employee is trying to force his way into a job that I don’t want to hire him for

A reader writes:

I’m the manager of a teapot sales tracking program at my company and I have three system administrators reporting to me: Alvin, Simone, and Theodora. Simone was pregnant and planned her four-month maternity leave starting in May. Ernest (who I do not manage but who uses the software my team administers) came to me in March asking if he could cover for Simone during her leave as an opportunity for professional growth.

My plan was to cover Simone’s work myself with the help of an outside certified contractor when needed. The software is complex — everyone on my team has certification and a lot of hands-on experience. There are distinct dangers to allowing an untrained person access to the system and I didn’t have time to train someone, so I told Ernest no.

Ernest went to my boss, Martin, and told him that he would like to learn system administration and the opportunity was there with Simone’s leave, but that I didn’t have time to train him. He requested that the company pay for his training and certification (~$6K). My boss told him that there was no budget. Ernest confronted me about my contractor plan, which I had announced to everyone in our department. He claimed that if I didn’t spend money on the contractor, there would be money for his training. I explained that budgeting doesn’t necessarily work that way and that even with certification and formal training, he still wouldn’t have hands on experience and would not qualify to replace Simone.

In July, Ernest set up a meeting with Martin and me, announcing that at his own expense and on his own time he had taken training classes and received certification and should now be allowed to cover for Simone. I was taken aback, as I had been very clear on training vs. real experience in the system. Martin deferred to me in the meeting and I told Ernest that certification was not enough. Martin applauded Ernest’s “gumption” and then left the meeting.

A week later, Alvin came to me because he had received a request from Ernest for a user license upgrade to system administrator. He was not aware of this drama, but didn’t want to approve it without permission. I went to Ernest and asked him to explain why he was going around me. He said that he heard what I said before, that he couldn’t replace Simone without experience, so he needed administrator access to gain experience. I told him that made no sense, it’s putting the cart before the horse, and that Simone would be back September 1, so there was no need for another administrator.

In August, Ernest set up yet ANOTHER meeting with Martin and me, this time explaining that he had found a nonprofit that allowed him to work in their system while volunteering for them for three weeks. He then demanded that he “get Simone’s job” since he “jumped through every hoop.” I was speechless and Martin told him to wait outside while he and I spoke privately.

Martin told me that he “liked the kid’s gumption” and ambition and I should let him take Simone’s job until she came back two weeks later. I told him that I didn’t like it at all and he consistently tried to go around me, which I don’t want in a worker. Martin conceded it was my department and I choose the employees. We called Ernest back in and I told him that Simone was coming back in two weeks and it would not make sense to have him fill in for her. He was very disappointed, and said so vehemently.

When Simone came back from leave, she told me that she had postpartum depression and it affected her a lot. I gave her more flexible hours, supported her taking time off for appointments, and tried to balance her workload to make things a bit easier. We work in an open office space with no walls, so everyone noticed she wasn’t doing well. Martin came to me and asked if Simone would go on FMLA. I told him I did not know but that I had contingency plans in place in case she needed more leave or to go to part-time.

Martin told me that Ernest had come to him again and pointed out that Simone could not handle the workload and wanted to be allowed to take over part of her job. Martin wants this to happen because he likes Ernest, but I find him oddly aggressive in trying to get this job. Frankly, he’s turned me off to hiring him as an employee, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Simone will need to reduce hours or take personal time due to her medical needs. Therefore, I will need a temporary worker to fill her shoes, and Martin wants me to hire Ernest (but acknowledges that it would be my choice). I know it’s cheaper to hire internally than find someone from outside for temporary work, but I don’t like him.

Martin asked if I was set against Ernest unnecessarily and I asked if Ernest asked him that or if it was his own question. He admitted that Ernest had brought it up. Am I being stubborn and “set against him” or is he just too aggressive about getting Simone’s job?

Well, you might be set against Ernest, but it would be warranted. He’s been way too aggressive, has refused to take no for an answer, and has repeatedly shown questionable judgment. You should be set against wanting those characteristics on your team.

And aggh, this isn’t gumption; it’s a refusal to respect your right to make decisions about who you hire, and a refusal to accept an answer he doesn’t like. Gumption would be “I respect that it’s a no this time, but I’m really interested in moving into this line of work — can you give me advice on what I can do to position myself more strongly in the future?” What he’s done instead is try to override your decision at every turn.

It sounds like you need to sit down with Martin and say, “I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and I’m resolved that I don’t want to bring Ernest on to my team. This isn’t about personal dislike; it’s about serious concerns that I have about his behavior and judgment. He’s repeatedly not taken no for an answer, has tried to go around me and push his way into the role despite my clearly telling him several times that it wasn’t the right fit, and in general has shown a real disregard for answers that he doesn’t like. You’ve called it gumption, but I consider it a pretty alarming refusal to hear a clear no. I don’t think he’s the right fit for my team or the job, and I don’t want the management headaches that are likely to come with managing him, given how he’s acted so far. I’m going to let him know that he’s not getting the job but based on how he’s handled that in the past, I suspect he’ll try pushing back through you. I think he needs to hear a clear no from you as well — and from his current manager too, so I’m going to ask Jane to do that as well.”

And then, when you talk to Ernest, make sure that you’re very, very clear that this isn’t about him just needing to meet some additional qualification. Use these words: “In the past when we’ve discussed this, I’ve tried to be clear that this isn’t a matter of ‘if you do X, the job is yours.’ I’m not sure where we miscommunicated, but I want to say this as clearly as I can now: I’ve considered your interest in the job, but I don’t believe it’s the right match. I’ve decided not to hire internally for this job and I need you to stop pushing for it.”

If he pushes back and insists the job should be his, at that point you can say, “What’s happening now is part of the reason why I can’t hire you for this role. I need people on my team who understand that there will be times when they won’t get the answer they want and who can accept that and respect my judgment. Right now, that means that I need you to respect my decision, which is final.”

I think I might need to add a “gumption” category to posts here. It’s never good when it comes up.

{ 527 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

    Where has Ernest’s boss been in all of this? I’m wondering why he/she wasn’t brought in earlier. It sounds like Ernest has WAY too much time on his hands if he’s taking it upon himself to do all of this.

    And yeah, Martin is risking undermining you on this if he goes forward with it. A senior manager should not put themselves in a position where someone can run to him to undo the decision of a lower manager. Martin should know better.

    1. AMG*

      Exactly. I would have to meditate heavily to avoid speaking to either one of them without getting a ‘tone’ in my voice after all this ridiculous back-and-forth.

    2. Jenbug*

      This is what I want to know too. How is Ernest planning to take on these additional responsibilities when he presumably has a position already? Does his current manager know what he’s been doing?

    3. TotesMaGoats*

      20 bucks says that Ernest’s boss would be more than happy to see him move on to other pastures.

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        Yepppp. I’m guessing Ernest has been woefully underemployed because he’s a troublemaking doofus.

      2. ArtK*

        That was my thought too. If Ernest behaves like this to the OP, he likely behaves this way to his own boss.

    4. Tiny _Tiger*

      I have to wonder about that too. Unless Ernest’s manager is entirely too “hands-off” with their management style, they had to have noticed his constant meetings with another department.

      1. SophiaB*

        Unless Ernest is currently in an entry level role and his boss is encouraging him to upskill and progress within the company. I work on a tech scheme that handles development and change on our internal systems. We’ve got a girl from telemarketing working with us once a week so she can learn how to build in our systems. Her boss was the one who arranged and encouraged that because she’s good at running reports and managing the data.

        End users of tech often don’t appreciate what the actual configuration looks like and why it has the limitations it does. It could be that Ernest is a reasonably competent end user, and his boss is happy for him to improve his skills. S/he may also not have the nuance to understand why tech know-how and experience are more important than formal qualifications here.

    5. BRR*

      I was wondering that too. Ernest is spending a lot of time trying to get new responsibilities that don’t seem to be related to his position.

    6. neverjaunty*

      Yes, Martin is a HUGE problem in this too and the OP ought to be wary of him. Sounds like he wants to do his bro a solid and doesn’t have the sense and/or spine to see why this is a problem.

      1. Annonymouse*

        OP you have to spell it out to Martin. Also it doesn’t sound like Martin fully understands the software so I think he thinks it would be easy for Ernest to pick up.

        Martin, I’m not going to use Ernest to take over part of Simone’s role. He doesn’t have enough experience and more importantly he has shown a blatant disregard for any directions or answers from me he doesn’t like.

        For example after he got his certification he was told he would not be eligible because he didn’t have experience. Ernest then asked Alvin to give him system admin privileges to “get experience” in his own words. Without asking me because of course the answer would be “no”.

        That could have been thousands of dollars in mistakes having an inexperienced person playing around in the system.

        If Alvin hadn’t double checked with me that I had given permission he would have caused severe damage.

        Because of this incident I’m left with real questions about Ernest’s integrity and my ability to trust him.

        This isn’t about “Gumption”. This is about a person who clearly does not listen to feedback, has shown a willingness to go around the person he wants as his future boss (!) to get what he wants and is not able to be trusted to do what is best for the company.

        I will not consider him now or in the future for this position.

    7. Bwmn*

      I also really have to wonder where Ernst’s boss is in this. Because the only way to understand this sympathetically is if these actions have been supported by Ernst’s boss and then possibly echoed to Martin .

    8. Barney Barnaby*

      Er, and why hasn’t HR been brought in? Sure, the letter-writer isn’t his manager, but it would probably be worth at least having a chat with someone internally for help documenting what is going on, knowing whether there are any red flags (both in terms of the fact that he doesn’t get it, seems to be bordering on lying about the situation, and there’s the potential problem of him trying to hone in on the job of a woman who is on FMLA).

      The guy sounds like a loose cannon, and I think the letter writer needs a solid plan for dealing with this situation, documenting what is going on (especially while it’s fresh in her mind), and putting the kibosh on this dude.

      1. Barney Barnaby*

        …and sorry to reply to my own comment, but the OP should also gather the Chipmunks together for a team talk about this situation.

        She doesn’t need to go into the icky details, but it would be worth thanking Alvin for following protocol, noting that this person is trying to force his way in, thanking the team for their wonderful technical skills and office decorum, and state that she is affirmatively committed to developing a talented team with a healthy working environment. Finish up by asking that any request by Ernest relating to the team’s duties be run by her first.

    9. Lemon Zinger*

      Exactly what I thought! My new coworker has already shown a willingness to do things behind our manager’s back and it’s a MAJOR problem. Jane needs to be in the loop on this… yesterday.

      And if she doesn’t like Ernest? Well, that’s not a valid excuse.

    10. halpful*

      Whoa. I misread the letter and thought Martin was Ernest’s boss. Martin is actually OP’s boss. That’s a whole extra level of dysfunction… a boss who values “gumption” more than supporting his employees’ ability to manage… :/

  2. March*

    Oh dear, I’m very reminded of the person who went around her boss and claimed gumption, then thought she was in the right.

    Ernest has shown that he won’t listen to answers he doesn’t like. Say you did give him the position and he wanted to make changes to the software that wouldn’t work. Would he go behind your back and make the changes anyways? If someone isn’t willing to listen, it’s a red flag to me. They’re not going to start listening once they get what they want, they’ll expect you to keep bending. Give an inch, lose a mile.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      Yes…this! He’s already proven he is unwilling to be managed by you. Don’t give in and take on this headache!

      1. Sami*

        That’s a key point. He wants to be part of OP’s team, yet clearly doesn’t respect her. That won’t change

        1. BritCred*

          I don’t think his plans end at being part of her team…. honestly, he’s already jumping over OP to the next manager up already. Once he’s on the team would be jumping over Martin to the manager above that and calling Martin and OP “against him” because he wants to change something and they won’t let him? Trying to convince Martin’s manager that he can do OP’s job better or Martin’s job better?

          And even if he doesn’t do that he’ll be changing things overnight without permission (usually resulting in mucking things up because he doesn’t actually understand all the knock on effects) and then claiming that was just “gumption” and that OP and Martin were holding it back even though he “jumped through the hoops” and that he knew better than them…

            1. halpful*

              And the sad thing is, maybe Ernest could have been set straight early on, if Martin had understood why this behaviour is a problem. Instead, it sounds like Martin has been *encouraging* him, so he’s even more likely to persist in this behaviour in the future. :/

        2. coffeppwndd*

          Yep – Ernest thinks he’s found his patsy in OP for more money and a better-polished work history. It’s too bad his selfishness has blinded him to the needs of the org. that pays him.

          The one story I have that relates to this was the time we needed a remote location health care audit done and someone in headquarters preferably needed ICD-9 coding training to do it right. It would have cost $2,400 and after my Boss okayed the idea to go to his boss for the sign off, I was told no and to drop it. So guess what, I dropped it! OP, see what we mean? There is a reason that people are in higher positions. They have usually earned their way there by years of experience making just these sort of prudent decisions–not wasteful ones.

          Ernest is threatening quid-pro-quo that the ORG to spend money on him and throwing a fit because they won’t. Is a paycheck not enough for him? This isn’t your fault, OP. It’s Ernest’s lack of respect for the hierarchy he agreed to when he signed on to your company at the role he’s currently in, as well as a gross misunderstanding of how people are groomed and selected for senior positions.

      1. Augusta Sugarbean*

        Alison was there ever a follow up from the OP on that one? Being what it was, I’d actually be impressed if she came back to say anything. It can’t have been easy to hear all that feedback that was the polar opposite of her perspective.

    2. Charlie*

      Yeah, this person is unmanageable. It’s not gumption, it’s disrespect and arrogance. This would, in the company I work for, be grounds for immediate termination.

    3. Observer*

      Exactly this. I’d be willing to be that he most definitely WILL do what he thinks is “right”. “better to ask forgiveness than permission” and all that garbage.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Honestly, how do you justify asking for ADMINISTRATOR ACCESS TO A WORK SYSTEM in order to “practice”??? Do you know how much damage an untrained person with administrator access can do to most systems? I was super cautious when I was originally given administrator access to my HRIS precisely *because* I knew the system well enough to know what I didn’t know and how badly that could mess stuff up if I ignored my own inexperience. And guess what, that led to hands-on training and support and actually BUILT trust in my superiors because I demonstrated that I don’t take system access lightly and won’t be reckless or careless with it.

          Just…the gall of some random employee to say “hey gimme admin rights” so that they can “practice” just kills me.

    4. Aurion*

      Yup, this.

      It’s a question of authority–OP’s authority. She cannot manage Ernest if he runs to Martin every time he hears an answer he doesn’t like. All question of experience and certifications aside, his “gumption” has cost him any chance of getting this position.

    5. TootsNYC*

      Someone who would ask for administrator access on his own is someone you absolutely cannot trust with administrator access.

      1. Boop*

        Most definitely. System security is a BIG DEAL. We have a whole request process that has to be signed by the supervisor, employee, and the system director. Just asking for access without solid, job-based reasons for needing it would NOT fly.

        This guy definitely would not respect his supervisor or take direction well. Avoid at all costs.

        I know the two aren’t necessarily related, but this makes me wonder about how he is in relationships…

        1. A Good Jess*

          YES, agreed. I work in IT in a very security-conscious environment and this behavior is not only enough to block you from getting system admin access but is also likely to kick off an audit of what access you already do have and what you’re doing with it. The general entitlement, insubordination, attempts to go around established rules and POCs, demanding increased access… big red flags signaling a potential “insider threat.”

      2. JMegan*

        Seriously. Ernest sounds like a colossal PITA regardless, but of all the things in the letter, this one jumps out at me as the most clear-cut reason you do not want this guy working anywhere near your systems.

        Good luck resolving this, OP – I’d love to hear an update when you have one!

      3. Dot Warner*

        Yep! Clearly he doesn’t understand what he’s asking for or how much damage he could do, and someone like that would probably give administrator access to one of his friends just because they asked nicely.

  3. LQ*

    gumption=insubordination against someone else

    I also think that it isn’t that you don’t like him, it is that he has been consistently undermining your authority from the start, that’s concerning, especially for someone who is so set on having administrator access to software. (I don’t know what kind it is, but I don’t want people administrating a lot of software who believe they can do whatever without consequences.)

    1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I once interviewed someone and used a lot of behavioral questions like “tell me about a time when a customer disagreed with you” and every example he used was along the lines of “Well, my boss didn’t want me to do X, but I did it anyway and didn’t tell him and it turns out it was the right decision and I was totally vindicated”. Erm. NEXT!

      1. AMT*

        Don’t you love it when people tell you exactly why you shouldn’t hire them? Beats finding out later!

    2. starsaphire*

      And it isn’t what gumption really, actually IS, either.

      The lady with the tamale cart who figured out where the Pokemon hotspots were downtown, and uses the app to follow where the lures are, has gumption.

      The kid selling ice-cold sodas and waters out of a wheelie cooler in his front yard across the street from the fairgrounds, has gumption.

      This Ernest dude has a bad case of entitlement and possibly a couple of other things that would probably cause me to break the no-armchair-diagnoses rule if I opined about them.

      1. LQ*

        I think this is why gumption is just a Bad Word for work. It means different things. But I feel like at work? I’d say those are just entrepreneurial folks. And where’s my tamale cart lady? Someone below said gumption is going to your boss with a solution, but I feel like that’s just my job, when I have to go in without a solution I feel like I’m not doing my job. It’s a bad word, but I feel like when it is used at work…not good. What is an example we’ve had here of someone calling something gumption and being like “Go you!” Usually it’s initiative, or something.

      2. Becky*

        The lady with the tamale cart who figured out where the Pokemon hotspots were downtown, and uses the app to follow where the lures are, has gumption.

        That’s awesome.

        1. neverjaunty*

          That is super awesome, but I reluctantly award her second place to the Girl Scout who set up her cookie stand outside the legal weed store in SF.

        2. Koko*

          There’s a bar around here that is right next to a PokeStop and started holding “Pokemon Go” nights where they would continuously buy and place lures at the stop next door so that bar patrons could drink and catch rare Pokemon at the same time!

    3. NacSacJack*

      I know someone who used gumption to get a platform to develop skills he didn’t have only to get promoted all the way up to Director yet when I want to add those same skills to my toolchest, its sorry, no, we need you where you’re at. Huh? How come gumption works for some and not others? Alison – how are we supposed to get promoted if we don’t show gumption? Doing my job well isn’t cutting it.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Taking initiative successfully often involves a strong understanding of timing and need. My Lead Writer basically created her own position because she saw the need and the timing was right.

        I’ve had other people come to me with ideas, training requests, skill development when there was nothing I could do or offer. One of the worst days of my management experience was telling one of my favorite employees that he should start looking outside our company because there was literally nowhere I could promote him to (even outside my team).

  4. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

    I think I might need to add a “gumption” category to posts here. It’s never good when it comes up.

    This was my thought as soon as the word came up. Gumption and work don’t mix!

    1. Ros*

      It seems that only men recognize ‘gumption’ as an admirable quality, and they usually only see it in other men. Is that just my impression?

      Also, eff ‘gumption’, I want employees who are capable of figuring out what they want, formulating a plan for getting it, get feedback/approval from the people they need it from (in this case, the manager), adapt the plan based on new information, and formulate a new plan to achieve goals. If the feedback is ‘no’, what I want to see isn’t them disregarding the no, it’s ‘ok, what can I do so that you will consider this in the future’. Disregarding a clear ‘no’ is not admirable, it’s worrying. I need employees who can understand directives and use their brain to apply them. This guy is doing the exact opposite of BOTH those things.

      And, um, it might be dislike of this guy, on the manager’s part. If someone runs around my ‘no’s, disregards my legitimate authority, goes over my head repeatedly, creates more work for me, and generally acts like an ass, I’m not GONNA like him. For valid, practical reasons that ALSO are valid, practical reasons to not hire him!!

      1. mm*

        My 1st thought too- if Ernst was a man no way would his “gumption” be admired, and if OP wasn’t a woman he would have listened to her. And what kind of full-time employee has time to get certified, volunteer for weeks, plus paying $6000 out of his own pocket for this? I think you need to talk with Martin’s boss too if possible- why is he okay with this? Ugh

        1. Adlib*

          I’m super suspect of this $6k training actually happening. Ernest sounds like the kind of guy who thinks he already knows everything so just bluffs his way through unless he actually produces the appropriate proof.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Or he took a quick intro class on udemy or something and is thinking that’s “close enough”.

