my coworker is lying about attending meetings, I need to fire a volunteer, and more

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

1. My coworker is lying about attending meetings

I am a director in a big company (meaning there are lots of managers with that title). My fellow coworker, who is also a director in my unit, is supposed to attend a weekly meeting on marketing and report back to our staff. I have noticed that this director really couldn’t answer many of my questions about the marketing meetings when I would follow up with her reports. I met with the head of Marketing to get some specific questions answered regarding a project I was working on. The head of Marketing told me that no one from our unit has attended the weekly meetings in six months.

The head of marketing said they weren’t in a position to reach out unless it started hurting others peoples work. I encouraged them to reach out to her supervisors — but nothing yet. I even thought it may have something to do with my coworker’s team being cut and her being too busy. I offered to attend a few weeks if she couldn’t make it. She told me to my face she goes every week and doesn’t need me to jump in.

I don’t want to make a big stink and it isn’t hurting our day to day work — yet. But should I confront my coworker or bring this to our supervisor?

Since your coworker has already lied to your face about this, explaining to her that you know she’s lying and hasn’t actually gone to the meetings risks introducing tension into your relationship that you might rather not deal with. If that’s the case, I think you’re perfectly in the clear to go straight to your manager. You’d want to keep the focus on work impact — as in, “Jane told me that no one from our unit has attended the weekly marketing meetings in six months. I’d thought it was Tangerina’s responsibility so I checked with her — but she told me she’s been going. I have to say that I don’t think she has been — based both on what Jane said and on the fact that I haven’t been able to get any of my questions about the marketing meetings answered. We do need someone going to those, so what’s the best way to proceed?”

But if you’d rather start with your coworker, you could say it this way: “I think there’s been a miscommunication somewhere. Jane says no one from our unit has attended the marketing meetings in six months. I’m not sure what to do to get answers when I have questions come up about stuff that’s been covered in those meetings.” (But I think it’s highly likely that your coworker will get defensive — she’s being called out on a flagrant lie — so you’ll probably have better luck talking to your boss instead.)

2. I need to fire a volunteer

I am the president of a local industry society with an all-volunteer board of directors (some elected, some appointed). We currently have a very large project that one non-board volunteer eagerly agreed to lead. It was supposed to start last fall, but due to circumstances beyond her control, it’s just now getting started in May.

We gathered up a dozen volunteers to help on the project, but lost momentum when we couldn’t get it off the ground. Now we’re having a kickoff meeting in a few weeks, and the volunteer still hasn’t contacted those people to let them know it’s happening now. I’ve followed up with her several times, and each time the response is “I’m working on it today” or “I’ll get it out this week.” I have spoken with this volunteer about ensuring she has the time to commit to this project, and she reassures me she does, though I’m not seeing any action on her part. Over the last 10 months I’ve given her several opportunities to gracefully bow out, but she doesn’t take me up on it. It’s very frustrating. I’m ready to find someone else to lead the project, but with the kickoff meeting a few weeks away, how do I fire her?

Are you willing to give her one final chance or are you at the point where you need to remove her now? If you think she could have a final chance as long as it’s accompanied by a clear warning to her that there won’t be another, you could say this: “I know you’ve been really busy. We need X, Y, and Z to happen pretty urgently at this point. If you’re not able to do that by (date), I’m going to need to find someone else to lead the project. I hope you understand.”

On the other hand, if you’re past the point where that makes sense, say it this way: “I really appreciate you trying to make this work with your schedule. Unfortunately this is time-sensitive and I know your other commitments have gotten in the way of the timelines we’ve talked about previously (like contacting volunteers by May 1, and then when that didn’t happen by May 10). At this point, I need to find someone else to lead the project. I hope you understand, and if your schedule does clear up, we’d of course welcome you participating in a different way.”

(You may not want to say that last part, of course. It depends on what your dynamics are with volunteers and how obligated you feel to soften the message with them. You could also change it to “we could talk about you participating in a different way,” which makes it sound less like a sure thing.)

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I accidentally described myself as “outgoing” when I’m not

When I interviewed for my upcoming job, I was asked to describe myself in three words or phrases. I said “professional, a self-starter, and outgoing.”

The first two are true, but I’m not outgoing. I’m usually introverted and quiet, although I am very good at networking. Also, my last job required a looooot of customer service interaction (700 or so people in an 8-hour shift), so I was primed to think of that while I was interviewing.

I swear that saying that wasn’t intended as a lie! It was just something that came to mind and I said it without thinking. But when I start this next job — which is NOT a customer-facing position — are they going to be expecting me to be super outgoing, or can I be more like myself?

Nah, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. They’re probably not going to mention the exact details of your answer to that question, and even if they did, they’re not likely to hold it against you.

The only thing I’d worry about here is whether you may have inadvertently gotten yourself hired into a job that isn’t the right match for you — if they really want/need someone who’s outgoing and you’re not. But (a) it’s unlikely that a single word in an interview would result in that, and (b) it sounds like you’ve adapted to environments that required a lot of interaction in the past.

Either way, your best bet here is to be yourself and see how it goes.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. When is a reference too old to use?

I recently gave a reference for a former employee. This was the third or fourth time I have done so. We were both employees in state government and she has since moved to other departments within state government. I usually fill out a standard state form that is emailed to me and let them know I am available if they wish to ask any further questions.

My question is, when is a reference too old? Or does it matter? I moved out of state in 2005, and she is still using me as a reference instead of her previous supervisor who is still there and is not a good reference for many reasons. I don’t mind at all giving my time and filling out the form. She was an excellent employee and I am glad she has been able to advance her career and make more money and increase her skills. But we are talking 12 years since I left my position in that state. I don’t use my former boss’s reference now because it has been 12 years, even though I am confident that she would do so if I asked.

Yeah, that’s getting pretty old. I actually just told someone that I didn’t feel like I could provide him with a compelling reference anymore because it’s been so long since the relatively short period of time that we worked together, and the info I could provide was so stale.

Frankly, I were the hiring manager, I’d ask her to put me in touch with more recent managers. But if they’re not doing that, and you still feel comfortable serving as a reference for her, I think it’s fine for you to continue. But you might also think about saying something to her like, “I wanted to mention that at some point too much time will have gone by since we worked together for me to be an effective reference. I’m always glad to help you out if I can, but also wanted to get that on your radar — especially since I was surprised to realize how long it’s really been, when I stopped to calculate it!”

5. Interviewer asked why I was picked to be laid off

I was laid off from a VP-level sales position at a huge company earlier this year, and am in the midst of a job search. I’ve had a number of interviews so far, and when it comes up, I explain briefly that, due to poor financial performance of the larger company in 2016, there was a workforce reduction and a number of positions were eliminated as of February, including mine. If it makes sense, I follow that up with a brief explanation of the type of position I am looking for. So far, everyone I’ve interviewed with has just said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” or “Yes, I heard about that.”

