I’m supposed to interview my ex for a job

A reader writes:

I’m assisting in the hiring for an open position at my company. Unless I change departments (which is feasible), this new hire will be my direct supervisor. I’m mid-level and the position is senior but not executive level.

Someone I dated a few years ago is applying for the position and is likely to be a candidate we want to interview. We only dated for about six months and it ended amicably. I think he might be great at the job, and I’d be very comfortable working with him but uncomfortable with him being my boss. Do I interview him just like I would any other candidate? Do I excuse myself due to a personal relationship? If he is hired, is there a way to work out the situation without the whole office knowing we used to be together?

My ex knows the situation, but he also knows I am considering leaving the company within the next year or so for other reasons entirely. At this point, I’m most concerned about how to handle the interview process because I think there will be options for altering my reporting structure if it gets to that point.

I answer this question — and four others — 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 it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • How to turn down an employee’s request for training
  • Company removed my name from my work after I stopped working there
  • I’m quitting, but my employer wants me to stay on to finish a project
  • Dealing with frequent blushing at work

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Jerry Vandesic*

    #4, if you do in fact go down the contractor route, make sure you price it out at an appropriate rate. It sounds like your manager wants to pay you the same amount as your currently being paid, but doing it hourly. That’s not how it works. You need to figure out your current hourly rate, and then increase this number to account for benefits and self-employment taxes as well as the temporary nature of the job. My suggestion would be to triple your existing rate, so if you are currently making $40/hour, your contractor rate would be $120/hour.

    1. esra*

      I came to say exactly this. I’ve worked for people before who think they can just contract out at the same rate, not taking into account a full time job means they do payroll/taxes, you have benefits, you have the security of full time employment etc etc. My contracting rate would be at least 2x, but I think Jerry is right with 3x, the full time employment rate.

    2. Emilia Bedelia*

      That’s not really what’s happening here though-the boss is proposing that the employee stay on part time, which is really different from contracting. The employer would still pay all the taxes associated- the OP would just work fewer hours doing the same thing for the same amount of money.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        It sounded like the employee didn’t want to stay on as a part timer, but might be willing to do some contracting. I agree with others that the employee probably shouldn’t agree to stick around, and certainly not as a part timer. If they do decide to do some contracting the price for the contracting (not part-time) needs to rise significantly .

    3. Artemesia*

      You really need to just say no here. You owe them nothing. They are driving you out with bad management and now want to nickel dime you and remain a drag on your new life. No. Complete sentence.

      IF you actually want to do it as a contractor then absolutely triple the rate. No way you do this for your old salary figured hourly (without benefits, their part of FICA, retirement etc.) They are once again trying to hose you.

      NO. Just no. You want to get away from the jerk, so GET AWAY from the jerk.

  2. Not Karen*

    #2 I’m not sure why you refer to the fact that the training is “beyond his scope of work” as “an excuse” when it’s a perfectly valid reason to deny training. Why should a company pay for training that’s not applicable to the job? (Assuming his request was that the training be paid for, not just for the time off to go.) This past summer my manager sent me the list of available summer courses and asked if I was interested in any of them. I said, “I’d love to take the class in X, but I don’t think it has anything to do with my job.” She said, “You’re right, it doesn’t.” and I didn’t take it. Case closed.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      Also, the LW seems straight up afraid of the employee. What is happening that you/your company is kowtowing to someone who throws tantrums?

      1. Artemesia*

        This a good manager doesn’t get bullied by a problem employee year after year. Either you are not managing this employee or your organization is not allowing appropriate management. The answer is ‘No I can’t approve that as it is not job appropriate and we don’t have funds for things that aren’t.’ And if there is a ‘big fuss’ then that is step one in long overdue progressive discipline.

    2. BRR*

      Yeah that’s a really old reason to deny training. If it is a better employee than in the letter you can search for an appropriate training. But the goal is to get something for the money you spent to attend.

    3. Vicki*

      But it isn’t “case closed” for many (good) employees at many companies with good managers. Professional development isn’t always about your _current_ job.

      1. Annonymouse*

        It depends on the course though.

        If your a vet (for example) that deals mainly with cats and dogs because that’s your specialty and you want to go to a course about tropical fish diseases.

        It is outside the scope of your job but not unrelated and could help both the company and you – but you need to balance potential future gains against current and future demands and your budget.

        If you’re a vet and you want to attend a course on graphic design or urban planning then no. That makes zero amounts of sense and had no benefit to your company.

  3. Florida*

    #4 – I’ve done a lot of ghostwriting. I have a ton of writing samples, like op-eds or speeches, that were signed or presented as someone else. It has never been an issue. Most companies understand that the president of the company does not write her own stuff. Or you might write something, but it goes under the byline of the medical director because she has more credibility related to that topic. I understand wanting to have your name on it, but you won’t have an issue explaining it to people.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      I haven’t done any writing — ghost or other — but I would say that if you want samples in your portfolio, then you should print PDFs of the page, or take screengrabs, which you could then save in the folder you kept your original and revisions in. You will not be allowed to post them on your own site because they technically don’t belong to you, but you would have them if someone needed to see them.