          2. Boop*

            Any training that costs $6K is either a) totally bogus, or b) going to take way longer than a couple weeks, especially around a full time working schedule (which I assume is Ernest’s situation).

            Did he get the training through a for profit institution? This is highly suspect.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes—I’ve only seen guys use “gumption” to describe in positive terms what I would call “gall.” In my limited experience, it’s almost always invoked when the person being overridden or disobeyed is a woman, or when someone has a general “eff the system” attitude that other men think is admirable for god-only-knows-what-reason.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Actually, our OP should use this when talking to Martin:

          “Martin, you think he has gumption. I think he has a lot of gall, to demand the things he’s demanded, and to try to go behind my back to get admin access to a system that he doesn’t understand at all.”

        2. Emma*

          Yeah. I could see using gumption in the positive sense for Ernest going out and getting training on his own dime/time – assuming, as others have brought up, that he actually did. But stepping beyond that, thinking this entitled him to anything, that is most definitely gall.

    2. KarenD*

      Gumption is fine. Presumption is not. When someone can’t tell the difference between the two, that’s where the trouble starts.

      I’ve been in the position of having someone actively gunning for my job. I didn’t have a baby, but I was temporarily assigned from one posting to another one, and “Hank” pretty much announced he was taking over my initial job, insisting that I introduce him to my contacts before I left (that was an OhHECKNo) and generally making an obnoxious nuisance of himself.

      Hank was a known boor and bumbler, and absolutely did not have the skillset to do my job. Everybody knew this. But instead of saying a flat “no” to him, the bosses shifted my duties to a team — which Hank was a member. And of course he saw a perfect opportunity to try to elbow his way in anyway, and of course there were some among the bossa nostra who were admiring his “pluck” and “gumption.”

      Long story short, in the two months of my secondment he made an utter mess of my primary post, and when I came back, he did more damage by actively fighting to hang on to parts of the assignment. All this would have been fixed if our management had said a firm “no” and followed up with consistent “stop that” and “leave it alone” whenever he encroached.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m pretty sure Nick Offerman, who wrote a book on the topic, would not approve of this behavior.

          1. General Ginger*

            He’s got three, actually! Paddle Your Own Canoe was an autobiography, Good Clean Fun just came out this month, but I’m guessing Jennifer was actually referring to his book literally titled Gumption. I’ve read Paddle Your Own Canoe, and enjoyed it (I went on a bit of a comedian book binge a couple years ago).

  5. Tiny _Tiger*

    Gumption? Um… no that’s blatant disrespect and arrogance. It’s bad enough that he thought he could push you into hiring him on (even temporarily) but the sheer amount of arrogance in trying to go around you and get administrative access to something no one cleared him for? WOW!

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yeah, and I’d make it very clear to Alvin, Simone, and Theodora that under no circumstances are they to grant any of Arrogant Doofus’ requests for administrator access, ever, no matter who he says has approved it, without consulting you first.

      1. Tiny _Tiger*

        Thankfully Alvin was already suspicious of that, imagine what would’ve happened if he hadn’t cleared it with the OP first?

        1. Jadelyn*

          I’d like to think that anyone who has the ability to assign admin rights to other people, knows better than to just give them out like Halloween candy to anyone who asks.

          I’d probably be wrong, but I’d like to think that anyway.

          1. Joseph*

            There might be an exception here or there, but you’re generally right in thinking that. Why?
            Because in most organizations, the person assigning admin rights would also be the person who had to fix the issues if Ernest screws something up. Oh, and they’d also be the person catching heck for letting an unqualified employee gets access.

        2. Lance*

          If anything, at least that’s a sign of a likely good employee in Alvin. Certainly not anywhere remotely in Ernest.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      + 1,000 The arrogance is mind boggling for someone without any actual experience. He needs to be fired, like, yesterday. Where the hell is his manager?!

    3. JessaB*

      I wonder if he thinks he might get the job because instead of shutting him down the boss is all “gumption.” No, boss, no, no, no. You do not want gumption in this particular employee. Boss needs to back the OP up with specific, “the answer is no. Do not come back about it.”

    4. coffeppwndd*

      ” the sheer amount of arrogance in trying to go around you and get administrative access to something no one cleared him for? WOW!”

      This +10,000. You ought to really thank your employee who checked with you before granting access (who knows what Ernest told them regarding him “deserving” the clearance despite no approval).

  6. MC*

    I think asking for an administrator’s license outside of protocol is an excellent example of bad judgement and an inability to understand that just because someone can do something doesn’t mean one should do something.

    I’d be extremely wary of this person deciding that certain changes would be improvements over current process or policy and implement them without going through the proper procedures to implement a formal system change. I’d be very wary that this “gumption” could put your company at risk . I’d be wary that once Simone returned, this guy would refuse to leave the position and have his admin credentials revoked.

    Big. Red. Flag.

    1. LBK*

      Totally agreed. I would think that one of the first things you’d learn about system administration is access control – clearly he didn’t retain much from his certification classes.

        1. A Good Jess*

          Probably bought access to an online “dump” of test questions, possibly combined with doing a little self-study.

      1. Sophie Winston*

        It’s like Dunning Kruger on steroids. Ernest has no idea, not the faintest idea, how much he could screw up the system playing around with admin credentials, and no willingness to listen when others try to explain this. Just…no.

    2. JessaB*

      Just thankful that the person he asked went to OP first. Could you just imagine the damage he could have done?

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      That’s what I was thinking, too. IT protocols around who gets administrator access are crucial; any proper IT person’s head would explode at the thought of anyone forcing their way into administrator access. The guy’s judgement is clearly clouded by his immense arrogance, and I doubt that he would step quietly out of the temp role upon Simone’s return; he’d probably try to usurp her job claiming that possession is 9 tenths of the law or some such.

      1. the gold digger*

        I am the admin for my department’s sharepoint site. We have very clearly defined access levels for any kind of access. I am the only person with the technical ability to grant access, but I would never grant it without one of the directors telling me to give it to someone. The policy belongs to the boss!

        And I would really really have to trust someone and have complete agreement from my boss to give anyone else admin access.

        1. LQ*

          We have this except I’m the person they should be checking with (even the directors check with me to see if they are overlooking a reason, and to have me grant access) so when other people who technically can (basically they are there in case I get hit by a bus) grant access? Oh fury will reign, we’ve had credentials and power pulled from people because they granted access to the wrong person without checking with the right people first. And the people who have asked? If they didn’t know what they were asking for (there’s a form on the page that we usually have disabled) it’s fine, but when they try to push? They get taken off the “good people to look at” list very quickly.

          1. Jadelyn*

            +100 – I’m the main person who controls security access to my HRIS and while my VP also has the capacity to do so, it’s very much for “in case of bus accident” reasons and he doesn’t touch it unless we talk about it first. He did it once – assigned my coworker a bazillion roles including *super*admin, which even I don’t have (our HRIS manager at the parent company is the only one who has that level) because there was some tab not showing up for her that should have been and I wasn’t there. He just threw stuff at it to see what stuck.

            Well, when the HRIS manager and I reviewed it later, she gave him a big old earful of DO. NOT. DO. THAT. EVER. AGAIN. Despite being outranked. And he listened!

            I mean, why have security protocols and access controls at all if you’re just going to dole it out to anyone who says “I wanna play”?

            1. JayemGriffin*

              Oh god, yes. I’m also an HRIS analyst, and the idea of giving someone access solely because they want it is giving me the hives. There are pay slips in there! Social Security numbers! I need a convincing business reason before I just hand that out.

        2. animaniactoo*

          I don’t have the technical ability to do it, but I have become the person who tells the person who does who is authorized to have access and who isn’t, and all requests have to be routed through me if he gets them from somebody else.

          That was due to somebody being added who really shouldn’t have been, and my boss not wanting to deal with the technical headache/hassle. She likes having me as her go-between who will only come to her if I think there is a valid reason to have someone added.

          I would turn Ernest down if he came to me for a request like that to get experience and tell him that she would need to authorize that. And then I would shoot her an e-mail telling her that it had happened as a head’s up. Even without the background of knowing he’d been trying to get into Simone’s job.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        and I doubt that he would step quietly out of the temp role upon Simone’s return; he’d probably try to usurp her job claiming that possession is 9 tenths of the law or some such.

        Yup – he’s THAT guy.

  7. Key to the West*

    Maybe I’m off base on this but if the OP is female it could also be a sexist thing where he doesn’t want to listen to a woman, or trust what a woman has too say. Thats the vibe I got!

    1. Jennifer*

      Me too. Or one of those “I won’t listen to you unless it’s a yes” people.

      Which gives me the skin-crawling creeps.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Yeah sometimes it’s totally a gender thing, but sometimes people just refuse to accept an answer they don’t want regardless. I had a coworker who kept setting up meetings to ask me the same question over and over again because she didn’t like my answer and, when I finally started declining the meetings and telling her my answer was not going to change, started having other people she worked with set up meetings with me to ask the same thing and making out to them like she’d never asked me.

        She didn’t stop until I, massively unprofessionally, lost my temper in the middle of the office and raised my voice at her. Which I remain super embarrassed about, actually, ugh. (It’s a little extra frustrating that being unprofessional WORKED — I hate it when the universe reinforces my poor behavior!)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It’s important to know that some people ONLY respond to an over the top reaction. If you try to talk it out in conversational tones, it won’t work. They can’t hear you.

          Instead of being embarrassed, build a plan of what you will do the next time you see this behavior from someone. (This is what I do with feelings of embarrassment, I analyze the situation and build a plan to handle it differently. It’s amazing how the feelings of embarrassment will fade, if you do this. I think it is because you know you have built a plan to correct the problem.)

          When I have been asked repeatedly for the same thing, I have said, “You have asked me this before. And what did we conclude when you asked?” Then I give that dead and awkward silence where they have to restate what the answer was that we landed on.

          Sending others: Incredibly (snicker) FAMILY members did this to me over a family matter. They sent other family members to ask me the same question that I had already answered NO. One by one, I told each family member, “You have been played and here is why…” I explained that the person already asked, I had answered and now the strategy was to send others to ask the same darn question. I suggested that if the topic came up again, they could say, “Gee, maybe you ought to discuss that with NSNR because there is really nothing I can do here.”This way the innocent third parties could just redirect the person back to me.

          This is how I have handled these types of settings and I found success with it. I am sure others have ideas also. I do what is in keeping with my personality/sense of fair play/etc. Look for solutions that are a good fit for you.

    2. J.B.*

      Showed up sane tune as my comment, Yup, yupity, yup.

      OT – what is up with the flash ads in Spanish at the bottom of the screen? Slow slow slowing down!

    3. Serin*

      Yep, I completely agree — and when Martin interprets “refusal to take ‘no’ from an answer when it comes from a woman” as “gumption,” no way gender doesn’t play a role in that.

      1. Serin*

        Oops, I didn’t realize the OP hadn’t outright said “I’m a woman.”

        Somehow I read “a man is ignoring my management” as meaning “I’m a woman.” Funny how that works.

        1. Koko*

          Yes…I have a weird talent for guessing the gender of letter writers just from the style of writing and this one just felt like it was written by a woman. Hacker Factor’s Gender Guesser almost always comes back with the same verdict that I do, which granted is not always itself correct–but they’ve judged this letter female, too, FWIW.

          1. many bells down*

            The Gender Guesser always pegs my writing as being male (which is not correct). In a similar vein, I’d often been told I “type like a man” in things like online forums where my gender isn’t obvious. So I guess I do?

          2. Letter writer*

            Yes, I am a woman. I don’t know if it’s gender bias or sheer asshattery (aka gumption) but Ernest won’t take no for an answer. After I submitted this question Simone went on medical leave and Ernest went to Martin’s boss. Oddly Martin applauded that!

            1. Zahra*

              Oh my god. We really would like a more thorough update later, when the situation has evolved.

              By the way, what happened with Martin’s boss? Did he shut down the whole thing?

            2. Adlib*

              Wow. That’s way more than odd! I know a lot of managers at higher levels get really annoyed (read: angry) when staff a few levels below them pester them about things like this. They have zero time for that.

              Martin is looking worse and worse. He’s a terrible manager and is enabling all the undermining of OP here. Ugh.

    4. Bonky*

      Like many of us, that’s the vibe I was getting too.

      If someone in my team was behaving like this, it’d end in a PIP, or a firing at worst.

    1. SeptemberGrrl*

      Yeah, Martin seems like a crappy boss. He keeps saying “of course it’s your decision” but never lets her make it without second-guessing her. A good boss would say to Ernest: “This is OP’s decision and I trust her judgement to make it.” End. of. story.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        And stop taking the meetings with Ernest. I have to wonder if part of the reason this has gone on so long is that Martin appears to be entertaining the idea even though the OP has continually shut Ernest down. Martin needs to clearly tell Ernest that OP is in charge and then stop engaging with him on this.

        1. Willis*

          Yeah, is Ernest asked what the meeting is to be about before Martin and the OP agree to meet with him? Saying there will be no more discussions about him moving into the role may help to shut him down. It sounds like giving him the opportunity to make a case for it is feeding into the idea that it might happen.

    2. vanBOOM*


      How many effing meetings must the OP have with Martin and Ernst about this before they *both* finally get it? The outcome has been the same every time! It’s a firm “no”, not the beginning of a negotiation.

    3. Cordelia Naismith*

      I have to wonder if Martin would be as okay with it if it was his head Earnest was going over in this way.

  8. Not Karen*

    Wow. I’d be inclined to say, “If you want a job as a system administrator so badly, you can go find one somewhere else!”

  9. J.B.*

    I’m also wondering what the gender mix is here. We’ve obviously got a female employee on maternity leave (and apparently Ernest thinks he can do better), I’m also finding myself wondering if OP is female. This may not be the case but it has certainly happened before that “gumption” is a little code for old boys club, and undercutting female supervisors.

  10. Pari*

    What I don’t like is that Earnest clearly wants to do this and op, as his manager, should have discussed a growth path for him to get this experience when he pushed against the first no. By not giving him a path it’s not terribly surprising that he tried to create his own path to do this. It wasn’t a good path, but that’s partly on the op for not recognizing the opportunity to discuss this goal of his.

    1. LBK*

      The OP isn’t his manager, though:

      Ernest (who I do not manage but who uses the software my team administers) came to me in March asking if he could cover for Simone during her leave as an opportunity for professional growth.

    2. Phoebe*

      But, OP is not his manager. See above; “Ernest (who I do not manage but who uses the software my team administers) came to me in March….

    3. Isben Takes Tea*

      Also, I disagree with the idea that it’s the manager’s job to create career paths for the people under them. Good managers will try to facilitate growth, of course, but sometimes an employee’s ambitions cannot be fostered in their current role. The manager should explain that, of course, but their manager is not obligated to carve out new roles for them.

      1. JessaB*

        Yes, in this case if he really wants that experience, he’s probably going to have to leave this company for an entry level job in the field somewhere. Because in this company they need someone with experience not just training.

        1. Ann O.*

          But he did go elsewhere to get the experience.

          I feel strangely about this letter and the response. I completely understand the problems with what Ernest did and why, and I understand that the relationship with the OP may be too poisoned now for anything to rescue it. At the same time, Ernest was right that the company had a legitimate need for someone else to be able to back up Simone. It does seem a bit odd to me that the OP shut him down at every fork rather than giving him a path forward. It seems that if the OP had been willing to work with Ernest even a little bit, the company may be in a win-win situation instead of now where they’re going to have to find an outside temp and IMHO, it’s likely they’ll lose Ernest (at least if I were Ernest, I would be job hunting with my new certification and experience).

          OTOH, the OP isn’t Ernest’s current manager and that does seem like the missing part of the story–where was Ernest’s manager in all of this?

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Ernest is not the type of employee the OP’s company should be concerned about keeping anyway, so if he does leave, good riddance.

          2. the_scientist*

            The company had already put in place measures to back up Simone at the quality of work that is needed. OP had made those plans already. Ernest’s certification could be a useless one in the real world (if he even did it, I have my doubts), and three weeks of experience will get you literally nowhere because it’s not actual experience.

            1. Ann O.*

              OP had plans for Simone’s maternity leave, but now needs someone for Simone’s work reduction.

              That’s not what the OP said, though. I can only go by the letter, which seemed to accept the certification as legit and the 3 weeks of experience as meaningful. I don’t know what the sales training tool is or specifically what’s different about how Ernest currently uses the tools versus what’s required for the sys admin role, but my experiences with IT tools are apparently very different from the rest of the commenters. I’ve found them to be more of a mindset thing than a length of time thing.

          3. Observer*

            Experience? What experience? 3 weeks of volunteer work is something that is SO ludicrous that I would expect that any serious hiring manager with a clue would be turned off by a candidate that used that as an argument for being “qualified” by any job that requires experience.

            And, I think most competent managers (Martin is NOT) would be saying “don’t let the door hit you on your way out” if Ernest left.

            I don’t understand what you expected the OP to do. There was not path forward for the situation at hand, and with each “fork”, as you call it, Ernest made things worse. At no point did he come forward with a viable proposal and at no point did he respond remotely appropriately to what he was being told.

            1. Lance*

              All of this. At every turn, Ernest seems to have been saying ‘let me do this, and here’s why’ rather than ‘can we work out a solution to this?’… and even then, refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer is a very big thing to consider.

            2. AnonAnalyst*

              This. Even if the OP’s first “no” was easily misconstrued to the point that Ernest thought that paying for classes on his own would get him the requisite training, I don’t see how you translate “you need experience” to “3 weeks of volunteer work = good to go.”

              I am sympathetic to the “I want to learn new skills but can’t with no experience” dilemma, but Ernest has gone way past reasonable efforts here. That’s not on the OP.

            3. Ann O.*

              I would expect a person in that situation to acknowledge the employee’s interest and discuss alternate timelines/paths towards meeting the interest or have been blunt that there was no way the employee could transfer internally to becoming sys admin.

              I said in my initial comment that I completely understand that Ernest made things worse and did things the wrong way. I just don’t think the OP handled the situation optimally either.

              1. Observer*

                There WAS no timeline or path. And, the what the OP said should have made it abundantly clear to anyone who was listening that this was the case. Blaming the OP for for not using a verbal sledgehammer is really a bit much, and that’s essentially what you are doing.

          4. Aurion*

            Three weeks’ volunteer work is not professional experience worth mentioning. At three weeks full-time onboarding (which is probably not what happened since Ernest seemed to have kept this regular day job), that’s just enough time to navigate through the major programs/windows without someone holding your hand. It is nowhere near enough to troubleshoot and maintain even a simple system, never mind a “complex” one that OP has.

          5. Koko*

            At the same time, Ernest was right that the company had a legitimate need for someone else to be able to back up Simone.

            Yes, but he was wrong in his assessment that he was qualified to be that someone else. He lacked both certification AND professional experience, which OP felt in her expert opinion were necessary for Simone’s replacement to have. She didn’t want to hire someone with volunteer experience or classroom training, and she didn’t want to have to train the person she hired. Those are among the most legitimate and defensible reasons I could imagine for saying no to him.

            1. TootsNYC*

              At the same time, Ernest was right that the company had a legitimate need for someone else to be able to back up Simone.

              He was also wrong because that need had been filled. I’m absolutely certain that our OP had already booked the fill-in contractor.

              You can’t just cancel that contract!

            2. halpful*

              Not only that, but, in the time that he was acquiring his questionable certification and experience, he demonstrated lots of reasons not to hire him at all, especially for a position where mistakes can be dangerous. He made assumptions about the job, and acted on them without asking OP if they were actually correct. He repeated that process several times instead of stepping back and asking why it wasn’t working. It’s not clear how much of this he asked for Martin’s equally-dysfunctional opinion on, but it is clear that he doesn’t think OP’s opinion matters here.

              Actually, perhaps that’s the piece Pari and Ann missed: Ernest is acting as if the most important thing here is that he wants the job, and things like his qualifications or OP’s concerns or the business’s needs are just tiny, trivial details to be quickly dealt with (or swept under the rug). He’s so focused on his desire for the job and the story in his head about how great it would be, that he’s not truly *listening* to OP, the person who is actually responsible for keeping an actual system actually working (and protecting it from damage). He’s not really acknowledging any of the important factors here that don’t match his story, and he doesn’t seem willing to consider the option of losing (ie, not getting the job).

              This pattern of behaviour matches the sort of person who would push the big red button just to see what it does. Such people should be kept away from dangerous buttons, regardless of why they act that way.