But today I had a phone screen with an internal recruiter, someone in HR, for a relatively small but old and well-respected company in my field, and she kept probing on why did I think I was selected for the layoff — particularly since, as I had stated, I met and slightly exceeded my aggressive sales quota for the year. I was taken aback (and kind of offended once I got off the phone and thought about it), but I just said, “You know, that’s a good question, and I’m not entirely sure. I do know that I made my sales quota and some others did not. I think it may be that I was the newest member of that sales team and also located remotely, and management didn’t get as much time to get to know me and my potential.”

The background is that I worked for a small technology company for eight years before we were acquired by this behemoth. I had a progressive career with several promotions, and was promoted again following the acquisition, to VP-level. I moved into a seller-doer job that I had really wanted, but after two months everything was reorganized and everybody had to go either solely sales or solely delivery. They needed more salespeople, and that’s the direction I went in. The quota they gave me was insane, but I busted my tail and killed myself and made the goal and my bonus. And then I was one of just a few people on my sales team to be selected (within a larger workforce reduction). I only received positive feedback from my boss, but I get the sense she didn’t know/love me, and was kind of protecting her own, even if they didn’t make their goals. Also, management had a certain amount of budget to cut, obviously, and it’s possible I made more money than they wanted me to.

How is anyone supposed to know why they were selected for a layoff, and do you think that’s a normal question to ask? If I get asked it again, do you have a suggestion for how to address it more effectively than I did?

Sometimes interviewers will ask about it because they’re trying to figure out if you were the one person on your whole team who was let go (which could mean that you were indeed picked for a performance-related reason) or if there’s some other easy explanation like “they cut everyone who was hired in the last year” or “they eliminated my entire department” or “they were shutting down the project I supported.”

But to keep pushing you for a better answer is rude and not normal.

In the future, I’d probably trim your answer to just this part of it: “While I was making my sales quota and others weren’t, I think it came down to the fact that I was the newest member of that sales team and also located remotely.”

{ 170 comments… read them below }

  1. Stellaaaaa*

    Out of curiosity, what would you do for references if your job history doesn’t naturally provide you with the appropriate number of people from within the past 5-ish (?) years? For example, what if you worked for a very small business for a long time and only had one superior for the past 12 years? Would it be inappropriate then to list people from jobs you had 15 years ago? Or is it acceptable to list peer-level coworkers in a situation like that?

    1. Thlayli*

      I was wondering that myself. I’ve always thought it the norm to give one reference from each of your last 2 employers. But if you’ve been working at the same company for more than 10 years then obviously the older one will
      be more than 10 years old. What would you do then? Or if you’ve been working there for 15 years? Do you give 2 references from the same company?

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        This might be one of those holdover norms from a time when people eventually settled into one job and then stayed there until they retired, not needing references after the age of 28. There may not have been any notion of making a career by spending 5-7 years each at different small businesses and startups.

        Or what if you’re self-employed for a while but then want to get back into the traditional workforce? Or what about parents who go back to work after spending 10 years at home with the kids? There are a lot of not-left-field reasons why someone would have to go back 10+ years to come up with meaningful references.

        1. teclatrans*

          I am in one of those boats, and wondering the same thing about the only references being many, many years old.

      2. Workfromhome*

        I actually went though this last year. My new job would only accept references from a prior or current supervisor or above. I had been with the same company for 13 years with little turnover at the supervisor level. I certainly couldn’t let them contact my current supervisor. I ended up using references from a director who left the company nearly 8 years ago. It didn’t seem to present any problem . The problem to me seems to be overly rigid reference guidelines that force you to use really old references. Seems silly when job hopping or unemployment is held against you but if you stay at one company for many years the rules make it difficult to provide a reference.

      3. ThatGirl*

        In my case at least I was in multiple positions within the same company/had multiple supervisors, so all of my references are from that job (which, I was there 9 years so it works, I think)… I could certainly dig up references from jobs before that, but they are indeed pretty old right now, so I would hope my method is sound.

    2. Brit*

      Wondering about this too. I worked at a small company for almost 5 years with only one manager (the owner) who could give a reference. But many job applications require 4 employment references, and they want managers not peer/coworker references. So I have no choice to go back to very old jobs.

      1. cncx*

        this is my situation too. funnily enough when i was job hopping i had a lot of recent enough referees, but now that i have stayed in the same position for six years, my past managers are six, eight and ten years old.

        1. Margo*

          I don’t think that’s an issue, as your CV / resume will show that job history so it will be clear to a prospective employee why the references you’re providing are so old.
          (and similarly, I would usually expect your CV or cover letter to explain any career gaps etc.)

          As an employer, where I might start to wonder about old references would be where your CV showed you’d had several different employers since the one you were giving as a reference, but you weren’t using any of them.

          It wouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker, but it would raise questions and make me a bit wary.

        2. MashaKasha*

          This has been my thought too. It’s been bad enough that I’ve been short on references in the past because I have always worked on small teams. At one OldJob, the only developer who I’d worked closely with on a regular basis moved back to his home country, which left me with no reliable references from that job. Six years at that company and nothing to show for it! As if that wasn’t enough, now I also have to worry about my references expiring because I’ve stayed in a job too long? Sigh. Oh well, if I’m lucky, my current place will have high turnover, and that should resolve the issue of having fresh references I guess!

          1. Buu*

            Contact the HR at your old job, whilst they can’t give a personal ref they may be able to send a letter confirming you worked there. Several of my early jobs were low level at big corps in my industry, they didn’t giver personal refs so that’s all I got from there and it was fine.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Wonder if it’s ok to use managers who were not your direct manager. I’ve done this in the past when my direct manager was an a-hole and there was another manager who I got along with and could speak to my work fairly well.

        1. Brit*

          There’s no hr, no manager other than owner. I can’t wait to work for bigger companies with other managers and an HR department. :)

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      Hopefully the small company isn’t just you and the owner, in which case perhaps you have other coworkers who have moved on and can serve as references, even if not as desirable to the hiring manager as speaking to a former manager would be.

      If you’ve truly been at the same teeny-tiny company working for the same person for that long, though, my guess is that this would come up way before the reference-checking stage. Any time someone has been in one place that long, I think hiring managers at least wonder a little bit about whether the candidate will be able to adapt to a new workplace, and is going to ask some questions about that. So hopefully by that point, if you have convinced them to be interested enough in you to hire you, it’s a reminder conversation (“like we talked about, I’ve been working for Valentina for ten years, so these references are from recent coworkers and my manager from 2006”) and not a surprise.

      1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

        I’ve been wondering about what to do if your references from OLDJOB are no longer with OLDJOB. I do have there personal contact information (phone numbers and personal email addresses). Is it ok to still put them down using the personal contact info?

