giving a negative reference for a nightmare employee, I don’t want to come back after maternity leave, and more

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

1. Should I give a negative reference for a nightmare employee?

I once served on the board of a small nonprofit, which I left a year ago. During my time on the board, our long-term executive director left the organization and we hired a search firm to recruit a new ED. The new hire’s references were stellar and he had a great resume, but there were problems even before he had fully onboarded. In my opinion, he managed “up” very well, but every other relationship was terrible. During his short tenure, nearly all the staff quit, there was a hostile work environment investigation, and relationships with partners ranging from foundations to long-term consultants were ruined. He raised zero money during his time there and we nearly had to fold. The worst part was that, as soon as he was on board, people came out of the woodwork to tell us what a nightmare he was.

He and I had a friendly relationship, but did not keep in touch. Monday, he emailed and asked me to be a reference. I said yes, but that I could only speak to his performance with respect to the board, which he accepted. But the more I think about it, I want to do what no one had the guts to do for our organization, before it’s too late. What do you think? Should I give a negative reference?

Oh my goodness, yes. He nearly destroyed your organization. You definitely can’t give a reference that leaves out the worst parts.

Did you tell him that you’d give him a positive reference, or just a reference? If you told him you’d give him a positive reference, I think you probably need to contact and explain that you can’t (and explain why — he needs to get a reality check in that regard, it sounds like). But if you just agreed to be a reference and didn’t get into the specifics of that reference, then I think you’d be doing a public service to just go ahead with that — and be very honest someone contacts you about him. (And I know you told him you were just going to speak about his performance in respect to the board, but the board is responsible for the organization and for managing the ED — so arguably everything that happened is board business.)

This isn’t “well, he was great at most of his job but pretty bad at Task X.” This is someone who wreaked havoc across your organization, and I bet you would have been really grateful if someone had warned you when you were doing reference checks on him.

2. Job offer without ever speaking to the manager

I recently went through a second interview — a panel interview — for a job I’m really interested in, and am waiting to hear back. When I asked when they would know their decision, they made it sound like they would decide after this round of interviews was over. However, the potential manager wasn’t part of the interview panel.

Is this normal? If I (or someone else) were offered the position without having the chance to speak to the manager, that would seem like a little red flag to me. A good/bad manager makes such a huge difference in a job. This position would require travel between several offices, and the person in the position would get to define their responsibilities in large part — it’s a big organization but a new department — so the management would be a very important part of this position.

If they made an offer to me, would there be some way that I could meet with the manager, or would that be weird?

Not weird at all! It’s very reasonable to want to meet the person who you’d be reporting to, since they’ll have a major impact on what your experience in the job is like.

If you get an offer, you could say something like, “I’m very interested. Before accepting, could I set up a conversation with the manager for the position, so I have a chance to talk a bit with the person I’d be reporting to?”

3. I don’t think I want to come back from maternity leave

I am about to have a baby in a few short months, and I am starting to panic and have second thoughts about the plans for leave that I originally made with my boss.

When I told my supervisor I was pregnant, my original plan was to take 12 weeks unpaid FMLA and then return to work full-time. However, I no longer think I want to go back at all. When I took the job about a year ago, I was optimistic that this position would be a good next step on my career path, but the more I stay here the more I know it’s just not a good fit for me office culture and career-wise. Nothing is horrible, but I don’t necessarily enjoy my day-to-day work, and my schedule is fixed in a way that will be very challenging once I am taking care of a newborn (my partner will also have to return to a very demanding job after a brief leave).

All this is to say, my plans have changed from what I verbalized a few months ago, but I don’t know how or when to tell my boss. Initially, I wanted to keep my options open and not commit to staying or leaving either way, and I just kind of let everyone assume I would be coming back. I also didn’t want to burn bridges at my organization or have my boss think I was any less committed to my job before I went on leave.

But now things seem to be escalating: my boss announced plans to hire an interim replacement for my position, and I am being urged to more concretely lay out my work plan for the next few months and when I return. I feel like I dug myself in a hole here. How do I come clean about my plans while salvaging my relationship with my boss as a reference when I do decide to rejoin the workforce?

You haven’t dug yourself into a hole! It’s very normal for plans around this stuff to change.

Unless you are absolutely 100% sure that you’re not coming back, you should give yourself the option to return. A lot of people find that what they thought they’d want to do after having a baby ends up changing — in both directions (people who thought they’d stay home end up wanting to go back to work, and people who were sure they’d go back end up changing their minds). If there’s any room for doubt in your decision, do yourself the favor of leaving your options open.

But if you’re absolutely sure that you’re not going to come back, then ethically it’s the right thing to tell your boss. However, be aware that if you do that, you might lose out on any paid maternity benefits if they offer them, as well as insurance coverage, because they may decide to have your last day be the last day you work before the baby comes.

There’s a middle ground option here. If you have a good relationship with your boss and trust him not to handle this badly, you could say something like, “I want to be up-front with you that I’m not 100% sure about my plans post-baby. I know that could affect the plans you’re making and I’ll give you the maximum possible notice if I end up deciding anything different than what we’ve talked about.”

Read updates to this letter here and here.

4. Hiring for jobs that are always open

We have job positions that are simply always open. We are always open to interviewing and hiring new candidates with a view towards building our office and we believe simply in hiring the best people, whether it’s one or five.

Do you have any advice on how to manage job postings for a position that doesn’t close? Any advice on how often to re-post the ad? I’m also wondering where people post positions in general to get the best candidates. We’ve mostly used Indeed and targeted universities, but I’m wondering if there are better options I’m simply not aware of to find quality candidates. (Specifically we’re in the Computer Science field.)

I just dealt with this for a client who is basically always in hiring mode too (in part because they’re growing and in part because they have really hard-to-fill positions). I was getting worried that people who kept seeing the ad month after month would assume that it indicated really high turnover, so I wanted to explain the situation somehow. We settled on adding “Teapots Inc. is growing!” to the start of the ads. But your ad could also say something like, “We’re always open to hiring good people when we can find them, whether it’s one or five.”

As for how often to re-post, it depends on how easy or hard it is for you to find great people (if it’s hard, you’d presumably want to always have your ads active, which would mean re-posting roughly monthly).

As for where to post, I’ve always found niche job boards (for example, Idealist for nonprofits or Roll Call for politics) produce better results than mass ones like Indeed. I don’t know what kind of computer jobs you’re hiring for, but you could look at DICE, TechCrunch, and GitHub, and commenters might have other suggestions for you.

5. Who’s supposed to initiate a video call?

I am a college senior currently interviewing for jobs, and I have a question about the norms for video interviews. Who is supposed to start the video call at the appointed time? I had an interview today where I wasn’t sure, and then I was sitting there wondering if I should call the interviewer, or if that was forward and I should wait for her to call me.

I guess I just don’t have the experience to know what the right thing to do in that situation is. Should I have cleared that up in our email exchange beforehand?

With both phone and video interviews, it varies by interviewer. Most interviewers like to initiate the call themselves, but there are some who prefer to be called. If it’s not clear from what they say when setting it up, you can say something like this when confirming: “I’ll assume you’ll call me then, but if you’d rather I call you, just let me know.” Or you can just ask straight-out (“will you call me or should I call you?”).

But also, prepare for the reality that a lot of interviewers are going to be late, and when it’s phone or video some won’t show at all. This is a really rude thing, and it’s also bizarrely common. There’s some advice here on how to deal with that.

{ 366 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    OP1: In addition to what Alison said, make sure you take note of the folks who gave this toxic employee such good reviews when you hired him. I think it’s clear that they were lying to you and should no longer be trusted.

    I have a very difficult time imagining that these issues only showed up during his tenure with your organization.

    1. Casuan*

      Oh, I like this.
      OP, when you did check his references, did your organisation only use his provided references? The answer to this won’t really help with your question, although I wanted to mention it. This employee us another good reason to check references & to go off-script for referrals!

    2. New Bee*

      And guarding your own reputation is another good reason to be honest, OP. There’s a senior person in my org who gives wildly inaccurate references (for example, recommending someone who blatantly disrespected her manager) and then throws other people under the bus when New Hire is a disaster. I now view everything he says and does with Grade-A skepticism.

      1. Mookie*

        YES. Because this really does cut multiple ways. I had a reference who absolutely destroyed one of my job searches, leaving me out of work for far longer than I was expecting, because they were so awful and no one told me until much, much later. Like, years. The reference was actually effusive in their praise (so, sabotaging the process by laying it on too thick), but otherwise handled themselves quite clumsily during reference checks (endless, pointless digressions and a lot of bragging about themselves).

        You are still in professional mode whether you’re providing references during a job search or acting as a referee yourself. The things people say and do and the character and credibility of their former associates and managers have consequences, for both the applicant and their references. Communication amongst this circle is key, if the aim is to give both honest and positive (where applicable) feedback. In the situation I described above, I simply didn’t do my due diligence and confirm that this person was acting in my best interests; she certainly wasn’t acting in hers, despite her mostly good intentions.

    3. MuseumChick*

      I don’t think they were lying per se. I know of situations like this, someone who on the surface seems like they are a great person to hire but when you really start looking into people who have work with him he a terrible person to work with/for.

      This person has an ability to charm certain people, and does have a list of good references but if you speak to anyone else who was worked with them you learn the real story.

      I do think the OP should be suspicious of anyone who gave this person a good reference and if they see their name(s) on a reference list again processed with caution.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        That’s very true, and I’ve seen it happen more than once at senior leadership levels. The references usually do come from people on the same level who may have only seen the charming side, or who have a mentality that “yes the rank and file complained, but X is a visonary and some people don’t like that.” And then again, some references may themselves have the same problems. Or they may be afraid of lawsuits. No matter what, I’d take future references from them with a ton of salt, too.

        OP 1, find a way to give the warning. Even if it’s nothing more than “the Board was charmed by him, but I strongly suggest contacting some of his old direct reports or looking at our annual reports for those years” or otherwise pointing them in the right direction.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Oooh, yeah, I’ve seen that. I once worked for a company where there was a newly-hired VP who was “visionary” and had good connections (although in retrospect, I think he was better at convincing other people that he had useful connections than he was at having/maintaining/using those connections, but I digress), and who was personable to those on his own level and above, but was a nightmare to work with. Not just actively unpleasant and prone to really astonishing displays of favoritism, but had a tendency to wait until a project was almost completed to pull all its resources and tell the people working on it that he wanted to go in a totally new direction… and he wanted the deliverable on the same timeline as the original deliverable, making it actively impossible to succeed. Repeatedly.

          And yeah, part of the reason that he got away with it was that since he was so personable and so good at selling himself to people at his level or above, he could always spin it as “they’re just used to slacking off and they don’t like that I’m whipping them into shape” or “they just don’t have the long-term vision I do and they resent it,” and so leadership looked the other way at his astonishingly high department turnover for a long time.

          What finally got him was several young women in his department coming forward to report sexual coercion and harassment, with proof. The message that we got was that he could be as terrible as he liked, right up until it was legally actionable. (And yes, this contributed to my leaving, even though I wasn’t in his department and wasn’t directly affected; it killed morale org-wide. It’s also given me something of an allergy to the term ‘visionary,’ even though I know it doesn’t always mean ‘person who charms his superiors and kicks his inferiors and is completely ineffective.’)

          I would really hope that when someone called for a reference, they wouldn’t hear “well, when he interacted with us, he seemed great” and a convenient eliding of the actively destructive way he managed his department, his nearly-100% department turnover in one year, and his sexual harassment of reports.

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            I think it’s fine to have an allergy to self-described visionaries. It’s not universal that they’re terrible, but the people I’ve encountered who have had the most success changing their fields for the better haven’t bothered with the term. They just go about doing it. (“I have a vision” is different. I think it’s turning having visions into the description of what you do that’s a yellow flag.)

    4. Bonky*

      This happened to us with an MD, who got great references from a big, local company in our field that it turned out had placed him on gardening leave. He’s been smart enough not to come to us for a reference since we let him go (although honestly I don’t think he’ll look for another role in our field or any other; his sacking by our board was pretty brutal, he’s left the area we live in which is a cluster for our field, he’s of an age where it wouldn’t be totally weird to retire, and made millions of pounds at one of his previous ventures simply by being employee number five-or-thereabouts in a company that later floated, so he doesn’t need the work). I’ve made half-hearted attempts since his sacking from our company to find out what the hell happened at the place that sacked him before us, but the people I know there have kept zipped.

      It’s a shame; one of the many crappy consequences of the whole thing has been that we are very, very, very leery about hiring anybody from that organisation, because we don’t trust their process.

      1. Bethlam*

        “Gardening leave?” Trying for the life of me to figure out what gardening leave is, or what term autocorrect messed up.

          1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            Just mentioning – this is a pretty commom term in my industry within the US (finance – investment banking).

            1. BeenThere*

              Yeah gardening leave was a thing in every Financial Services company I worked at in the US, investment banking, commodity trading etc..

        1. WinterWinds*

          It’s a term commonly used here in the UK (I don’t know about elsewhere) for a period of time when an employee is being paid but is required to stay away from work, often because they have resigned and are seeing out their notice period.

          1. The Rat-Catcher*

            Makes sense why it’s not in use here then. US employers wouldn’t pay out something like that, for the most part. I want to move…

            1. MegaMoose, Esq*

              I believe that the UK has mandatory notice periods, which definitely don’t exist in the US. It’s interesting because in the US, we think of notice as something of a courtesy to the employer (thus the talk of burning bridges if you quit without notice), but the UK seems to treat it as a benefit employees are entitled to after working somewhere a certain length of time.

              1. MegaMoose, Esq*

                This might only apply if you are made redundant, which I think is basically equivalent to being laid off.

                1. Dizzy Steinway*

                  Nope, there’s a mandatory notice period if you are fired too.

                  My friend was fired from a fairly new job and ACAS advised her that the firing was invalid as they didn’t tell her far enough ahead of her last day. I helped her write a letter informing them that her employment still stood. HR freaked out (her manager tried to fire her without going through them) and gave her her job back. She found another job and quit shortly after.

              2. Apollo Warbucks*

                Notice periods in the uk cut both ways, it’s certainly a benefit to employers to have a months notice (sometimes its three months notice)

                And whilst we have to give notice I’m not sure to many employers would take the matter to court if you quit on the spot, but if you did it would certainly burns bridge.

              3. Mike C.*

                This also comes up in weird cases where the employee in question has access to highly sought after, time-sensitive propriatary knowledge. Something like a design engineer for a Formula 1 team or something.