          6. TG*

            Nope, nope, nope, nope. Give someone like Ernest with an inability to take no for an answer and disregard for authority a foot in the door and he’ll be a nightmare employee forever.

      2. Pari*

        No it’s not a managers job to create a career path it’s a managers job to help determine if there is a career path at all. And if there is, to help you understand the steps to take to get there.

        1. Michele*

          I agree, but Ernest should have approached his manager/boss first (it’s assumed that he didn’t) about his interest in this opportunity. Technically, he’s also gone over his manager’s head.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, in a situation such as the OP’s where temporary help is needed to cover someone, I think the manager would do well to give consideration as to whether a current employee could adequately fill the role, even as a stretch assignment. But the manager’s primary concern is the business, and if the work can’t be adequately handled by an employee seeking development, then the manager doesn’t owe them a shot just because.

      4. Sunshine*

        This this this. No amount of “I want to be a Teapot Trainer! I’d be soooooooo good at it and you should let me do it because that’s what I want!” will make that job suddenly exist where it didn’t before.

    4. Naomi*

      Um, no, this is not partly on OP. OP is not his manager, and it’s not OP’s responsibility to find a way Ernest could transition into this job. Alison provides some wording Ernest could have used to ask for OP’s guidance on how to make himself more qualified, but he didn’t do that; he went off and did what he thought would make him more qualified, and then got mad when OP told him it didn’t line up with the reality of the job.

      1. Pari*

        Sure it is. The op shouldn’t have let it drag on and should have just said after the first time “look. I already told you no. And I don’t appreciate you accepting that. There’s no way I’m going to let you do this when you don’t even respect my decision as the manager of this position.”

            1. Observer*

              That’s still not the “fault” of the person who gives a soft no. Especially when is was pretty clear. Also, this was not about not hearing a no, soft or not, but about egregiously bad judgement.

              1. Dot Warner*

                That’s true, although if I give someone a “soft no” and they don’t hear it, it’s still on me to give them a “hard no” and document that I did so, in part to prevent situations like this.

                Please don’t misunderstand, Ernest is completely in the wrong here and if I were in OP’s shoes I’d be angry at him too! I just feel like the authority figures in this story – especially Martin and Ernest’s direct supervisor – should have been more forceful in telling him no, because a forceful “no” is the only way to get people like this to listen.

                1. Dot Warner*

                  Oh, and I think not hearing no from Martin or Jane is one reason why Ernest thinks he’s justified in behaving this way: OP isn’t his boss, Jane presumably did nothing to stop him, and the big boss was subtly encouraging him, so in his view, the problem is on the OP’s end. (He’s wrong, of course, but Martin and Jane have failed him and the company by not making that clear.)

            2. Tomato Frog*

              And if you can’t take a soft no, you shouldn’t be surprised if people mistrust you and don’t like engaging with you.

              (I didn’t think OP’s no was particularly soft, though.)

              1. SarahTheEntwife*

                Yeah, this sounds like it was a pretty firm no, just not the scorched-earth no that Earnest apparently requires. His initial request was not unreasonable, but the answer was no. The type of “no” Earnest seems to need would have been weirdly, hurtfully strong as a first response to a reasonable employee.

            3. Charlie*

              If you lack the perceptiveness and tact to understand a soft no as a no, you’re the problem – not the person attempting to tactfully let you down without creating an enemy for life.

              1. Pari*

                How many letters have you seen here where people couldn’t read between the lines? How many times have you wanted a soft no from a recruiter instead of clear feedback? How many times have you wanted your boss to give you signals instead of clear feedback?

            4. Jadelyn*

              That’s BS, pure and simple. People are perfectly capable of hearing a soft no – which I didn’t think the OP’s was, though Martin seems to have undermined it and made it more of one – and it’s just plain good manners to ask for clarification if you’re trying to negotiate someone out of a “no” rather than assuming you can just steamroll over their “no”, whether it’s a hard no or a soft no.

            5. JMegan*

              But he did hear the no. If he had genuinely misunderstood OP’s answer, he would have behaved quite differently. He might have continued bugging OP directly, but that’s not what he did. Instead, he deliberately took steps to get other people to overrule her – by asking for meetings with OP and her boss, and by asking Alvin for admin access to the system (!!!) which he wasn’t authorized to have.

              Ernest took deliberate, strategic actions to try and get around the “no” – I just don’t see any way to argue that it was a misunderstanding.

              1. halpful*

                I think there’s some space for a misunderstanding if Ernest has a big lack of people skills and Martin has been encouraging him at every turn. It doesn’t look likely, but it doesn’t look impossible either.

                I don’t think that changes the advice for OP. OP is not Ernest’s therapist. OP is not responsible for Ernest’s actions, or for teaching him better skills. While normally I’d say it would be a kindness to nudge him in the right direction, Martin’s encouragement makes that rather pointless in this case. :(

                As for the hard vs soft no: I suspect OP didn’t know how to articulate their discomfort well enough to give a hard “no” without sounding like they were the unreasonable one. Dealing with unreasonable behaviour is a hard thing, especially when you’re outnumbered. Hopefully Alison’s advice will help with that. :)

            6. SimontheGreyWarden*

              The problem is not that it isn’t always heard, the problem is that Ernest heard it and decided that it didn’t apply to him. It sounded to me like he was told No at several junctions and decided to create his own path to yes, which is a wrongheaded thing to do.

        1. Misc*

          It wasn’t a soft no. It was a no with an explanation, and certain types of people see explanations as opportunities to persuade you otherwise and can only be dealt with by just saying ‘no’ and never explaining.

          Which is what he did. he heard ‘no because X and Y’, so he ignored the no and ‘solved’ X and Y. If he hadn’t heard and understood the ‘no’, he wouldn’t have bothered going off and ‘solving’ X and Y and presented them as fait accompli, he’d have asked if he could do them, or just kept asking the original question.

    5. Mockingjay*

      Businesses don’t always have the career path that you want, nor are they obligated to provide it. They hire to fill a need.

      The OP was looking for experienced, temporary staffing. She found a solution that 1) minimized disruption to current workload; 2) didn’t require training (the outside contractor was already certified and experienced); and 3) didn’t include Ernest.

      If Ernest really wants to work in systems admin, he needs to start at the bottom and gain experience, which probably means leaving the company. I’ve worked in software and IT network support (tech writing/database maintenance) for a long time. I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge and some certificates, but there’s no way in hell I would waltz into the IT department and tell them I’m qualified to run things because I got a paper cert. They would swiftly boot me out the door so I could start my “new” career elsewhere.

    6. Observer*

      Besides the fact that the OP is not Ernest’s manager, Ernest’s behavior was off the charts anyway. It’s one thing to go ahead and take classes on your own and then ask what else would be necessary in order to go on this path. But he did something very different. He first demanded that the money to train him be found and then took the class. Then he DEMANDED the job – ignoring the clearly stated requirements for experience. Worse – he tried to sneak administrator access to the system! That’s not just “not a good path.” It’s inexcusable. And it’s totally NOT on the OP (or Ernest’s manager).

    7. MilesofMountains*

      Having been in somewhat the same position as Ernest, I do feel sorry for him. In my case, I didn’t try to go around my manager, but in my first job I also misread my manager saying “you need to hit benchmark X to advance to the next level” to be a direction to hit that benchmark, and it took me years of frustration and hitting benchmark after benchmark and being told “oh, you also need Y [and then Z, etc.]” before I realized that was a soft no and not career advice. I personally find it a distasteful way to discourage someone, and I think the OP should have graduated to a hard no when it was obvious Ernest hadn’t read the soft no, but I do think the OP is justified in not wanting to manage Ernest.

      1. Hrovitnir*

        I have no idea why people here are interpreting the OP saying “no you cannot do this job” multiple times as a “soft no”. Saying “you don’t have the qualification or the experience” after you’ve already said “no you may not do this job” is not a bloody soft no. Would you like no one to explain anything ever in case it’s willfully misinterpreted?

        1. LBK*

          I think giving a reason that could theoretically be overcome (not being certified or experienced) is considered a “soft no” because it implies that the answer could be changed to yes in the future. It also implies that it’s not the OP’s personal choice to not accept him, but rather a matter of circumstance.

          It’s kind of like when a woman says “I have a boyfriend” when a guy hits on her rather than just plainly saying “I’m not interested in you” – and just like that situation, you’re supposed to read between the lines and move on. You’re not supposed to take it as a challenge.

          1. Christina*

            …well, that’s because a lot of men don’t take “I’m not interested,” as a hard no (“Why? I was just trying to be nice. Are you lesbian? Why won’t you just talk to me?”), but more men seem to accept “I have a boyfriend” as a sign to move on.

            1. LBK*

              I understand the situation isn’t directly comparable because gender dynamics add a whole different layer, but I think your example brings up another way in which the metaphor holds – sometimes you use the “soft no” because it actually gets better results than the “hard no”. Most of the time a flat rejection just invites more questions, whereas giving some explanation assuages most people’s desire to debate that rejection.

              Unfortunately, there’s also the minority of situations like this one, where people hear a polite rejection with a socially accepted reason and end up taking it at face value as a task to be completed in order to change that rejection to acceptance.

            2. Lissa*

              This varies a lot though. I’ve tried “I have a boyfriend” and got “oh, but he’s not here right now!” etc., whereas “Sorry, not interested” has actually got me the best “go away and don’t come back” rate. But others have the exact opposite response! I have no idea why…

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’ve long argued that many people truly do not understand the concept of consent, and consent goes WAY BEYOND sexual situations, although those scenarios are far more problematic and harmful.  It’s weird to say, but that’s why I really like this letter: it’s a fantastic example of a nonsexual situation that contains NO understanding and/or consideration for another person’s consent.

    OP, I was also going to bring up the point that just because Ernest got his experience else doesn’t mean that it would translate well to your environment.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  You said no.  You gave a well-reasoned argument that holds water.  That’s that.

    The only other thing I could add is that you should tell your boss that giving Ernest Simone’s job isn’t going to end there.  His attitude and actions indicate that -HE- decides his job, what he’s capable of doing and not doing, and if he doesn’t like it, he’ll do whatever it takes to change that if he wants.  Ernest doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks because -HE- has decided he’s in charge, not you.  

    If you’re comfortable enough with your boss, you should warn him that calling such behavior “gumption” not only sends the wrong message but encourages more of the same.  You may also inquire as to whether or not your employer is liable for that $6K training.  Sure Ernest did it of his own volition, but if he gets disagreeable, which he probably will, that story could change.  You should make sure your butts are covered.

    1. Government Worker*

      I’m reminded of all of the (usually female) people who write to dating advice columnists because they’re trying to break up with their (usually male) partners, but the partner “won’t let them.” It usually turns out that they keep offering reasons and the partner keeps addressing the reasons and refusing to hear the “no.” So it’s “I don’t want to date you anymore because X” and the partner says “I fixed X. Now you have to keep dating me!” around and around again.

      It’s the same obliviousness and sense of entitlement, whether it’s in a relationship context or a work context. And the advice is the same, too: It’s not you, it’s him. You have a right to make this decision for yourself and not deal with this crap. Be clear to the point of bluntness, even if it feels rude, because nothing else has worked.

      1. shep*

        Wow, I never thought of my past relationship in these terms, but that’s almost exactly what happened. It was almost NOT a firm “no” from me right at the beginning (which still irritates me for not having more courage to be utterly final), but after that, I DID stick with a firm “no” to his texts and emails and pleas for me to come back. No. No no no. But it’s also EXHAUSTING to say no to someone continuously, even if you know you’re never going to waver. Finally, I just started ignoring his emails, because who wants to engage with that??

        Unfortunately, OP doesn’t have the same luxury. But wow, the parallelism between what you’ve mentioned here re: ending relationships and Ernest’s refusal to take no for an answer are on absolute point.

      2. Lady Blerd*

        Ernest’s sense of entitlement is what struck me as well but you bring up a great point. And because I had this happen to me in a past relationship and now that you’ve pointed it out, Ernest is doing exactly the same thing my ex did. Wow.

        So my advice to LW based based on my passed dating experience is this: give a firm no to both Ernest and Martin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin is encouraging Ernest in his behaviour hence why he has to be told to stand down as well. It’s time for both of them to understand that it won’t happen no matter what.

    2. dear liza dear liza*

      >>I’ve long argued that many people truly do not understand the concept of consent, and consent goes WAY BEYOND sexual situations, although those scenarios are far more problematic and harmful. It’s weird to say, but that’s why I really like this letter: it’s a fantastic example of a nonsexual situation that contains NO understanding and/or consideration for another person’s consent.<<

      This is really thought-provoking for me. Do you have any articles or sites that you can point me to that talk about consent in the workplace?

      1. Hrovitnir*

        Man, I’ve read multiple great articles around that but it’s hard to dig them up. One of my favourite bloggers on topics like this is Miri from Brute Reason and she does have one article on consent outside of sexual situations: http://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2012/03/20/on-coercion-and-a-different-social-ethic/ Unfortunately I’m sure I’ve read things that pertain more directly to workplace interactions but this is still related.

        This is where clear communication is essential. Some people really do want to be convinced to do things. Other people don’t. If you have a friend who always turns down your requests initially but then relents, why don’t you ask them why? Say, “So I’ve noticed that when I ask you if you want to do x/y/z, you always say no at first but then you change your mind. Is it because you feel pressured by me, or because you just needed some convincing?”

        And then let them speak for themselves.

    3. Anon in NOVA*

      This is amazing and very well-said. I had the same initial gut reaction… this lack of understanding surrounding consent likely extends to his life outside of the workplace. I felt icky reading it.

    4. TootsNYC*

      You said no. You gave a well-reasoned argument that holds water. That’s that.

      You don’t need to give a well-reasoned argument that holds water.

      You said no. That’s that.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I felt a workplace situation merited more than a simple no. OP was going to have to justify it to her boss and others whereas in a personal situation she wouldn’t have to.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        My parents used to say “NO means NO. NO does not mean keep asking.”

        If I was silly enough to ask again, there would be repercussions. So I got the initial no plus no dessert or whatever came to their minds. It was pretty random what the additional NO would be. If I asked for something in the store and I was told no then asked again, I might not get to go to that other store I wanted to go to.
        NO does not mean keep asking.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I would think the end-run around the OP to get access would alone disqualify him from this position. As someone pointed out above, that’s as untrustworthy and potentially damaging as it gets!

      I like this concept. I never thought about it quite that way before, but you have a good point.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Really. He has given OP a reason to say no permanently. He has shown on multiple occasions that he cannot accept OP’s managerial decision and answer. The guy is not manageable as he will not accept a boss’ answer as final.

    6. ..Kat..*

      Not clear on why you think the company could be on the hook for the $6K for training. They didn’t say they would pay for it. In fact they specifically said that they would not.

      1. Irish Em*

        I think the implication is that Ernest might selectively forget that they said they wouldn’t pay for it and then hassle the company to be remunerated for the expense of the training he took upon himself to get the job that wasn’t his.

  12. LBK*

    He then demanded that he “get Simone’s job” since he “jumped through every hoop.”

    I think this is the real key here. He’s treated the whole process like you’re just being obstructive for its own sake. Meeting the requirements of a job is not “jumping through hoops,” which implies that he was fully qualified from the start and the OP just added unnecessary bureaucracy. He doesn’t seem to have grasped the real gravity of the job he wants, which to me is the most damning piece of this, even moreso than his obnoxious undermining of the OP’s authority.

    If he thinks a training class and 3 weeks of “experience” are enough to fully qualify him to do the job, that itself disqualifies him because it indicates he has zero clue what the job entails. I’d almost say you should agree to interview him and put him through a skills test to prove just how woefully inadequate he would be at the job.

    1. Pari*

      Well. If he’s asking and she’s saying no because you don’t have x and y it’s not totally unreasonable for him to comeback when he has x and y.

      1. Karo*

        It’s reasonable for him to ask whether he could be considered if he got X and Y, or to ask how much Y he would need in order for him to be qualified. Even just going out and getting X and Y then coming back and asking if he could be considered would be weird but acceptable. But going out and getting X then demanding the job, then going around OP to get Y, then getting minor levels of Y and demanding the job, and then continuing to demand the job after the fact is…well, it’s bat poop crazy.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        But that’s not what the OP said. She said he didn’t have X, Y, and Z. She never said go out and get X, Y, and Z, and then we’ll talk. He assumed that himself. That’s on him.

        1. Naomi*

          Exactly! OP said “We can’t give you Simone’s job because x, y, and z.” What OP means is “We can’t give you Simone’s job.” Through the Wishful Thinking Filter, Ernest is hearing “Do x, y, and z and the job is yours.”

          1. Ann O.*

            But I think it’s reasonable for Ernest to hear “Do x, y, and z and the job is yours” if he’s told “we can’t give you the job because x, y, and z.” The OP also seems to indicate in the letter that lack of experience isn’t actually an issue any more–it’s that the OP doesn’t like Ernest due to Ernest’s aggressiveness in getting x, y, and z.

            Which I understand, but I also feel like if the real explanation is that there was nothing Ernest could do to make the OP interested in having Ernest as a system admin, then IMHO, it would be best to be upfront with Ernest about that.

            1. Aurion*

              What? Lack of experience is definitely an issue. OP mentions the system is “complex” and “even with certification and formal training, he still wouldn’t have hands on experience and would not qualify to replace Simone.”

              Three weeks of experience, in a volunteer capacity (presumably not full-time then, since he still kept his day job), with no oversight, is not the experience OP needs. Let’s give IT professionals the credit they are due.

              Ernest does not have the experience (and perhaps credentials–OP did not elaborate if the classes Ernest took are the ones she requires) for this position. He also is not a respectful worker. Either of these are enough to disqualify him as an candidate. Both of them together means there’s no chance in hell OP will (should) hire Ernest.

              1. AnonAnalyst*

                Seriously. Suggesting someone’s qualified to be a system admin after 3 weeks of volunteer work is ludicrous. It’s so ridiculous that most people wouldn’t even have the nerve to suggest it as a qualification for a job.

                The fact that Ernest is offering it up as proof that he has now fulfilled the “experience” requirement shows how woefully unqualified he is for this job.

                1. Aurion*

                  If Ernest thinks three weeks of volunteering experience qualifies him for an IT job, then I daresay he has no idea what an IT job entails.

                  Seriously, three weeks onboarding is just enough time for data entry.

                2. Greg M.*

                  it’s also incredibly convienent how quickly he found this volunteer experience. I think this guy is full of it.

                3. ScarletInTheLibrary*

                  And we don’t know if the non-profit even attempted to supervise him. Maybe they had the program and abandoned it. They thought there was no harm in letting him play with it. And Ernest thought he mastered it because the non-profit didn’t say anything otherwise.

              2. Ann O.*

                OP wrote the letter because they’re questioning whether they’re unfair on Ernest. Maybe the OP is just second guessing because of Martin, but the question wasn’t something like “How do I get Martin and Ernest to understand the depth of expertise this position requires?” but rather was “I know it’s cheaper to hire internally than find someone from outside for temporary work, but I don’t like him. …. Am I being stubborn and “set against him” or is he just too aggressive about getting Simone’s job?”

                None of us know the specifics of the system, Ernest’s actual experience, Ernest’s newly minted credentials, or what Ernest’s hands-on experience consists of. So we’re all guessing. I’m going by the OP’s letter that the issue at this point is not the OP’s belief in Ernest’s ability to back up Simone but rather that Ernest has poisoned the well. As I said in another comment, I completely understand how Ernest poisoned the well. But it’s different.

                I do think that the OP was 100% uninterested in working with Ernest to train up to the role based on the OP’s apparent lack of interest per the letter and gave the explanation about certification/hand’s on experience because the OP never expected Ernest to follow through. But then Ernest did.

                1. Emma*

                  But Ernest didn’t really follow up on the experience part, though, not nearly enough. And that right there is when he starts to go off the rails.

                2. Aurion*

                  Ernest poisoned the well to be sure. That said, his poisoning the well is a separate but related matter to him not being qualified in the first place. OP refused him because he was not qualified, period, and Ernest’s steamrolling poisoned the well toward him ever getting that position. But by OP’s account, Ernest still doesn’t have the base qualifications for the position even if we put his attitude aside.

                  Even if the volunteer position’s system overlapped closely with OP’s system, even if the credentials were the correct ones, OP specifically said all the people currently in this position have “lots of hands on experience.” I don’t care if Ernest was at that volunteer position 24/7 over those three weeks. Three weeks is not enough time to gain sufficient experience in anything complex, period. No one sensible touts three weeks as a sufficient stint of experience on a resume. Attending a three week crash course? Maybe. But it’s not sufficient as professional experience, which was what the OP required in the first place.