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I would ask each reference what contact numbers and emails they want you to use. You can say something like “Hey, since you’re not at [OLDJOB] any longer, I didn’t want to give out your personal cell number as a reference without checking; do you have an office number that I should use instead?” That way they can either okay the personal number or give you a new number. Mostly I prefer to be contacted about those things on my Google Voice number, which goes right to voicemail and then I can call the person right back if I’m free, although it depends on whom the reference is for, for some people I’ll give out my cell number.

          1. Bea W*

            That’s what I have done, contacting my references in advance and asking if they are willing to provide a reference and the best way someone can contact them. It hasn’t been an issue.

          2. KellyK*

            Yep, I think that’s perfect. I’ve always gone with just asking what contact number they wanted me to give out, and that leaves it up to them whether it’s a cell, home, or office number. If it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch, it also reminds them that you exist, which is a good thing before a reference call anyway.

        2. Andrea*

          Yes, that’s fine. It’s also a good idea to stay connected with them on LinkedIn.

    4. kittymommy*

      I’ve wondered this myself. In the last 7 years I’ve only worked for government and they will only confirm employment, employment dates, and if you would be eligible to be rehired (basically you didn’t get fired and have proper notice). Other than those two hr departments, my references would be personal.

      1. OP #4*

        My former employee is still in state government, where we were when she worked for me. Her previous manager at that department is a notorious bad manager and unfortunate bad hire, so she doesn’t use her as a reference. She uses me and the person who was hired after me. Because I have been her reference over the last 12 years, and she has remained in state government, those people interviewing her and hiring her seem to be fine with the age of the references because she keeps using them and has succeeded in being promoted. However, these positions are in the administrative assistant, customer service category, which might make a difference since these are not at the program manager or director level. I feel fine continuing to give her a well deserved glowing recommendation from 12 years ago since it doesn’t seem to matter to the hiring managers.

    5. Bea W*

      Same boat. I’ve been under my current manager for the last 5 years. My previous manager left the company after I’d been there 7 months. I can easily give someone recent or current co-workers as references. Obviously I’m not going to give them my current manager.

    6. Michele*

      I have the same question. I have been lucky enough to work in a stable job. I have had a few of managers while I have been here, but retired and another took a different job, so we are no longer in touch.

    7. Liz T*

      Agreed! I had to give three references for my current job, which meant going back 9 years. (After that job was grad school, and after grad school was 5 years with the same company.) 12-15 years looks like a lot on paper, but when you think about an actual career, that’s (ideally) not that many employers.

    8. BananaPants*

      Even at a large company this can be an issue. I’ve had 5 managers in 14 years – Boss #1 is now my manager again, Boss #2 retired and is no longer in contact with anyone from here, Boss #3 is our VP, Boss #4 is under Boss #3 in my management chain, and Boss #5 is my grandboss. So yeah, there’s literally no one I’m in contact with who I could use as a supervisor reference who ISN’T in my current management chain.

      I have enough longtime coworkers who I could use as references if I needed to, but it does make it a little dicey. We still have a lot of “lifers” here; it’s extremely rare to bring a manager or senior IC in from outside the company.

    9. Another Lawyer*

      I worked a small org as a manager 10+ years ago, and I still provide references for a lot of them because there’s only one other person to go to and that person is still employed there, so they’d effectively be giving notice. Most of the time, the orgs they are applying to are similarly structured and no one thinks twice about it.

      1. Buu*

        That’s still a nice thing for you to do, I’m sure it takes a weight off their mind as well.

    10. Koko*

      I was going to come here with the same question! I’ve been at my current job half a decade and have no plans to leave any time soon, but I don’t necessarily think I’ll work here til I retire. Based on what I’ve seen from colleagues’ departure I think I could count on at least one person person senior to me to discreetly serve as a reference, *maybe* two, but it’s also possible that things could change and it could be zero.

    11. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Agreed. Frankly, unless you’re a job hopper or have had bad luck with managers cycling through quickly, it would be tough to have three managers to offer as references within the last 10-15 years.

      Case in point: I’ve moved around more than I would have liked, so I have a relatively robust list of managers to choose from. But still, in my next application, I’d have to go back to 2008 to have three managers as references.

    12. Bea*

      If you are moving to another company of the same size, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s really only an issue if you’re trying to hop to a big set up who doesnt understand.

      I worked over a decade as the GM for lack of a proper title where my only supervisor was the owners family who didn’t work at the place. The owner’s wife is my reference. Then I used our major client who I worked with personally for most of those years and a team member. Nobody batted an eye or questioned me. I was looking at places I’d report to the owners when I made my move. I’ll always work in this size of company, I have no desire to go corporate. I’d explode otherwise.

    13. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In all of the sorts of situations people are describing above, you’d talk to the place you were interviewing with and explain the situation and work with them to figure out who it made the most sense to put them in touch with. For most of the types of jobs where quality references really matter, you’re going to be able to have a conversation about it.

      1. Lindsey*

        Sometimes you have to provide reference names in the Taleo/ online application before you’re at interview stage or in contact with anyone from the hiring company, and your application isn’t “complete” or looked at until you’ve filled them out. So this isn’t always possible.

  2. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 I’m wondering if this is the only ball she’s dropped. I’m also wondering what exactly is going wrong if someone can skip out on a work responsibility for six months without it being picked up – that could mean she just really doesn’t like those marketing meetings, or maybe she’s stressed and unwilling or unable to delegate or reprioritise. Either way, I’m not sure I’d see it as kicking up a stink but as flagging the fact that something is going wrong somewhere. You can’t force her to delegate or whatever it is she needs to do, and I really think this is something worth flagging calmly and objectively in the way Alison suggests.

    1. Myrin*

      Very much agreed! I’m also wondering if OP is the only person who ever needs information from Tangerina or if others are in the same position of asking her stuff and not receiving answers.

      1. Blue*

        I doubt it. It seems like the organizer of the meetings knows and … is waiting for someone to fail/ruin their career? before acting? I don’t get it. (Unless someone(s) are already using this to lay the groundwork for pushing her out? But it’s potentially so disastrous for those relying on her in the meantime.)

        1. WS*

          There might not be a bigger plot behind this. The HoM might figure that something has changed (such as OP’s department not needing to be at the meeting every week after all) and hasn’t raised the issue because they haven’t realized there is an issue. If Tangerina blatantly lied to the OP, it wouldn’t surprise me if she’s thrown a few lies at the HoM as well to explain her absences. If the HoM doesn’t have all the information I can see why they might decide not to get involved in what, for them, is a he said/she said situation unless it becomes a problem that could affect them.

          (I’m not saying I agree with them, hypothetically, doing this but I think it’s a stretch to say that the HoM is doing nothing so Tangerina can ruin her career.)