      Also, if someone really wants “proof” that you did the work, or doesn’t understand the concept of writing for another person to a point that it’s impossible to satisfy them, you don’t want to be working for this person.

  4. Workfromhome*

    #2 in the OPs defense with “longtime problem” employees there is often a reason they have been there a long time despite the problems. Maybe an upper level manager, CEO etc who is their friend and protects them, company policies /union make it very difficult to get rid of long-term people. While tantrums are never appropriate its very hard to stop them if the employee has gotten away with it for years and management doesn’t support you in trying to change them. Sometimes the “right thing” isn’t the realistic thing. If you don’t have the power to manage the tantrum and you know its coming then maybe just manage the outcome. Send a short email saying request for this course declined subject matter out of scope. Send it on a Friday afternoon when you will leave early or be out of the office. Let them have their tantrum without you and have the weekend to cool down.

    #4 I agree don’t do it. One of the best things about leaving a bad job is leaving the bad people behind completely. Trust me it can take weeks or even MONTHS to decompress from toxic jobs even if your new one is great. I know that even after nearly 4 months I still catch myself thinking “Man I need to quit this awful job” and then realize WAIT I did quit and my new job is great.

    If you must do it (maybe you need the $??) then once again agree that you need to be the one dictating the rules under which you will continue not the old boss. You don’t work there anymore so you are now a business of 1 setting your own rules for what you will do and how much you charge. What they paid you when you worked for them isn’t relevant. If they want to pay that rate they need to have an employee do it. if they can’t they need to pay your rate to get it done. Do it as a contractor and make the contract very clear what you control and what you will and wont do and stick to it. You work on that project only. If they ask you for anything outside it they need to pay.

    1. C Average*

      I agree with you re: #4. I know it’s hard to walk away from a project you’ve sunk a lot of time and effort into; there’s the whole sunk-cost thing, plus the sense of ownership you develop when you spend a lot of time on something and presumably care about the outcome. But the outcome is your former employer’s problem now, not yours, and it doesn’t sound like you’d be leaving them in the lurch in such a way that it would impact the kind of reference they give you. Let them figure this out. Go forth. Be happy in your new job. Go get your dog (to use an AAM-ism I’ve adopted as my personal mantra for seizing opportunity and happiness).

    2. Critter*

      That’s what I thought about #2. In my experiences, if a problem person has been somewhere for years, it’s usually because of a particular person in management, and a culture that encourages it. I’d see if there’s a person that is responsible for this problem person being around and see if you can’t get them to temper the situation a bit.

  5. Graciosa*

    I disagree about assuming that you can use work in your portfolio that is owned by an employer; this can absolutely require explicit permission that you cannot presume to have.

    There are jurisdictions that require special language to require you to give up the right to claim that you created a work (moral rights). However, every company I’ve worked for has included this language in documents every employee is required to sign.

    I think the OP in this case should ask for permission to include it in her portfolio (and this request may be much more understandable to the company and willingly granted when a request to put the name of a former employee back on the web site would not be).

    1. AMT*

      If an employee signs something that says they won’t use work they produce in their portfolio, is that actually legally binding (assuming they’re an employee and not a contractor)? Might that be considered a contract without consideration?

      1. Graciosa*

        Yes, it’s binding (regardless of whether it’s an employee or a contractor).

        The consideration is that they get paid.

        1. AMT*

          Sure, but not everything you sign when you start a new job is legally binding. Courts have ruled that certain non-compete agreements, for example, are unenforceable because they lack adequate consideration. It’s possible that OP’s employer can’t legally prevent her from taking credit for this work (though reproducing the work in an online portfolio might be a different matter).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            In this case, I think it would be binding if you signed it at the start of the job. It’s not uncommon to say “the work you produce here is for our use only and can’t be shared outside the company.” That said, more often than not, employers specifically allow for this type of use.

            1. AMT*

              Got it. But wouldn’t taking credit for the work (e.g. “Wrote two articles for EmployerBlog.com titled ‘Make Teapots at Home’ and ‘More Fun With Teapots'”) be different than actually including the work itself in a portfolio? Can an employer prevent you from saying that you wrote a particular publicly-available piece of writing?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, although that would be extremely unusual (think secret ghostwriter arrangements for celebrity books where they don’t want the writer taking credit).

              2. MsChanandlerBong*

                I have NDAs with almost all of my clients, which is a real PITA when I am trying to land new projects. I have written tons of stuff for big brands (think major retailers, home-improvement companies, etc.), but I can’t show any of it to anyone, and I am not even supposed to say I wrote for those companies.