            2. LBK*

              Which I understand, but I also feel like if the real explanation is that there was nothing Ernest could do to make the OP interested in having Ernest as a system admin, then IMHO, it would be best to be upfront with Ernest about that.

              I don’t think that actually was the real explanation from the beginning, though. There doesn’t seem to be an indication in the letter that she had a pre-existing dislike of him. Her initial reasoning was just that he wasn’t qualified even on paper; the personality issue didn’t come up until his personality started being an issue.

              I get the sense that you feel like the OP set a moving target for Ernest and that you feel empathetic about him feeling like he’s being strung along, but I think he dug his own grave here. There may genuinely have only been a few things he needed to do to qualify at the outset, but that doesn’t mean the OP has to discount all the problems that arise in the process of him checking those other boxes – he expanded the checklist for himself by being so abrasive and pushy about it.

              It’s the same thing as a job candidate that calls you 10 times to follow up on an interview – even if they were great before, that stuff sends you bad signals that can be even more revealing than what you already knew about them.

              1. Aealias*

                The other part of the problem I see is “a few things to check off.”

                OP said, “this position requires X certification, and hands-on experience”, and “I’ve got the position covered, thanks.”

                OP knows that certification costs 6k and considerable time and expertise. Ernst should not have expected to do the bare minimum – squeeze out a course in a few weeks – and declare that, “good enough, hoop jumped!” That is an unreasonable expectation, and speaks of not understanding the value of the certification – which is generally not in the piece of paper, but in the knowledge it represents.

                Similarly, OP explained that the position requires hands-on experience, and Ernst decided that he could mess around on his own in the system, and later volunteer a bit with an unaffiliated organization, and call that experience. Again, a reasonable person would understand that “experience” means extensive time with a system, the opportunity to learn its quirks and solve a variety of potential problems, and the confidence and knowledge to solve new problems independently, 9 times out of 10. Ernst instead read “experience” as a box to be tucked with the least effort possible.

                Ernst is ruled-lawyering, and he’s somehow suckering other people into rules-lawyering on his behalf. “But you said X and Y, which I define as x and y, so I’ve done what you said, so you owe me the job!”

                1) OP didn’t ask for x and y, she EXPRESSED A REQUIREMENT for X and Y, and Ernst doesn’t get to redefine that for her.

                2) OP is not Ernest’s manager, and did not attempt to recruit Ernst, and owes him nothing beyond that first, “I’ve filled that position, thanks,” meeting. The fact that she chose to outline her decision-making process for Ernst at that meeting was a kindness on her part, not an obligation. (And I’m sorry it came back to bite you, OP.)

                3) Also, “I’ve got the position covered” =/= “But you know, make a run for it anyway, I’ll totally fire the other person!” “I’ve got someone hired for the role” = “no”, nothing soft about it.

                OP is writing asking if she’s digging in her heels out of dislike because she wants to be fair and make the decision that is best for her department and company, not be driven by her emotions. OP, emotion aside, Ernst has displayed very poor listening skills, respect and judgement throughout this process. You can document and explain that to Martin and Martin’s boss when you explain why Ernst will not be considered for a position on your team anytime in the near future. Your emotions don’t MATTER in this calculation, because Ernest’s own behaviours have disqualified him. (Maybe not forever, but obviously, don’t give them a list of things he’d need to change – we’ve seen how he reacts to anything that looks like boxes to tick.)

                Oh, and OP’s uncertainty about her current entirely justified resistance to trying to manage this guy? That’s on her boss, who keeps pushing the inappropriate candidate on her despite her repeated “no”. That’s really undermining behaviour. “It’s totally your choice…. are you sure?….like, really sure?….okay, if you say so…. but don’t you think maybe you’re not sure?” Ugh. That might be a conversation worth dragging into the open. “I notice that while you’ve said that this is my team to manage as I deem necessary, you keep bringing up hiring Ernst after I thought I’d made it clear that I didn’t want to do that. Is there a reason you’re particularly interested in seeing him in this role? What’s your thought process in revisiting this?” You may find missing information – Ernst is the CEO’s son-in-law, being groomed to take over your division, or some such thing (run!) Or you may find that Martin doesn’t understand why these behaviours would be damaging to your team, and needs some education. I don’t know, I just think he’s doing a cruddy job of supporting you on this, and I’m a bit concerned that that’ll be a bigger problem to you, long-term, than Ernst.

      3. LBK*

        That isn’t really how hiring works, though – sure, there’s boxes to check for any job, but that alone doesn’t immediately qualify you for the position. I guess it depends how the conversation was phrased, but I wouldn’t expect that the OP would give him an itemized, exhaustive list of all the reasons she doesn’t want to hire him, particularly reasons that relate more to personality than concrete qualifications.

        It would’ve been one thing if they’d had a conversation or worked out a plan together to prepare him for the role with an agreement that the OP would consider him for it at the end, but instead he decided to do it secretly and then spring it on her. That approach feels like he was trying to trap the OP into saying yes on the spot.

        1. Myrin*

          Your “itemized, exhaustive list” together with Snarkus’s comment above about consent remind me of dating and how people will try to let someone making advances down gently by pointing out one or two things that prevents them from dating that person. But generally, these one or two things aren’t an exhaustive list of all the reasons Person A doesn’t want to date Person B, they’re mostly just less hurtful, more commonly accepted, or just a general expression of what A doesn’t like about B. It’s not a guarantee that if B changes these one or two things, A will absolutely date them – in fact, I’d say that happens very rarely.

          1. halpful*

            Yes. :) I think one of the lessons here is “when someone gives you reasons for a decision, do not assume they were exhaustive, or perfectly literally accurate. Consider the possibility of them being just whatever popped into the person’s head at that moment, or a polite fiction intended to help you save face.”

        2. Pari*

          Of course. Although there are quite a few people who don’t understand that meeting the stated requirements on paper don’t guarantee that you can even do the job in real life. Most anyone whose hired has encountered someone who can’t comprehend why they didn’t get the job. Sometimes it requires real bluntness.

      4. Mander*

        Sure, but the OP has said from the beginning that the opening he is looking for doesn’t exist because a) the OP made other plans to cover Simone, and b) he will not be able to gain the right experience in the right time frame. I have no idea what the software is but I’m picturing something like the one my husband works with — you could not do his job with a few weeks of training and a volunteer stint even if you were familiar with using the software. This guy *thinks* that taking a class and doing volunteer experience gives him x and y but per the OP’s view as the manager in charge of what x and y really are, this training he went and got is not actually sufficient.

        I think it is unreasonable for him to keep demanding to be given a job that is not actually open at this time.

      5. Dzhymm, BfD*

        Except that Ernest’s understanding of what “x and y” is is not the same as the OP’s understanding thereof. When OP said “You need experience” what they were really saying was “In order to do this job effectively you need a deep understanding of the system as we have implemented and deployed it at this scale”. Three weeks of experience with a small nonprofit is not comparable to administering what appears to be a system at a much larger scale.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          To me, that showed a profound lack of understanding of the work or some real hubris. I can’t think of any job, save for maybe housesitting, that 3 weeks of experience would be adequate. Those surely aren’t three 40-hour weeks, either.

          1. Stardust*

            Yes, he probably put a few hours each week at most. So his 3 weeks is at most 3 days! And it’s sure the OP wants someone with a LOT More experience than that. Plus someone that she can trust to follow directions, follow protocol, work well on the team and not undermine the OP every time the that Ernest wants something.

      6. neverjaunty*

        Yes, it is. There is quite a lot in the letter than explicitly shows this isn’t about a “career path” – this is an employer deciding he is entitled to another employee’s job.

        And what LBK said. This is a classic example of someone with entitlement who sees “no” as an obstacle to be overcome.

      7. feminazgul*

        It’s his entitlement speaking. He doesn’t hear “No,” he hears “I don’t really WANT to…but…if you go on a quest and satisfy me…maybe…”

        That’s his problem.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I was just thinking that there really wasn’t a need for any jumping on his part and that he brought his very own hoops no one else wanted anything to do with.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        “he brought his very own hoops no one else wanted anything to do with.”

        I really like this phrase!

      2. Misc*

        And then set up his own routine in the middle of the shared work area and then went through it all while everyone else tried to squeeze past him to the photocopier.

  13. Michelle*

    Wow. Just wow. I would definitely not want Ernest on my team and I think they way Alison has laid it out is very, very good. It explains perfectly why you don’t want this guy. IF he got on your team, especially after all this, he would think every time you said “no” all he would have to do is circumvent you and go to Martin and eventually you would give in.

    Please give us an update!

  14. Trout 'Waver*

    Gumption is proposing a solution when you go to the boss with a problem. Implementing that solution despite being told no is insubordination, not gumption.

    1. Serin*

      > Gumption is proposing a solution when you go to the boss with a problem.

      What this guy is doing is more like saying, “Give me what I want, or I will become your problem.”

    2. Stardust*

      Good point, Trout Waver! It’s definitely more insubordination and flagrant disregard for being told No by the Op than gumption. Oh, he’s persistent alright, as pesky as a horse fly. Perhaps the reason Martin sees it as gumption is because he’s using sales techniques that go after the sale and don’t take no for an answer. However, requesting Admin access to a complicated system without permission was a huge example of his lack of judgment and that he’d be a real PITA to manage! Yikes! I doubt that 3 weeks of volunteering part time somewhere is the type of experience the OP has in mind. The OP may be looking for 6 months or 2 years+ experience.

  15. BethRA*

    Also this ” Ernest had come to him again and pointed out that Simone could not handle the workload” is just insanely inappropriate, as is Martin bringing this to the OP. Having an open office with few secrets is one thing, Ernest sticking his nose in Simone’s business is quite another.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I’m pregnant right now, and someone else in my office decided to speak on behalf of all the pregnant women on an issue.

      I. Was. Royally. Pissed.

      Not because I disagreed with the assessment, which I did, but because I don’t need someone else to articulate what I need. I can do that myself.

      Ernest either has no clue or doesn’t care.

      1. Drew*

        Bonus points if the person speaking on behalf of all pregnant women was a man.

        “When my wife was pregnant, she would constantly tell me about her struggles while I was at work. So now I am an expert!”

      2. Emma*

        I think it’s worse – it’s not that Ernest doesn’t know or care, it’s that he sees Simone being pregnant/not bouncing back immediately as a weakness to exploit.

      1. LBK*

        I had to reread that part but I think Martin is the one who asked that, not Ernest, which I don’t think is that inappropriate since Simone does report up to him in the hierarchy. I read it as Ernest asking at first and my hackles went WAY up (although given the rest of the letter I wouldn’t put it past him).

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          From the context of the letter, I had read that to mean that Martin had inquired about the possible FMLA following a conversation in which Ernest said to Martin that Simone couldn’t handle her work and (again) asked to take over at least part of her position. It sounds like Ernest planted the FMLA bug in Martin’s ear, though I’m willing to admit that I don’t have a charitable read on Ernest’s behavior and could be mistaken.

          1. LBK*

            Hmm, good call. The way it’s written I took it to mean that Ernest had more generally brought up Simone being overwhelmed by her workload and Martin in turn asked a more pointed question to the OP about FMLA, but you’re right that it’s not clear.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I think that Ernest planted the FMLA bug in Martin’s ear, and I think that Martin is being way to accommodating and accepting of Ernest’s “gumption”. Ernest sees Martin as receptive to his viewpoints, and he thinks he has leverage, through Martin, to get the OP to do what he, Ernest, wants. And it doesn’t sound like he’s too far off base, if OP doesn’t line things out with Martin as Alison has suggested in her answer.

            1. Emma*

              I’m also starting to think Martin agrees with Ernest at least a little – I think Martin thinks Simone’s being pregnant is/was a “weakness” and is seeing it as an inconvenience for him, one that his new friend, who just happens to be male and thus not prone to this weakness, can solve!

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      YES. Beyond his refusal to take no for an answer, his meddling into a coworker’s health/leave situation in order to further his own career is troubling. It’s one thing to come to a manager and say that someone on your team seems to be struggling in a way that is affecting your workload or perception of your team. It’s quite another to be like, “So, one of my potential coworkers (were I to approach this situation in a professional manager rather than that of a pushy jackass) seems to be suffering from a medical issue and should avail herself of medical leave, not because it’s the right thing for her health but so I can have her job.”.

      If we’re keeping score at home, so far this guy has (a) repeatedly refused to take no for an answer; (b) become aggrieved because, after being told no, no, and no, he’s spent his own time and money on professional development efforts not suggested or supported by his current employer; (c) demanded admin access to something on which has no real-world experience; (d) gone around the person he wants to be his manager repeatedly; (e) stuck his nose into the personal issues of someone with whom he’d presumably need to establish a good working relationship; (f) assessed said coworker’s work as deficient in order to take her work from her; and (g) tried to wedge himself between the person he wants to take him onto her team and her manager for his own personal benefit.

      1. Scott*

        He sensed an opportunity. He definitely went about it the wrong way though from the start. I don’t blame him though for speaking up. Forget everything that had happened prior. Imagine he had the training and experience (as marginal as it may have been), and they had decided to hire a contractor. Then in passing conversation they mention they wish they didn’t have to hire a contractor, and he’s sitting there like WTF? Anyways, that’s not the way it played out. They should probably be looking to push this guy out of the organization somehow. Hopefully he’ll learn.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          But hiring a contractor for these types of positions usually means paying a premium for bringing in someone with significant experience and expertise in the system you’re using. I support a fairly complex application that has independent certifications, and I’m going to grumble if I have to spend the money for someone certified to come in because it’s expensive, but it’s also risky and foolhardy to simply hand the reins of a big project over to someone with no practical experience and hope for the best in a busy/understaffed time when I can’t provide training and oversight. No one loves it because it’s expensive and they have to acclimate to your iteration of the system, but Martin has less experience and would still have to acclimate and presumably has a job in his own department that would have to be covered when he takes on new responsibilities.

          1. Scott*

            Not disagreeing. But the comment wasn’t about whether they should hire a contractor or not. Maybe they absolutely need someone with years of advanced experience. But the comment was with respect to whether it’s right or not to speak up that you have experience in a role that may be opening, and being filled by a contractor, when that role may only be opening up because a coworker may be going on leave for post partum depression. Is it absolutely wrong to sense an opportunity in that? Maybe. What if someone gets very sick? is that a good opportunity, or are they being an opportunist?

            1. Observer*

              Except that that is not at all what happened. The INITIAL request? OK, he sensed an opportunity. Everything he did from there was out of line. Arguing with the department manager that they need to allocate the consultant budget to his training? Seriously?! Going to the struggling worker’s grand-boss to suggest that she’s not fit to do the job? FMLA interference claim waiting to happen. As well as being rude, nosy and creepy as all get out. Remember, he wasn’t basing himself on hearing her supervisor talking to the grand-boss about how problematic it is that they have to hire a consultant. He based himself on seeing Simone’s schedule and overhearing some conversations between Simone and her supervisor.

              I’d call him a shark, but it’s not fair to the sharks.

              1. Scott*

                We actually agree. Most successful people are sharks. But that’s exactly why he’ll fail. He’s a terrible shark. He had the initial conversation, which is completely fair. Had he done all that training and come back and asked if they needed help when Simone was struggling, he probably would have been met with more receptiveness, than claiming she wasn’t fit for the job.

                1. J*

                  I wouldn’t even go that far. He doesn’t have enough experience to be at all helpful during Simone’s distress.

                  What he *could* have done is pursued the certification and then revisited the conversation when the OP had the bandwidth to offer some training on the side. But newly-certified with “hey, I’ve turned it on and poked around a couple of screens” experience is *not* a position of sufficient strength to be of any value while the department is short-handed.

                2. Scott*

                  I think the important thing to remember is that if you do training on your own time and expense, you have to accept that it may not ever pay off.

  16. AnonymousAndroid*

    Although I think Ernest has handled this spectacularly badly, I wonder whether the OP was as clear as possible in the initial conversation that it was not just about training / certification.

    Because that happened to me quite a lot in my early career. I’d be told that I couldn’t be promoted because I hadn’t passed a particular exam. I’d go off and pass it, and then couldn’t understand why I still wasn’t getting promoted… (I knew enough not to go over the hiring manager’s head, though!)

    I’ve also worked with quite a few people who seem incapable of hearing something they don’t like. And who are then genuinely surprised when they don’t get the performance rating they were expecting.

    So sometimes it’s more of a kindness to be blunt. I’d also suggest putting something in writing, so Ernest can’t twist what is being said.

    (I do have a reluctant admiration for his persistence in getting the training / some experience, however. It’s just the way he’s trying to force the OP into doing something they don’t want to do that is wrong. If he’s very new to the world of work, maybe something that could be trained out of him in future? Just a thought…)

    1. neverjaunty*

      Again, this isn’t about a promotion. This about someone trying to muscle his way into another employee’s job. Why do you find that admirable? This guy is like a job stalker.

    2. addlady*

      I hate to agree, but sometimes being blunt up front can be important. Right now I am imagining this:

      Ernest: Can I fill in?
      OP: No, that isn’t possible.
      Ernest: Why not?
      OP: Because you don’t have the training necessary.
      Ernest walks away thinking: All I have to do is train!


      Ernest: Can I fill in?
      OP: No, that isn’t possible.
      Ernest: Why not?
      OP: We have it covered.
      Ernest: But why not?
      OP: We feel that hiring contractors from outside is the best solution for a variety of reasons.
      Ernest: but couldn’t I do this?
      OP: (whatever the polite way of saying “that’s enough” is)
      Ernest walks away thinking: I guess this isn’t possible.

      1. LBK*

        But it sounds like the OP did take more of the latter approach and instead of walking away thinking it wasn’t possible, Ernest just kept looking for ways to poke holes in the OP’s rationale.

          1. neverjaunty*

            OP explicitly says that she made it clear that it wasn’t just the certification, it was also experience.

            And Ernest didn’t say “but couldn’t I do this?” He instead told the OP that she should take the money allotted to the contractor (a person already certified and with the requisite experience) and spend it on HIS training instead.

      2. Serin*

        I imagine managers pretty often start with the first kind of conversation, and in retrospect wish they had gone with the second kind. You don’t always know when you’re dealing with someone who won’t take a hint.

        Best-case scenario (where Ernest was willing to listen) might have gone like this:

        Ernest: Can I fill in?
        OP: No, that isn’t possible.
        Ernest: Why not?
        OP: Because you don’t have the training necessary.
        Ernest: Let me be really upfront. This looks to me like an amazing opportunity to get some experience that I’ve been wanting a chance at for a long time, and save the company some money at the same time — win/win! If training is really the only barrier, can you and I work together on finding some way to get me the training? Or is there something else about this situation that I don’t understand?
        OP: If you already had X and Y training plus Z years of experience, we could move you into this role right away. As things stand, though, putting you here would actually create more work and expense and difficulty for the company. If you’d focus on doing A, B, and C right now, then you’d be a good candidate for an opportunity like this in three years’ time, and in the meantime I can put some thought into how I could help you get qualified.

        1. LBK*

          Completely agreed. It’s often really hard to tell if someone isn’t taking the hint – especially in a situation like this where the OP didn’t find out that Ernest apparently hadn’t taken the hint until their next meeting, where it was sprung on her that he had already gone out and taken the certification course. If Ernest had floated that approach in the initial conversation, I think OP would’ve had reason to be more firm, but it doesn’t seem like there were strong indicators from their first talk that he wasn’t getting the message.

    3. sunny-dee*

      Well, yes, and no. I mean, I completely agree that directness is much kinder (and more effective), but sometimes people just straight up hear what they want to hear. I had a lead engineer once who would push back on everything. If someone said, “we can’t support this because my resources are supporting X, Y, Z already,” he would come back and say that they had agreed to support it because X, Y, Z weren’t priorities for him. There’s a difference between compromise between teams and simply steamrolling. And if the answer to something was “no,” that’s the part of the answer you need to focus on, not “oh, well it could be yes if I just changed X, Y, Z!”

      In this case, the lack of certification and long-term experience are clear and objective reasons to say no — but they are not the only reasons and those other reasons aren’t necessarily any of his business.