        2. The OG Anonsie*

          Eh. If it causes someone else problems if they don’t attend my meetings but doesn’t blow back on me, I’m not gonna notify anyone. That’s their issue to deal with.

    2. CM*

      Sounds like Tangerina has dug herself into a hole here. I agree that talking to her directly at this point is no longer worth it, since she already blatantly lied. (I wonder if it’s one of those things where, after not going for six months and telling everyone that she has, she thinks that suddenly showing up will attract more attention?) If the question came from her supervisor, she would have to admit that she hasn’t been going.

    3. aebhel*

      My previous manager skipped out on regional meetings all the time–just took them as a day off, pretended she was going to the meeting, but didn’t. We get a ton of vacation time, so I don’t even really get why she bothered. It definitely cost her respect, but since she was in charge nobody really felt like they could say anything about it.

  3. Wehaf*

    Regarding firing a volunteer, I think Alison’s advice is spot-on, but I would very slightly change her suggested wording from “At this point, I need to find someone else to lead the project.” to “At this point, I am going to find someone else to lead the project.” Otherwise it leaves an opening for the volunteer to argue that she really will take care of it this time.

    1. Black Betty*

      I don’t think that change makes any difference really, someone who is going to argue is going to argue. The important thing is for the OP to make up their mind, communicate the decision clearly (which Alison’s language does just fine) and then hold firm to the decision. The volunteer can try to push back if they choose, but that doesn’t mean the OP has to listen, agree or accept anything the volunteer says.

      Time for the broken record approach, if they do try to push back.

    2. Oxford Common Sense*

      Plus one on this. It’s the LW’s job to find someone, whether the volunteer wants that to happen or not. She should be clear so there is no possibility of negotiating another chance. This being a volunteer makes the situation *feel* trickier, but in reality the need of the agency is not being met and it’s time to make the project happen.

    3. Lynly*

      Excellent edit of the suggested wording. It is much more direct and unequivocal in terms of what will be happening next.

  4. ENFP in Texas*

    #2 – I’d give hard deadlines and ask to be copied on them, and explain if she isn’t able to meet those deadlines, you will need to hand the project over to someone else.

    “Jane, I know you’reworking on contacting the volunteers. We need to have an email out to them no later than May 20th. Please copy me when you send the emails so I have them for my file.”

    On the 20th, if you did not see an email, send her one reminder that you need to have those emails sent out that day.

    If she does not meet that deadline, then explain to her that while you appreciate her interest in the project, you need to hand it over to someone else.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I think she’s been given enough chances, and the OP just needs to hand it over to someone else.

      1. CM*

        Agreed. I have been in the position of firing a volunteer before. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s for the best if done kindly (by thanking the person and explaining that you have decided to have someone else take over). The volunteer will probably be relieved, even if at first they are upset.

        I’ve also been in the position of being a bad volunteer — I was supposed to be collecting signatures for a local ballot question, and I only succeeded in collecting around 15 signatures over a month or so. Meanwhile, the person coordinating the campaign contacted me multiple times. I’m sure that the effort she put in was not worth the 15 signatures I collected. I handed them in and they never asked me for anything else again. I still feel bad about it, but I think it’s pretty common for people to overestimate their willingness to commit to a volunteer activity. The only time it really becomes a problem is when you are relying on the volunteer, which is why OP#2 is smart to address this now.

    2. Doodle*

      I agree with this as a general strategy, but I think in this case the OP is past that stage — she needed the volunteers to have ALREADY been contacted.

  5. Former Computer Professional*

    Ugh. Firing volunteers can be so tricky. I think that you have to be direct but yet show some appreciation to them, as they have at least offered to give time to the organization.

    I once was with volunteer org that handled a firing so terribly. I laid out to the Board of Directors why the person needed to be fired and how I would handle it (ie. similarly to what Alison said: quickly, firmly, and with “You’ve done great work in the past but things have changed, and it’s now time we have someone else handle these areas.”). The Board didn’t like my approach and handled it themselves — by lying to the person and offering them “time off.” Within 24 hours of this being confirmed, every single connection to the person (email, databases, etc.) was removed. The resulting fall-out was a nightmare.

    The person then joined another organization who had to fire them as well, after a couple of years, for roughly the same reasons we did.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I feel so sorry for whoever had to manage my “quirky” aunt at her volunteer candy-striping job at a hospital. She got fired for being too strict and for refusing to allow police to go to a patient’s room (crime victim) because they didn’t have visitor’s passes. She’s also been fired from volunteering at polling locations on election day and got kicked out of a grief support group for being non-supportive!

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Wow, it sounds like someone could make a sit-com based around her various misadventures.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I think it would be a tragicomedy. Her mom had munchausens by proxy and messed her up big time. We laugh at her antics in my family but when I really think about her life it depresses me.

      2. Rosamond*

        My mom got frozen out of her knitting group over a remark that managed to offend both the conservative evangelical ladies and the blue-collar liberal ladies.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I am cracking up at this. Our moms should hang out – she’s been picking fights with her high school friends on FB if they post anything pro-Trump (she’s over 70). She is very rude about it. She told me that she’s reached the age where she no longer has to take the “high road”. Sigh.

          1. Hellanon*

            My dad keeps getting turfed out of his various AA groups. Not gonna lie – I would turf him out too for the things he reports having said in meetings.

          2. Rosamond*

            My mom’s position is always that if one person makes a political comment that she has to listen to, then she should be “allowed” to make her comment, and everyone should have to listen to her too.

            1. Another Rosamond*

              Off-topic (sorry) But I’ve *never* seen anyone spell their name like me before! ~name buddies~

  6. LW #3*

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison!

    The next job is photographer at a non-profit. I’ve had a similar job like it before, which was a fantastic mutual fit, and this job will be very similar. It won’t require a lot of customer interaction of the variety that I was worried about seeming like I was good at; the majority of the work will entail doing my thing in the background and only making connections when necessary. This is in contrast to my last job (the 700 people in 8 hours one), which I disliked for how very, very assembly-line-esque it was. (And for those wondering — I worked at Disney World.)

    1. Thlayli*

      I wouldn’t worry about slipping up and saying you’re outgoing. worst case scenario is they think you’re bad at self evaluation, not a liar.

    2. Willis*

      Yeah, I actually think being good at networking and being friendly while working with 700+ customers a day are pretty good examples of being outgoing in a professional sense. When I think of what I’d want in an “outgoing” employee, it would probably have more to do with being willing to contact folks as needed without being shy and working pleasantly/easily with clients, not so much with whether they’re going to chat a lot in the office (unless, of course, the position was some kind of social director type thing, which doesn’t sound like it’s the case).

    3. nofelix*

      Yeah if you can work in a customer facing position at Disney World I don’t think any employer is going to be concerned about how outgoing you can be. Personable photographers are great if you’re photographing people at all and it sounds like your experience is an asset.