                /Ok, that’s the only time I’ve heard it used and maybe the only time I’ve agreed that a non-compete clause makes some sense.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  There’s at least one company that I’m aware of in my industry that does that. The reasoning seems to be that they don’t want to encourage a general company culture of people quitting without notice, but a few positions deal with very sensitive information that’s time-sensitive and valuable. So everyone is “safe” in giving two weeks–it just depends based on position whether they’ll work those two weeks or get the two weeks’ pay without working it.

    5. Nana K*

      My favorite…when I called to check a reference and the woman said, simply, “Surely you have other candidates.” Simple, thoughtful, thorough. I thanked her and went on to other options

      1. MyTwoCents*

        Nana K – Surely you also called the other references? You know, in case this reference (unbeknownst to the candidate) was not their best option. In case the reference was biased against for personal reasons.. reasons that may not have bothered you or your coworkers at all.

        You may have done the candidate – and your company – a disservice by only calling the one reference, AND not even bothering to follow up with not even ONE question! smh

  2. Stellaaaaa*

    OP3: Do you have any vacation or sick days you can add on to the FMLA? It sounds to me like you don’t necessarily want to quit the job (you’ve only been there a year, after all) but you really just want a bit more than 12 weeks off. Or since you’re not concerned about your long-term prospects at the company, maybe you could move into a part-time role after FMLA. That would be an easier job to leave later on if you end up not wanting to stay.

      1. VioletEMT*

        Also, they are only obligated to hold your job for 12 weeks.

        Could you explore coming back part time at first? Even only four days a week might help you transition more easily.

        1. Shadow*

          There is the possibility theyd have an obligation to hold it longer. If they held johns job for 16 weeks because of his knee surgery they’d have a legal obligation to do the same here.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’m not sure that’s the case regarding legal obligations. The optics aren’t great, a claim could easily be made regarding pregnancy discrimination, but unless the company has a written policy of extended leave that they violate for certain employees by sticking only to the required 12 weeks, and those certain employees happen to show a pattern of belonging to protected classes, I don’t know that the company is legally obligated to give every employee precisely the same amount of leave.

            Should they? Yes. But the idea that they’re legally obligated to give Sam 16 weeks after his knee surgery because they gave John 16 weeks after his knee surgery, doesn’t ring true with what I know of LOA requirements. If John’s job could wait the extra 4 weeks, or they had the budget to hire temp help for the extra 4 weeks, but Sam’s job couldn’t stay vacant and they couldn’t do a temp, or Sam’s performance hasn’t been as good as John’s so they were less inclined to work with him…I feel like those are perfectly legit scenarios for why a company might treat two different LOAs differently, and so long as they meet the actual legal requirements under FMLA (and CFRA or other state laws depending on where they are), I think they’d be okay.

            1. Shadow*

              They don’t have to have a policy. All she’d have to show is that either pregnancy or women are treated differently than men or non work related injuries.

              You’d be surprised how many companies feel differently about maternity leave than say recovery from shoulder surgery

              1. Jadelyn*

                Like I said, if we’re talking about a pattern where the employee who’s given less leeway belongs to a protected class – like pregnant women – that’s different, but your phrasing sounded a lot more like a blanket across the board claim that a company had to give all employees equal amounts of LOA regardless of circumstances.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            You’re conflating pregnancy disability leave (leave for the medical condition of being pregnant) with parental leave (leave to care for and bond with a new child). What you’re saying only holds true for pregnancy disability, which is typically much less than the full 12 weeks.

            So if they held John’s job for 16 weeks for his knee surgery, they might be obligated to hold Sharon’s job for 16 weeks for severe pregnancy complications, but they would not be obligated to hold Jennifer’s job for 16 weeks if she was physically able to return to work after 6 weeks but wanted an additional 10 weeks of bonding time.

  3. Casuan*

    OP3: In theory the middle ground option makes sense, although I don’t think there’s much benefit to tell you boss you might not want to return. Probably he already knows this is a theoretical possibility. As Alison said, if you’re not absolutely certain of your decision then proceed as planned. If & when you fully decide not to return to work, then you owe it your company to let them know sooner than later. Much can happen in several months so keep the work option open as long as you can reasonably & ethically do so.

    1. MillersSpring*

      This has happened both at my job and in my family. In both cases, the employee got ready for maternity leave by sharing their plans for returning to work after X months.

      After the baby was born, they notified their supervisor and HR that they expected to return to work on X date.

      Then toward the end of the leave, they contacted the supervisor and stated that, actually, they had changed their mind and would not be returning.

      It happens. Good employers keep in mind that moms on maternity leave do change their minds, and that the role might need to be filled.

      Just as would happen in any other unexpected situation.

      1. Jadelyn*

        This happens at my org maybe 3-5 times a year, and we understand, that’s just how it goes.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*


      The truth is that people’s feelings re: parental leave once they have their baby and have time to bond. I’ve met women who fully intended to come back and who extended their leave, returned part-time and slowly built back to full-time, job searched while on leave, and quit. The fact that you don’t know which outcome will happen ahead of time is ok, and it’s not disingenuous to refrain from sharing your uncertainty about whether you’ll return with your boss. The only circumstance in which it makes sense (ethically) to tell your boss you’re not coming back is if you’re 1000% sure you intend to leave the workforce for six or more months (but note that how you feel about all this may change dramatically and frequently post-baby).

      My gut is that you should choose the middle ground for two primary reasons. First, maintaining health insurance coverage is going to be essential, and you don’t have to worry about COBRA payments when you’re dealing with all the other new parent stuff. Second, if you do decide to job hunt/interview during your leave, you’ll be applying as a person who is currently employed, which puts you in a better strategic position.

      The other thing is that even if you decide you don’t want to come back, it might make sense to come back briefly to tie up loose ends (and preserve your benefits). For example, I had a boss who came back and gave notice after one month post-leave. No one thought badly of her for doing it, it allowed her to keep her family on her health insurance, and it gave her and the organization more time to transition. Regardless, congratulations and good luck!

      1. Anancy*

        Agree. My personal experience was that I fully planned and wanted to come back after maternity leave. I did, and it was a lot harder than I thought. I was torn with staying or quitting. Two months after going back, my spouse ended up with a job transfer to a different state, so that sealed the deal. I am glad I went back though. Give yourself as much flexibility and options as you can, and as much time as you can.

      2. Mookie*

        Yes to all of this. Employees have earned the right to hang onto their benefits when, possibly, in professional limbo, and, as you say, acting in good faith, maybe even temporarily returning to help out with a transition, gives both sides financial and moral breathing room. When someone who is employed decides to leave a company they’re not expected to quit immediately, as though they’re doing something dishonorable; they’re acting in their own best interests, and there’s no reason for people on parental leave to behave any differently as they explore their options following significant personal milestones.

        1. many bells down*

          When I went on maternity leave (earlier than planned per doctor’s orders) my boss actually told me not to tell her if I wasn’t coming back until I’d used all the benefits she could give me. She wanted to make sure I I could use them as long as possible.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, my feelings changed because, before I had a baby, having a baby was just an abstract concept to me. I didn’t have any idea of what my daily post-baby life would look like. I was working a shift-work job (12 hours a day, four days on/four days off; a month of days and a month of nights). Before I had a baby, I fully expected to return to my job. Once the baby was born, my husband and I both quickly realized that there was no way we could both work such hours and care for a baby.

        1. Simonthegreywarden*

          This. For four years I have been teaching a class that requires me to get up and drive nearly an hour before sunrise, and at first I agreed to continue doing it after the baby arrives, but my husband’s work has no flexibility (similar to a call center job) and in thinking about the reality of a newborn, we both understand that the schedule isn’t sustainable.

    3. Yoshi*

      I fully agree – in fact, I think the risk of sharing any doubt about your future plans is so great that I would go along with the planning and keep the doubts to yourself, *unless* your health insurance is not tied to your work and you are in the fortunate position of having enough funds to be able to take unlimited unpaid leave. You don’t know how long it will take to find a job and you don’t want to get stuck with those health care costs and not drawing a paycheck in the meantime. Do be aware of the FMLA payback requirements at some workplaces, though.

      1. JGray*

        I agree with you that the risk is too great to share doubts about the future right now. I was going to say absolutely don’t tell your boss you are having doubts. I have seen where bosses don’t let you make that decision and make the decision for you by telling people your not coming back and then it just creates a mess if you do return and everyone says to you I thought you were leaving. Doubts are normal. I had to go back to work 5 weeks after my first child was born due to financial obligations and my husband had been laid off. With my second child I wanted to stay home but ultimately I went back to work because of 1) benefits payback requirement and 2) it was nice to have some time away from the house with adults. It wasn’t necesarily the greatest decision given how it ended at that job for me but I also feel that if I hadn’t gone back I wouldn’t have the awesome job that I have now. I also want to say that if you want do some job searching while you are on maternity leave. There is nothing wrong with that. You probably won’t have much time for it but if you are feeling this way about your job now that won’t change much after you come back- at least that’s how it was for me. In my oldjob- I spent an additional year and ten months at it looking for another job after maternity leave once I actually came back. Do what’s best for you and the business will figure it out.

        1. Naruto*

          I agree with this, too — unless, like, it’s illegal for them to fire you due to the status of your FLMA or something (and I don’t know that that’s a thing, I’m just saying *if* that’s a thing, and if it applies). Otherwise, employers should know that having a baby could lead you to change your view on things, including work. You don’t need to tell them you have doubts — they already should not be taken by surprise.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s a thing :) That is, it’s illegal to fire someone for taking FMLA leave—you can still fire them, it just can’t be on the basis of that employee taking or expressing a desire to take FMLA leave.

    4. Bonky*

      I am on maternity leave at the moment. It’s my first baby and I have a c-section booked for next Wednesday (gulp). (Baby is breech and resolutely not turning.)

      I’m one of the founders of our company, my function is key, I’m very good at my job – and my board is worried to death that I won’t come back. I have absolutely zero intention of leaving right now, but I’m aware that things can change after the birth – in large part because the Chair and the board keep telling me that I may change my mind, that my feelings may alter, and that I can’t know what’s coming! (I think I have a fairly solid idea of how things are going to go, and I’ve made preparations like hiring a nanny to make things as easy as possible.)

      I’ve dealt with it by booking off the longest period of leave that my country will allow (a year) at the board’s insistence, while telling them that I do not intend to use it all, but that I’m putting it in place to help with expectations.

      I’m lucky in that that my company is taking this so seriously, and making me (and the rest of the exec team) think hard about it up front. I don’t think any of us has anything to lose by not being as open and frank as we can be about the situation at all times, and I’ll keep them in the loop all the way along; they’re being good employers and I really appreciate it.

      1. CMart*

        Best of luck with the c-section, Bonky! I just returned to work after three months at home with my first and it’s definitely true that you really won’t know how you’ll feel until you’re feeling it. I still feel differently on a day to day basis and I’m sure an entire year with your baby will shape your feelings even more (in one way or the other).

        1. anonny*

          Anther new-mom-to-a-3-month-old here. Good luck, Bonky! Its going to be amazing to hold that little peanut.

          To the OP I’ll say: Throughout the course of maternity leave I cried because I didn’t want to work ever again and also found myself (guiltily) itching for something more stimulating for a few hours a day and thinking warmly about returning to work.

          I’m back now, and it’s HARD. I wfh, so its a lot easier, and its still hard. But I’m also glad to be back.

          All of this is to say: You will feel a million and one different things regarding maternity leave and work and motherhood. Prioritize you and your family by giving yourself as many options as possible.

      2. SometimesALurker*

        Best of luck with the c-section and with your new baby, and early congratulations!
        I was a breech baby, and my mom was very happy she chose the c-section.

    5. Adhdy*

      I’ve taken maternity leave and returned to work twice. I don’t think there’s any reason to say you’re having doubts. If they’re hiring someone as an interim, even more so. Think of it this way, maybe they’ll bring in someone who will be able to seamlessly move into the job if you don’t come back. So there’s no loss to anyone.

      That said, pregnancy/childbirth/recovery can suddenly become very expensive. And for me, the last thing I wanted to do in the days after birth was to deal with health care crap. If you do get your health insurance through your employer, tell them you’re coming back. When asked, you can say ‘I’m planning on returning in May”. You’re plannning on it, not promising it.

      Also, your company may have policies regarding unpaid leave and insurance. For example, if you’re on unpaid leave, you may need to send them a check for the employee share every month. Or, you may need to repay the employee (and sometimes) employer share if you choose not to return.

    6. Tuckerman*

      I agree that there’s not much benefit to disclosing the possibility of not returning. There are so many situations that might affect when or whether you return. For example, while you’re on leave your company may hire some new staff and start going in a direction that interests you and makes you want to return. Or your partner might decide he/she really wants to be a stay at home parent, and you having a job would keep that an option.

  4. LoV*

    OP4: A real company uses Indeed? I’m kind of shocked, when I was job searching Indeed was full of junk, scraped job listings, and fake listings.

    1. Not a Cat Lady*

      Where do you find your job postings? I’ve been using Indeed and LinkedIn for everything. Have I been doing it wrong???

      1. Jeanne*

        There are real jobs on Indeed. They just may or may not be the kind of jobs you’re looking for. Where should you look? It depends what you want. I used to look directly at the websites of companies in my industry.

          1. Oryx*

            Yes, Indeed is a metasearch engine and works like you described.

            I’ve found — and been hired — from jobs I found that way. It was always, to me, the easiest way to do a broad range of searching.

              1. Kimberlee, Esq*

                Yeah, my current (very good!) job is at a company that was on my radar, so it’s poooosssible I would have seen the specific posting anyway, but I saw the job I eventually got on Indeed first.

            1. paul*

              How do you wade through all the dross? I see an unending range of “work from home!11!!” ads on it when I search for local jobs.

              1. Oryx*

                It could be field dependent. I’m a librarian so a) I’m searching for specific jobs and b) using careful keyword searches (see: I’m a librarian)

          2. Jadelyn*

            Yes – Indeed is an aggregator. You can pay to boost your postings and run ad campaigns on top of the scraped listings, but you can’t actually make separate postings and put them on Indeed as far as I’ve been able to tell.

            1. OP4*

              You absolutely can! Create an employers account and put free job postings up on Indeed. It’s where we’ve found all our employees for the past few years, but it also takes a long time to find quality candidates there which is why I’m trying to find better job boards.