      Honestly, I have no admiration for his persistence because I, frankly, don’t believe he’s actually getting any training. It is, at best, unreasonable to think that three weeks’ volunteer time at a nonprofit qualifies as “experience” in any meaningful way, and I doubt he could get any complex training / certification completed in one month. It feels dishonest to me, or possibly ignorant — like a Coursera class is totally the same as formal training.

      1. shep*

        “[…] Sometimes people just straight up hear what they want to hear.”

        So much this. Luckily the vast majority of people like this I encounter at work are folks calling over the phone (which is one of the many reasons I prefer email) and not actual coworkers.

        Usually I’m able to get the callers to understand, but sometimes it takes the person asking me the question three or four different ways and me responding with the SAME ANSWER to get them to understand that it won’t change.

    4. LBK*

      I think the issue is hearing “You don’t have the certification needed for this role” and mentally tacking on “…but otherwise you’re completely qualified and I would hire you for it.” That’s a bad assumption to make – as with any job, just because you tick off all the things on the list of requirements doesn’t mean you’re the best person for the job or that you deserve the role. It’s not a video game quest where once you collect all the McGuffins, you turn them in and get rewarded with the job.

    5. E.P. Hubble*

      People are already shouting you down on this, but I agree. Ernest may be hearing you can’t do this when you don’t have x experience, so is surprised when he gets the experience and still is told no. That doesn’t mean he’s right, but it helps understand where he’s coming from.

      OP it may help you tell him no use you’re explaining from his POV instead of your own.

      1. LBK*

        I highly doubt 3 weeks of experience is what the OP had in mind. I don’t think you can even be competent on a complex system until you’ve worked with it for at least 6 months. It all circles back to Ernest taking the OP’s objections as a list of arbitrary boxes to be checked off, not taking them seriously as skills he would need in his repertoire in order to be successful at the job.

        1. LQ*

          3 weeks of experience while volunteering. So not full time, unknown about the level of oversight, or if it was just, hey we need someone to do this so we’ll take what we can get. In most systems I think that what you should learn in your first 3 weeks on the job is that it is all about hands on and that the theory of certification only gets you so far.

        2. E.P. Hubble*

          I agree, so be firm that these aren’t things to check off. As the manager OP has all the right in the world to determine who works for her. Explain that qualification takes years of learning, not a class, and there’s no guarantee that getting that experience will get him the job.

          1. LBK*

            I think at this point she definitely needs to be completely explicit/blunt about it, but I’d say in general that most people wouldn’t have taken her initial objections as a challenge. I don’t fault the OP for taking her initial approach since I think most people would read between the lines and handle the rejection a lot more gracefully (and that starting with a blunt rejection could come across as too harsh in those situations).

      2. neverjaunty*

        “Shouting you down”? How exactly does that work on a written comments section? Are people just typing extra noisily? Is there an audio plug-in that I failed to notice?

        It’s one thing to point out if people are being unnecessarily harsh or personal, but it’s pretty bogus to jump into a conversation where there is courteous disagreement and accuse people you disagree with (or who are simply in the majority) of being bullies.

        1. E.P. Hubble*

          I mean there are tons of people saying that there’s no way that Ernest could have been doing anything other than being sexist, and no way to get to the conclusion he did other than he just isn’t listening to OP. AA suggested something to put an end to it that was different than what the OP had already done, and people already began to say it was unnecessary. AAM is not a place for this type of conversation, so this is definitely my last response. I love the comment section here, but there is definitely a bias towards thinking the subjects of the letters have mal-intent, instead of social awkwardness or lack of experience. When there are 100 posts saying the exact same thing it has the effect of “shouting down” other points of view.

          I agree with the sentiment that OP has every right to determine her team, and Ernest is being unreasonable. He could very well be sexist too, but there’s nothing to indicate old boys club from her boss, and there may be another reason Ernest is acting the way he does. If nothing else else OP might be better served by taking a different approach (and really myself and AA were just wondering if it is possible she wasn’t as straightforward as she could have been.)

          1. E.P. Hubble*

            And just to clarify my AAM is not the place for this type of conversation, was not referring to the previous sentences, but meaning I’m not going to get into a debate about whether it is possible to shout down in a comment section. I’m not trying to minimize the validity of what you are saying, as much as I don’t want to rathole.

          2. Hrovitnir*

            I disagree that people are saying “there’s no way that Ernest could have been doing anything other than being sexist”, and it’s telling that that’s your take when sexist wasn’t mentioned in replies to you.

            Ernest’s behaviour speaks for itself. I think there’s a high chance he’s sexist but it’s not actually the core issue here: he has attempted to steamroll the OP into giving him a job in which he would need to be under their authority. Nothing about his behaviour has been anything but inappropriate, and if he chooses to ignore 90% of his feedback to focus on 10% that is not the OP’s problem.

            The “no” has been explicit the entire time and has never wavered. The fact the OP said that he has neither the experience (and emphasised experience on multiple occasions), nor the qualifications does not justify his behaviour. I certainly don’t want to work in a world in which managers assume the worst of everyone and never explain anything – because he could have taken this as a prompt to learn X, Y, and Z without also trying to force himself into a role, work around his potential-manager and do super appropriate things like decide he’s entitled to admin access on his own.

            No excuses.

            1. E.P. Hubble*

              Just for clarification I’m talking about all the posts, not just this thread. There’s a ton of talk about the old boys club, Ernest not respecting OP because she is a woman, and OP’s boss trying to “help a bro out”.

              I disagree that the no has been explicit, or at least there’s a possibility it hasn’t. It sounds like OP might be giving Ernest reasons why he’s not a fit for the job and he is misinterpreting those to mean do this then you’ll be a fit. The original comment was simply make sure you are being straightforward and saying no. For whatever reason Ernest is thinking there’s a chance. It doesn’t mean OP was wrong, nor does it mean that the OP didn’t originally say No without in any qualifiers. It’s simply an agreement with AA that saying no might be the next step.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Ernest’s behavior would be crappy and wrong even if everybody’s genders were different. People are guessing (in some cases through experience) that there may be an additional, sexist layer of suck to his behavior.

                And OP has explicitly said no. Repeatedly. That Ernest chooses to ignore or not to hear that doesn’t mean the OP failed to communicate.

                1. E.P. Hubble*

                  That OP’s boss is seeing “gumption” at least raises the chances that the no was qualified. Even if not, we often have to deal with people who interpret what we say differently than the way we intended.

                  It might make OP’s life easier to consider if there is a different way to say no.

          3. Pari*

            Agreed. I find it a bit hypocritical to see so many comments saying ops can give subtle hints while through the other side of our mouths saying they deserve clear feedback.

            1. Jessie*

              So here is the thing I feel you’re not getting or not acknowledging – feedback does not equal guarantee that what you want will be given to you. When people here advocate for clear feedback, it’s in the context of discussions with managers where there is a broader conversation about career; or it’s with hiring managers after rejection. In neither case does feedback = “if I do the things you tell me I am lacking, without talking it over with you, then afterwards when I surprise you with all the things I did, I get to have a Shiny New Career that you give me.” And that is the difference, because the guy here is doing all this without ever discussing what he is going to do, all the while ignoring the parts of the feedback that do not fit into his master plan, and then demanding he get what he wants and doing a run-around the person in charge of the job when he continues to get an answer he does not like.

              Very different from thinking people should get clear feedback.

            2. Dot Warner*

              She did give him clear feedback. She told him that he needed the certification and a good deal of experience. He (supposedly) got the certificate and then somehow thought that three weeks of part-time experience was enough. The problem is not that the OP didn’t provide feedback, it’s that Ernest only heard the parts that he wanted to hear.

    6. Anon 12*

      I agree with this POV except I would combine it with the other comments about Ernest’s boss being MIA. The blunt conversation really needs to be handled by his manager and it needs to be in the larger context of how he is doing in his current job, aspirations for his next job and what he can reasonably expect. What’s missing from the facts we have is whether he’s a solid worker, or even a rock star, and whether/how he’s viewed as a long term resource and somebody in whom the company wants to invest. The “training this out of him” thought is important too, maybe he just doesn’t know better than to bulldoze his way through and would benefit from being told how this viewed by the hiring manager. Or he could be an irrecoverable jerk, in which case this example is probably mirrored by others within his routine work assignments. I would suggest OP speak with his direct boss so this behavior can be incorporated into general feedback.

      1. E.P. Hubble*

        This +1,000. I appreciate OP trying to avoid blowing this up, but it sounds like Ernest’s actions have warranted bringing his manager in.

    7. Drew*

      I am reminded of a newly former coworker whose method of receiving feedback was to fix the specific issue being pointed out, to the precise degree specified in that meeting, without in any way altering his overall approach to his job or recognizing that repeated warnings about his unprofessional conduct were being seen as a pattern.

      Literally, at one point, he argued that he shouldn’t be getting reprimanded for spending work time on Slate because he had only been told not to spend work time on Facebook and Slate was a totally separate site. Now, is part of that on his manager for assuming that “don’t waste time on Facebook” would be taken as “or any other non-work site”? Sure. But, come on.

    8. Emma*

      Honestly, though? I don’t think this is the case with Ernest, because he is deliberately trying to do an end run around the OP – repeatedly. That means he understands that the OP was saying no. I could buy him not understanding the first time, with the training, maybe. The rest? He’s playing games to get what he wants. If he has even the vaguest understanding of anything, he knows 3 weeks of volunteer training isn’t enough experience (and if he doesn’t get that he’s not qualified on that alone); he’s tried to sneakily get admin access; he’s repeatedly gone over OP’s head to Martin; he’s now trying to claim that his recently-pregnant coworker is unable to do her job. By at least that last point he should’ve recognized that what he was doing is wrong; he is still persisting.

      You knew enough not to go over the manager’s head. That’s not a minor difference. You heard a no and may not have understood why it was a no, but you knew it was a no and that was the end of it. This guy heard no and decided the only reasonable reaction was to be about as jerkish as he could be in the hopes of forcing the OP to change to yes.

  17. Canadian Dot*

    When I think of “gumption” in the workplace, I think of a very “Old Boys Club” kind of workplace – “Ya got moxy, kid! Here, have a cigar.”

  18. J*

    In three months, he not only got himself certified but located a non-profit willing to let him practice on their system and believes he has enough experience to fill in on this role? What? And Martin thinks this is okay?

    I’m dubious about ALLLLLLL of this.

    1. Mander*

      There’s that too. I’d be very interested to know where this magical volunteer experience and training came from. I’m assuming it’s not the kind of post where a couple of MOOC classes will give you the right knowledge to be competent.

  19. Annonymous*

    Other commenters have brought up the gender dynamics between the OP and Ernest, but there are also pretty terrible gender dynamics between Ernest and Simone.

    Simone had a baby, and is at a point in her career where a lot of women get forced out of the workforce or backwards in thier career progression. Ernest has been aggressively gunning for her job, both before her leave and after, which probably hasn’t helped with her recovery.

    Your boss has also been making this a million times worse by praising Ernests behavior. THats only reinforcing Ernests idea that if he pushes hard enough, he’ll get his way.

      1. Charlie*

        Because Martin is a bro, and Ernest is a bro, and OP is not a bro (my guess is that OP is a female, and therefore viewed as an inferior no matter what job title she has), and bros think the laws of the universe have been violated when they’re not given what they want immediately and at all times. And it’s my guess that OP has tried to be professional and give reasons and be conciliatory.

        At this point, I think a “Ernie, I wasn’t previously personally set against you, but your ongoing insubordination, concern with matters not your business, and going over my head to force my hand has changed that. Your total lack of qualification is just one of many reasons you do not have a place on my team and you never will, and I will not entertain the notion ever again” would be highly justified, with Martin and Jane CC’d.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Just what I thought, too. Ernest and Martin are part of the good ol’ boy network, and I think OP is female and therefore not entitled to the benefits of the GOB network.

        2. slick ric flair*

          This seems like a pretty big leap from the information provided. There’s no indication that bro-ness is a factor here.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Even if Martin is unaware of this dynamic, it’s possible it could be interpreted that way, especially by Simone. This would justify a complaint (and herein lies some legal murk for the company, which might or might not be worth bringing up).

            Or you could see it as Ernest just being a steamrolling jerkface–he absolutely is that. Either way, his manager needs to be in on this, pronto.

          2. Jessie*

            Sure there is indication. It’s not conclusive, but it is absolutely something to consider. We know: guy wants a job and gets all steamroll-y, enlists senior guy to be on his side and having conversations outside the hierarchy, talking about female coworker who is a new mom perhaps not being fit to work, and senior guy sees nothing wrong and thinks the guy has gumption and should totally be considered.

            Doesn’t mean there is bro-ness happening, but it’s a serious possibility.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            I am not seeing a broness here, it could be, but it’s not jumping out at me.

            I don’t think Martin is that good a leader. He does not get enough read on a situation to understand what is required from him in his role.

            Martin has allowed further discussions to go on AFTER OP said no. This is a great way to undermine your subordinates. “Hey, one parent said NO, so I will just go ask the other parent, Martin’s available.”

            Most grandboss I have had would say, “That is between you and your manager.” Double whammy here, because OP is not this guy’s manager. What a great way to shut this whole thing down.

    1. CM*

      Agreed! I think Martin (OP’s boss who likes Ernest) is the one who needs to be made aware of this. I’d add to Alison’s explanation of why OP does not want to hire Ernest an additional “and we need to be careful about how we handle this situation as a company, because our employees deserve to be valued and respected even when they’re having health and family issues, and Ernest has used Simone’s maternity leave as a way to try to take over her job.” (Which opens the company up to liability, in addition to just being a crappy way to treat Simone that will reflect badly on the company in the eyes of other employees.)

    2. KarenD*

      I was actually thinking the same sort of thing, from a slightly different angle … The OP needs to talk to Simone to make sure Ernest hasn’t been gaslighting her. PPD makes one horribly vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy, and one good push (or a lot of little nudges) can take a bad situation to worse.

      If Ernest has been bombarding her with the message “you can’t d0 this/I want your job” (I wouldn’t put it past someone this pushy to have been contacting Simone before her maternity leave even ended) then he may have exacerbated her problems when she got back. It may seem paranoid to suspect that he has been in contact with Simone, but he’s hurled himself against every other obstacle in his path thus far, so ….

        1. Emma*

          He’s also already overstepped with a coworker, so it’s not like he’s just overstepping with the bosses.

      1. A Good Jess*

        I didn’t even think of this and yet it happened to me… when I was pregnant and when I came back from maternity leave, a coworker was gaslighting me hard. He told me that “people” were saying I was acting like I was the first and only pregnant person in the world. He told me my plan for covering my workload during my maternity leave was stupid, even though my bosses loved it and loved that I proactively developed it. He said the documentation I left for coworkers covering my work was insulting, and that if he were one of the people covering, he would toss it on his desk and never look at it because he knew how to do my job just fine. When I got back he said that everyone was talking about how I had taken too much leave and that I should have come back earlier. etc etc etc

        It was terrible. It was four years ago, and it is only in the last month or two that I recognized his behavior went beyond toxic and into the realm of mental/emotional abuse. And I had the textbook response… I didn’t report it because I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

        1. KarenD*

          I am so, so sorry you went through that. It sounds like it got to the point where it would have been quite actionable.

      2. Dot Warner*

        That’s a really good point! Ernest probably would take it upon himself to force Simone out.

    3. MashaKasha*

      Thank you, I came here to say that.

      When I had my first child back in Eastern Europe, I essentially lost my job. On paper, I was on unpaid maternity leave for an indefinite period of time (ended up being four years, would’ve been longer, but we had to leave for the US) while still being an employee in the department. In reality, they hired my (male) replacement shortly before my son was born, and told me no when I wanted to come back from leave. I took a part-time job, then another contractor job, then had my second child, but I never got the first job back. (And, yes, my career took a huge hit as a result, and I’m feeling the aftershocks to this day 23 years later.) So I can smell this kind of thing from a mile away. Ernest, being the opportunistic douchenozzle that he is, has seized on his chance to squeeze Simone out of her job while she’s not feeling well. He figures that, if he moves fast enough, then by the time Simone is back on her feet and able to work full-time, he’ll have already proven himself as a better candidate for her job and she’ll have no other choice but go work somewhere else. This is on top of him aggressively forcing himself into a job he’s not qualified for, that is a critical one, with a lot of room for him to bring the company’s production down if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. All the while seeing himself as some kind of a kid with a lemonade stand and a lot of drive and work ethics (with OP’s boss having apparently already bought into this inane vision). Ugh. I really have no words for this man that are not profanities. “Gumption” my arse.

    4. Tuxedo Cat*

      I was wondering if Ernest is bugging Simone and making it harder for her to do her job.

      Related to this, I was thinking that if the OP were to allow Ernest to fill in for Simone, I anticipate he’d fight tooth and nail to permanently keep her job or be difficult for her.

    5. Turkey*

      And let’s not forget that Ernest’s boss is a woman, ‘Jane’.

      So we have Ernest refusing to work with/doing an end-run around/undermining two female bosses, and undermining the professional competence of another female coworker, possibly trying to get her sacked – during and after her maternity leave (!!!) – and appealing to men to help him with that (Alvin, Martin, Martin’s boss).

      Here in the UK, employment law and HR recognise that you can be discriminated against by peers, superiors, and subordinates, and that it doen’t have to be explicitly sexual to be gendered discrimination or harassment. If that’s true where you are, LW – and if Ernest’s other actions make him look like that kind of sexist – I’d consider taking Ernest to HR.

      If you’re not sure, it might be worth taking some mutual coworkers out for coffee and dropping in some neutral, open-ended questions, like “So you’ve worked with Ernest. What’s he like?” and see whether or not a pattern emerges.

  20. Dzhymm, BfD*

    I’m reminded of the experience of a friend of mine. In high school a guy asked her out, and she was seriously not interested. She said “I don’t date guys who don’t wear leather jackets”. So he went out and bought a leather jacket, “Now will you go out with me?” Uh, no.

    The point is, when someone says “no” and then presents a list of objections, there is almost always more to the denial than just the stated reasons, and simply countering the stated objections will not automatically convert “no” to “yes”.

    OTOH, Ernest may have a bright future ahead of him in sales; what he is doing is a sales technique called “closing”, wherein you have an answer for every objection the customer can come up with. It’s a pretty slimy technique in that it’s basically cornering the customer into saying “yes”, but the commissions just keep piling up…

    1. Brogrammer*

      There’s a sales guy in my company who’s so good at this technique that he’s managed to close deals with totally unqualified clients. When my team get on meetings with the clients to implement, they have no idea what they want and don’t seem to even understand what our product does. Those accounts are inevitably lost to churn (which makes my department look bad), but upper management doesn’t care because the sales guy is just so good at closing deals.

        1. Brogrammer*

          The client does pay when the initial deal closes, so in theory the sales guy has done his job. The problem is that the hard sell clients who don’t understand our product comprise the 20% of clients who create 80% of the work, and then they don’t buy again.

          Clients who buy again are a big part of our revenue stream, but renewals aren’t as sexy as signing new clients. So the sales guy who closes $2X in deals but none of the clients buy again is seen as better than the sales guy who closes $X and all the clients buy again, even though both brought the same amount of total revenue to the company.

          Thankfully we recently brought in new sales management and they’re eager to improve the sales processes, so if all goes well that should change.

          1. ..Kat..*

            Not only don’t they buy again, they complain about your company and cost you future business from potential customers.

    2. MashaKasha*

      Yup, that’s how we bought our timeshare. Came to their sales show for the restaurant coupons, left at 1AM with a timeshare. They literally did have an answer to every objection. When the sales person that worked with us was stumped for an answer, she left and returned with her manager, and the two of them continued grilling us together until finally, at midnight, we said yes. Took me seven years to get rid of that ridiculous thing, and I sold it for less than 10% of what we’d bought it for. What can I say, I’m not a closer.

      1. Dzhymm, BfD*

        Heh. We had exactly the opposite experience buying a timeshare once. We knew exactly what we wanted and why we wanted it, all we needed to know was the price and terms. The poor salesman was physically incapable of deviating from his spiel, though; he was “closing” against phantom objections “See, this shows that the total cost of ownership is LESS than renting a hotel every year” “Yes, yes, we know that, what’s the price?” “And you can bank your time to trade with other timeshares as well” “Yes, we know that… THE PRICE?!”. Finally his manager saw what was going on, swooped in, and proceeded to “close” a done deal in just a couple of minutes.