      1. Liane*

        I did Customer Service for (In)Famous Retailer for many years and did very well (and was surprised that I liked it), although I am an introvert. I must be another of Lily in NYC’s “gregarious introverts” like her & Sled Dog Mama. I am not comfortable around strangers, especially crowds of them* (although I am much better than when I was in college.)
        *Says the woman who loves going to cons, usually in costumes–which I think helps

        And thanks, OP, to you and any other Disney cast members here. I will never forget how fun, kind, & welcoming the cast members were when the 501st and Rebel Legions did the Star Wars Weekends parades. Especially a Luke.

    4. Discordia Angel Jones*

      Just wanted to say, kudos for working at Disney World. I have several friends who worked there in difference capacities (one of them was probably very similar to what you did) and I have heard SO MANY horror stories.

      I’m sure that your saying you are outgoing won’t reflect badly on you at all – to some extent you kind of have to be somewhat outgoing in the professional sense to deal with so many people per day like you used to.

      1. Wheezy Weasel*

        Indeed, if you made the initial cut to work at Disney, the bar for ‘works well with the public’ should be lower at most other companies.

    5. Sled dog mama*

      There is a difference in being outgoing and being an extrovert.
      I’m an outgoing introvert ( and I am seriously introverted). That means I will seek out my coworkers and I’m friendly and talkative but it exhausts me.

      1. Ama*

        Yes, I third this. I am also an introvert but I am able to succeed in work situations where I need to be a little more proactively outgoing and build relationships with my coworkers or colleagues at other organizations — I just also need to make sure I build in enough down time to decompress afterwards (both in scheduled time off and in trying to keep some “no meetings” days on my work calendar).

      2. Marillenbaum*

        So true! I admittedly am only a mini-introvert (my “PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEE!” side is strong), but I know I definitely have times where I do al ot of enjoyable heavy-duty socializing, and then need to crawl into a cave to recover.

    6. Lablizard*

      You survived working at Disney World. That probably makes you more professionally outgoing (i.e. able to do it if a job requires it) than you think. I’m not even sure it was a lie. I am outgoing, but would have struggled with 700 people in 8 hours in a customer service role. So I would rest easy on this one.

      1. CM*

        I was thinking the same thing! You clearly are capable of being outgoing. So I don’t think you misled anybody.

    7. Xarcady*

      LW #3, like you, I am an introvert. I think many introverts learn how to *act* in an outgoing manner. It’s helpful when you have a sort of script, as it seems you do in both the Disney job and the new one. I have no problems teaching–there’s a “script” for what I’m supposed to do and say, and the students have their own “scripts.” Public speaking isn’t that hard–I know how to act like a confident speaker. Working retail, I can repeat the same four or five insipid remarks to customers and no one will know. Plus the benefits of having a pretty detailed “script,” are they using the store charge card, do they want the store charge card, receipt in the bag or in their hand, there you go and have a nice day!

      But parties and other social situations where I don’t know many people and have no clearly defined role? Totally exhausting.

      People have been surprised to find out I’m introverted, because over the years I’ve studied how other people act in given situations and developed a way to blend in. It isn’t easy and it can be draining with a lot of new people.

      I suspect this is more common than most people realize.

      1. teclatrans*

        I was a bit older when I attended college, and I spent a year as a Residence Assistant. Very one of my colleagues was shocked (and some were rigidly disbelieving) when I identified as introverted and shy during our (interminable, innumereable) community-building games. It was just that I had spent a decade learning how to engage with people, do public speaking, be the first one to speak in a group that was was nervously waiting for someone to fall on that sword, so I presented professionally as outgoing. I suppose I could say I am now selectively outgoing (basically, any time I can play a recognizable role or be a helper).

  7. Thlayli*

    #5 it sounds like being the newest member of the team and working remotely is exactly why they selected you.

    The hr person was also being very rude.

    1. CM*

      Yes, rude, but I wouldn’t read much into it about the company. Some companies or hiring managers have weird hangups about certain things based on a bad experience they had with hiring in the past, or on what they do internally. Like, at this company if they regularly do “layoffs” that are actually firings, they might be suspicious. (Still rude, though.)

      1. Nolan*

        Some people are weird about layoffs. During my last job search, I interviewed with someone who also asked a lot of odd questions about it. My previous company had lost a national contract, so everyone who was employed under that contract (literally thousands of employees across the country) was laid off. But this one interviewer was really suspicious of that for some reason.

    2. Interviewer*

      It sounds like that HR person may be familiar with a RIF process where criteria for selection included people with performance issues or a bad “fit” – for the role, for the company, for the clients, etc. Perhaps she was awkwardly probing to see if you could identify yourself as one of those people. Sometimes those questions prompt people to spill their true feelings about bad bosses and hard feelings.

      In my industry, it would be very unusual for a director to be laid off, but it sounds like you have many directors in your company and it’s possible that interviewer didn’t fully understand the org structure.

      In the meantime, it sounds like you handled this type of probing very graciously, during what has to be a difficult time for you in your career. Good luck to you in your job search.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        Well put! I immediately thought “Hmm, I don’t think this person understands OP’s org and that’s why the questions were probing.” OP did a great job handling an awkward situation.

  8. nofelix*

    #5 – “Also, management had a certain amount of budget to cut, obviously, and it’s possible I made more money than they wanted me to.”

    Is this something that happens!? I’ve only ever had one minor sales job that had commission so I’m unfamiliar with how it works. Surely the point of sales bonuses is they cost less than the profit from the extra sales…

    1. Margo*

      You are correct, but that assumes that the people making the decision understand that!
      However, I wouldn’t include that as a reason if giving an explanation to someone else. I’d stick to ‘I exceeded my targets and earned a bonus, but I was one of the last to be recruited into the team, and I worked remotely so my manager didn’t know me personally as well as she did other members of the team’

      1. Letter Writer #5*

        Thanks guys – to clarify, I think my base salary was on the high side too, I got that sense earlier last year when they were doing the re-org and setting comp plans. I would never mention this factor in an interview, it’s just something I privately think. They were definitely looking to cut the most budget by picking the most senior/higher paid people. About 80% of those selected were over 40, no 20s at all, pretty much everyone’s title was Director or higher. So part of it I’m sure was financial, but the rest isn’t very clear to me.

        1. Observer*

          Hm. Keep your eyes open for a law suit. This smells of age discrimination.

          I’m not suggesting the you sue, or that a law suit would win. But, I’m betting that lots of people are talking to their lawyers.

          1. Letter Writer #5*

            I know it, and am in negotiations ;) There’s a lot wrong with the whole situation. You’re correct.

    2. DaniTLR*

      Having been a financial analyst for a particular software brand at a major international IT company, review of earned commissions by salesperson over a certain threshold was part of our quarterly internal earnings call with management.

