behooves the internal hiring manager to give feedback to the candidate. They don’t owe this consideration to an outside candidate, but it’s crucial w/ an inside candidate. And especially in THIS case, where there’s a hint it could be an issue.

    The new boss needs to tell the OP what HIS plan is for how to approach this–that’s where this plan should start. Have they told this woman why she didn’t get the job?

    And, how can the OP have a plan when she hasn’t even met this woman yet?

    I manage someone who applied for my job; it was sort of a big break with tradition that she wasn’t promoted. I asked why they weren’t promoting her (I had lots of experience being the department head, and she’d never been one; it was a time of reinventing the management of things, so the rationale was pretty clear).
    I asked *them* how they were going to handle it; I felt this framework was what they owed me for putting me in that situation, and because they are supposed to set me up to succeed.
    And because the first step in managing an employee in her position is to clearly frame the whole situation. And the new manager can’t do that; the folks who hired her need to.

    1. Catz

      This is my thought too. The new boss is putting what seems like a lot of pressure on nee hire to address an issue that she hasn’t even seen in acton yet. If it’s not a big deal, then a simple precaution would suffice. If it is a big deal, then new boss should either deal with it or offer suggestions and resources for new hire to deal with it. As it is now, seems weird.

  6. AnotherHRPro

    I’ve been in this situation. First of all, I treated her just like everyone else on the team. When I first started the role, I met with each of my new team members to learn more about them, their work, what they liked, what they didn’t, what their career aspirations where, etc. With this person, we talked at length about what skills and abilities were needed to advance into my position (which she was still interested in) and I committed to working with her to develop those skills and abilities. The reality is she probably does not have the capability to do the job but while I was her manager we did worked together to give her opportunities to enhance her skills and broaden her exposure so that she understood the position and what was required. While our working relationship started out a little rocky (at one point I just called her out on the fact that we didn’t have as strong of a working relationship as I would hope) it improved greatly and by the time I left the role, she was one of my biggest advocates.

    1. GreenTeaPot

      I’ve been there, too. I tried some of those tactics, but she resigned after I’d been on the job a month and tried to make it look like my fault. Sometimes you can’t win.

  7. Boboccio

    Slightly different scenario… what if the work environment is one that doesn’t support terminations? Highly unionized, or no management support? What does a supervisor do with a resentful employee then, knowing the employee may be there for a long time?

  8. alano

    I’ve been on both sides of this at different points in my career. One thing I appreciated was when my new manager (who got the role I was interested in) acknowledged that I had more technical and institutional knowledge than she did and showed that she really appreciated the support and information I was able to give her. She had much more management experience, and her people skills were definitely more polished (which is why she got the role), but she didn’t walk in pretending like she knew more than me on the technical side of things. For instance, she would sometimes ask me how I would handle certain situations. Or she would ask for my impressions of certain vendors and departments in our company who I’d worked with in the past. Or sometime she would flat out say “I think this is an area where you have more experience than I do, what do you think?” She made me feel appreciated, so it was hard to resent her.

    I think it’s important to bear in mind that if someone wanted the role and didn’t get it, they may not “resent” you per se. Rather, their ego has been hurt, and you may need to be sensitive to that at first by showing them that their work, knowledge, and abilities are appreciated. Obviously you’re not there to manage their feelings, but I think being sensitive to it (esp. in the first few months) could help you get off on the right foot.

    1. TootsNYC

      This is what I tried to do as well.
      There were many, many reasons that she was good at her job, and I capitalized on that and promoted it.

      Your situation has a lot of parallels to mine; I come across more authoritative, but I didn’t have as much knowledge of the specific institution.

  9. Mickey Q

    I had this happen. The person who wanted my job was not qualified. She tried to turn it into a racial thing. I had to fire her (after I build a solid case). It was ugly.

  10. Thomas E

    I could be wrong… But at least part of me is wondering whether the feedback system has historically been good in this company.

    I mean, you’d only be resentful if you feel you’ve been badly treated.

    If you know your weaknesses/why you weren’t hired/how to improve in the future then I can see disappointed but not resentful.

    Ultimately, part of the answer to this question is that the employee needs to know why they weren’t hired.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      You would think most people know their own weaknesses, but sometimes people are surprisingly unaware. But yes, she should be told why she didn’t get it.

  11. Mena

    I had the pleasure of taking a position managing a person that wanted my job; she was told to not even apply, that she would not be considered.
    I walked in with an open mind and I’m so glad that I did. I acknowledged her value, described what I needed from her, respected her experience and stood back to see how she’d handle the situation. She was helpful, sensitive to what I needed to be successful, did her work and thrived. I think she chose to see me as an opportunity for her (and I hope that I was) and not an obstacle. In her tenure on my team (more than 5 years), she advanced her skills and grew professionally.
    My suggestion is to not judge this person based on your soon-to-be-boss’s comments. Rather, focus on her as a person/professional/employee and see how SHE handles the situation. Although disappointed with not getting the position, she may recognize that this isn’t your fault at all, nor is it your fault that her boss/mentor is no longer in the role. Give her a chance because her success is really up to her. (and write us back if there are problems OR send us a positive update!)

  12. insert witty name here

    Yeah, I feel like the blanket, “resentment is not professional” may be assuming feedback was provided, etc.

  13. JunieByTheSea

    I was the employee in a similar case. The former manager was grooming me to take her place. When she left, the position was filled with a ‘friend’ of the managing director. She had no experience in the field (service oriented) and relied heavily on me to help her do her job. Unlike the poster above who appreciated this, I began to resent her. Why was I doing her job and wasn’t good enough to be promoted? She would forward me emails and ask me how to answer, she would direct my peers to me when they had any questions or issues, and would then decide she wanted to micromanage the team, and would drive us all crazy work her unreasonable and uninformed demands (remember she didn’t know her job).
    It was toxic and I had to leave for my sanity. Her and the managing director begged me not to leave, but I couldn’t pass up an amazing opportunity to get out of that situation.