    2. The JMP*

      My large nonprofit posts all openings there. Most programs (including mine) also post on more field or position-specific sites. Most of our entry-level applicants come through Indeed, although virtually none of our more experienced candidates do.

      The best place for looking for specialized candidates in my legal subfield is one or two large and very field-specific listservs.

    3. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      We use Indeed and CareerBuilder.

      I haven’t had to job search in many years, glory be, but those sites are probably better for job hunters when the looking in specific categories. (Back in the day of paper classifieds, there were tons of vapor jobs, “sales” jobs that were really candy door to door, and the like also. You had to skip around the crap as well. )

      Anyway, if there’s a better place to post jobs than those two, I’d like to hear about it. We weren’t happy with Monster at all .

      (Maybe it’s regional? Maybe they work well in our region but not in another? That could make sense.)

    4. Jennifer M*

      I found Indeed pretty useful during my job search in late 2015/early 2016. Many of the major organizations in my industry advertised there. Plus the job I ultimately accepted was from a tiny niche corner of the industry that I wasn’t even aware of but it is opening up opportunities that I never would have thought of for myself.

    5. K.*

      I’ve always used Indeed when I’ve looked, as well as niche job boards and word of mouth. Lots of stuff there.

    6. Angelinha*

      We posted on Indeed at my old nonprofit and the astoundingly high volume of junk resumes really turned me off it. I think as with anything, there’s good jobs and good job seekers on there, but you have to weed through a lot of junk to get there. I had to make my case to HR every single time I wanted to post a job on Idealist (not even instead of, just in addition to, Indeed) and they were so reluctant because it cost more. I think Indeed is free to post on which may be part of why so many of the jobs are bogus.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Really? Idealist is relatively cheap – compared to, say, Monster where it’s like $300 a posting, or LinkedIn where it goes from $200-500 a posting based on location, Idealist is only $80 last I posted there.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s so interesting — I’ve always had the exact opposite happen! Idealist (which is only $90 a post) produces reasonable applicants and Indeed produces an absolute flood of unqualified people.

        1. paul*

          Idealist is listing organizations in my area that have been out of business for almost 2 years now. I’d just figured it was a junk site due to that.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s different than their job ads. It sounds like you’re talking about their directory of orgs, where any org can create a (non-job) listing for itself, and if they become defunct, they don’t think to remove it (I don’t think Idealist cleans those up; it’s up the org to list or unlist themselves).

            But job postings are paid and expire after 60 days, so they’re not from defunct orgs.

        2. Dienna Howard*

          That could be because Idealist is more tailored to a niche and Indeed shares job posts from multiple fields. Indeed also has it where candidates can apply to jobs through Indeed, so those who are unqualified may flood their resume wherever they can.

        3. Angelinha*

          This isn’t the opposite of my experience – maybe my post was confusing! Indeed gave me a ton of unqualified people and Idealist was great (but our stingy HR didn’t want to let me post there).

    7. Mazzy*

      I love posting on Indeed. It’s cheap – you pick how much you want to pay, as little as $20, and that decides how high in searches your job gets. Linkedin seemed more professional but got far fewer applicants and cost $495 for an ad and I swear to God, it sent me “applicants” that didn’t apply. I posted a mid level job in financial services and got things like a pre-med student with no financial experience whatsoever and no cover letter despite me saying three times that one was required, and they lived across the country. One I got dozens of “applicants” like that I surmised that they send fake applications to boost their #s. I just didn’t see that with the other sites.

      I would say that even for a mid level job, I got the best applicants on craigslist and Indeed, so do not believe the stereotype that only low level workers or those on the fringe use those sites. The fact is that they are just easier to use. Craigslist for example, doesn’t require a registration or a fee or filling out a form for the applicants, and it only costs $25 for the employer.

      1. Mazzy*

        To clarify on Linkedin, I would DEFINITELY job hunt there, but I wouldn’t post a job there as an employer due to my experience

    8. Elizabeth West*

      Indeed isn’t that bad. Plus, it doesn’t spam me with stupid emails or require me to register. However, it does pull from other sources, so I’ve applied for jobs where I had to open an account for the site where the job was posted. And sometimes it connects to the company’s career site, where I do have to sign up/in to apply. But I’ve also been able to send resumes/cover letters through Indeed without doing any of that. And it’s easier to search on than Monster, which is awful.

      I don’t upload my resume to those sites anymore because it increases your chance of getting spam. I’m looking at you, CareerBuilder.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Ugh, yes. Even after I pulled my resume off Monster and CB, I still kept getting cold calls for contract jobs for like six months. Hell, I still get them once in awhile!

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yep, I haven’t been job hunting in six years and I still get “new jobs you may be interested in” emails all the time. Once in a while if I’m bored, I’ll look at the email out of pure curiosity to see what these “great matches” are, and it’ll be something like nursing jobs when I’ve never done that in my life.

      2. Jennifer's Job-Hunting Thneed*

        I use Monster to post my resume, but I don’t bother to look at their job postings. And yeah, whatever you put there will live forever, but that just gives me a chance to reply to recruiters with my current resume, since the odds are good they’re looking at something at least 2 years old.

        Indeed is pretty good but it does taking searching. Happily, the job I want always has a straightforward job title (“technical writer”), and I can require that exact phrase to be in the actual job title, which cuts down on the dross. That and being able to designate how far from what zip code.

        Two of the best jobs I’ve gotten have been from posting my resume on Craigslist and being found by actual hiring managers.

    9. Jubilance*

      I love Indeed – it’s full of “real” job postings. Whenever I search I’m taken to the company’s career page to actually apply. Maybe it’s the type of jobs I’m looking for?

    10. Anna Pigeon*

      My wife loves Indeed. (We’re both accountants, but with different specialties.) In fact, I believe she found her current job on Indeed.

      I never found much on Indeed I wanted to apply to, or if I did, I’d go to the organization’s website and find it was already closed. My first job I found in a paper newspaper ad (1990s) and the rest have been internal or through recruiters.

    11. De Minimis*

      We use Craigslist, but we’re located in the Bay Area so that’s pretty much standard. We post on some other boards dedicated to non-profits, but most of the activity comes from Craigslist. I believe the postings we make on the other boards end up on Indeed too.

      1. De Minimis*

        Oh, and I know on our end, LinkedIn is way too expensive to post ads [though we link to job announcements on our company page] so if someone is only looking at LinkedIn they may miss a lot of opportunities.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Ugh, yes, especially if you’re based in the Bay Area. I am, too, and I cringe every time I have to shell out $500 for a LI posting. Give me CL’s $75 a pop any day, please!

      2. Anonymous Commenter #473*

        +1 for Craigslist! My company has offices in several US cities. The vast majority of visits to our ATS come from Indeed (like you, we don’t pay to post there), but Craigslist is the only other site that provides a significant amount of traffic. All other job sites together comprise maybe a percent or two of all visits.

    12. hayling*

      It’s both. They have a pay-per-click posting model (those are the “sponsored” ads at the top and bottom), and they also scrape.

    13. Ashley*

      Long time reader, first time commenter! A great option to check out for both employers and job seekers is LinkUp Job Search Engine ( (Disclaimer: I do work for LinkUp)

      We both scrape and do pay-per-click sponsored listings, but where we differ from places like Indeed is that we only scrape from company websites (so no scams, duplicate listings, etc) and we don’t do allow any pay-to-post.

      We don’t require job seekers to create an account with us, and we don’t collect resumes either. For our sponsored listings, it’s one click from the listing on LinkUp to the actual position on the company website. With our organic listings, there is one additional click to the job description before moving on to the company website.

      You’re not going to get any spam email or fake applicants from us, and we are consistently a top performing source for employers.

      Sorry if this got sales-y – just wanted to share with people frustrated by their current option for recruiting/job hunting!

  5. designbot*

    I don’t feel comfortable with the first answer… even if OP didn’t explicitly say it would be a positive reference, I believe that is implied when you agree to be a reference for someone, and it’s a bit of bait and switch to agree and then purposely tank their chances. Call them back and say that upon further reflection on their time with you you couldn’t recommend them in good conscience. Isn’t it enough to know that a reference from your organization will be conspicuously absent and he’ll likely have a harder time finding work because of that?

    1. New Bee*

      I see where you’re coming from, but a part of me thinks if your judgment is so poor (or you are so desperate) that you ask someone who has strong negative experiences with you to be a reference, that’s just desserts.

      1. Jeanne*

        I agree with you. If you almost cause a non-profit to cease to exist and then you ask for a reference, you deserve what you get. Maybe the new company is requiring a reference from the old job. Either way, tell the truth without emotional embellishment.

      2. Willis*

        Agreed. I see designbot’s point for sure…if you agree to be a reference, I think it’s implied that, while you may mention the candidate’s weaknesses, on balance you’re serving as a reference in support of their candidacy. But, this guy’s tenure as ED sounds like a disaster, and it would be totally unreasonable for him to expect anyone to sweep the negatives under the rug. It also seems a bit manipulative (or very oblivious) to even ask the LW to serve as a reference since it would require her to overlook such major issues.

      3. Lablizard*

        Exactly. If you are completely oblivious to the depth and breadth of your poor performance that you ask for a reference from an organization you almost destroyed, the outcomes are on you. Either he is Michael Scott level clueless or he is betting that people will be afraid or hesitant to tell the truth. Neither makes for someone you want to hire

        1. Annonymouse*

          Or like Miss Trunchbull from Ronald Dahl’s “Matilda”.

          Their behaviour is so over the top terrible that no one will believe you if you tell them.

          I.e using a child’s pigtails to throw them Olympic hammer style.

      4. NoMoreMrFixit*

        Could be worse. I had one genius give my name out as a reference without asking me first. I only discovered this when a hiring director called me for a reference. She was horrified to discover I hadn’t been asked first. I gladly gave this person a reference all right, explaining this was merely the latest in a long string of unbelievably bad behaviour. The offender didn’t get the job.

        1. Ismis*

          I had someone give out my PRIVATE mobile number. I tried very hard – I really did. I said “oh, Bob didn’t ask me to be a reference and I’m not sure why he gave out my private details” and the requester just said “ah… well, since I have you on the phone, can you give the reference?” I then said “You will need to speak to HR as Bob didn’t stay past probation….” This guy rang me about three more times saying that HR hadn’t gotten back to him and before I heard through the grapevine that Bob got the job anyway! Dude!

      5. SophieChotek*

        I agree. (Although I think a lot of people think “references” are only people who will speak well of me — or for the most part can speak well of me. I was always taught to ask for a “positive reference” versus just a “reference”, so that the person I was asking knew I would plan on the reference being overall “good” (even if there might be some criticisms, etc. therein.)

        I might be harping on this too much but I was struck by “He and I had a friendly relationship, but did not keep in touch” which also might mean that the person seeking there reference (ED) assumes he will get a good one, due to their friendly relationship.

      6. designbot*

        But if they ask, that’s the time to tell them you don’t have a favorable opinion of their time with you. OP appears to have agreed to skirt around the issue by saying they could only speak to certain areas of their work and not others. So bringing up the items they said they couldn’t speak to as negatives in the reference call would be going back on their word.
        I take no issue with providing a negative reference for someone if you haven’t already had a discussion about it. But when you’ve already talked with the candidate about it, that was the time to bring this stuff up.

        1. Annonymouse*

          So you’re OK with ED asking OP to cover this up so they can do it to another company?

          Because OP “might” break their word to not talk negatively?

          Has it occurred to you that this is exactly what happened previously and that’s how ED was in a position to almost shutdown an entire company?

          1. designbot*

            He can ask (and yeah, I think it’s pretty ballsy), but OP doesn’t have to say yes.

            I’m just more comfortable shutting it down at that point and leaving the guy unable to scrounge up sufficient references than I am with this backhanded approach.

            1. Annonymouse*

              But by asking for a positive reference that’s what he’s asking for.

              Not an honest account of his work and ability.

              Considering his previous references were “Stellar” and if his stay was short enough to leave off entirely I would not feel comfortable enough that no reference wouldn’t result in the same outcome.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      I’m not sure that someone who doesn’t act in good faith can expect any in return. I don’t seek out ways to hurt people but I also don’t go out of my way to make things easy for people who have screwed me over in the past. This guy doesn’t really deserve a heads up.

      1. LQ*

        Strong agree. Very strong agree. If the man who destroyed the org I worked for, caused people to file for bankruptcy, created a hole in the community ever put me down as a reference I would be completely honest. How he lied, how he stole, how he ruined carefully built relationships, how he destroyed the org.

        I would not feel a single twinge of guilt about being completely honest.

    3. Casuan*

      Whilst it might seemlike a bait & switch, it is not, unless the OP implicitly told the ineffective ED that she’d give him a good reference. If she did, technically it still isn’t a bait & switch because “references” aren’t limited to good references. That said, I agree with the implication that referrals will only give good references although I caution others to understand that the implication is only in one’s mind.
      Potential employers often go off-script [ie: to ask references they’ve found] & this could also lead to negative reviews. The OP has a responsibility to her reputation & her organisation.
      This ED was quite egregious & his performance did not meet expectations. He almost caused the organisation to shut down!
      That’s a major thing.

      1. designbot*

        OP says ” I said yes, but that I could only speak to his performance with respect to the board.” If they speak to anything they’ve explicitly said they were unable to speak to, it is a literal bait and switch as well as feeling like one. It’s one thing if they’re surprised by a question they hadn’t thought about, but going into the conversation with the intent to do otherwise than they said they would do is deceptive and I think the OP knows it.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I disagree. As Alison noted, the difference is between whether OP was asked to be a reference or whether OP was asked to provide a recommendation. If it was the former, then I don’t think there’s any ethical problem—implied or otherwise—with telling the truth about the candidate. If the guy asked for a recommendation, then I think it would be a courtesy to give him a head’s up that it won’t be a positive one (which OP signaled in part by noting the limits of their reference), and to be honest if contacted. And if someone simply cold calls OP, which happens bizarrely often with nonprofit hiring, then OP should feel free to be honest as well. In my opinion, it’s ethically/morally problematic, as well as bad movement building practice, to enable someone who’s a Typhoid Mary to wreak havoc on an organization’s health.

      When someone is as destructive as OP describes, “protecting” him by omitting crucial information not only hurts OP’s credibility, it also undermines the organization he goes to and destabilizes that field/community of nonprofit organizations and advocates. Which is all to say that it has real and serious effects on everyday human beings who rely on those nonprofits, as well as on the organization itself.