      At one point I had to help my manager (the brand CFO) build the case to go to bat for one of our top sales guys who was deemed to be making too much in commissions. Long story short, he was working a new market and was totally acing it. Management wanted to bring our new brand into the fold of the established brands and begin paying out the portion of earned commissions over a certain threshold in installments, but we were panicked that we’d lose him if they made us do that effective immediately.

      (We won that battle, for anyone curious)

    3. Jam Today*

      Oh yes. At a previous company I worked at, there was a meeting with directors and above, with all of their reports’ salaries on a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was sorted by salary amount, a “cut line” was established, and everyone above the cut line was on the block.

    4. Natalie*

      That doesn’t mean the base salary is low. Quite a lot of commissioned sales people make a reasonable, even generous base salary, and only get commissions for sales over a certain amount.

      1. Construction Safety*

        Gah, remember when Circuit City laid off all their top sales people because they were making too much money?
        Remember Circuit City?

        1. Marillenbaum*

          It saddens me that this makes me old now. It’s like when my niece (ten years old) asked me why we say “hang up” a phone, because you’re just hitting a button.

      2. Whats In A Name*

        When I worked in publishing, we paid our sales people a GENEROUS base salary (more than many non-commissioned ops folks); sometimes 6 figures. Some of these people were bringing in some serious cash. But that was how we retained good sales people – for decades. The downside was that when the company had to reorg the mediocre performing, high base salary earners were some of the first to go. Oh the upside, the high performing, high base salary folks got to stay.

    5. Pwyll*

      This is certainly one factor in a cost reduction, sure. It’s not necessarily about the individual employee’s earnings, but usually bigger companies try to reduce inconsistencies in their compensation. If she was earning significantly more than others on her team, it might make sense to let her go in a restructuring in order to keep the sales team salaries/bonuses roughly within their intended guidelines.

      Sometimes this is good business sense, and sometimes it’s silly cost-cutting for the sake of cost-cutting. But it’s at least one relevant factor.

    6. Slacker*

      I’m pretty sure I got laid off from my last job because I was making too much money. They had a giant project that needed to be finished within 18 months, so they went on a hiring frenzy. I was able to negotiate a good salary for myself when I got hired. Then, when the project was finished, they laid off a third of the department. Even though I was the employee who could finish things the fastest (and at a high quality), I got cut. Afterwards, I learned that I was indeed making more money than some of the coworkers who got to stick around. So even though I brought a great deal of value to the company, I guess they figured they’d rather produce less work than pay my salary.

    7. The OG Anonsie*

      I don’t know about sales, but an organization my mom worked for decided to cut the highest paid person in each department role. In her specific case, that meant they were getting rid of the most experienced person, so the remaining staff couldn’t actually handle the increased workload and… They ended up re-hiring her for freelance hours while also paying her severance.

  9. The Wall of Creativity*

    #3 That interviewer must get so many answers back with a combination of experienced, results-driven, self-starting, successful, professional, delivery-focussed, ….. It’s a list of the dullest, most clichéd LinkedIn taglines. I’d be looking for people with something different to say. People that pick three words that make them stand out from the typical candidate. And, yes, I know the candidate doesn’t know what the other candidates are like. But if (say) you’re an accountant and up against other accountants, tell them something that makes you different to other accountants. Don’t give answers like quiet, professional, good with figures.

    This isn’t having a pop at #OP2. Or at accountants. It’s a general moan about groupthink and herding mentality.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      I would rather moan about bad interview questions. Ask a bad question and get bad responses. Pick three words to describe yourself is almost as bad as “what is your greatest weakness”. Whether someone says they’re “quiet, professional, good with figures” or some other mix of generically positive traits it doesn’t REALLY tell you anything about them and it’s not going to affect the hiring decision (unless they’re really off base with their adjectives). A better question would be something along the lines of “this job requires x skill/personality trait, can you tell me about a time you used x in your previous job.”

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Yeah, as soon as I read this question I recall straining with it the couple of times I’ve been asked. It’s kind of an interesting exercise on a personal development level, but of course at least half of the honest answers probably don’t work for employers because they’re irrelevant to the workplace (unless that’s the point, and how can you tell?) or, like the weakness question, too “negative.” The most honest words I’ve settled on for my own professional style are “analytical, professional, and congenial” and those are boring as dirt. “Nerdy, neurotic, and polite” are more honest, but clearly have their own issues.

      2. Recruit-o-rama*

        Sometimes I ask softball questions that don’t tell me a lot about the candidate because it’s the beginning of the interview and she seems very uncomfortable and I want to give her a chance to warm up and say some things about herself that makes her feel good about herself. Sometimes I ask because she just struggled and stumbled through with a more challenging question and I want to give her a second to collect herself and sort of reset. My goal is for the interview to be a very comfortable conversation where we get to know each other which can be hard to do when the candidate is very nervous. I know that asking someone to tell me how their co-workers would describe them doesn’t tell me much, but it does give her a mental break and an opportunity to say something nice about herself.

        1. CoffeeLover*

          You’ve interviewed far more people than I have, so I’m sure you’ve seen this techniques work for you. Honestly though, I would say I’m very good at interviews (I’m calm and personable and all that), but questions like these actually have a way of throwing me off. It’s easier to answer concrete questions, whereas these leave me panicking trying to come up with something that sounds good enough (and as the letter writer shows, leaves me questioning my answer after the fact) for a question that doesnt matter at all. They actually make me more nervous. Anyway it’s something to consider next time you employ this technique. I think a better way to calm someone down is to start talking about the organization you work for or using general small talk.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq*

            Yeah, I’m also going to push back on the idea that this is a soft-ball question. If you’re looking to warm up at the beginning of the interview, I’d go for small talk about the weather or other innocuous small talk. Or if it’s mid interview, maybe “what did you like about __” or something like that with no wrong answer. I’ve always found the describe yourself questions, even from the perspective of other people, to be tricky ones. For all I know, all my coworkers secretly hated me! Or, more likely, didn’t think about me much at all beyond “gets the job done.” I’d be curious to hear from people who do hiring if they think these actually work as softballs, because it could just be me (and CoffeeLover).

            1. Michele*

              I agree. To me that isn’t a softball question. It is one that people should anticipate, but not one that is necessarily easy. For “nice” questions to put people in a conversational mindset, I like to ask how they chose their field or have them tell me about someone who has been a positive influence on them.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Nope, I have to push back too and say it is not a softball question. And I think it’s because it just does not read as a mild, hey let’s chat and have small talk question – it is, instead, the kind of question people actually get at interviews when the interviews are given by people who are terrible at interviewing, where it is intended as a Big Important Question that will help the interviewer peer into the depths of our souls to determine whether we are a good fit.

          So, while Recruit-o-Rama is not using the question that way, that is going to be the way it has been used in the past, and so some of your interviewees are more than likely going to receive it that way.