                1. Dynamic Beige*

                  Someone I know is a speechwriter and he has the same problem. But, he has handled it very elegantly on his website by saying that if you’re willing to meet with him, he will gladly talk about it, but he cannot send samples of the things he’s done.

                  You may not be able to put it in an online portfolio, but they can’t stop you from talking about it in person to another person. So long as you keep it reasonably veiled with “an exec from a fortune 100 company that manufactures computers” rather than an actual name (which is what I think he does).

    2. stevenz*

      #1. Definitely don’t interview your ex. Whether you parted amicably or not you have some personal feelings about him/her – as well as memories and images that one doesn’t usually have of a candidate – that cloud your judgement. Disclose this to your supervisor before the process starts so it can be factored into the decision, especially the part about them being your supervisor. I’m sure they have ways to accommodate both of you.

    3. Vicki*

      “There are jurisdictions that require special language to require you to give up the right to claim that you created a work (moral rights). However, every company I’ve worked for has included this language in documents every employee is required to sign.”

      Seriously? Wow. Where do you work?

      Companies I’ve worked for say that people turn over their patent rights to the company, but their names are still on the patents; they’ve only turned over the right to get any money from it.

      For writing, you turn over the right to publish. I’ve never, in 30 years, worked anywhere that the NDA said I gave up my right to truthfully say I wrote something. And if I did, I’d cross that line out. (Note: You do not need to agree to the entire NDA.)

  6. C Average*

    For once, the image chosen PERFECTLY matches the material. That face she is making is pretty much the exact face I’d make if I had to contemplate reporting to even my favorite ex.

  7. Seal*

    #2 – This is why organizations need written policies on external training and conference attendance that spells out what qualifies as training, what types of conference attendance will be funded, etc. Aside from eliminating any confusion over what the company will and will not pay for and why, it helps alleviate concerns about whether or not such decisions are arbitrary. If a problem employee makes a fuss about not being funded to attend training their manager feels is outside the scope of their work, the manager at least has something in writing to back up their decision.

  8. Mirve*

    #4 Also make sure that your new job allows outside work. It sounds like you would be doing almost two full time jobs, that is going to get old soon and many places do not want you doing work that detracts from your main job focus, or they require managerial approval.

  9. animaniactoo*

    #4 – it’s also not safe to assume that the new boss won’t still be your supervisor for this project, and continue to be a pain for the rest of it, or take credit for portions of your work “I told him I wanted him to flesh this out more and suggested he frame this portion as”…, etc. etc. He can still give you goals and objectives simply by telling you that the ones you have don’t work and he wants X, and if you don’t do X, you don’t get paid/to finish the project.

    It looks like you’re looking at this as if you’re going to have a different contact or person to report to, and the thing is that even if they DID agree to have you report to/contact someone else, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they won’t decide it just makes the most sense to pass you back to new boss, and you’re right back where you started.

  10. C Average*

    A thought on #4, and other similar letters we’ve seen that are some variation on the general theme “my manager is horrible for [valid reasons] and I want to just give my two weeks’ notice and leave, but I don’t want to negatively affect my company by leaving them in the lurch, not completing my projects, etc.”

    Not dealing with horrible managers is a bad business practice, and bad business practices have consequences. One of those consequences is that people leave, sometimes at inconvenient times. That’s a feature, not a bug. It’s not on an employee, even a good one, to worry about the fallout of them leaving behind a bad work situation. It’s on the leadership that let the bad situation fester to the point that it drove a good employee away.

  11. CanadianKat*

    #3 – The same thing happened to me – I had 3 or 4 blog posts on the company’s website, and after I was gone, I noticed that the author’s name changed to “Guest author” (even though the text on the bottom still said “contact CanadianKat for further information”). It probably happened automatically when my username was deleted from the system.

    The same may have happened in your case. They may have done it accidentally and don’t even know about it. If the work itself remains on the site, they must think it’s good, so they shouldn’t have a problem putting your name back up (in principle. In practice, they may feel it’s too much work to be worth the trouble.)

  12. MT*

    #3: When I worked as a ghostwriter, I would either save screenshots of the finished CMS post (with my name and timestamp along with the name of my editor and the company for which I wrote), or I would include the name of my employer in my resume (“Ghost writer for JohnDoe.com”). As long as you work with established bosses and not shady one-offs who will try to pass your work off as their own, you shouldn’t have any issue.

  13. MommaTRex*

    In regards to #5 – I’m wondering what to say if you flush a lot but don’t have a medical reason?

    “I think my nose is turning red. No, it’s not because I’ve been drinking. Let me check my watch: yep, it’s four o’clock. Never seems to happen before 3:30!”

    That’s the best I’ve been able to come up with. *sigh*

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