      I’m really frank with people when I can’t give them a good reference, even though it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have. And in other situations, I’m cold-called because someone listed me as a reference without asking/notifying me. Regardless, I’m also not going to sugarcoat the fact that they were Kryptonite for an organization and had the interpersonal warmth of nuclear waste. It’s like giving another organization a poison pill.

      1. Casuan*

        As Alison noted, the difference is between whether OP was asked to be a reference or whether OP was asked to provide a recommendation.

        PCBH, Alison didn’t make this distinction, you just did & it’s excellent.

        Alison & the OP both used “reference.” My comments conflated the two words & a quick search shows that some others did the same [not at all a big deal, although I was curious to see how we all used the terms :-)].

        In this context, reference & recommendation have roughly the same meaning, yet different implications… the latter definitely has the presumption of “good.” If the OP1 knows for which the ED asked & to which she agreed, her actions are more defined; if she agreed to a “recommendation” then she should tell him.
        That said, the ED was so damaging to the organisation that if the OP prefers not to contact him at all then I can support that decision, too.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, sorry! I mean, it may be a distinction without a difference, but at least in my experience and as SophieChotek noted, “reference” doesn’t automatically imply “good” reference, whereas a recommendation implies you’re going to vouch for the applicant. It’s OP’s prerogative if they want to let their former ED know it won’t be a good reference, but I don’t think OP has a special obligation.

          Bottom line, I don’t think it’s dishonorable to give an honest opinion when asked to comment.

          1. Casuan*

            PCBH, your post made a good distinction that made me think.
            I was agreeing with you!!
            My apologies if I wasn’t clear. :-)

    5. New Window*

      I believe that is implied when you agree to be a reference for someone [that you’ll give a positive reference], and it’s a bit of bait and switch to agree and then purposely tank their chances.

      I see where you’re coming from. But…in the U.S. at least, there’s no real obligation for the recommender to give a flattering recommendation. I had to be taught to be explicit when I first started asking professors for recommendations: “Would you be able to give a positive recommendation for me?” I understand not wanting to leave applicants in the lurch (speaking out of self interest here, too), but the other recommenders played no insignificant part in this guy nearly ruining an organization. If Toxic ED didn’t want people recommending him to “ruin his chances,” then he shouldn’t have been so god-awful to work for in the first place.

      I seem to recall that in some countries, like Germany, a person can really get into hot water if they give an overtly negative impression, and as a result the listener has to have a very keen ability to hear a non-recommendation: things like “Fergus left a deep impression on us. We’re grateful for the short time we had with him.” If OP#1 is in that kind of country, then sure, choose indirect words carefully. Otherwise, they are in a position to help other organizations and hapless staff and underlings avoid a toxic workplace waiting to happen.

      1. Casuan*

        Actually, NewWindow, your comment of reading between the lines is a good option for OP if she told ED she’d give Ed a good recommendation & doesn’t want to contact him to update that she’s not comfortable as a reference.
        This is Plan C.

        Plan A is to say what you will about ED’s work & professionalism.
        Plan B is to tell him that you can’t be good reference & why.

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Re professors, word. A professor from whom I requested a rec letter wrote a letter so cranky that I would rather she had declined, or been WAY more explicit in accepting.

        I took three classes from her, but I was often a few minutes late because each semester, I was sprinting from across campus.

        When I asked her for a rec for grad school, she said something like, “Of course! I’d be happy to. I’ll definitely be able to say some positive things.” Then she wrote a letter discussing her reservations about my unreliability. Never mind that she gave me three As. No, she wasn’t wrong to discuss it if she had that reservation, but I would have preferred no letter than THAT letter.

        Not bitter at all.

        (The letters were supposed to be blind to the student, and stayed on file at my college career center for something like 10 years. I had a friend request them so I could review them when I went to apply for grad school the second time.)

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed—I was trained in college to ask explicitly for a “strong”/”good” recommendation precisely because you can’t predict what a recommender will say, and it’s better to know ahead of time if their answer is “no” than to find out later that they panned you. But regardless, the onus is always on the recommendee to ask.

        But one would hope that if one left in a fog of infamy and doom, they’d be aware enough to negotiate the terms of a reference.

    6. Caro in the UK*

      “Isn’t it enough to know that a reference from your organization will be conspicuously absent and he’ll likely have a harder time finding work because of that?”

      Honestly, in this situation, I’d say no, it’s not enough. If he was appalling as the letter states, then I think telling prospective employers that (if given the opportunity by him asking you to be a reference) is absolutely the right thing to do.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. People flake on responding to references, so failure to respond isn’t an automatic red flag. If OP explicitly refused a reference, they’d be lying to the candidate. But more importantly, it’s much more unethical, in my mind, to deceive or cover up malfeasance and poor conduct on the order of this former employee.

        Employers do not owe it to former employees to lie/mislead for them, and former employees should not ask or expect that of someone. You shouldn’t go out of your way to destroy him, but you shouldn’t hide the havoc he wreaked, either.

    7. Annonymouse*

      There’s a difference between tanking someone who doesn’t deserve it:
      I.e Bob didn’t meet a deadline ONE time because another department didn’t give him the information needed to complete a project and in your reference you say “Bob never meets deadlines”

      And what’s happening here.

      ED almost destroyed an entire organisation. If ED wanted to work for you, would you want to know about their potential to destroy your company too?

      I disagree with your position because the stakes for other companies are so high and OP has a duty to prevent what happened from happening again.

      OP is not acting vindictively to “get back” at an employee who is leaving or trashing someone’s professional reputation for no reason. OP is reporting factual information about what happened in EDs tenure so other non profit organisations don’t go under and deny services to needy people.

    8. Mookie*

      Isn’t it enough to know that a reference from your organization will be conspicuously absent and he’ll likely have a harder time finding work because of that?

      It’s not about telling only as much truth as it takes to reach some threshold of “enough.” Nor is it about hurting this person’s career because that’s already been done by the person themselves. References are not and should not be expected to enable bad behavior or poor work habits. Silence and complicity are the pattern that protects missing stairs and keeps serial abusers in positions of power, because speaking up is difficult and awkward. I don’t blame the people who don’t, but the consequences are yet another group of people destroyed by the insertion of a toxic personality they weren’t warned was coming.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, there’s a weird idea in some of these comments about what references should be. They’re not there to serve the candidate; they’re there to serve the employer considering hiring the candidate.

        This is what happened with this guy: “During his short tenure, nearly all the staff quit, there was a hostile work environment investigation (that refers to sexually harassing people or harassing people on the basis of race, religion, etc.), and relationships with partners ranging from foundations to long-term consultants were ruined. He raised zero money during his time there and we nearly had to fold … as soon as he was on board, people came out of the woodwork to tell us what a nightmare he was.”

        There’s no obligation to protect someone like this from themselves.

        It’s pretty gross that he asked her at all; if he expected her not to share this stuff, he was implicitly asking her to help cover this up.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I feel like there’s this weird impulse to not throw someone under the bus, or something, but if there was anybody that needed a push it’s this guy.

          1. Annonymouse*

            I’d take the batman approach:
            You’re not killing him
            (putting up posters around town, trashing his linked in, spreading it through everyone possible that this guy is the worst)

            But you don’t have to save him either
            (Give a positive or neutral reference or COVER UP HE ALMOST DESTROYED THE COMPANY)

        2. KellyK*

          Yeah, there’s a weird idea in some of these comments about what references should be. They’re not there to serve the candidate; they’re there to serve the employer considering hiring the candidate.

          I don’t quite agree with that. The candidate is the one asking someone to serve as a reference, it’s usually couched as a favor, and it’s pretty implicit in that request that it’s to benefit them. If the employer is just calling you as a former manager without having been given your name by the candidate, that’s different.

          In this situation, the candidate is so bad that I think you have more of an ethical duty to warn a future employer than you do to proactively call him up and tell him not to use you. But in general, if someone asks you to be a reference, and you can’t be an overall positive one, I think you should say no.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, and that’s what I’ve typically advised when this has come up. But like I’ve said here, this situation is different because of the egregiousness.

        3. designbot*

          There’s no obligation to protect them from themselves, but I think there is still an obligation not to mislead them. If OP were called out of the blue for a reference, they can say whatever they feel like. But if they’ve already led the candidate to believe they would provide one sort of reference (in this case, limited to the part of the job they did well), and now OP is having second thoughts, my conscience would certainly dictate that I be up front about those second thoughts rather than just changing my tune behind their back.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            The OP didn’t promise to limit their review to the part of the job that this guy “did well.” OP said this guy was good at “managing up” and was actively bad at everything else.

            The Board is the “boss” of the Executive Director, so everything he did is fair game for OP’s reference. It doesn’t sound to me like OP ever gave the impression that they would give a positive reference and then “change their tune.” It sounds pretty clear that OP’s perspective is that, although the Board doesn’t “supervise” an Executive Director in the traditional sense, the ex-ED failed on every performance metric that matters to a nonprofit. (“Managing up” is usually not a performance metric for an ED, and if it is, it’s certainly not the most important one.) Saying that your review is limited to your experience with the ex-ED doesn’t mean it’s limited to the “managing up” conversations—it just means that you can’t vouch for what it feels like to be supervised by someone who is this kind of train wreck.

            I don’t think this is a bait and switch, and I don’t think OP owes him a head’s up (but it’s also fine for OP to give him a head’s up if that’s what they prefer).

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        “Keeps serial abusers in positions of power” is absolutely key. We’re not talking about the temp who was always late, the retail sales associate who was bad at sales, or the disorganized admin here – we’re talking about someone who nearly destroyed a whole organization and sparked a hostile work environment investigation (which as Alison points out means sexual or racial harassment). All while “managing up” – sucking up to the board.

        Some AAM commenters in other posts have informed us of the wonderful German term for this: a bicycle personality. Bowing above, kicking below.

    9. Czhorat*

      Yes, I was going to say exactly this. “A positive reference” is implied. There’s nothing wrong with saying “on reflection, things went pretty badly when you were here, and I’m not comfortable giving a reference. I’m very sorry”.

      The idea that you didn’t promise a *good* reference is, quite honestly, weasel language. It’s the letter of the agreement while ignoring its spirit.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This isn’t someone who made a few mistakes. This is someone who trashed their organization and almost destroyed it. In the nonprofit world, you have a duty to look out for other organizations — there’s much more at stake than a business’s bottom line. It is not more important to protect him than to protect the many more people who are likely to be hurt by him the next time he gets hired into a position of power.

        1. Czhorat*

          I understand that and am sympathetic to it, but I also see a personal obligation to keep ones word. Agreeing to give a reference is an agreement to vouch for the person’s professional character; if you can’t do that, then don’t agree to it. I can read agreeing to be a reference and then trashing the candidate as having lied to them.

          I’d sooner honestly say that I can’t.

          1. Stop That Goat*

            Yea, I think that ethically you should reach back out to him and explain that you your reference isn’t glowing. Do you have to? Nope, but I certainly would.

            I’m pretty sure Alison has suggested at times to reach back out to applicants to give a heads-up that a reference isn’t a good one in certain situations. Yes, it was a bad employee (at perhaps this one job) but he could spend quite a lot of time going through interviews with different places and not knowing that this single reference is tanking his chances.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I do indeed normally suggest that. I think this situation is different because of the sheer egregiousness of the problems and damage caused (and, frankly, the audacity in asking for a reference from someone on the board of the organization he almost destroyed — it’s really like saying “I’m hoping you’ll lie for me”).

          2. Hrovitnir*

            That’s interesting. I think it’s implied that people only ask those they expect a positive review from, but I don’t actually see references as “an agreement to vouch for the person’s professional character.”

            I perceive them as an agreement to honestly assess the person’s character as an employee and you should have a pretty good idea of the impression you gave. The problem to me, is the alarming number of people who can be vindictive or just really weird with reviews (see: two of my previous employers. I think I’d get a good review, but I know good people who did not out of pique.)

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Strong disagree. There’s no presumption that when asked for a reference, it must be a “good” reference. How often do we discuss the need to negotiate the terms of a reference? We do it precisely because there are circumstances in which you shouldn’t expect it to be good. This certainly sounds like one of those circumstances.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Generally, one asks references that will speak positively of them to be references, but that’s as far as the expectation goes, imo.

            2. gwal*

              I think when people are new to the workforce, they’re told, in a confidence-boosting strategy, “if someone is willing to give a reference for you, then it’s surely positive”. But this person is far enough along into their career that they should be able to read their coworkers and the environments in which they worked–things went so badly that expecting a positive reference from someone in this organization would reflect pretty poor situational awareness/judgment, no?

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                You’d think. But I’ve known and heard of people at the exec level that have such huge egos and are so unaware of themselves that they actually believe it was everyone else’s fault.

          4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Agreeing to give a reference is agreeing to give a reference. Generally jobseekers have the sense to solicit references from people that will speak positively of them, but if you ask an organization you nearly destroyed for a reference, you’re gonna get what you merit.

          5. New Window*

            Agreeing to give a reference is an agreement to vouch for the person’s professional character

            Heheh. But that’s exactly what OP1 has agreed to do! She can vouch that Toxic ED’s professional character was harmful and extremely problematic. If someone’s professional behavior isn’t good, and everyone decides to speak only by saying nice things about a person even though those are blatantly untrue, they are enabling this person to ruin other organizations and make their staff and coworkers suffer. Refusing to be a reference for this guy just means that he’ll ask the other people who lied for him, and this awful cycle will continue again. TBH, I don’t think that future interviewers will read the lack of recommendation from Almost Ruined NPO as anything alarming. Reading between the lines is not a natural ability, and especially if this person is in a country/work culture that expects clear, explicit descriptions of how a recommendee works, then I think it’s even more important that they give the interviewers the information they need to not hire an awful, terrible ED.

          6. Observer*

            And what of your obligation to provide honest answers to other people? What of your integrity there?

            And what of the “duty of care” that may not be a LEGAL obligation, but is a real thing, at least in the non-profit world.

            1. Roscoe*

              No one is saying not to be honest. I haven’t seen one person suggest that they lie. But I think saying “I can’t provide a positive reference” is the right thing to do here.

              1. Observer*

                Really? You really think that that’s an honest appraisal of the work of someone who abuses people (that’s how you wind up with Hostile workplace investigations) and does the kind of damage this guy does?

          7. Kate*

            I think people have both an ethical obligation to keep their word/to be honest, and they have an ethical obligation to prevent the immoral behavior of others/protect people from the immoral behavior of others if possible.