      2. Rey*

        That’s how I almost ended up with a $9000 water filtration system! It was so weird, all during the sales pitch, one half of my brain was very clearly saying “This doesn’t sound right, I think this is a scam,” but the other half was very busy going “Oh, yes, clearly we need this!” extremely loudly. Fortunately for me, the sales guy pushed too hard for an immediate decision, which activated the mental fail-safe. If I can’t sleep on a decision, the answer is no.

  21. Scott*

    Definitely agree that he wouldn’t work with that kind of attitude, with the going behind the hiring manager’s back. However I do see that he really wants this job. I think he misplaced his eagerness. He could have accomplished a whole lot more if he had just changed the way he had approached the manager, and the way he talked. He should never claim that “the job should be his”, because it’s never a sure thing.

    Maybe he can learn from this, and eventually move onto an organization where he can start fresh, and use his skills that he’s picked up. But he’ll need to work on repairing his relationships with the managers at this company.

    I sincerely believe he did have gumption, but misplaced it to the point of disrespecting the managers of his own organization. Its actually impressive that he trained himself on the software, and then found a volunteer gig to practice. He could have accomplished so much more if he hadn’t gone over the manager’s head, and assumed he’d get the job if he checked all the boxes.

    1. Annonymous*

      You’re right, it’s a great example of how toxic male behavior hurts all people, not just women. But it isn’t the OPs job to unpack that, and it’s extremely unlikely that Ernest will learn anything besides “go directly to Martin because he likes me.”

      1. Temperance*

        I actually don’t think it’s hurting them. Martin is all about this assclown because they’re just bros being bros!

      2. Scott*

        I think you took my comment out of context. What does this have to do with male behavior? A woman could have definitely done all those things. He didn’t hurt anyone except his own career prospects within the company.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Thanks and this. ^^^^ Toxic behavior is simply toxic behavior; it’s not unique or limited to either sex.

          1. Annonymous*

            Sure, it’s toxic when anyone does it, but this streamrolling, pushy behavior is something our society specifically praises men for and criticizes women for, especially in professional contexts. Since this is a case where a man is gunning for the job of a woman who is recovering from a pregnancy, and going over a woman’s head to her male boss, it’s safe to say that gender is playing a large roll here.

            1. Scott*

              It doesn’t really sound like he was praised by anyone. The head boss was in the dark, so he doesn’t understand. It kind of sounds like he’s being pretty badly reprimanded. But I guess if you REALLY want to play gender into it you can possibly find an angle. I don’t think that was intention of anyone’s post here.

              1. feminazgul*

                He was praised for his gumption. It doesn’t matter the intentions of the post, what matters is gendered social and workplace context. Don’t act like gender isn’t a factor. How many pushy, steamrolling women do you see trying to domineeringly take over a man’s job when he’s out on parental leave?

              2. Sorin*

                I mean, Martin’s all in favor of Ernest taking the position now, knowing that Ernest has been going around the LW to their boss to set up meetings to talk about getting a position on their team. He may not have praised Ernest to his face, but he certainly approves.

              3. Jessie*

                Yes, if I really want to see that gender is an issue – like when a female worker goes on maternity leave and a male coworker, despite being told no, continues to push to fill in for her job despite being told no goes above manager’s head to enlist the support of the male grandboss, and when female coworker comes back, *continues to push* to do her job, to the point of discussing with others that she might not be up to handling the demands of work.

                I’m flabbergasted that some people think it’s a stretch to consider gender is playing a role here.

                As if gender is only a factor when someone announces “And now, I will illegally consider how to push a woman out of her job because of her gender.”

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Honestly, Ernest sounds like the kind of person who would do this to anyone. If Simone were Simon, who was out because of a car accident and still required therapy, he’d probably do the same thing, because that’s who Ernest is.

                  And, even if Ernest is a horrible sexist who is simply jumping on the opportunity to undermine someone he doesn’t like, I still object to the phrase “toxic masculinity.” There is nothing masculine about being an obnoxious jerk and there is nothing inherently toxic about being masculine. We would (rightly) be horrified if someone attributed bad behavior to “toxic blackness” or “toxic gayness” or “toxic femininity.”

                  I have a stepson. I do not believe that the fact that he is male makes him an inherently toxic person, and I won’t teach him that. I do not believe that about my husband, my father, or my brother.

                  It is possible to denounce sexism without falling into sexist stereotyping.

                2. Emma*

                  But toxic masculinity doesn’t refer to all masculine behaviors and claim they’re toxic. It refers to a particular kind of masculine behavior/performance that is toxic. You’re confusing the subset with the whole.

                3. Brisvegan*

                  As others, especially Emma, have said, “toxic masculinity” does not mean “men are toxic.” I have male kids. Saying that they enact toxic masculinity does not mean I think they are bad people, anymore than me admitting to enacting compulsory feminity means I am a sexist’s stereotype of a woman. It means that we all live in a society that constantly tries to persuade us that certain ideas and behavious are required because of our gender. Men can be victims of patriarchal notions that hurt not only the women around them, but also themselves. It can mean that our asshole settings might follow certain scripts, here about persistence in the face of refusal, that are rewarded/punished/depicted different ways in different gendering social discourses.

                  I must admit that I come at this from a pretty academic mindset. In masculinity and/or feminist theory, “toxic masculinity” is a term of art which usually means a set of beliefs and behaviours which are based on certain notions of hegemonic or protest masculinity and/or patriarchal imposition of those beliefs or behaviours in ways that harm not only women, but often also the men who enact them. It doesn’t mean that anything masculine is toxic. There are equivalent discourses about other forms of gendering, including discussions of ways women internalise femininity. I think we might be understanding the terms differently, but this is how I read the use of the term by others.

                  I agree with others that Ernest’s behaviour is an example of a type of salesmanship routed in toxic masculinity. He is enacting bullying behaviours to get what he wants. He is refusing to hear the “no” and enacting a “keep pushing until they say yes” script that is endorsed in men as “gumption” or enthusiasm by a million stories and movies from rom-coms to business seminars. It is toxic masculinity because it follows common scripts for masculine coded persistence behaviours and lack of respect for the female OP, while it does several things: shows entitlement that bullying should be rewarded, disrespects all the women involved, especially the OP by Ernest assuming that he can just ignore her, and it hurts Ernest by him failing to progress his career because he enacted highly erroneous beliefs about how to succeed.

                  I do think those behaviours are coded male, because women acting like Ernest at work would be called aggressive at best (or b***chy, pushy, ball-breaker, etc), and would be highly unlikely to be rewarded, and would probably be penalised, not praised for “gumption.” Our scripts for men and boys tell them to keep pushing if they get an answer they don’t like, for everything from sex, to a deal on a purchase, to getting the proverbial foot in the door for a job (see eg way too many popular movies, TV shows, novels, stereoptypes, rape tropes etc).

          1. N S*

            Right – lots of people can make this same kind of mistake. But note that the previous incident is potentially -evidence- of the larger scale pattern of inequality: this is behavior for which women often get fired (or otherwise penalized), professionally, and men often (but not always) get rewarded. She got fired. He’s maybe going to get rewarded, unless OP manages to convince their own slightly-obtuse-at-best manager that their (totally legit) reasons for not being interested in him are totally legit.

            1. Brogrammer*

              Perhaps I was a little overly pithy – that’s what I was trying to point out. If Ernest were a woman, odds are he would have been fired by now.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Well, the OP isn’t his manager so she can’t just fire him, but he’s not going to get hired / transferred from this and he’s burning bridges. (While the OP’s boss is being sympathetic, he’s also supporting her decisions and backing her up publicly, so that’s something.)

                We don’t know how this will end. The other letter writer messed up two major, high-profile projects while her manager was away and disobeyed a direct order. In that case, the manager had a clear way to punish the letter writer. In this case, it’s not clear that the OP can do anything, except trying to get her boss or the guy’s manager to deal with it.

                1. dppb*

                  So I can’t reply to your message above as it’s reached nesting limits, but ‘toxic masculinity’ is used to describe a specific set of behaviors and beliefs that are sexist and usually bigoted and also very very bad for men. Like the idea that if you get ‘disrespected’ in public, you’re not a ‘real man’ unless you get in a physical fight over it. Or that if you like pink or dolls or cooking or decorating, then you’re gay (usually a different, awful term is used). Or that men don’t cry. Or that talking about their emotions isn’t ok. Or that taking an active role in raising their children is a cute favor to the Real Parent (mom) rather than an important responsibility and rewarding experience. Or or or it goes on and on, and you probably have already come up with other examples of what it refers to because you’ve seen it play out in a zillion movies and tv shows and probably with men you know and love. To say it’s claiming that all men/all masculinity are bad is a fundamental misunderstanding of the term. If someone says ‘toxic chemicals’, it is not generally understood that all chemicals are equally terrible and should be shot into outer space. The phrase ‘cancerous cells’ is not an indictment of all cells everywhere.

                  p.s. Black people have had to deal with ‘black culture’, ‘ghetto culture’, and ‘gang culture’ used as synonyms for a range of behavior from some of America’s most amazing and rich artistic/culture heritage as well as survival strategies of extreme poverty to straight up murderous terribleness, as if it were all one and the same. So while it’s great that you are rightly horrified by it, it’s not a thought experiment – and it is different than the term ‘toxic masculinity’.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, I agree. I think in a different context and with a different approach, it would actually be pretty impressive that he listened to the OP’s feedback, took on the financial and opportunity cost of putting himself through the certification and made the effort to look for opportunities to get hands-on experience. But he went about it all the wrong way – it comes across like he did all of it just to appease the OP with no thought for why she actually wanted him to do those things.

    3. neverjaunty*

      And if he hadn’t tried to go behind his potential future boss’s back to get access he wasn’t entitled to and to push out the person who has the job already.

    4. Mustache Cat*

      He hasn’t “misplaced” anything, he has been aggressively making deliberate choices. Let’s not excuse this undermining, insurbordinate, aggressive behavior please.

      1. Scott*

        who excused it? I’m saying had he not done those specific things he’d actually have placed himself pretty well. You can’t see that? He misplaced his eagerness into being overly aggressive and going around and over heads when he should have worked on himself instead. And he has some fundamental misunderstandings about how the job market works. don’t earn a job based on qualifications.

        1. Michele*

          I understand your point, but to demand that he gets his job and that the company pays for his training is horrible. Not to mention the possibility that he could try to sabotage Simone and OP’s standings.

          1. Scott*

            We agree on those points. He’s an idiot and has likely sabotaged his career, possibly irreparably. That doesn’t contradict my point. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t motivated, he just didn’t know and was way too cocky.

    5. Student*

      You make this assumption that the guy is somehow entitled to this role and just used the wrong script.

      Reality check – just because he really wants the job and has done some stuff on his own to get it, doesn’t mean he’s actually qualified for the job. There are lots of jobs that require more than what this guy has done to be basically competent. This is, from the OP’s description, an unqualified person trying to bluster his way into a job he is not suited for. He’s still unqualified, even though he tried hard to get some qualifications – because he has no idea what the job is really like and what qualifications matter the most. His whole attitude of blasting his way in to do whatever he wants is pretty much the antithesis if a good sysadmin – good sysadmins are good team players.

      1. TootsNYC*

        And good sysadmins respect protocols!
        The protocol of applying for a job, of asking for training, and of granting access!

      2. LBK*

        I didn’t take Scott’s comment to mean that if Ernest had just said the right things, he would’ve gotten the job. Rather, that if he’d been more receptive to feedback, the OP actually could’ve provided a lot of valuable guidance. Not necessarily for this specific job, but maybe for one in the future if that’s where Ernest wanted his career path to go. Instead, he completely burned his bridges with the OP by trying to take shortcuts and undermining her experience. He treated her like an obstacle instead of a potential mentor.

        I was actually in a very similar situation – I wanted a role in my department and the hiring manager told me I didn’t have anywhere near enough relevant experience. He suggested a few different roles I could look for in order to build that experience and I ended up finding a new job in one of those roles a few months later. I took his advice to heart, understanding that it would probably take years to get where I wanted to be but appreciating knowing that I was on the right path.

        It sounds to me like Ernest wasn’t willing to put in the work to get where he wanted to be or overestimated his current capabilities. The OP tried to give him a reality check and he opted not to listen.

    6. Chalupa Batman*

      “He could have accomplished so much more if he hadn’t gone over the manager’s head, and assumed he’d get the job if he checked all the boxes.”

      This was my first thought. We’re told that to succeed in the workplace you need initiative, you need to be willing to go above and beyond, you need to be persistent, but when it comes to advice on how to do that correctly, the bad seriously outweighs the good. Assuming he actually did all the things he’s saying, Earnest went to a lot of trouble and expense to be successful. If he had combined that ambition with respect, patience, and relationship building behaviors (i.e., not going over the head of the person he wants help from), he’d probably be an up-and-comer somewhere instead of an AAM letter.

    7. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 21st Century*

      Not to mention, if OP had decided to go the internal route instead of getting a consultant, others might have been interested too. There’s no guarantee Ernest would have been a shoe in if there was another internal candidate with experience around.

  22. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    Would this classify as Ernest harassing Simone for being pregnant and having postpartum depression?

    Ernest approached OP because of the gap in Simone’s maternity leave. He then pursued her job despite OP’s objections, pointing to Simone’s absence as a busineed need. Then Ernest pushed for the job again, pointing to Simone’s reduced schedule due to her health.

    If I were OP, I would pose this question with these facts to Martin and Jane. Ernest has used Simone’s maternity time to push his career forward, and possibly enlisted Martin to inquire on Simone’s FMLA status to confirm a business need for Ernest’s hire. Had Simone not been unavailable, would Ernest have pushed so hard for her position?

    Assuming positive intent, Ernest simply sees this as a case to rise above, but Martin and Jane should be aware of the optics, that Ernest is pursuing this ONLY because of Simone’s difficult pregnancy. I’m really curious as to whether this would constitute harassment in the form of a hostile workspace, discrimination due to sexism, and possible FMLA violations.

    1. vanBOOM*

      That’s an excellent question.

      OP, do you get the sense that Ernest is wanting to simply volunteer as a means of gaining experience/flexing a new skill set at work (possibly to build a case for a future promotion), or is Ernest legitimately seeking to permanently absorb some or all of Simone’s job responsibilities?

      I had assumed the former until I got to the part about Ernest taking on volunteer work with the nonprofit. If experience/skill set flexing is what he’s after, then why not continue doing that with that org until a legit opportunity comes up at the current org? His attempts to steamroll the OP are completely out of line, and I find myself wondering if this nonprofit actually exists. (Three weeks’ experience solves everything? Give me a break!)

      However, if he wants to permanently absorb some of Simone’s job responsibilities or take her role from her (and is pointing to her post-partum struggles as leverage for his personal gain), then I absolutely do think that the OP might have an actionable problem on his/her hands unless someone intervenes. Ernest doesn’t have to directly harass Simone for that to be possible; he just has to convince a manager (you) to penalize Simone for struggling on the job with post-partum depression, and then *you’re* on the hook because *you’re* the harasser.

      OP, if you think you’re dealing with the latter, then I strongly encourage you to consult with the Center for WorkLife Law about this. They have a free hotline (email and phone) listed on their website that employees, supervisors, and employers can use to ask about whether various situations pose litigation risks for companies, etc. They’re a lot smarter than I am, and may end up telling you that my suspicions here are wrong. (I may check in with them myself simply because I’m curious about what they’d say about this.)

      I hope the drama with your team of chipmunks is resolved soon. Ernest is a jerk, and I would have lost my patience with both him and Martin by now for sure.

  23. Observer*

    One thing to point out to Martin is that Ernest is not only not willing to hear “no”, he is also clearly willing to flout clear procedures that are in place to protect the company. Trying to sneak in an access change from “user” to “administrator” on a system is a big enough deal that a conversation with Ernest should not have been the end of it.

    The guy who brings down the system by deleting system files is the stuff of urban legend – but it’s also the stuff of real IT horror stories.

    1. CM*

      I know! This part made me gasp. Admin access given to someone who shouldn’t have it is a HUGE security risk. Luckily Alvin the system admin was following protocol, unlike Ernest.

      Despite all the very clear issues here, I think we shouldn’t jump to judging Ernest. From the information given here, it’s equally possible that he’s an evil opportunist, or that he is just not very experienced and will learn a valuable lesson in this situation about how sometimes you have to accept “no” for an answer.

      1. Annonymous*

        Sexism in the workplace nowadays is rarely perpetrated by overt, mustache twirling villains. It’s pretty much people who don’t know any better or have the good sense to pretend they don’t know any better.

        I don’t know what the best way to address it is if you want a particular person to stop, but I know a good manager keeps it off the team.

        1. LBK*

          Hmm, I think gender dynamics could be at play to an extent here, but I don’t think sexism is the complete cause of all of Ernest’s behavior. Some people are just pushy jerks to everyone – if the OP were male (which he could be given that it’s not specified), I could still easily believe that a situation like this could play out, and it would still be completely inappropriate.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I think that’s certainly possible. IANAL, but the crap with Simone’s post-partum recovery and the possibility that he put a bug in Martin’s ear about her going on FMLA could possibly be perceived as pregnancy discrimination. It might even get the company in hot water. I’m pretty sure that would be the case even if Ernest were actually Ernestine.

            Either way, he’s an assclown.

      2. Observer*

        In this context, it doesn’t make a difference if he’s an evil opportunist or an inexperienced and immature kid who has a lot of growing up to do. It does make a difference in the long term outcome -and maybe if he should be fired. But, from the point of view of taking him into the team? No.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Judging Ernest here isn’t a “jump”. He’s persistently and repeatedly trying to push Simone out of her job.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t see this as trying to specifically push Simone out – it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with her, rather it’s all about himself and Simone is just collateral damage. Otherwise I don’t think he would’ve waited until she was out on leave/potentially going out on leave to make his move. Her absence just provides a convenient crack in the door for him to stick his foot in.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Oh, I don’t think it’s that he cares one way or the other about Simone per se. But what he’s doing is not just trying to get into the OP’s department or to get a promotion – he is actively trying to take a job away from Simone.

            1. LBK*

              I don’t think his motivations have anything to do with Simone, which is why I hesitate to say he’s “actively” trying to take Simone’s job away. I think that’s a passive side effect, but his active goal is just to become a sysadmin. He sounds too myopic to even be considering what it might mean for him when Simone comes back from leave.

              1. N S*

                When your active goal is to become a sysadmin, and there’s already someone in that position at the company in which you want to be a sysadmin, and no indication the company is ready to expand their number of sysadmins, you are actively trying to take that person’s job away.

                Whether Ernest consciously thinks of it that way or not, that’s what he’s doing. And if he truly actually doesn’t think of it that way, he’s kind of a jerk just for ignoring real people in the world around him. I can see you’re trying to be charitable if he’s inexperienced or young, but even if he’s inexperienced or young, this is pretty over the line.

                1. LBK*

                  I’m actually not trying to be charitable – I don’t think saying he’s oblivious is particularly kinder than saying he’s acting with malice. At least malice would imply a level of self-awareness, and it’s much harder to teach someone to have perspective than it is to just tell them to stop being an asshat.

                  Either way it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, but assessing his motives is important because it changes the conversation you have with him. It doesn’t change whether you actually have the conversation in the first place, which the OP absolutely needs to do. Saying that someone doesn’t know any better doesn’t mean they get a free pass – it means you teach them so that they do know better going forward.

                2. N S*

                  I get what you’re saying, LBK, but the folks who are saying he’s actively gunning for Simone’s job have a point, too – and one that eventually does converge with yours: if one is trying to coach him on how not to be an asshole in the future, “trying to get into a job that already has someone in it is a way of actively threatening the person in it” is perhaps a useful lesson to impart.
                  In any case, loooooooots of lessons heading for this dude, one hopes.

                3. LBK*

                  Well, FWIW, I actually don’t agree that it seems like he’s trying to permanently replace Simone. Both times he’s gone after the role, it’s when she’s going to be out anyway (or he thinks she’s going to be out, at least). This is where I think Scott’s comment above about misplaced enthusiasm comes into play – Ernest is just so eager to do something that he thinks will be good for him that he’s not fully thinking through the logistics.

                  And again, this is not an excuse, because cluelessness isn’t a virtue any more than malice is. Saying he’s just being shortsighted isn’t saying it isn’t a problem that needs to be addressed. I’m just trying to piece through Ernest’s thought process here because I don’t think you can address something adequately if you’re coming into it thinking you have a completely different problem (Ernest is a conniving opportunist trying to kick out his coworker) than what’s actually going on (Ernest is naive and needs a reality check). If you go into the conversation treating him like option A and he’s actually option B, I don’t think he’s going to be as receptive and you’re going to have less success getting through to him.