          Then again, there isn’t much you can do to make interviews happy and stress-free for everyone. Interviews just aren’t stress-free. Chat and small talk is helpful, IMO. But if someone is visibly nervous, they’re going to continue to be nervous.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Younger me would have lost the interview with these soft ball questions. Three words to describe myself became a guessing game of which three words were the magic ones that would get me hired. In my experience what was true was less important than finding that answer the interviewer required. So this stuff set me on edge.

          Now I just say to myself, “okay. That’s ONE.”

          Not everyone relaxes with the types of questions. If you want a person to take a real break, ask them how their ride in was. Ask them if they have heard any recent weather forecasts. If there is construction going on, talk about that. But if you are asking a person anything about themselves then their on switch is ON and they are thinking 90 miles/hours trying to figure out how best to answer you. They are not relaxing, rather they are trying to figure out what you are looking for and how it relates to the job.

      3. Liane*

        I’ve never conducted a job interview–or been asked this question–but I don’t think it would be very valuable to either person. The limits of self-reporting, like that research on how people describe a trait in themselves vs. in someone they like vs. someone they don’t like.

        I am Quite Firm, my BFF Leia Pushes Back Hard, and Joffrey Is Rude.

    2. Basia, also a Fed*

      Once when I was on an interview panel, I had to ask someone what one word others would use to describe them. Terrible question, I know, but the federal government requires approved lists of questions and I had to stay on script. One guy said “abrasive.” Er, excuse Me?

      Spoiler alert: we didn’t hire him.

      1. Cookie*

        I’m terrible at this sort of thing because I’m pretty literal. So both in interviews and on dating sites, I use my three words to describe me as “living, human, female.” I do pretty well on dating sites, but I don’t know if interviewers would like it. Those do happen to be the terms that would best describe me, though, so I don’t know where else to turn.

    3. CMart*

      It’s so funny, I had a semi-nightmare interview for an accounting position where the Three Word Description was what tripped all the alarm bells.

      I don’t remember what the other two words I chose were, but “calm” was the third. My interviewer (VP of corporate accounting) pounced on that and with a wild, desperate look in her eyes asked me to elaborate on what I meant by “calm”. I responded about how I’m cool under pressure, deadlines don’t stress me out, no one has ever seen me professionally flustered, etc… The VP then laughed, said something like “haha! We need that here! You’d really benefit from being calm because of how insane it is here right now! Haha! Just kidding! But really, you’re *calm* for real? Just kidding. Haha.”

      I noped out of that interview about as fast as they would let me and politely declined the verbal offer they gave me by phone a couple hours later citing that I didn’t think it would be a good fit.

  10. Ayla*

    I hope this doesn’t come off as too off-topic.
    I have been obsessively reading through loads of your blog posts all night, and I just wanted to thank you. I’m a soon-to-be 27-year-old Swedish woman, and I have ADHD, ASD, and huge issues with procrastination, perfectionism, self-blame, self-sabotage, feeling hopelessly incompetent, juvenile and inferior compared to my peers, skin picking disorder & trichotillomania, defensive behaviour, feelings of despair and worthlessness, and I’ve been combating a deep-rooted conditioned “I give up”-response to setbacks, and I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety-based work aversion/fear of looking for a job.
    It feels like my brain is working against me.
    I finally managed to break the procrastination of job hunting last week, and have been trying to pat myself on the back and acknowledge that this IS a step forward and a personal accomplishment, even though it mostly feels like a case of “hooray! You’re mediocre!”.

    Yesterday, a recruiter had called me when I wasn’t able to interact with my phone, and left a voice message simply asking me to call her back on a specific telephone number. When I called, I was subjected to an impromptu phone interview while I was at work, EVEN THOUGH pretty much the first thing out of my mouth—after introducing myself and why I am calling—was to mention that I am, in fact, currently at work (thus I’m blatantly on a temporary break and am short on time), which completely took me aback and flustered me, made me feel pretty stressed and like a failure, and so incredibly ashamed.
    I was so utterly dumbstruck, and overwhelmed by the wish to make a good impression as I kept being asked questions and was thrown into an unplanned “interview mode” that I never consented to (which led to me feeling totally convinced that I’m coming off as a rambling mess), that it didn’t even occur to me tihat I could nterrupt her myself to request that we reschedule for a phone interview (despite the fact that I had called under the assumption that we would agree on a date and a time for one!).
    I felt thrown under the bus.
    And as luck would have it, things went even further downhill when one of my bosses “found me in the act” and pretty much just stood in front of me, looking at me, listening in on the conversation, and patiently waited for me to finish, and I was acutely aware of that he, of course, had no idea that I had actually been given the OK to make this call by another one of my supervisors; though it just sounded like an excuse when I explained that to him after hanging up!
    It was SO embarrassing; I was literally shaking because I was so worked up.
    When I came home, I started googling to read other people’s stories in order to make sense of what happened during the afternoon, and to find solace, because I felt humiliated, frustrated and miserable.
    Until I found your blog!
    Now I feel confident, strong, deserving of respect, encouraged, understood, less dysfunctional, and quite irritated with the incompetent recruiter. And I realize my involuntary interview actually went really well considering!
    Thank you, thank you so much. You have no idea. I feel like a whole new person. I can do this. Thank you.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, you can do it. Keep on reading here. You’re not alone anymore and you never will be alone again.

    2. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived*

      Welcome to the blog! It was unfortunate timing what happened, but you did nothing wrong.

  11. Anon Anon*

    #5 – I think some interviewers ask because they are concerned that the layoffs were just the opening that the company wanted or needed to get rid of a person. I know my boss believes that the weak links are let go of first, without taking into consideration that there could be other factors, unless the entire department is let go.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      In my experience, the weak links *are* the first to be let go. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other reasons as things go along, and when you’re talking about a restructure as the OP is, that is a strange assumption to make.

      1. Allison*

        I once had a colleague say, as we were scouting a company that’d had layoffs, that if someone had actually been laid off they were a weak link and we didn’t want them. She only wanted me to target the people who were still there, but possibly nervous about being laid off next.

        I didn’t like that colleague.

      2. Dan*

        Same. My last job had had some serious downsizing, having gone from about 150 to 75 over the last three and a half years. That first round of layoffs? Oh yeah, those were the weak ones. But there becomes a point where getting layoff is almost to be expected, and says nothing about the quality of the persons work.

      3. JanetM*

        My major experience with a layoff, somewhere between a third and half the division were let go, and the sole criterion was “time in most recent job title.” So people who had 20+ years but had received a position review and promotion in the past six months were laid off in preference to people who had less than a year’s employment.

        The other layoffs I’ve seen have been the “company lost the government contract in the re-bid” or “the project is complete” types.