            This is the most similar example I can think of right now. Say your friend tells you they are going to take you out to do something really fun, but you have to promise not to tell anyone because it’s a little different and some people wouldn’t approve. You promise, thinking it’s skinny dipping or using someone else’s pool or something.

            Turns out your friend steals the wallets of drunk people coming out of clubs. He doesn’t threaten people or use a gun, just slips the wallets from purses and pockets while helping people into cabs. You object, he says I only steal from the rich people coming out of fancy clubs and they deserve it.

            You don’t keep in touch with your friend, but a couple weeks later you find out a security camera caught him stealing someone’s wallet and you are questioned by the police. It isn’t a trial, you aren’t required to swear to tell the truth, you haven’t even been subpoenaed. Do you tell the truth or do you lie?

            I think in this case, and the LW’s, you have an ethical obligation to protect others from harm far above the obligation to be honest. If you don’t tell the truth about this man’s behavior to future employers, many lives could be damaged, even ruined. He almost destroyed one organization, threatening employees and everyone who is helped by it. We shouldn’t hand him the opportunity to destroy another.

            And as others have mentioned, not being a reference isn’t good enough. Plenty of references never reply, that wouldn’t alarm the prospective employer. And plenty of people successfully have friends and family pretend to be references. Someone needs to be willing to step up and tell the truth.

            I am not saying you should follow this guy around and tell everyone what he is like, just that having been asked to be a reference, you should do exactly that and tell the truth.

          8. Annonymouse*

            Would it not harm your integrity more to not speak up and let this person do it again?

            When you had the power to stop it and were directly asked about it?
            (Insert Tobey Macguire cry face)

            This guy almost shut down an entire non profit (AKA Charity).

            He caused an entire staff to quit in a bad economy, was investigated for harassment and almost stopped a charity (which provides services to needy people) from existing.

            Yet you’re saying OP is the one without integrity for wanting to give an honest reference.

        2. Colette*

          I would argue that protecting a business’s bottom line is also important. Businesses employ people, and they provide services that people are willing to pay for. There’s no reason this guy’s ability to get a job is more important than the jobs of all of the people he could affect if he’s allowed to keep running organizations into the ground, whether they’re non-profit or for-profit.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I totally agree with that, and I think that well-run nonprofits’ missions are often more important than a business’ bottom line (but that’s just personal opinion).

            Either way, totally agree with “There’s no reason this guy’s ability to get a job is more important than the jobs of all of the people he could affect if he’s allowed to keep running organizations into the ground.”

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Agreed on all counts.

              I find the idea that OP owes this guy a positive reference bizarrely, tbh. That’s not how any of this works, and it’s not how it should work. OP should not facilitate this guy’s path of destruction, particularly because it afffects nonprofits. For all the systemic challenges nonprofits face, they should not have to bear the strain of an employee who is worse than toxic and threatens their viability.

            2. Colette*

              Yeah, I agree that many nonprofits are doing good things and thus are more important than someone making money. I just don’t think a business that makes a profit should be jeapordized either. The OP shouldn’t lie only because he’s in the non-profit world – she should tell the truth regardless.

        3. MuseumChick*

          This! One factor I think being missed here is how small the non-profit world can be. The employee has already hurt relationship between the non-profit and other organizations. The OP cannot in good faith continue to let him hurt the remaining relationships.

          This guy knows what kind of work he did and asked for a reference. The OP agree and will give a ACCURATE reference for him. The OP isn’t just making things up or portraying a good employee in a negative light.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Honestly, this is the sort of person I’d go out of my way to warn people about, not just gladly toss under the bus when giving a reference.

      2. Lablizard*

        Intersting. I don’t see references from prior employers or anyone in a supervisory role (as a board member would be to an ED) in the same light as a colleague or someone I worked with in a professional capacity, but who did not have any supervisory role over me. In the first case, I would not assume (but would hope for) a positive reference. In the second, I would assume anyone who agreed to do it would be positive or would say no.

        I have no idea why I make this distinction

      3. Annonymouse*

        It might be implied but in the case it wasn’t discussed.

        Also as far as my understanding goes is that a reference speaks to potential employers about your work:
        History, what you’re good at, your attitude, work ethic, reliablity and IF YOU WOULD WORK WITH THEM AGAIN (sorry I can’t italics/bold)

        Sure, you get to choose them and you would choose the people most likely to give you a positive reference.

        But you already chose what they’ll say in your shared history. You can’t go back and ask them to rewrite to a positive it if you actively screwed them.

    10. OP #1*

      OP #1 here. He did not explicitly request a positive reference, nor did I say I would give him one. My response, in writing, was, “You may pass along my contact information, but I am only able to speak to your performance with respect to the Board. Let me know if that is acceptable.” He replied yes. My original thought was that I can speak positively to his strategic planning capabilities and his ability to communicate with a diverse board, and give a stock answer like, “I’m not comfortable speaking to that” if they ask about anything else, over and over again — which would be quite telling. However, he has gotten very far in his career by relying on people to do what you have suggested, and along the way has negatively impacted employees, volunteers, and donors. Is avoiding the issue really the right thing to do?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh my goodness, hearing that specific wording, I think you are 100% ethically in the clear to give the negative reference without going back and warning him.

        Please do not “speak positively to his strategic planning capabilities and his ability to communicate with a diverse board” and decline to answer other questions. Tell the whole truth. That’s what makes a reference useful. Otherwise it would be like just saying someone was a fantastic writer and neglecting to mention that they sexually harassed two people and punched out their boss.

          1. MuseumChick*

            I agree with Alison, give a the whole truth. This includes anything positive and anything negative. So you can say (if its true) that he has strong strategic planning skills, but struggled, to the extreme, to manage staff effectively (they all quit), and demonstrated no fundraising ability while working at your organization.

          2. Annonymouse*

            I second/third Alison on this one.

            I ask you to answer these questions to figure out what you want to say:

            1) What do you wish you had known about him BEFORE he came on board?

            2) What have you experienced/observed from working with him that a future employer should know?

            3) How do you say that without swearing and keeping it factual not emotional?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I like this framework—it would help OP clarify what the problems were and how best to present them in a manner that is professional/no-nonsense and fact-driven.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          An enthusiastic “HELL YES” to what Alison wrote.

          OP, I think you have to tell the whole truth, and I think you should lead with the negative, to be honest (but I leave that up to you and whatever you’re most comfortable leading with). This is not a situation where it’s appropriate/ok to say “I’m not comfortable speaking to that.” But I’m honestly so glad that you asked and that you’re taking this much more seriously than this person’s prior references—I wish they had demonstrated the same kind of moral/ethical fortitude.

      2. Willis*

        I’d give a truthful and complete reference. It seems like his ability to “manage up” becomes less of an asset to an organization and more of a liability if it means he’s able to treat employees, volunteers, and donors poorly but then somehow smooth over or mitigate the problems (which he’s caused!) when speaking with a boss or board members. It sounds like you recognize this as a pattern with him, and I wouldn’t be inclined to perpetuate it!

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Right. There are innocent ways to end up in a situation where you’re bad at managing subordinates but good at “managing up”–if you have a lot of job experience generally but are new to having direct reports, there’s a learning curve, obviously.

          But outside of a situation that’s “familiar with having a manager but unfamiliar with being a manager,” I often find that “better at managing up than managing down” often translates to what I have heard described as the bicycle posture: bowing to those above you, kicking those below you. And it’s a deeply insidious thing, because if you really are good at working with superiors you may be able to hide how crapsauce you are at working with everyone else for quite a while–until the org is, as in this case, in danger of actually falling apart. In some ways, it’s far more dangerous than someone who is merely bad at both.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That is an amazing metaphor (the bicycle)–I’m going to steal it.

            And I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I agree with everything you’ve written.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              I think I picked it up from someone on AAM! (Actually, if I remember correctly, they said it was a common metaphor in their country–Germany, maybe? I’m not sure, though.) It’s stuck with me because it’s such a vivid description of an attitude/behavior that is sadly more common than we would like.

      3. designbot*

        And on hearing your original intent vs. your current intent, I know I couldn’t do that. Even if your language technically left you room to do so, your intentions have changed from what they were and it feels dishonest to me. Best of luck to you.

  6. Not a Cat Lady*

    #4 — I think explaining you always have openings for that type of role is good.

    But when I see “We’re growing!” that’s kind of a trigger for me now (could just be me — no idea if anyone else feels the same way, so I’d like to know if others do as well). It’s because people use “We’re growing” to mean: we’re a startup and we won’t pay you as much as you’re worth but let us take advantage of you know because, hey who knows, what’ll happen, you could totally move up and make a TON of money, because we’re growing.

    I’ve just never heard “We’re growing” end up being something positive in the long run. Companies that are actually growing will say they’re expanding their territory or new roles opened up or they’re always taking resumes for __ position or they’re developing a new department.

    1. Casuan*

      It isn’t just you, NaCL. To me, “we’re growing” is more negative than not although I can’t quite decipher the reason. I do like “we’re always open to hiring good people.”

      1. Willis*

        I don’t associate any negative connotations with “we’re growing” but I do think “we’re always open to hiring great people” would more directly address the concerns of someone who was wondering whether the ad is old or why the same job is continually open.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t have a negative association either.

          But a way to mitigate is to say “We’re an organization with # of years of experience, and we’re growing!” That is, establish that you’re not a start-up but that you’re growing, and it’s not because of turnover.

          But perhaps Casuan is right that “we’re always open to hiring good people” avoids signaling dysfunction and instead focuses on the employer’s actual ethos, which is to hire good people.

        2. SophieChotek*

          Now I admit I don’t have great connotations with either.

          “We’re growing” can make me think of those start-ups that are growing so fast they can’t handle their size and leads to disfunction, etc. (probably influenced by film and fiction and other real stories.)

          Similarly “we’re always looking for good people” seems like one of those places where my resume will just disappear into a void of nothingness…The HR likes to collect great resumes “just in case”…but they’ll just end up in a file never to be seen again…

          But I may need to rethink my assumptions too!

          1. Liane*

            I think it’s short for Not a Cat Lady, but I also thought Salt at first. Though salt = NaCl, the lowercase l is important.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Same! I figured it was Not a Cat Lady, but loved that it was salt, too :)

        1. Casuan*


          I thought “NaCL” seemed familiar & not in a “Not a Cat Lady” way!!
          Yes, of course I meant Not a Cat Lady.

          Not a Cat Lady, I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to call you “Salt”!

        2. MoinMoin*

          We also have commenters that go by “Potato” and “Apricot tree,” albeit in different languages…

      2. S-Mart*

        Amusing aside: I had to parse your response to NaCL several times before I got it right – I kept thinking NaCl = salt (sodium chloride) and didn’t immediately get NaCL = “Not a Cat Lady”.

        More on topic: “We’re growing” doesn’t mean anything to me, positive or negative. I tend to think ‘of course you are, why else are you hiring?’ I know that, in theory, sometimes it’s replacing a person leaving and the total headcount change is effectively zero – but that’s literally never been the case for any job I’ve taken.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Our job ads have to start with “[org] is experiencing dynamic growth in our operations in [state]!” I think for probably the same reason, but mostly it just grates on my nerves every time I’m putting up a posting. Because it just sounds…jargon-y and silly.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I know the organization that I mentioned well, and none of those things are true; they’re a great place to work with good pay, benefits, and culture … so while it’s good to know that it may be coming across to people that way (and now I need to figure out if I should re-think the wording for them), I also encourage you to rethink what you’re assuming what you see it!

      1. Casuan*

        I yield to your expertise & will reframe my thoughts on “We’re growing!” accordingly.
        Seriously, thanks for the lesson!!

        [to be clear, so sarcasm intended]

      2. Lablizard*

        I like PCBH’s phrasing where she states the longevity of the company and says they are growing. I’m in the “We’re growing!”= Start-up that is constantly hiring because they have no idea how many people they need or what they are doing

      3. Dizzy Steinway*

        I totally take “we’re growing!” as a red flag.

        I think the OP has actually written a great explanation in the letter. Just say you’re always on the lookout for good people.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          Me too. Actually many people I know take it as a red flag because of prior bad experiences.

          I like how the OP can add lines about always looking for great people. That would ease some of my concerns.

        2. Kathleen Adams*

          I do, too. It just sounds so…sales pitch-y. I’ll try to revise my impression, but that would be my first impression.

        3. tink*

          I generally take it as a red flag unless it’s followed up by something like “We’re growing! Teacups Ltd. is expanding to a 3rd office and we’re looking for more great hires to join our expanding team!” or something similar.

      4. Dizzy Steinway*

        PS we can rethink, but you can’t make everyone else out there do it. Seriously, I’d change the wording!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh. They have a stellar reputation in the communities they’re recruiting from and continue to get lots of interest from high caliber candidates. I’m going to mention this to them, but I don’t think it’s hurting them.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, it sounds like this is a circumstance in which the organization’s reputation is strong enough to overcome/override any red flag connotations.

          2. GeekChic*

            I think context matters a lot with this one. Like someone else upthread, I flag “we’re growing” as a red flag if the rest of job ad is vague on what that means in practical terms. If it’s “our X department is growing!” (rather than the company as a whole), or if the company’s well established, or if I can find information out there about new projects or offices being opened, it wouldn’t bother me. And I’d look for those things anyway when I was job hunting!

      5. Julie B.*

        I see what Alison is saying here. If you are a company posting an ad, you are going to have Your Company Name in the ad. People are going to Google you and check you out. The ‘history’ or ‘about us’ sections of your website are going to make it pretty clear who you are and whether you are a start up or not.

        Plus, you can back up the “We’re Growing!” with it splashed across your website with a solid headline about your company’s vision and plans for growth.

        (Now if you are using a head hunter to place your ads, with Your Company not mentioned, then I see your points.)

        1. AndersonDarling*

          I’ve done that. It also helps if the ad says how/why they are growing. They are expanding into a new region, or they have more sales than they can manage. If their website and glassdoor reviews show a stable company, then I will trust it. But if they only have 4 employees and are “growing,” then I’m hesitant.

      6. Shadow*

        my first assumption when I see a job that’s always posted at a good company is that they aren’t in tune with what others are paying for those skills.