                  And yes, you can argue that it doesn’t really matter and if he’s being told by someone higher up than him to stop, he needs to stop, end of story. But I think the aim of advice on AAM is generally to find the approach that’s most likely to succeed, not the approach that would be ideal. Clearly Ernest hasn’t responded as desired to any of the feedback the OP has given him so far, so it seems a different approach is needed. I think employing a little bit of empathy here could help – and I specifically mean empathy, not sympathy. You don’t need to feel bad for Ernest, you just need to put yourself in his mindset for a moment to try to figure out what would be the most effective way to get him to change his behavior.

                  I get frustrated when any attempt to understand someone’s motivations is taken as a defense of them. It happens all the time on this site – it sometimes feels like you can’t describe someone as anything other than a manipulative asshole without people acting like you’re exonerating them of all wrongdoing. I think people also put too much stock in the “doesn’t matter why, he just needs to stop” line of reasoning. Pragmatically, I think that’s much harder to enforce than taking the time to try to understand the why.

              2. Emma*

                Except he doesn’t have to care about Simone to be gunning for her job? He sees an opportunity to get this job, he’s using every nasty trick he can think of to get it, including undermining the person who has the job and her manager, and badmouthing both to the bigger boss, and being willing to leverage sexism and ableism against the person whose job he wants.

                Half the problem is that he doesn’t care about Simone, he just cares about himself and the job he wants.

    2. BritCred*

      Its enough trouble at lower levels.

      I had a temp cover me once that once deleted our email records on the Credit Control account because she’d “done” them and didn’t need them anymore. It was exceedingly clear from the account that the emails were to be filed by client and sometimes by issue and folders were set up appropriately. It was clear in the notes as well, and my boss would have told her thats how I do it and why (makes audit trails better, makes audits easy to prepare for and means we have instant access and proof of everything. Some customers we needed the electronic versions for spreadsheet related work at a later date too.).

      Luckily she had kept the paper files up to date but the next audit took twice as long to prepare for and if they’d chosen to ask for proof that the remittances we provided *were* the real ones from the client and how they were received we wouldn’t have it without having to contact the client again.

    3. MashaKasha*

      I worked with a woman who did this (many years ago, small company). She crashed a web server after doing something the manager had told her not to do. Then went on to have a good weekend, while the manager and his manager worked 36 hours straight to bring it back up.

      He’d hired her two months earlier because he was impressed with her gumption and initiative.

      When he fired her three days later, she was incredulous, and warned him that he might never find anyone like her again (one would hope).

      1. MashaKasha*

        Oh, forgot to say that she was a sysadmin. The very same job Ernie thinks he’s the best person for.

  24. AdAgencyChick*

    The only reason I would want to take on being this guy’s boss is so I could fire him. Except Martin would probably get in the way. HELL NO.

    Also, thanks a lot, OP, now I have the Chipmunks theme song stuck in my head!

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      The only reason I would want to take on being this guy’s boss is so I could fire him.

      I would have to try hard to resist this urge, too.

  25. Nanani*

    A tale told a thousand times: Underqualified man thinks he should get a woman’s job, is told no, gets opportunity anyway because other man likes his “gumption”

    Don’t let the classic ending happen to your workplace.

  26. animaniactoo*

    I would also have a conversation with Martin that lays out the steps of what’s happened – because I’m not sure Martin really is that clear about how Ernest has been going about this:

    “Martin, I’m not sure you have a clear picture of what this looks like from my end. He came to me initially about the position and I told him no because he didn’t have the certification or experience. He went to you to ask you to cover it, and when you told him there wasn’t a budget, he challenged my budgeting decisions for my department. When I explained again that hands on training would still be needed, he went ahead and got the certification on his own dime. That part is fine.

    Here’s what happened since then:

    • He set up a meeting with you and me instead of coming to me directly to advise the change in status.
    • When I said no over the hands-on experience issue, he went to Alvin to try to be upgraded to a sysadmin instead of asking me for it to gain experience.
    • When I said no because it didn’t make sense of the department at the time – and it’s dangerous to have an untrained user wandering around in our system and I STILL don’t have time to train him – he went and found somewhere that would give him THREE WEEKS worth of experience.
    • Again, instead of coming to me and saying “I’ve done this, can I try now?”, he AGAIN set up a meeting with the both of us and demanded he get the job. Simone was coming back in two weeks, so it didn’t make sense again.

    Now there’s a new opportunity – but he still hasn’t come to ME to talk directly and privately with ME about it. He is taking everything I say to him as an obstacle to knock down, and trying to go around me to get what he wants when I turn him down instead of exploring ways to make it happen with me. I know that you like him – but he doesn’t respect me and that’s a major problem.”

    1. NotAnotherManager!*


      Your bullets are great and a perfect description of what the actual problem is. It’s beyond his technical knowledge now and into his repeatedly going around the person on whom he should be trying to make a good impression.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      That is the craziest part! Why would he think it would work out after he bullied a manager into giving him a job? Inconceivable!

    3. AMG*

      And there’s your script, OP. Also, I hope you will be able to give us an update that results in Ernest getting a slammy of humility and Backing The Hell Off, and Martin realizing that this is not gumption.

    4. Cyrus*

      “… got the certification on his own dime. That part is fine.”

      The OP might want to say that just to be diplomatic and keep the focus on the egregious stuff, but honestly, I don’t even feel it’s true that it’s “fine.” Seeking out training in a general sense of getting more qualifications or experience to further your own career is fine. But seeking out training with an eye on a specific job that you’ve been told isn’t available, is dumb and arrogant at best.

    5. N S*

      “He is taking everything I say to him as an obstacle to knock down, and trying to go around me to get what he wants when I turn him down instead of exploring ways to make it happen with me.”

      This is extra-good. Very succinctly explains both the problem with his behavior -and- what a positive, non-alienating approach would have looked like.

  27. AD*

    Holy stinking cow! I have been having the same issue in my department and I was going to ask AAM about it, but the OP beat me to it!
    We have an employee that wants into our department but just doesn’t have the attention to detail or soft skills to cut it, not to mention the specific and complicated software skills required. They went to HR and demanded to be considered to move into our dept, even though we are fully staffed. Then the employee started taking remedial classes to get the skills. But the classes are the equivalent of Billing for Administrators when the positions are CPAs. They paid an exorbitant fee for the classes which is very sad since they are so basic, and they won’t do anything to get the employee transferred.
    Now the employee is finding any reason to come over and “talk shop.” But they really don’t have a good grasp on our work, so it is embarrassingly sad.
    We only have the problem because HR kept entertaining the idea of a transfer when there was zero chance of it happening.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I had a similar situation, too, except I was willing to entertain the transfer IF they put in some prework to get up to speed. I gave specific resources and skills to be obtained, and I also arranged for an informal mentorship with an outstanding member of my existing team. Every time I saw them, they’d reiterate their interest, and I’d inquire about their progress on the resources provided. It was clear (and they admitted) that they had done none of the prework and that they felt learning about the job before being put into it was useless.

      When they ultimately resigned, and their indirect supervisors told me it was because I wouldn’t entertain their interest in my other team, I flat out told them that I’d designed a path for them to make the transition, but I needed investment form them, which they refused to do.

  28. Lontra Canadensis*

    “Gumption” is doing the sucky non-mission-critical job that everybody knows needs to be done, but nobody wants to deal with. Like going through those last few boxes from the office move a decade ago, or figuring out which equipment is obsolete how to navigate the red tape to surplus it.

  29. hbc*

    Gross. I can admire someone who’s willing to go after what they want, but…

    1) If someone gives you a vague “You don’t have enough X,” you need to ask follow up questions. You don’t apply to be a chef, get turned down based on experience, volunteer at the elementary school cafeteria for a month, and then come back and demand a job. You ask exactly what kind of background they’re looking for.

    2) If you “solve” a couple of the reasons and are still getting more reasons, you have to accept the soft “no.” Yeah, everyone *thinks* they want to hear “You have no chance at this job” until they actually hear it, and then it’s all anguish about how they should have been let down easily. Just like asking someone out, if you don’t get positive feedback after a couple of attempts, the ball is in the other person’s court.

    3) Even if you’re totally entitled to what you’re going for, there’s no quicker way to destroy good will than “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” At least your parents were unlikely to stop the trip to Grandma’s, but there are less annoying employees out there.

  30. Chelsea*

    Man, this post made my blood boil. OP is completely in the right – I would never hire someone like Ernest after the behavior he has showed.

  31. self employed*

    Off the Ernest focus, but OP, good job supporting Simone during a difficult time. Protecting her from terrible Ernest’s comments and job-poaching will help her to focus on recovering and hopefully return back to her prior level of performance.

  32. eplawyer*

    I feel for Simone in all of this. Here she is struggling with post partum depression and someone is gunning for her job. She probably doesn’t know, but if she ever finds out, that will only add to her worries.

    As for Martin, he needs to stop undermining his manager. Either he trusts he to make the decision as he keeps saying or he doesn’t. The constant coming back to her with the “he has gumption, but it’s your call” shows he is not trusting her to make the best call for her team. She already told her boss she was not taking the guy on. The next conversation he has with Ernest needs to be “The team leader said no. She has final say. Coming to me will not get you a yes so stop wasting everyone’s time.” Then if Ernst still keeps pushing, he needs to have a talk with Ernst’s manager. If it STILL continues, it might be time to show Ernst the door.

    1. Jennifer*

      “He has gumption but it’s your call” sounds like a passive way of hinting, “Hire him!” And if OP doesn’t hire him, I fear Martin will over her head.

  33. LQ*

    I’ve been trying to think of an example of good gumption, so here’s what I’ve got.

    I had an intern who really wanted to work with our our, we didn’t have a job open, and we didn’t have a paid position that she wanted. She went out and found a grant to do what she wanted to do (that aligned with our org goals and the internship project she’d been on). This next piece is super critical, she came to me with the grant and said, “CAN I do this for the final internship project and if the org gets the grant could I have that job?” I said yes, worked with her on it and she had the part time gig that came with it. If I’d said no? I feel very confident that she would have taken it to a different org (I might have recommended a couple) and proposed it to them, but she would not have just applied or taken it to our board.

    1. Emma*

      Yeah. Asking permission really is better than asking forgiveness, at least in the workplace. (As a general rule. There are exceptions.)

  34. NW Mossy*

    Oh, OP, you are absolutely in the right to stand your ground and say no to hiring Ernest, now and quite possibly ever. He’s shown you in every way that he’s a manager’s nightmare, and as they say, ain’t nobody got time for that.

    Not only that, he’s likely to be a nightmare teammate to Alvin, Simone, and Theodora. He’s quite obviously trying to squeeze Simone out of her job (and blithely ignoring the potential legal implications to the company of mishandling an employee with a potential FMLA need) and he’s tried to mislead Alvin into giving him access he’s not permitted to have. He clearly thinks it’s OK to step on and hoodwink colleagues in the service of his own ambition, and that’s going to be a bad fit for any team. It’s worth mentioning to Martin that hiring Ernest not only doesn’t solve the immediate issue of getting proper coverage for Simone but also adds the risk that Ernest brings the entire team down with his want-take-have attitude.

  35. Imaginary Number*

    Ernest reminds me of the letter-writer who was upset after being fired for “taking initiative” in taking on a project she’d been told not to do.

    1. Observer*

      The difference is that in that case, the upper person sided with her manager once she found out the facts of the matter. Martin doesn’t seem to be doing that. Blech.

  36. lamuella*

    There’s a whole cottage industry of management-ese books about “Getting Past No”, “Negotiating Your Way To The Answer You Want” and so forth. This is what happens when that advice goes septic.

  37. neverjaunty*

    Ernest (allegedly) buying his own certification isn’t gumption. It’s loansharking. It’s him telling Martin, “I want this job so much I went into debt for it. Now you owe me.”

    I’m seeing a lot of people say that Ernest might just be ambitious but misplaced, and I’m finding that baffling given the sequence of events and his escalating attempts to push his way into Simone’s job – which, let’s remember, started off with the pretext that he would simply “cover” for Simone as a “training opportunity”.

    1) Ernest tries to argue OP (not his his manager! not a department where he works!) into setting aside her coverage plan so that he, Ernest, can get the training HE wants.

    2) Ernest ignores OP’s statements about hands-on experience and, without running it by anyone else, (supposedly) gets a certification that he now believes entitles him to cover Simone’s job.

    3) Without running it by the OP, Ernest asks one of OP’s subordinates to upgrade his system access.

    4) Ernest finally drops the pretense that he wants “training” and tells OP and Martin he wants Simone’s job.

    5) Ernest is continuing to push OP and go around her with Martin to get Simone to leave so he can take her job.

    Literally none of this is how an employee, in good faith looking to improve their skills, behaves.

    1. LBK*

      Hmm, I think you could actually fill in some steps in between these to make them more reasonable. I’d disagree that literally none of them are things that a good, appropriately ambitious employee would do. With the OP’s blessing and with understanding that it didn’t entitle him to the job, taking the course of his own volition could be a good thing. With the OP’s permission, handling the bureaucracy of requesting system access would be appreciated (I know my manager definitely prefers me to deal with that kind of stuff on my own). In coordination with the OP, working out a transition plan to have him be Simone’s backup in the event she does go out on leave again could be a great example of crosstraining that benefits everyone.

      As I’m sure you can see, the main pattern here isn’t necessarily the steps he took, but that he took them without the OP’s agreement that they were appropriate steps, nor with her committing to being open to letting him do the job if he completed those steps. If he’d gone through this whole scenario with the OP as a partner and mentor, I think they’d mostly be the right steps to take, but that’s because they’d show respect for the OP and a fuller grasp of the importance of the work he wants to do.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes, if you divorce them completely from their actual context and sanitize them, a handful of the elements of Ernest’s plan – that is, asking the OP about training, offering to take a certification on his own time, and expressing interest in any openings in OP’s department – are appropriate and sensible for an employee seeking advancement. Many of them are not – such as trying to get sysadmin access, encouraging Martin to tell the OP isn’t personal animal, and denigrating Simone in order to get her fired and thus openg up her position.

        And I disagree that the main pattern is simply that he took them without the OP’s agreement. It’s that he is repeatedly trying to push himself into an existing position that isn’t open, and is going around the OP when she will not cooperate with his plans. That some of the elements of his behavior might, in a wholly different situation, be OK doesn’t mean they are the “main pattern” here.

        1. LBK*

          I was just disagreeing with your conclusion:

          Literally none of this is how an employee, in good faith looking to improve their skills, behaves.

          I wouldn’t say that “literally none” of it is how a good employee behaves.

          It’s that he is repeatedly trying to push himself into an existing position that isn’t open, and is going around the OP when she will not cooperate with his plans.

          Is that not the same thing as going through the various steps without the OP’s agreement? I think we’re saying the same thing, you’re just talking more details.

          1. Zahra*

            No, going through the various steps without OP’s agreement is getting the training and experience that he would need for the position.

            However, “repeatedly trying to push himself into an existing position that isn’t open, and is going around the OP when she will not cooperate with his plans.” is another kettle of fish altogether: it’s disrespecting the person who will be your manager should you get the job, not understanding the needs of the business and actually burning bridges with any reasonable manager (as they won’t want to manage someone who has already proven they can’t follow instructions, directives and proper procedures).

      2. Emma*

        No, there are actually at least two actions he’s taken that are absolutely not okay, no matter his reasoning: trying to sneak into admin access, and trying to push out a coworker (especially for a discriminatory reason).

    2. Scott*

      I see this as the classic catch 22. How does one get 5-10 years experience in a job doing a role where one needs 5-10 years experience to qualify, with no junior roles? that’s how I feel about him taking the course at his own expense. I’ve taken courses at my own expense and it’s paid off in job offers outside my organization.

      1. LBK*

        Even if there aren’t roles that are directly junior to the role you want, I think almost every job has entry-level stepping stones that will allow you to build transferable skills. You might have to hop around to a few of them to get a mix of the right skills, but it can obviously be done because people do fill those roles – Simone got into the role Ernest wants somehow. Maybe instead of trying to squeeze his way in while Simone is gone, he could’ve spent the time when she was in the office learning from her.

      2. NW Mossy*

        The value of courses vs. experience varies a lot by industry so it’s hard to generalize. However, I think it is safe to say that coursework and experience are not perfect substitutes and it’s perilous to assume that they are, as Ernest did here.

        For example, in my industry, there are professional certifications available that are useful to have when job-searching because automated resume reading software looks for them and you pop up as a match if you have them listed. But in terms of actually doing the work, hands-on experience counts for much more because what separates decent from excellent is the ability to problem-solve in the real world where there’s a pile of past mistakes to sort through that the literature assumes haven’t occurred because they shouldn’t.

      3. Emma*

        If it only stopped at the course, though. And also, apparently the experience thing isn’t an insurmountable hurdle, as there are volunteer positions available elsewhere.

        He just can’t get into this role right now.

  38. Mustache Cat*

    I’ve been taken aback by how many people are assuming (without any seeming evidence) that the OP has been giving a “soft” no or not being clear, so I’ve highlighted a few sections for y’all:

    …I told Ernest no.

    …I explained that budgeting doesn’t necessarily work that way and that even with certification and formal training, he still wouldn’t have hands on experience and would not qualify to replace Simone.

    …I had been very clear on training vs. real experience in the system.

    ….I went to Ernest and asked him to explain why he was going around me….I told him that made no sense…there was no need for another administrator.

    ….I told him that…it would not make sense to have him fill in for her.

    …Martin came to me and asked if Simone would go on FMLA. I told him I did not know but that I had contingency plans in place in case she needed more leave or to go to part-time.

    These do not sound like soft, unclear answers to me.

      1. Rey*

        Well, she could have, but only by including language that’s really inappropriate for the workplace. :)

    1. Purest Green*

      Yes! The issue is not that OP is too soft or unclear. This an issue of Ernest mentally sticking his fingers in his ears whenever OP speaks to him.

    2. Emma*

      Exactly. If this is a “soft no,” then the phrase is meaningless. I suppose a clear no would be just screaming “NO” over and over again?

  39. Student*

    The whole thing where he tried to go around you to get administrator access to your system should have been the one and only thing you needed to know about him. That’s not gumption; it’s very nearly criminal. It’s the worst possible thing a sysadmin can do – trying to get inappropriate access to something against the system owner’s expressed instructions.

    It’s a short leap from that kind of action to (inappropriate, instead of company-sanctioned) reading other’s emails and files, monitoring their computer use, tampering with their systems, “upgrading” things without going through the appropriate process, modifying firewalls without the boss’s knowledge, etc.

    1. ArtK*

      In my world, that would be an absolute reason for him to never have administrator/root access. Depending on the organization, it could also mean “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

      Ernest sounds like a disaster just waiting to happen.

    2. Annie Moose*

      Yeah, as someone in IT, I totally understand the temptation to get admin access to everything and to poke around in all the dusty corners. I would love if I had access to everything. But that’s not how the world works, and that’s not how the world should work. Any remotely professional IT person understands this, and they understand the risk and responsibility that comes with having such access. You only get increased access if you legitimately need that access, and you don’t abuse what you have.

      Ernest was trying to get admin access without going through the proper channels, deliberately circumventing them, in fact. And he wanted this all for “practice” in a production environment. That makes it pretty clear he doesn’t understand the risks and responsibilities, which means he’s the last person I’d want to give that access to!

  40. AW*

    In addition to some of the other issue already covered with Ernest’s behavior, he appears to have no respect for the job he’s trying to get either. 3 weeks volunteer work (assuming he’s being honest)? That’s it? It doesn’t sound like he even appreciates how hard the job is or how much damage he could potentially do.

    On top of all the other grossness of his behavior, it sounds like he doesn’t even know what this job really IS if he thinks 3 weeks is sufficient.

  41. gabrielle*

    OP, I’ve been the Alvin/Theodora/Simone on a team where Ernest wormed his way in. His behaviour only got worse! It was a disaster and took us months and multiple production outages before we could get rid of him. Please shut this down now, for the sake of your admins.

        1. TootsNYC*

          My point is: I don’t want the OP to become the bad manager that they try to leave (because she’s stuck them with Ernest).