    1. Amadeo

      Yeah, my sister is currently in this situation. She did all the prep she needed to take her supervisor’s position when that supervisor retired, including an advanced degree. And instead, the supervisor, who knew my sister would have liked to step into her shoes, and had apparently got along well with her, instead arranged it so that supervisor’s friend would be hired into the position as interim, and somehow managed to do it without the friend having the required degrees.

      Replacement doesn’t seem to quite know what she’s doing and I don’t think made any effort to befriend my sister and resentment abounds.

    2. TootsNYC

      She had no experience in the field (service oriented) and relied heavily on me to help her do her job. Unlike the poster above who appreciated this, I began to resent her.

      I think one difference might be that the poster above *did* have some serious strengths in that job. There were only subsets where the subordinate was better than the boss.

      I do sometimes worry that I might spark some resentment if I rely too heavily on the person who applied for my job. And I get insecure if I mess up in front of her. But we’ve really created a good, collegial situation.

    3. Mary

      Me too. I shouldered a big portion of the retiring boss’ workload for years before he left, while also creating new service models and pushing our stats into the stratosphere. They went with one of their bright young things when they hired my boss’ replacement, someone I had mentored years before. I decided within three hours of being told I would leave as soon as I found a viable exit. The new supervisor wasn’t incompetent, but there was no way I was going to spend another chunk of my career letting my work potentially reflect favorably on someone else. It took four months, but I got out. Before that I decided not to act out or be uncooperative and not to undermine the new head. Polite, professional, grown-up and out the door…it worked for me.

      1. voyager1

        Had the same thing happen to me. No point in getting bitter, just leave let new boss with no experience figure it out. In my case I left in 2013, and the job that I applied for came open again 16 months later. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming, sometimes you actually have to know how things work and having “managment experience” isn’t enough.

  14. MissDisplaced

    Like Alano above, I also have been on both sides of this.

    Coming in as manager with someone who wanted the job. I was also told in advance and told why the person did get it. In this case it wasn’t too difficult as: a) the person didn’t have a 4-year college degree, and b) person didn’t have any previous experience managing a department. As we worked together, it became clear that while the person was wonderfully creative, they didn’t really like doing administrative tasks (budgets, documentation, cost analysis, etc.) or working overtime and traveling (they had young children), and they eventually saw that I was their backup and go-between on this not-as-fun stuff that allowed them to do the fun creative stuff. When I could, I gave them opportunity to do some of these other things and learn about them. I think they came to realize being a manager is not all it’s cracked up to be. It also helped that I did know how to do everything the team did, and I was not adverse to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work if needed. I never asked them to do something I wasn’t willing or able to do myself and set reasonable deadlines for work.

    Current: My manager left and I’ve been essentially boss-less for over a year. I didn’t expressly “want my manager’s job,” or expect I would be promoted. Nevertheless doing the best I could to take on much of their work after they left WITH NO HELP or reduction in my existing workload, or even the authority or ability to spend on external resources. Recently I got a new manager, and truthfully this transition in reporting structure was handled horribly as it was not initially presented they would be my manager or even a replacement for OldBoss (totally different job title).

    New manager seems ok and is knowledgeable (in a different way) than me, so I’m not opposed to this and respect that. However, it does often grate on me that the attitude/feeling is that “everything previous was wrong, and why wasn’t more happening on X and Y in the company,” and that is the assumption even though as I’ve mentioned I was one person trying to fill the shoes of two positions with no resources (a companywide issue not just my department). Moreover, NewBoss is well, NEW, and trying to prove themselves by instituting a lot of changes. As such, they tend to go along with everything certain other parties want–without necessarily knowing the history and background of why things were done a certain way or why maybe certain things should not be changed. I get wanting to look good and show results quickly, but essentially OldBoss knew when and what to push back on or say no to and NewBoss will not push back on anything.
    I still work just as hard for NewBoss to try and make things work, but I’m beginning to feel this is an untenable situation and I should just move on as I see little future here anymore for me. The dynamic of the company has really changed both internally and externally. It’s a shame too. I really loved this job, my coworkers and many other things about it. But sometimes you find too much change too fast is not a space you can reside in.

  15. Milton Waddams

    An agreement, maybe — if she helps you get promoted to the next level up, you will make sure she goes up with you. Otherwise, the temptation will be to get you fired in order to replace you.

  16. Laura

    I’ve been the employee. I agree with the suggestion to help her with her deficiencies and get her ready for the next step. I found an ideal next step internally and never got called in for an interview, which surprised me. At the time, I had to tell him whenever I applied to an internal position. One day in the elevator, I ran into a former intern. Manager had trained her by telling her to do what I said. Found out that, manager had called her and told her to apply, then called HR to say she was the ideal candidate. Do not act like this.

  17. Chaordic One

    You need to be very careful that you don’t rely too heavily on her to do your job for you. Although it is not clearly stated, there is a good chance that if she received some training for your job from your predecessor, she was not only expecting to get your job, but had actually started doing some of its tasks and functions.

    You don’t want to put her in the position of where, having assumed some of the responsibilities of your job, she does not receive any recognition (or modest pay raise) for doing so. If she ends up, not just passed over, but having to do more work, it’s a double suck for her and she probably won’t be around for very long for you to rely on.

  18. Mehul @ Search Results Media

    I do sometimes worry that I might spark some resentment if I rely too heavily on the person who applied for my job. And I get insecure if I mess up in front of her. But we’ve really created a good situation. There is saying “Eveything happens for good”. So we just have to confident and roads will open up by itself.

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