      7. Piblets*

        “We’re Growing” makes me suspect I’m going to be caught in growing pains! I always get reallllly careful in my due diligence, making sure I’m not working for the “no managerial talent or experience, but Francis has been her 2 weeks longer than you, so S/he’s your boss, have fun!” team. Or the “We hope you can turn this random’s pig’s ear into a $200 million annual cash flow!” team….or “we need bodies, badly, but have no time to train/coach, so here’s a pile of paper, and don’t forget to smile” team.

        I mean it can mean good things, but I’ll actually pull financials when available and interview carefully to avoid those situations, since they do not work out well for my working temperament. I don’t mind doing a little fire-fighting, but I prefer not to be the lead guy in the door. :)

    3. Gadfly*

      There is a specific family of fraudulent jobs that rely on the “we’re growing” to explain why they are hiring for people who can be trained into positions, no experience required. I think that is part of what sets my danger senses off.

      1. Mookie*

        Depending on the industry, the organization’s reputation (if any), and what the rest of the job listing looks like, it can be a blood-curdling phrase. While I understand what Alison says and also yield to her experience, it sometimes reads like they’re drowning in applications, few of which will be read, and this process is going to have a snail’s pace of a timeline. Unless there’s more of a disclaimer about what “growth” constitutes.

        1. Gadfly*

          Yeah, not referring to those. There are a bunch of companies that place ads for a whole bunch of just above entry level jobs and they claim they are growing, and growing fast, and so they are willing to train to get the right people. Usually they present it as “direct marketing”. They then hire people, have them at “training” wages for a while, push them for crazy shifts, etc. Eventually they get a promotion, but the promotion involves buying a local office and it turns into a nightmare cross between an MLM and a franchise situation and they get the new manger/owner for all sorts of weird debts, etc.

          They reword their ads a lot of different ways, but one of the consistent things in them is some version of “We’re Growing!” to explain the ongoing ads and all of the different ads.

    4. Anon Accountant*

      Several times I’ve heard or seen the “we’re growing” line and it’s been because they’ve had very high turnover but wanted to hide that. Or in 1 case someone was getting fired and they wanted to hire a replacement before they fired him.

    5. Allison*

      Many companies that are growing like crazy will always have a good number of positions open, and will have a way to accept resumes of anyone interested, in case something relevant to their skills opens in the near future, because it might. But then there are evergreen jobs – retail jobs, customer service positions, ride share drivers, delivery people, call center jobs, sales reps, etc. – that are always open because they don’t pay well, work people to the bone, and ultimately only people with certain personalities will succeed in them enough to move up in the ranks and make a real career of it. Lots of people get churned through and spit out because they couldn’t hack it, and some manage to stay with it but hate their jobs and wish they could get something better.

      I have no doubt that some evergreen jobs are truly amazing jobs that pay well, and where people are treated decently and have many different opportunities to grow. But based on my experience, they seem like the exception to the rule. I know assumptions are unfair, but from a job seeker perspective, it’s not unfair to be cautious and skeptical.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        There’s a company like that here (your last paragraph) with cool perks even, and several of my friends work there, but its business model is a call center (travel). And it’s shift work. I would love to work there if they had a M-F 8-5 job but they don’t, so it’s off my list.

    6. SignalLost*

      Yeah, I want to see something more specific than “we’re growing”. I have seen ads reposted multiple times, as in running for months on end, and in one case I KNOW it’s a toxic manager, as in I had an interview with him and he was a complete prick. Then I started seeing that ad constantly and assumed he was driving people off. “We’re growing” is too vague for me. Explain what that means, explain what department is growing, or generally provide some transparency to make it clear this isn’t a situation where you’ll be quitting in a month.

      As for how often, I would say maybe every three weeks? Depending on where you’re posting, you won’t see the same people in a mass board and a niche board will probably have all-new seekers. And I like Mashable’s board.

    7. Shadow*

      Yeah it’s hard to imagine there’s not something wrong when you see a job open all the time even when there’s some sort of explanation. If you’re targeting universities I wonder if you’re targeting less experienced bc of low pay. And even when the reputation of the company is outstanding there is a reason that qualified candidates aren’t applying or accepting.

      And I’m not sure I’d go for a job that hires great people just to hire great people. that immediately makes me think I’ll have less job security.

      I say gather data that helps you solve why the position is always open.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nope, it’s not targeting universities or low paying; it’s for senior people. And there are lots of talented people applying. I think it’s probably fine, actually, but it’s interesting to hear these opinions. (If this wasn’t directed at me, ignore; I wasn’t sure.)

      2. OP4*

        We are a small company in a niche market with offices in 5 countries. We want to make some of those offices bigger, so we just hired 3 people, and would ideally like to hire another 5-8 at least.

        We target universitys because we want to bring people in on the ground floor as most of our employees are now senior employees and we don’t want to be entirely top heavy. We do make sure that the pay and benefits are competitive for the location. Biggest issue we find is people who simply don’t have the technical skills needed. Most fall out of running when they fail the technical test (we do have enough people pass ad have checked it enough that we know it’s not a problem with the test)

    8. irritable vowel*

      I think it might also be good to keep in mind how the ad is phrased in terms of making it clear that you’re looking for *good* candidates who would be “an excellent fit for our growing organization” or something. Otherwise you could potentially be signalling to the kind of people who bombard you with their applications when they stand zero chance of being hired, and then call you to ask why they haven’t been interviewed, that it must be fine to keep doing so because you’re obviously desperate to fill positions. Maybe avoid language like “we’re always hiring,” or anything else that implies “always keep applying” to people who are clueless.

    9. Stranger than fiction*

      When I see that, I think it’s a startup. But it wouldn’t keep me from reading further to see if that’s the case.

  7. Casuan*

    re OP5:
    If it’s not clear from what they say when setting it up, you can say something like this when confirming: “I’ll assume you’ll call me then, but if you’d rather I call you, just let me know.” Or you can just ask straight-out (“will you call me or should I call you?”).

    In my daily life when I’m waiting on information or for a conference call, often I’ll ask on the other’s timeline & “If I don’t have this by when should I call to ask you on it”?

    Would this strategy be appropriate for an interview or is it too pushy?
    “Will you call me…? Can I ask what your window is & if it closes how should I proceed?”
    nb: I don’t like my phrasing about the window

    1. Jeanne*

      For an interview it’s fine to say “Will you call or should I call you?” I do not ask about a window. I wait at least 30 min then send an email. Maybe “Sorry that we weren’t able to connect. I’m interested in talking to you. Is there another time I may call?”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think the other thing about the window is that it vaguely reminds me of when a service tech or delivery person gives you a window to be available. Realistically, I’m not going to give someone a 1-hour lateness window (or less) because appointments are appointments, no?

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think the easiest is to simply ask them if they want you to call them or vice-versa. Asking about a window implies that you think they’re going to be late or dysfunctional, which is not a great foot to start on. My usual “late” window wait time is between 15-30 minutes, depending on if the employer contacted me to let me know about the delay (folks often seem to have IT issues right as they’re trying to get the video call lined up on their end).

    1. Jeanne*

      My company had a written policy on what you had to pay back if you took maternity leave and did not return. They started it after a woman took a job, worked 4 months, had her baby and never returned. She hadn’t even really learned the job yet. So you want to check on policies like that.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I once worked with a woman who started work in the summer, left on maternity leave by Christmas and on the day she was due to return, gave her resignation. I have also known of 2 women who returned from maternity leave and resigned to take up new jobs, one immediately, the other after a couple of months back at work, so circumstances can change.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think the risk that an employee will leave post-maternity leave is the price of doing business, but I understand why an organization with a new employee would feel burned by your first example (esp. since the FMLA would not apply to the first example, which implies the employee received leave under a company policy).

    2. Dizzy Steinway*

      I’m sorry, you must all get sick of British people saying things like this, but what the actual what? You may have to pay your employer because you took unpaid time off to have a baby? I… wow.

      1. My Saturday*

        Not all employers take this stance. I think this employer is probably coming from the angle that she took the job just to get the benefits and had no intention to come back to work. FML requires an employer to hold your job for 12 weeks, so she really left them in a lurch. They held for 12 weeks and then who knows – another 6-12+ to hire someone else, plus training time. Ethically if you know you aren’t coming back you should tell the employer so they can fill your position. Of course things change and in the case of OP I think she should keep her uncertainly to herself because it is just that – uncertainty.

        My employers in the past have waived the requirement to pay back when employee has a change of heart – say you work there for a few+ years, use FML for maternity and then decide not to come back but give appropriate notice.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          I do know of employers in Canada (including government jobs) who will top-up the standard parental leave to full pay (the regular leave is through unemployment insurance, and not from the employer). If you take the top-up, though, you are required to either come back to the job for a certain amount of time or pay it back.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You’re not paying for unpaid time off. You’re paying for the health insurance premium that your employer paid during the time on the assumption that you would remain their employee.

      3. Natalie*

        It’s an outgrowth of nearly all of our health insurance being employer provided. The employer usually pays for the bulk of the premium – at my rather small, ungenerous employer they still pay 75% of the premium – and that stays in place during FMLA leave. You can only be asked to pay it back if you don’t return.

      4. fposte*

        It’s not that hideous, and it’s really more about our insurance craziness than our employer craziness, I’d say.

        If somebody takes 12 weeks’ FMLA, their employer still pays for their insurance while they’re out.

        If, for voluntary reasons, they don’t go back to that employer, the employer is legally allowed to request the insurance premiums for when the employee was out on leave. I suspect the theory is that people who effectively knew they weren’t returning to the job shouldn’t be getting insurance at that job’s expense while they’re not working it and won’t be coming back to it–that that’s what COBRA is for. It’s too moral hazardy for my liking, and I don’t know how many employers actually bother.

        1. Pescadero*

          It’s really more about our insurance craziness than our employer craziness – bit it IS that hideous.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s one of the problems of requiring that people obtain their health insurance through their employer. It can create absurd results.

  8. New Bee*

    OP3: It’s not clear whether you are feeling an urge to leave this job for a new one or to stay home, but Alison’s advice is spot on. Your feelings may become more clear once you are actually caring for a newborn and have to do so much on limited sleep. In my case, I felt somewhat apathetic about my job when I went on leave but ultimately decided it was better for me to go back and use the capital I’d previously built to advocate for some adjustments than to job search while I was out.

    1. Lablizard*

      My friend was feeling really burned out when she went on maternity and had been toying with the idea of doing SAHM for a year or two. Luckily she didn’t say anything, because 6 weeks into her 12 week leave she realized she hated being a SAHM and returned to work.

      OP3, you are coming up on a big life change and therefore you shouldn’t base your decisions for the future on what you are feeling and your situation now. Have your baby, experience being a full time mom, think about what you want to do with your new life while on your leave, talk to your partner, talk to other people in your company who have infants, and make your decision later.

      I know it is hard not to know what you are doing with your life in 3 months, but until you have the full picture, hold off on decisions.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, I had a friend who was going to stay home with her kids – until the first one was born. I’ve never known anyone so anxious to get back to work.

        On the other hand, I also know people who had their first child and decided to stay home -some because they decided that’s how they wanted to raise their family, and others because their child had medical issues that meant they couldn’t find childcare they were comfortable with.

        1. Lablizard*

          It is such a huge life change that you can’t really know until you know. It is easy to assume that X will happen or Y is what you want or Z is for the best, but until your​ big life change happens, you can’t know what is right, what if feasible, and what you want. If you are an overplanner like I am, it can be really, really hard to cope with the uncertainty, but I have learned the hard way it is the best way for the big stuff.

      2. Fuzzyfuzz*

        Hear hear. This was me. Before I was pregnant, I had always thought that I’d eventually give up my job and stay home full time once we had kids. After I had my son–and dealt with the consequences of being a caregiver ALL THE TIME due to my husband’s crazy, long, and unpredictable hours (seriously, he went back to work 4 days after our child was born and was immediately working 12+ hour days 7 days a week for several weeks), I realized I would lose my sanity if that was my life. I looked forward to going back to work and am so glad I did. I really appreciate the balance.

        1. Director of Things*

          This sounds like me! I always envisioned being a SAHM, at least for the baby years, but we couldn’t swing that financially at the time. While pregnant, I was really upset I would have to return to work after the 12 weeks unpaid. My husband was either out of town or working 70-80 hours per week when he was “home” for all of maternity leave. My daughter NEVER STOPPED CRYING unless I was holding her. It was exhausting in every way possible. It practically felt like a spa on my first day back to work – my own office, no one crying, I could go to the bathroom without listening to my baby scream…I still wish I had had the option of returning part time, but overall I am glad I went back to work.

          OP – if you haven’t already, figure out the financial implications of your leave and insurance. If you are on your spouse’s plan, this is all a moot point. Like others, I would suggest leaving your options open. Or reopen the conversation with your boss about a part-time schedule.

          (My miserable newborn has turned into a lovely, if strong-willed, 9-year old. :)

          1. Fuzzyfuzz*

            YES! I was so excited to get lunch, use the bathroom, or take a quick walk more or less when I wanted to. And my baby is now a cheerful, fun toddler who’s a joy to be around. The teeny infant months are not everyone’s cup of tea!

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        So true. To state the obvious, your hormones are going crazy during pregnancy and after the birth. I had a coworker who went around bragging as she was about to have her baby how she’d be back in four weeks because “she’d rather be here working” and she’ll “miss her customers so much”…well, ten weeks later is when she came back and she got a talking to because she bragged the same thing to her customers and they were starting to show annoyance and comment “i thought she was supposed to be back already?!”

  9. Kiwi*

    OP5, if the call’s on Skype or something like it, you can send a chat message a couple of minutes before the call saying that you’re ready whenever they are. That makes sure they know you’re available to be called.

  10. Poppy Bossyboots*

    OP3, I’d also recommend keeping your options open as long as possible. It’s quite difficult to predict how you’ll feel until after the baby is born. In my case I discovered that, as deeply as I love my son, staying home made me miserable. I would have been better off returning to work sooner!

  11. heca*

    OP4: I’ve had good luck both recruiting and finding jobs on StackOverflow (their ad targeting is really great, and every developer finds themselves on StackOverflow from time to time, so your target candidate will see your ad). Also consider posting on even more specific job boards — job board if you use python, kaggle if you’re hiring for data-oriented jobs, etc. They can be hit or miss in my experience, but they tend to be cheaper, and sometimes you find really amazing candidates, especially if you can pay relocation costs. You can also consider job boards for women in tech — hiretechladies and power to fly are two I’ve used. Also make sure the jobs are posted and up to date on your company website.