  42. E*

    Insubordination would be the word for this behavior, not gumption or initiative. After being clearly told “no” repeatedly, the employee keeps pushing back and trying to go around the person who decided he wasn’t suitable for an administrator. You may not manage this problem employee, but you should let his manager know that he is causing problems, and see HR. Going around company policy (even unspoken policy) to ask IT to grant admin access is…unthinkable. There are hierarchies in business for a reason, you need approval of the folks responsible for the systems. While it’s entirely possible that this employee might do well in an admin role, he’s not going about this in the right way. There is no job opening, you can’t push your way in, and creating enemies is not a good way to start moving up.

    1. E*

      Oh, and since you’ve been very clear on saying “no”, I’d even recommend going ahead and putting this in writing via email to this employee and his manager. Document the problems and explain that he is not going to be considered for this position. Being detailed about how his behavior has removed him from any potential consideration should be enough proof for anyone to see that there is no discrimination, unless it’s against poor manners.

    1. AMPG*

      Agree, although she could’ve gotten extra pop-culture credit with “Theodosia” instead of “Theodora.”

  43. Apollo Warbucks*

    I do system support and got into after being taken on in a very junior role, after applying for a more senior role that I wasn’t qualified for. It was a steep learning curve and I made some massive mistakes along the way. Most of the time I really enjoy what I do so I can see why Ernest would want to move into the job and I think he did really well in taking classes and getting some hands on experience with the software and positioned himself well to take advantage a great opportunity to move into work he wanted to do, it’s such a shame he pissed all that away by acting like a tool.

    Attempting to get admin access to systems without the authority to is a big deal and you really need some handholding to start with as there is so much damage you can do if you’re not careful. Ernest trying to end run around the OP to get access he’s not entitled to is a really big deal and the very least that needs to happen is a write up if not a firing, he’s so far over the line with that, the line is a dot to him.

    The blatant disrespect and ability to take no for an answer is worrying, that level of self confidence and belief is fatal when it comes to modifying systems or data, it shows a worrying lack of judgement so I wouldn’t want him in my team either and Alison hit the nail on the head when she talks about management headaches.

    OP hold firm and dont be pressured into hiring him!

  44. BadPlanning*

    I feel like Ernest is pre-burning bridges. Obviously, the OP. Alvin was also put on the spot with the authorization request and probably isn’t crazy about Ernest. Then Simone is probably getting directly or indirectly bothered by Ernest. By now, who wants Ernest on the team even if he were qualified?

  45. Observer*

    OP, you have my sympathies. In thinking about this, there is one thing I think you could have done differently. That is kicking Ernest’s request for admin access to Martin, Ernest’s boss, and HR. This attempt to gain unauthorized access is a HUGE breach and he should not have been able to get by with just you telling him that he can’t have it.

  46. OlympiasEpiriot*

    The only time I think of ‘gumption’ is in relation to feeling like I haven’t any, when I’ve lost whatever focus and enthusiasm I have for a task to a ‘gumption trap’ (viz. Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).

    Otherwise, yeah, this enthusiasm this guy was exhibiting was awfully hungry.

  47. Shazbot*

    “He then demanded that he ‘get Simone’s job’ since he ‘jumped through every hoop.’” ‘

    I’m thinking this was one of those “gaffe”moments…you know, where someone accidentally says exactly what they meant? I’m betting Ernest saw Simone’s pregnancy/postpartum issues as a fine chance for him to move up in the world. Why else would someone push so hard for a few-weeks-long job stint? He expected to move in and push Simone out permanently. While I can’t know that for sure, it is certainly in line with his other behavior.

    1. Scott*

      Could be. Also could be temporary to gain industry experience to take a job later on when one did open up. Anyways he has a fundamental misunderstanding of how the job market works.

  48. Collarbone High*

    Ernest sounds EXACTLY like the would-be travel agent in “The Gift of Fear” who kept arranging tours to prove the owner should hire him and then harassed the owner for when the owner said no. Same reasoning — “I did everything you said, you owe me a job.” (Spoiler alert: the owner ended up having to hire Gavin de Becker to get the guy to stop harassing him.) That guy was also trying to push out a female employee, IIRC.

    He also sounds exactly like people who refuse to take no for an answer in dating. If you tell them “I just got out of a relationship, I need some time on my own,” they ask again three months later to the day. “I don’t date people I work with” — they get a new job and say “Now you have no reason not to go out with me.”

    I’m going to channel Carolyn Hax here and urge OP to read “The Gift of Fear” if they haven’t already. I’m not saying Ernest is dangerous, but it has tips on dealing with these kinds of people.

    1. Observer*

      Another good quote, which applies here, even though it’s not remotely like a dating situation:

      There’s a lesson in real-life stalking cases that young women can benefit from learning: persistence only proves persistence—it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special—it means he is troubled.

  49. Annie*

    I’m a contrarian but… this a possible scenario?

    In Ernest’s mind it’s “obvious” what the solution is to your staffing issues (needing cover for whatever reason – the fact that’s pregnancy related is just incidental). You have someone who’s going to be out for a few weeks, then is out and comes back and it’s clear (from your letter) that she isn’t coping, for whatever reason. Things start to slide. (Does the ‘sliding’ impact on his group as users of the system?)

    He has “user-side” experience with that system already, doesn’t appreciate the nuances of system administration and how easy it is to screw things up and how trusted you have to be to get privileged access (have people been given “admin” access in the past when they shouldn’t really, to resolve some issue? so it doesn’t seem a big deal to ask?) This could be particularly the case if the “sysadmin” side of the system is also a GUI based web app or similar with mostly “visual” application of settings etc. (I’m assuming quite a lot with that)

    Perhaps he thinks/sees that his job security is uncertain – his specific role or the “user of this system” role more generally – or the relationship with his boss is dead. Does he have any prior experience (not in this system but in ‘IT’ or such like generally) that has been overlooked? I’m assuming the system isn’t just an internal, proprietary one since there are training courses and certifications available for it.

    If he really has put in the time and effort to gain the relevant knowledge (not just cheating on a test by using a “brain dump” or whatever) it seems quite clearly ‘what more do you want from me??’

    The meetings with your boss (and you) are the meeting equivalent of cc-ing the recipient’s boss on an email because you haven’t been getting a response, don’t trust that you will, or think they are being difficult.

    1. Annie*

      Btw, as it’s a “teapot sales tracking” program does that mean he is currently in “teapot sales” from the user point of view? It seems like quite a ‘sales’ mentality: find out and handle the “customer’s” objections with solutions!

    2. TG*

      “What more do you want from me?”

      The issue here is they don’t want anything anything at all from him and have made that crystal clear and he refuses to take no for an answer. It’s perfectly cool to build skills and prepare yourself for a different job, but managers do get a say in who they hire. Ernest doesn’t seem to understand that.

      1. Annie*

        Exactly TG – they don’t want anything from him but he isn’t seeing it because to him the answer is “obvious” (possibly!)

  50. LCL*

    Sales tracking program? Hmm. OP, I understand why you are being vague to maintain confidentiality. But my mind went anyways to sales-sales tracking-gaming the pay system. He seems quite interested in the financial aspects of all this. He does see that 6K as an investment, just not in the way you are thinking…
    OK, it is Halloween and I am feeling spooked about everything, but still, I am suspicious of his motives beyond getting Simone’s job. Why does he want that job so bad?

    1. Dzhymm, BfD*

      I’m thinking this would only benefit him if he remained in sales; if he switched role to sysadmin then he’d no longer be in sales and wouldn’t be able to mess with his own teapot-sales numbers. Unless, of course, he envisioned keeping his sales job and and adding the sysadmin stuff as a sideline.

      When I was a kid I was the world’s worst chess player… because I’d plan my strategy out six moves in advance, but my opponent would then mess everything up by making a move I didn’t plan for… how DARE he! I see Ernest doing something similar: “I’ve got this all planned out, all you need to do is go along. What do you MEAN you’ve got a different plan in mind? I’ve got this all planned out!”

  51. Jaybeetee*

    Signing in just for this letter (usually lurk). I do wonder if Ernest is relatively young in his career? There is often advice out there that dogged, persistent people get what they want, etc, and it might be that Ernest has mis-interpreted that idea in a fantastic way. I’ve heard a few baby-boomer job-getting stories that just wouldn’t work today, but I think some young people can and do get confused on that score. “Keep calling till they hire you!” type advice.

    This letter reminds me of my ex-bf, whose father was a self-made millionaire (well, self-made except for the parts he did on his ex-wife’s back before leaving her, but that’s a different rant). Basically “I’d interviewed there before with no success, so finally I told them I’d work a month for free to prove to them I was the right guy, and wouldn’t leave till they agreed to it!” Once they finally hired him, he worked his way up to CEO in a year and sold the company a decade later for a bundle.

    Anyway, my ex didn’t get the memo that things rarely if ever really work this way, even if his dad hit paydirt with it, and was always telling me to take this approach when I was having job woes. It always felt weirdly over-aggressive and out of place or me, so I’m glad I never tried that! (he was never particularly successful when I was with him, and was fired at least twice…for some reason…)

    I also wanted to weigh in on the sexism thing. Not that I have any particular authority on this topic (I am female), but Ernest doesn’t seem to be particularly sexist, more that it happens to be women in his path. Weirdly equal-opportunity actually. He seemed to try to pull a fast one with his male colleague to get sysadmin access, and seems to be mainly cozying up with Martin because he has some traction there, not specifically because Martin is a man. I just get a vibe here that Ernest would be acting this way regardless of OP’s gender, and would be trying to push out Simone even if she were “Simon” and taking leave for other reasons.

    And yes, Martin is a terrible boss, and my first guess there is that he actually doesn’t understand the complexities of the software either, and thinks Ernest could be trained into it if OP was inclined.

    1. Emma*

      Ernest is playing on sexism in his latest attempt to get Simone’s job, though.

      On another note, it bothers me that so many people make excuses for entitled men. (And yeah, women can be entitled, but women are far more likely to get slapped down for it.) If you make it to working age with no idea that this is inappropriate, that’s a problem.

      1. Observer*

        I happen to agree with Jaybeetee about Ernest. But, I do suspect that Martin has an issue there. In any case, making use of sexism, if that’s happening is not sexist. It jerky. But, we know that Ernest is a jerk, regardless.

        And, saying that he doesn’t sound sexist is not an excuse for him. It’s just acknowledging that sometimes sexism isn’t the reason for bad behavior.

        Now, the people who are blaming the OP for not being clear and firm enough are another whole kettle of fish.

        1. Zahra*

          How is making use of sexism not a sexist behaviour?

          We all have sexist behaviours some of the time (some of us more than others), but rare are the people who display sexist behaviours the vast majority of the time (people that most people would call “sexist people”). As mentioned by Annonymous (https://www.askamanager.org/2016/10/employee-is-trying-to-force-his-way-into-a-job-that-i-dont-want-to-hire-him-for.html#comment-1250325): “Sexism in the workplace nowadays is rarely perpetrated by overt, mustache twirling villains. It’s pretty much people who don’t know any better or have the good sense to pretend they don’t know any better.”

        2. Zahra*

          Oh, forgot to add (my previous comment is moderated, wait a bit to see this in context):

          I think a lot of people think that making use of sexism, displaying more benign forms of sexism that could be explained by jerkiness or cluelessness, etc. are not “sexism”. However, those behaviours are totally the form sexism takes nowadays. There’s a huge intersect between jerkiness and sexism AND between cluelessness (or ignorance) and sexism. Just because it isn’t intentional doesn’t mean it isn’t sexist.

          1. Observer*

            There is difference between “milder forms of sexism that could be explained by jerkiness” and making use of someone else’s sexism.

            The latter isn’t sexist, because from the point of view of the perpetrator, it has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with manipulating people via whatever their weaknesses are.

            1. Mookie*

              …That’s precisely how institutionalized sexism works. Exploiting prejudices for your own gain, engaging in male affirmative action because we all know women are downers or will only work until they get married / have children, etc.

              1. Observer*

                That’s how all institutional abuse manages to hang on – people who don’t care feed it for their own ends. And, using someone elses’ prejudices for your own benefit without caring about the injustice it causes is abusive by itself. But it doesn’t make the person doing that whatever “ist”.

                I think it’s important to understand the distinction. I also think it’s time that an attitude that implies that if is sexist / racist / other-ist it’s a problem and if it isn’t as bad, goes away.

                Getting rid of institution prejudice and discrimination is going to take an understanding of the people who are prejudiced AND of the people who use and benefit from that prejudice even though they don’t necessarily subscribe to that view.

                1. Zahra*

                  No, actually, what you call institutional “abuse” is institutional sexism. If you know you’re benefiting from a prejudice, and you’re saying “of course men and women should be equal”, then you need to act like it. That means not being a predator that will swoop in to benefit from, and even incite, prejudice in others. And I think that most people will say that women should have equal rights (not that they all act like it).

    2. vanBOOM*

      Well, the target of Ernest’s behavior doesn’t have to be a woman in order for his behavior to be sexist because caregiver-related discrimination is one of the most prevalent “forms” of modern sexism today–and it targets both men and women. It’s just that the “justification” for the discrimination often differs for targets who are mothers as opposed to targets who are fathers. Women can demonstrate sexism towards other women, and men can demonstrate sexism towards other men.

      Employed mothers often lose job responsibilities (or are completely pushed out of their jobs) following the birth of a child due to beliefs that mothers should be at home with their children rather than continuing to “steal” resources and opportunities from others in the workplace. Employed fathers may lose job responsibilities (or may be completely pushed out of their jobs) if they take on caregiving responsibilities because that’s supposed to be “their woman’s job” and by taking on those responsibilities the father is perceived as signaling that he’s not as committed to his job as he was before.

      To be clear, there are two distinct (but related) things going on with the OP’s letter: (1) that all of this is happening within the context of someone’s maternity leave and re-acclimation to their work role following leave, and (2) that Simone is having performance issues due to a pregnancy-related mental illness. Ernest doesn’t have to directly harass Simone; he just has to convince the OP to penalize Simone, thereby making the OP potentially vulnerable to litigation on the basis of pregnancy, caregiver status, and/or disability status (the post-partum depression).

  52. Not So NewReader*

    “Martin asked if I was set against Ernest unnecessarily and I asked if Ernest asked him that or if it was his own question. He admitted that Ernest had brought it up. Am I being stubborn and “set against him” or is he just too aggressive about getting Simone’s job?”

    So Martin wants to know if you just dislike Ernest and that is the whole problem?

    This makes my blood boil. And OP if you are woman then it makes my blood double boil.

    1) In general, the question shows a total failure on Martin’s part to thoroughly grasp the full-out campaign that Ernest is waging here. We are not talking about one or two things we are talking about a prolonged, premeditated, at all costs, trample over anyone, full blown campaign to get this one particular job. So far, Ernest has trampled over you, Simone, and Alvin. There are probably others such as his own manager.
    It’s a pretty safe bet that if Ernest gets this job the next person he will be trampling over is Martin.

    2) I am really hoping Martin did not ask you if you disliked Ernest because you are female so he felt he had to ask that question. Because, you know, women can be off an on again about people and things. (choke, puke)
    I am really mad that Martin planted that seed in your thoughts because he is trying to make you question yourself.
    You: “Boss, there is this employee with no background, no skills, no experience trying to get a job in my department. I don’t want to hire him.”
    Boss: “Are you sure it’s not because you dislike the guy on a personal level?”

    I might have told him, “Ernie can have my job. SEE YA!”

    I would have to go back in on this conversation and say, “Boss, you know. I have been thinking about the other day when you asked me if my personal dislike for someone was weighing in on my decisions. I wanted to touch base with you on that. I pride myself on being professional. I have work with people who I do not care for on a personal level and they have more or less been unaware or uncertain of it. I chose people for their skills, not because I happen to like them. I can think very highly of a person’s professional work and never, ever invite them to Thanksgiving dinner.

    I think we need to recap what behaviors I have witnessed first hand, from this individual so far: [launch into complete timeline covering everything you have laid out in your letter to Alison].”

    Conclude with: ” I think that this guy is a loose cannon. I think that hiring him into my department would be detrimental to the department and in turn detrimental to the company.
    Here’s the reasons: He’s not able to accept decisions from management, he pits management against each other, he hovers like a vulture over employees with health problems for his own gain, he finds implications in conversations that are not there, he tried to get levels of access to the system without going through proper channels and, just as a point of curiosity, when does he find time to the job he has now?

    I am asking us to get on the same page and give this guy the same answer. His behavior is not consistent with what our company needs/wants from a good employee.”

    1. Mookie*

      Getting Martin to do his dirty work for him–“she has something against me, petty female creature”–says loads about him and Martin, too. Painting the OP as irrationally “resistant” to his charms and overtures is only persuasive to someone who thinks it’s a good idea, smart for their career, to make someone, potentially a manager, into an enemy if they are insufficiently malleable to your ideas. How does Martin envision the OP and Ernest working together after this? Or does Ernest have a game plan for her, too?

  53. Anion*

    See, I’m not clear that Martin knows the whole situation. He’s claiming Ernest has “gumption” because afahk that’s what’s happened: Ernest saw an open space and came to him with ideas to fill it. Does Martin know that the OP said no to Ernest right off the bat? Has the OP actually pulled Martin aside and told him the whole story from OP’s POV?

    Because I can see Martin thinking that OP isn’t saying no so maybe s/he wants to see what will happen, or that OP is willing if it can be worked out, or that what OP sees as insubordination is just “gumption,” because Martin isn’t aware of how pushy Ernest has been and how many times OP has said a flat-out “no.”

  54. J.B.*

    Is Martin a non-IT senior management person? By which I mean does he understand the impact on business decisions of having a non-prepared person come in? He may be concerned or hearing concern about service impacts. (That doesn’t mean you aren’t hitting targets, it could always be a mismatch between expectations and reality.) So take him through the impact of having Ernest on board and why you think your plan will provide better service.

  55. Jules*

    I don’t have much to add as many commentator has shared much of what I thought. Just a tangent thought though, could he come from a blue collar background? I remember the discussion from a year or two ago about how different it is for people entering the white collar world when they have been exposed to a blue collar upbringing.

  56. Annie*

    I get the impression from the letter that Ernest and the OP’s team are part of the same ‘group’ (“my contractor plan, which I had announced to everyone in the department” – how did he hear of it, if not part of the department?) In that case Martin (OP’s boss) could well be the indirect or ‘matrix’ boss of Ernest as well. And then they are probably not an “IT” team as such, but report to someone like a Sales or Finance Director.

  57. Annie*

    Am I the only person who wouldn’t want to work for this manager? She seems like a ‘because I said so’ character, and nothing in her letter makes me want to respect her

    1. halpful*

      sometimes “because I said so” is actually “because the reasons can’t be summed up in one sentence, and taking the time and effort to give you a full explanation would be a poor use of my time (and maybe yours too)”.

      I still don’t like it when people don’t want to explain things until I understand them, but I respect that they deserve the freedom to choose that. Life is better when “no” is a complete sentence. :)

    2. Dot Warner*

      She did not tell Ernest “no, because I said so.” She told him “no, because you aren’t qualified and can’t obtain the qualifications in the timeframe we need.” He then proceeded to throw a tantrum. He’s the one in the wrong here, not her.

    3. college employee*

      I absolutely would want to work for this manager. Based on her letter, the OP is willing to stand up for and protect her pregnant employee. As someone who has suffered from a serious medical condition, I wish that some of my former employers would have done the same for me.

      And her instincts are good because she doesn’t want to manage someone who undermine her authority. We have seen numerous letters on this web site about managers who do not wish to manage and tolerate poor behavior. We have also seen how one employee’s poor behavior can affect morale, especially if the perception is that employee is favored by someone in management.

  58. a different Vicki*

    It’s not just “because she said so,” there are reasons like “because he isn’t qualified” and “because he’s trying to push out a qualified person who is taking maternity leave” and “because he tried to get unauthorized access to the server so he could play around with it.” I absolutely respect someone who wants her system to run smoothly rather than crash so some self-taught newbie can play with it, and who will protect a qualified employee who is taking maternity leave rather than letting an unqualified person have her job because he thinks “because I want it” is sufficient reason.

  59. BabyShark*

    Martin wants this to happen because he likes Ernest

    Why is it an issue if LW doesn’t want to give Ernest the job because LW doesn’t like Ernest, but it’s ok for Martin to want to give Ernest the job because Martin likes Ernest. Only positive feelings are allowed to influence hiring choices?

    Echoing lots of others, Martin and Ernest both sound terrible.

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