    Also, FWIW, I’ve had really bad experiences with companies that always have openings, even if it’s not because of high turnover. For whatever reason, so far they have turned out to be companies with unrealistically high expectations for what makes a “good” candidate without providing the level of salary or benefits that makes sense for those expectations. At this point I won’t even consider applying to an “always hiring” ad unless there is some serious indication that this isn’t what’s going on. In particular I want to see a statement about commitment to hiring a diverse team and avoiding bias in the hiring process, and a clear statement about work/life balance. For bonus points, make a description of what your interview process is like available somewhere on the careers section of your website.

    1. zants*

      As a dev who’s not actively job hunting I spend a decent amount of time on stackoverflow while I’m at work and they’ve started advertising jobs to me lately. Their ad targeting is presumably pretty good since “person looking up arcane opengl questions” and “gpu programmer” are overlapping categories.

      Just please, don’t ask for “rockstars” or “ninjas”, and no pseudocode in the job ad!

      1. PB*

        I’ve also seen a growing number of job ads for “evangelists” or “wizards.” I would feel very awkward about listing those particular job titles on my resume. “Yes, from 2017-2021 I was a Python Evangelist at Chocolate Teapots, Inc.”…


        1. RVA Cat*

          “Wizard” is a bad idea for a job title all on its own, but all the more so because it’s among the titles used by a hate group.

          1. PB*

            This is an excellent point, and something I hadn’t thought of. A couple of current colleagues periodically float an idea for a “Database Wizard.” When it comes up again, I’ll suggest a different word.

            1. KellyK*

              I think that in an job description, you should be concrete, to the extent that you can. Wizard, ninja, and rock star don’t get at what you’ll actually be *doing.* Database developer or database manager or database administrator are more concrete. In the text of the add, “Expert” might work, but only with some context. (“We need a database expert who can do X, Y, and Z.”)

              1. PB*

                The proposed description was a lot more detailed. “Database Wizard” was just the proposed title, which I never liked, either. “Database Expert” or “Database Manager” would work much better, IMO, but either way, specific skills, software expertise, and job duties will be clearly outlined in the description.

        2. Allison*

          At my old job, we knew better than to use those words. However, one coworker would often tell me to find her some “real rock stars” when I was sourcing QA engineers. WTF made someone a rock star? Surely the hiring manager didn’t want a QA engineer who would come in dirty and still drunk from the night before, guitar slung around their neck, cigarette hanging out of their mouth, cussing at everyone, falling asleep on a couch after checking their email, and trashing the kitchen . . . did he? Just tell me you’re being picky for this role and only want really strong candidates, and specify what that means, and understand that having super high standards will mean a slower candidate flow.

        3. Turtle Candle*

          I feel like the only time you should put “Python Evangelist” in a job title is if you’re recruiting for a new oracle at Delphi. Otherwise, no.

          1. Zathras*

            I have nothing to add to this thread but I want you to know that someone out there thought this joke was hilarious.

            1. starsaphire*

              It took me a second — because I was all, “They use Oracle at Delphi?” — and then I laughed so hard my cube neighbor told me to get back to work… ;)

            2. Turtle Candle*

              I am beyond delighted that a) someone found my mildly obscure Greek mythology joke funny, and b) that person has the screen name ‘Zathras.’ :D

          2. Candi*


            (cracks up)

            I was really into Greek myth in middle school.

            (And then other mythologies. They’re fantastic.)

    2. GeekChic*

      Hehe, I came here to mention StackOverflow Jobs too. That and relevant-looking emails on women in tech mailing lists are pretty much the only places I passively look around job ads at the moment. StackOverflow’s format contains a lot of extra relevant information than non-tech-oriented job boards do, so it’d be the first place I’d look if I started actively job hunting.

      1. GermanGirl*

        Yes, StackOverflow is pretty good – both from the candidate side and the hiring side. I’m not currently searching but I use StackOverflow almost daily and I often get good job recommendations just based on location and the stuff I search for. I can only imagine how much better it would be if I actually started a profile page there.
        We also used it for hiring a couple of years ago and it found us some great candidates, some of which we hired and we are still very satisfied with them.

  12. Gadfly*

    Op1, that actually sounds like almost a dream scenario. I can think of people I’d absolutely LOVE to be able to give a reference for…

    1. Lablizard*

      I thought the same thing. There are people I wish would ask me to be a reference or whose potential employers would contact me, because, man, do I have stories

  13. MuseumChick*

    Alison, RE: OP1, do you have any advice for how to work a bad reference? I had a manager once who told me if you want to give a bad reference all you should say is “I can only confirm dates of employment”. Which I’m guessing is not the only or even best way to handle giving a bad reference.

        1. Annonymouse*

          Again?” (Assuming finances are fine and in the same/similar role)

          The answer to that can be quite enlightening.
          It also allows them to probe into “why”.

          So I guess tell them that you wouldn’t work with them again/would be hesitant and let them figure out why.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s certainly one option, but it’s not really giving a reference. If you want to give an honest reference that’s bad, just be straightforward. Keep your emotions out of it, and keep it factual, but you’re allowed to give an honest account.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh, I just saw the “how to word.” It really depends on what the details are — I don’t think there’s a default wording that will work, because you’ll be talking in specifics. So it’s not “she was terrible,” but rather specifics about what the problems were.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Some companies are afraid of being sued, so they either don’t allow their employees to give references at all- everything has to be directed to HR- and/or they only will confirm dates of employment. It’s not necessarily an indication of a bad reference if that is all the company allows, regardless of performance.

      1. Here we go again*


        These days virtually every company wants references but refuses to provide them. It is quite ironic.

    3. Michael in Boston*

      The few times I have been asked to give a recommendation the person I speak with usually asks me a version of the question: would you hire X again if you had the chance? You could give a very neutral answer covering the dates of employment and then answer this with a no.

      I don’t think this is appropriate in this case; I agree it merits an honest and negative reference. However, in general, it can be a good formula to say that: I would not re-hire this person for X reason(s).

  14. Dizzy Steinway*

    #5 Some people also cannot get the hang of video calling no matter how often they use it, so are late because they’re fumbling with the software.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      And the software is just wonky!

      This morning, for some reason, Skype decided not to cooperate. The caller could see me, but I couldn’t see her. So we switched to Hang Outs. I could see her, but she couldn’t see me. So our kludge was to run both!

      And yet I’ve talked to this person twice a week via Skype without problems for weeks, and haven’t changed anything on my machine.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        WebEx can get annoying too, for conference calls. I hate the way it announces everybody–“‘FERGUS’ has joined the conference.” And then you miss stuff if the call has already started because it talks over them. Grrr.

      2. Angel*

        I have “kludged” exactly that for exactly the same reasons. Skype just decided that it wouldn’t recognize my built-in camera anymore! So I had to use Hangouts, which didn’t recognize my boyfriend’s camera. It was a mess.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        So true. I work remotely most of the time and am on multiple such calls a day, and I still have times when I can’t get the $*(#&)_@ thing to work. And I have this giant list of if-thens. “Use Hangouts when dealing with X department (and remind them that they have to reboot whenever they unplug and re-plug-in the microphone in the Red Conference Room because for whatever reason their Chrome install freak out about mic changes–Josephine always remembers the reboot but Isabela forgets half the time and we end up shouting into the void for ten minutes until someone remembers), but WebEx works better for Y department, unless we’re calling the Green Boardroom because the WebEx in there cuts out all the time and Skype is better, unless it’s Cassandra running the call because Cassandra refuses to get a Skype account so probably we should go with Hangouts, and when calling Merrill you should probably just give up and use your cell phone because she’s cursed or something and none of these work for her. Also, you’re probably going to have to remind Cole to unmute himself every single time, because he forgets and it turns out later that he kept interjecting useful suggestions and we couldn’t hear them.”

        And that’s even when it’s a technology I use all the time and am comfortable with!

        Obviously it would be good if people got this stuff going well in advance so that we’d be on time anyway, but these days I just assume that if people are habitually five minutes late to every remote meeting, it’s just software goofage and not being a jerk.

  15. Dizzy Steinway*

    #1 Sometimes I think you have to look at the ethics of the situation, if someone lacks the self awareness to realise you can’t give a good reference. How many people will be harmed if you do or don’t speak up?

    A friend once asked me to be a reference for her application to be a foster carer. I knew she wasn’t suitable for a number of reasons. I agonised over what to do (the reference would be confidential but I felt guilty). I spoke to a friend who is a teacher and he asked me how I would feel if she became a foster parent and certain issues caused harm to a vulnerable child. He suggested I consider these questions:

    Who is most important in this situation?
    Who has a voice in this situation?
    Will they have more or less of a voice if you do or do not give a reference?

    I gave the reference and told the truth in it.

    1. BethRA*

      This this this. OP 1, for the love of puppies and kittens, do not give this person a positive reference. For all his ability to suck up to the Board, he did serious and lasting damage to the organization, and probably left some serious scars on the people who worked there. How would you feel if you helped him get a job and he inflicted the same or worse there?

      He doesn’t deserve a good reference, potential employers and potential employers don’t deserve the fallout, and neither does your reputation.

    2. Roscoe*

      I think caring for a child and working for a company are very different things. I think because its a non profit, people like to pretend they are “protecting” something. But in reality its very different to say “this person shouldn’t care for a child” and to go out of your way to ruin someone’s job search

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Plenty of nonprofits work with or otherwise help children or other vulnerable populations.

        That’s not “pretending” you’re protecting something (!).

        1. Kj*

          Thank you! Sometimes I feel like some posters here don’t like non-profits very much. The non-profit world has many problems, but it does amazing work more often than not.

        2. MuseumChick*

          Yes. May non-profits work with the vulnerable populations. Beyond that, museums specifically rely heavily on the ethics of the people they employ. For example, it’s very possible for an employee to be left alone with/have ready access to a museum collection. Which (somewhat obviously) contain objects of great historic and something monetary value.

          I want to to know the people I hire can be trusted. There is a basic trust when someone donates their stuff to a museum that we will protect and care for it to a reasonable extent. My concern and loyalty lies with protect the collection and the institution as a whole.

        3. Roscoe*

          Sure, but we don’t know what this non profit does. All non profits aren’t just out doing good

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Of course. No one has said otherwise. The point and I others were making is that you’re talking of it as if they’re not doing important work, which you of course don’t know and can’t build an argument around.

          2. Willis*

            It doesn’t have to be a non-profit or work with vulnerable populations for the idea of protecting them from a terrible ED to be relevant. Assuming the organization is running reasonably well, it includes a group of people putting their efforts toward successfully providing a product or service that is meeting some customer or client need. That’s worth protecting, and it’s absolutely fair for the company to have true information about who they’re considering hiring. (Also, as a side note, there are plenty of for-profit companies or government depts that work with vulnerable populations.)

            A reference is not responsible for your job search. If you did a horrible job and then had either the guts or obliviousness to list that org as a reference (!!!)…well, you’ve made your bed.

            1. KellyK*

              Yes, this. Even if the organization is a non-profit dedicated to putting rice sculptures in public places or designing a rocket-powered toaster, the people who work there matter. Even if the organization’s mission itself contributes nothing important to the world (which is really subjective), an ED who destroys an organization is going to destroy careers, create misery, and severely impact the lives of a lot of people.

              1. Observer*

                And an ED who causes a “hostile workplace” investigation is also someone who treats people like trash.

          3. Annonymouse*

            And where do you stand on the points that ED made an entire staff quit in a bad economy, was investigated for harassment and almost caused a company (a charity) to cease to exist?

            How many livelihoods would that be? How many needy people going without an important service?

            That is no small factor.

            So you would protect one person from the consequences of their actions and deny someone seeking the truth about them to let them do this all over again?

        4. Dizzy Steinway*

          I work for a non-profit. We work with very vulnerable people. Sometimes they have children.

      2. Kj*

        Depends on the non-profit. Mine helps children and families and the community (not to mention individual children and families) would be much worse off if we went under. We serve 100s of children and families and many would have major problems without support. And I don’t think the OP is going out of their way to ruin someone’s job search- they’ve been asked to give a reference and have every right (and responsibility) to be honest about it. If I thought someone couldn’t give me a positive reference, I wouldn’t ask them. And if I nearly ran a non-profit to the ground, I would assume anyone related to that job would have a bad opinion of me.

      3. Colette*

        Those are still relevant questions. Why is this job seeker more important than the people he harassed or discriminated against? The ones who quit to take jobs that paid less? The ones that quit without jobs at all? The people who would have benefited from the organizations’ work but didn’t because they had no funding?

      4. BethRA*

        Being honest in a job reference isn’t going out of your way to ruin someone’s job search. I also don’t think the welfare of children needs to be at stake to make vouching for someone you know to be a total disaster ethically questionable.

        There’s a good argument to be made for OP 1 to tell the former Executive Disaster she’s changed her mind about being a reference, but I don’t think she’s obliged to do so unless she’d promised a good reference.

      5. a*

        Since the candidate generated a hostile workplace investigation (!), an honest negative reference would be protecting people of whatever group he was a discriminatory jackass towards. That’s true whether he’s trying for a job at another nonprofit or at a job selling shoes.

        1. Observer*

          Even if it turns out that he wasn’t legally discriminatory, he’s still someone who mistreats someone – hostile workplaces require some serious misbehavior. Which means that regardless of the outcome of the investigation, you’ve still got the welfare of anyone he manages at stake.

      6. New Window*

        No one’s suggested to OP1 that they should start spreading rumors and, I dunno, spying on their job search to seek out places they’ve applied to to tell them about what the guy did. That would be going out of their way to ruin the guy’s search.

        Creating a hostile work environment may not be exactly the same as being an awful foster parent. But how many hundreds (thousands?) of letters and posts have we read on this site of people who are deeply suffering in psychological and physical ways because their bosses treat them horribly? How many hundreds of comments from people have we read who say “Yeah, I’m still trying to overcome the fallout from working for a toxic person/organization”?

        Toxic ED has asked OP1 to be in a position where they can easily stop this from happening to other people. Great! No one except the Toxic ED’s himself has ruined his job search.

      7. Observer*

        Besides what others have said about non-profits (which is completely true), the idea here is not to just “ruin someone’s job search” out of spite. The issue here is that this person has done serious damage to people – people who didn’t deserve it and who had done nothing to him. Preventing him from hurting other people is quite akin to keeping someone from hurting a child.

        We’re talking about people who lost jobs and people who he harassed. This is not a person who should have power over others.

    3. OP #1*

      Op #1 here. Yes, it was a complete shock that he asked for a reference at all. That leads me to believe he learned nothing from his experience, in which he swaggered away claiming we “couldn’t afford” him anymore. Which makes me feel all the more that another org should be saved from him.

      I should also note that he is currently employed elsewhere.

      1. j-nonymous*

        His statement was factually accurate. Since he’d been so poor at fundraising, you literally couldn’t afford him anymore.

  16. Life is Good*

    OP #2 – I wish people interviewing to work for my department had asked to speak to me when I was a manager! The owner of old dysfunctional company did all the hiring and missed the boat most of the time. For example, one time he hired a person for the Teapot Polishing position who told him at the interview, and me later, “I hate teapots and don’t know what teapot polish even is”! She was hired on the spot. The owner had an “I need to be the hero and give this person a job” complex, I think. I ended up having to fit the jobs to these employees. It was so much work and extremely frustrating. A major reason I moved on to the competitor.

    1. Robin B*

      I agree, it’s a good idea to request this. It’s pretty common to not accept an offer right at the offering moment, correct?

      1. Life is Good*

        Well, if she had requested this, and if I had had any decision making power, I could have saved her from being fired several months later when the company was sold. The new owners weren’t thrilled with her not having the skill set to do the job (or the desire to even try to learn it).

  17. Roscoe*

    I somewhat disagree on #1. I think when agreeing to be a reference, it is implied that you would be a positive reference. Now I fully agree that if he put you down and never talked to you, you would be well within your rights to be 100% honest. But this guy did seek you out and ask. It just seems really shady to say you’ll be a reference and then torpedo his job. Just call him back and say you reconsidered and you can’t give him a good reference, and then if he still chooses to list you, say what you want. I know I’d be very upset if someone I asked to be a reference was giving me bad reviews.

    1. LQ*

      See to me it would seem really shady to give someone a good reference when they had torpedo’ed your org. Like yeah, the guy was nice to me, but nearly everyone quit, we lost relationships with funders and partners, but …he was nice to me so that’s all I’m going to talk about? That seems really shady. (Maybe because I’ve been on the inappropriately positive reference side of things.)

      1. Roscoe*

        I’m not saying that she should lie and give him a good reference. I’m saying she should call him back and say she can’t provide a good one, and let him make the decision from there.

        1. Stop That Goat*

          I agree with you. He reached out in good faith to a reference that he believed was positive. Now it may have been tone deaf but the OP agreed knowing this. Nobody is going to reach out to someone that they know will be a negative reference unless it’s required. Now, the OP can absolutely give a true reference (and should) but I find it a little sketchy to not be upfront with him about it so he can decide. It’s not like the OP is required to be a reference and why many folks will just say No when they can’t give a positive one.

          I could imagine a writer in a month saying Hey…we have this guy with good references, good work history and good interviews but a single reference is rather negative. Should I warn him? I think the answer would be yes.

            1. Stop That Goat*

              Yea, but would you necessarily have that information in that example? It’s easy to say that now with a single person’s recounting of events but if 5 other references are glowing, what then?

              He royally screwed up. No doubt about that. He may have been a superstar at every other employer before this one though.

              1. Observer*

                Highly unlikely. The OP mentions how many people “came out of the woodwork” with horror stories. Also, it’s just not likely that someone went from superstar to complete disaster in one job.

                1. Stop That Goat*

                  Well, it sounds like their references would disagree with that. *shrug* I would handle it differently but that’s just me.

                2. Kate*

                  OP says they “came out of the woodwork” with horror stories only AFTER the deed was done and he was hired. The exact opposite of helpful.

    2. MuseumChick*

      Someone else up thread said it better than I can. When you agree to give a reference, you are agreeing to give as fair and accurate an assessment of that persons work as possible. The reference is a service to the company looking to hire, not the employee looking to be hired.

      The non-profit world can be really small and this guy has already ruined many relationships this non-profit had. The OP cannot, out of loyalty to their non-profit, and professional respect and good faith for fellow non-profits in their area, let this guy ruin another organization.

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      The OP wouldn’t be torpedoing anyone chances of a job. The guy did that all by himself.

    4. OP #1*

      I would love more insight into this perspective, which has shown up a few times. Am *I* really the torpedo in this situation?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nope. He did all the egregious acts, and then he asked someone whose organization he nearly destroyed to be a reference for him. He is responsible, not you.

      2. BethRA*

        Seconding the “nope, not a torpedo.” This guy’s got his own actions to blame for anything that happens to his career.

      3. j-nonymous*

        No. In addition, torpedo is a really loaded word to use to describe giving a fair and accurate reference on the candidate’s skills and behaviors; torpedoing someone’s job opportunities makes it sound like you’re waiting for the opportunity to pounce and ruin his job chances. That isn’t the case.

      4. MuseumChick*

        Absolutely NOT! This falls under the category of “he made his bed now he gets to lie in it”.

        All you are doing is reporting facts when asked in a professional setting.

      5. Kate*

        You are NOT a torpedo.

        There is an unfortunate strain of thinking I see a lot of now, a sort of reverse karma. If you aren’t nice to someone, not mean, just neutral, or if something bad happens to someone because of an action you take, no matter if you are protecting yourself or someone else, then you are somehow the bad guy.

        I have seen people accused of being the bad guy when they cut off contact with abusive family members, stop giving money and shelter to drug-addicted relatives they have tried for years to help, and in this case, when you would be protecting dozens or hundreds of innocent people from losing their jobs and being harassed because of their sex or race or other.

        The way people act results in what happens to them. This guy is not going to starve to death on the streets if he doesn’t get another director job. And one bad reference is not necessarily going to prevent him from getting it, if they even call you. If he ends up being a fry cook at McDonald’s or a Santa’s Village elf or whatever position he probably thinks he is too good for, that is because of his behavior, directly, and not because of anything you did.

        1. Dizzy Steinway*

          +1. It’s like people saying you’ve ruined someone’s life if they committed a crime against you and you reported it.

      6. Annonymouse*

        Some people are confusing where the loyalty should lie and the purpose of a reference.

        Your loyalty is not with this guy, it’s to your old org and all the people who got hurt.

        A reference isn’t a glowing recommendation in light of serious problems.

        I mean how mad are you right now at those people who DIDN’T warn you how toxic this guy was when you called?
        (If they’re all people his kissed up to and above him why didn’t one of them mention “strained relationships” with subordinates?)

        To torpedo someone (to me) is to go out of your way to sink someone.
        E.g give an exaggerated negative reference, actively seek out other places they could work and tell them how bad he is.

        Or to sink someone for no real work related reason.

        You are NOT a torpedo – you are a natural consequence of his actions.

        Also this reminds me of the post where someone got some informal references and didn’t hire a guy because he was fired for drinking on the job.

        Those people weren’t torpedoes either. A natural conclusion to unnatural actions.

      7. KellyK*

        No, definitely not. You didn’t volunteer as a reference for the purpose of sabotaging him. You didn’t lie and tell him you’d give a glowing reference when you won’t. You haven’t been using your friendship to find out where he’s looking and then go warn them about how awful he is.

        He asked you for a reference. You hedged a little about what you could include (which should’ve been at least a subtle warning sign for him), and he chose to use you. Now you’re providing an honest explanation of his performance. If anybody’s been launching any torpedoes at his career, it’s him.

  18. Czhorat*

    For OP5, most organizations have professional video platforms or a bridging service like Blue Jeans. In every interaction I’ve had involving a video call, the organization making the invitation would send contact details and a link of some kind; to personally Skype or FaceTime or Skype or something is very unusual and indicative of a low-tech and informal workplace.

    They’ll set up the video call.

    1. Kj*

      Depends on the sector. In smaller companies and in nonprofits, Skype isn’t that weird. I had grad school interviews on Skype and I’m certain my company would use it for remote interviews if we needed to.

    2. LQ*

      Odd. I work at a very formal (government) org and when we’ve needed to use video we generally use skype. (We can in theory use skype for business, but the outside connection with that is…complex at this point so we rarely do that.) We might be low tech, but I wouldn’t actually say using skype is low-tech. I’ve never heard of Blue Jeans. (We do use WebEx occasionally, but only for more presentation like stuff.)

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      You would be wrong in that. I know Fortune 500’s that use Skype.

      Heck, even the last time I interviewed for Google, they were using Skype- not even their own Hangouts.

      1. Czhorat*

        No, it’s not. It might be used by some enterprises, but S4B/Lync is Microsoft’s enterprise product.

        I’m surprised that so many enterprises use Skype, but my view might be skewed by the fact that I’d not recommend it (for various reasons, drifting off topic)

      1. Czhorat*

        Yes, and they want clients to buy into as needed entire ecosystem, with S4B desktop and phone applications, Surface Hubs for small meeting spaces, and S4B room systems (or, Crestron RL2) in larger meeting spaces. Scheduling and such would be through Exchange. Microsoft, Cisco, and Google are all looking to control the whole enterprise in this way with broad, tightly integrated hardware and software offerings.

  19. Susan*

    #1 – In my industry, it is not uncommon for horrible bosses to bounce around from one company to another every few years, staying just long enough to drive their departments into the ground before moving on to the next place. After a while — when it’s already evident that the manager is horrible — word will usually get around that this person did the same thing at another company (or companies). It always baffled me how this happens, and why companies keep hiring managers who were disasters at their old jobs, and I’ve wondered if there’s some kind of understanding between managers that they won’t bad-mouth one another. Managers also rarely get fired; instead, they get put on “special projects” until they find another job and leave.

    Sadly, I bet this guy is just going to keep finding people to vouch for him so he can keep getting jobs and destroy more organizations, no matter what you say, but do you really want to be one of the people enabling him to do that? If you’re not comfortable giving a bad reference, at least decline to give a reference so you don’t hurt your own reputation by associating with him.

    1. Lablizard*

      At one of my old jobs we used to call the “special projects” department “The Island of Misfit Toys”

    2. NEW YEAR, NEW ME*

      OP: Can you only give/verify the dates he was employed with your company? Maybe just go this route if you might be stuck doing this reference? Or if their potential company contacts them, don’t return their calls/emails?

  20. AFRC*

    OP #1, speaking on behalf of someone who was the victim of a terrible ED who did similar terrible things (but who, somehow, is still in his role, 6 years after things came to a head), I wholeheartedly agree with Alison. Please please please do not allow this person to spread their horridness to another organization!!

  21. heatherskib*

    OP #1- Allow me to give you the best coded reference for “don’t hire this person that I’ve ever heard.”
    “I’m sorry that I am unable to give you a wholly positive reference.”

  22. Ashie*

    I think I know the guy in #1. Or at least, I hope I do, because that would mean there’s more than one of these awful people out there.

    1. newmanager*

      Removed. Please don’t speculate on people’s identities here (especially naming names!) — letter-writers want their situations to be anonymous.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    On #1, I see both sides but personally I would just decline to be a reference. I would like to suggest the OP and other board members (though it sounds like OP is no longer involved) take a closer look at the organization to see how one person in a short tenure could wreak such havoc. Something’s not right there beyond just this one ex-ED

    1. New Window*

      take a closer look at the organization to see how one person in a short tenure could wreak such havoc.

      That’s a fair point. I also suspect that the size of the organization makes a difference. If nothing else, perhaps the organization is at a point where it can create something new out of the chaos.

      Still, as someone who works in a small organization, I see the consequences firsthand of just how much sway the one person in the chief position of leadership holds. Even if they don’t go out of their way to be jerks and create hostile work environments, etc., poor management behaviors and misdirected focus on strategy and staffing decisions are being felt by the rest of us and affecting how the rest of the organization functions.

  24. Sue Wilson*

    #1: I guess I don’t understand how references work, because even if I HAD promised to be a good reference, I wouldn’t expect that to mean that I would lie or redirect, and the reference asker can ask whatever they want, if you’re not giving a written recommendation. Frankly, “I said that I would only speak to his relationship with the Board” is shady as hell to me, and suggest a crap job was done, but that’s what you would have to say to preserve your positive reference if the reference asks about his completion of his duties. You might as well tell the whole truth (and that’s why in addition to asking if someone could give a positive reference, I also ask what reservations they had about me, so I can probably address them in the interview). For all you know, this position is a board-only contact one and he’ll do fine.

    If you ask me to be a reference, even if you and I both think you mean good one, it’s not shady of me to tell the truth in response to direct questions. A good reference doesn’t mean lie. You should think about that before you ask for references.

  25. J-nonymous*

    OP #1. You owe it to other organizations to be honest and forthright about this person. He’s either entirely clueless about his performance, or he’s choosing people with whom he has friendly relations and using the implied “agreeing to provide a reference = agreeing to give a GOOD reference” in order to ensure people don’t tell the truth about his horrid management skills. (Frankly, I’m appalled at people in this comment thread’s insisting on that conflation!)

  26. Erin*

    #3 – Having just had a baby, I 100% agree with Alison’s advice. If there is any doubt in your mind don’t bring it up yet. I understand the urge too – I would have been the same way – but don’t. Let yourself make that decision when you’re not in pregnancy-brain mode, and you have a better idea of what staying home with a newborn all day is actually going to look like.

    Good luck! Whatever you decide will be fine, I’m sure, and different things work for different families. But give yourself a little time to make the decision.

  27. RG*

    To OP #1, as a Board member, the ED reports to you and therefore framing a reference around only his contact with the Board would be like framing a reference for a direct report only around check-in meetings, and not the quality of their work product in general. You as the Board have hired this person to do a job. Everything that they do in doing that job is under your purview. Particularly, for a typical non-profit ED, you’ve hired them to fundraise and manage the staff. It sounds like that person failed on both accounts. While I’d really suggest you take a look at the Board’s management in general (and I say that as someone who has sat on multiple non-profit boards and is currently in senior management of another), a qualified ED would 1) know that that his their responsibility and 2) have the ability to identify when they’re in over their heads and ask for your help/guidance.

    1. RG*

      *know that this is their responsibility.

      I’d add, that if this person is looking for a job in your broader sector, you should think about the consequences to your organization of a less than holistic reference.

  28. OxfordComma*

    OP#1 – it’s your reputation on the line. If I can’t give a glowing reference, I say no.

  29. AW*

    LW #4 – Another vote for Dice and Stack Overflow job boards.

    I also want to mention Smashing Magazine (they have more of a design slant but their job board is tech-related) and PeopleOfColorInTech (I got my last job before finding out about them so I haven’t used it for a job search personally).

    Good luck!

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