      4. Anxa*

        I’ve been laid off as a weak link. It’s really hard for me to accept that it was a lay off and not a performance issue, because if my performance was better, I wouldn’t have been laid off. I know this because it was good enough to get through a few rounds of lay offs, but not the last one.

        I was really good with being focused on work, following policies, being friendly, correcting mistakes quickly, being transparent, being dependable and other things. But I wasn’t polished enough or good enough with sales.

        1. Dan*

          When you make it that far, “weak link” isn’t really an appropriate description, and you *aren’t* getting laid off for purely performance reasons. Sometimes, it’s not always about being the best, but the most cost effective.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          I think the point some of us are trying to make is that “weak link” is definitely a criteria, but it’s not the only one, and the more rounds there are, the less of a reason it really is.

          In general, it’s a pretty useless question to ask in an interview, because assuming the person even knows why they were laid off, they aren’t likely to admit it was because they were a poor employee.

      5. MassMatt*

        In my experience, layoffs can can get rid of weak links OR can target people of great ability that happen to be either highly paid (perhaps with good reason?) or in a targeted department. Or it can be quite random–managers lay off people they like less, while keeping dead wood they happen to like. One thing for sure, when layoffs are in the air, some of the best people are going to move on because they have good prospects and more mediocre people will remain behind waiting for what’s in store.

    2. Recruit-o-rama*

      I think it’s naieve to think that layoff decisions are made in a vacuum. Very often the weak links are let go first. The behind the scenes of layoff decisions can be a political hot mess with lots of rallying and campaigning and favorite picking and the lower performers are the easier decisions to make. A layoff is *a* data point a hiring manager should consider, but it shouldn’t be a make or break a decision on its own.

      1. Anon Anon*

        I don’t disagree, but my boss has never been laid off, but has lived through layoffs where they were not privy to those discussions but saw the weak links got rid of. And I’m sure that opinion is held by others, even though it may be unfair.

      2. Whats In A Name*

        I agree here. Prior to lay off I was specifically told that I was probably the most secure because my performance/knowledge across multiple topics/deep involvement in some policy reform and training were unique & the company couldn’t afford to lose in a downsizing. Yea. Guess who was actually the 1st to in our department to go ~ based on location and salary. Same company that kept the high base salary/high sales folks becuase sales drove the company bottom line.

        Lay offs can get complicated and aren’t always as black and white as low performer = first to go.

      3. Letter Writer #5*

        I mean, clearly a determination was made that I was a less critical team member to keep around. I can think of reasons why that might be, but it would be purely speculation because I just don’t know. At the end of the day, I lost all the security I had (whereby I’d survived the acquisition and prior rounds of workforce reduction, and been given a retention bonus for sticking around, then a promotion) when the role changed to sales only. In the past decade I’ve seen countless salespeople get let go, and hadn’t chosen to go that route myself because of the risk involved. Once I found myself in that sales role, I thought if I did whatever it took to hit my goal, I’d be ok, but nope. Going forward, I’m looking for a role that has a sales component but where the focus is on delivery and account management.

        I’m still not sure what the recruiter was trying to get at, maybe to see if I’d disparage my manager or reveal something negative about myself.

    3. Unlucky Bear*

      Yep. I got laid off from my newspaper job in 2011. The editor fully admitted that he would never have picked me for the cut, that my leaving would really screw them schedule-wise, and that I had done a great job over the years, but the order had come down from on high that they needed to cut someone and my beat (courthouse) would be the easiest to freelance out. Occasionally I would get asked about it in interviews and I would just repeat what my editor said, plus the state of print journalism at the time. I don’t think anyone held it against me.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Because law is so easy to understand anyone can pick it up on the fly?

        I think you just explained to me what happened at a local paper, not absolutely sure, of course, but it’s resonating.

    4. Observer*

      Yeah, the weak link is frequently the first to go – but how do you define “the weak link”? The worst performer? The most disagreeable person? The person who gets paid “too much”? The guy who is “too old”?

      The latter ones are at least as common as the former.

  12. MuseumChick*

    #2, I’ve posted this article before about firing volunteers because it’s extremely spot on:

    It’s past giving her more chances. Call her in and have a frank, straightforward discussion with her, “It been X weeks since I first ask that the volunteers be contacted again and it hasn’t happened. You’ve worked really hard on this but at this point, we need someone who will get this moving forward.”

  13. Employment Lawyer*

    1. My coworker is lying about attending meetings
    As AAM says, upgrade to manager. It’s important to get your opinion in first: you need to consider that coworker may otherwise lie to protect herself.

    However, there are a few ways to go about it. AAM’s is direct: “…I don’t think Jane is going.” Depending on you, your culture, and your manager, you might also try indirect: something akin to “Jane says she’s attending; Mike says nobody is attending. I am a bit trapped in the middle here, and finding a solution requires consistent answers. Could you help me resolve this?” That leads the manager towards the conclusion that Jane is lying, without saying it openly–odd, but a good move in some jobs.

    5. Interviewer asked why I was picked to be laid off
    I agree with AAM again, but I would be certain to mention that you exceeded quota and that you got a bonus.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I would even suggest phrasing it in a way that sounds less like tattling and more like taking on responsibility, since they said they were willing to attend the meetings. I would think something like “Mike said no one from our department has been attending. I think with the changes in the department Jane has been too busy to attend like she used to–I’ve got some questions I haven’t been able to get answered so I was wondering if I should start attending them myself.”

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I don’t know: “I think with the changes in the department Jane has been too busy to attend like she used to” is editorializing without basis. All you know is what Mike and Jane have said directly. I wouldn’t be concerned about sounding like you’re “tattling” and more concerned with only passing along accurate information.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      I like this way “Jane says she’s attending; Mike says nobody is attending. I am a bit trapped in the middle here, and finding a solution requires consistent answers. Could you help me resolve this?”

      I was coming to suggest something similar. Approach as more, “hey, I’m getting conflicting info and am not sure how to handle” instead of tattling.

      Here’s why: I have been Jane and not been lying. Someone said I wasn’t going to meetings that I had actually been going to. It turned into a big he said/she said because they went to my manager because they heard (not saw) that I wasn’t actually attending these meetings; turns out they had gotten confused and mistaken me for someone else. I got in trouble, seemed guilty because I was trying so hard to prove I was there….it got resolved but for a few days it was I was on the end of chaos that started because someone went to my manager with second-hand information.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        ^Clarification: the meeting organizer had me confused with someone else, not co-worker.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, I agree with sticking to more “he said/she said” phrasing because on the off chance Jane actually *is* attending the meetings and there’s just been some kind of communication error, you don’t really want to hang her out to dry and then end up looking like an ass for being wrong.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        This. I have seen this one happen a few times. The meeting leader is totally convinced that person is Sue, nooo, that is Jane. Sue is the person who is missing. Someone ends up in a heap of trouble for no reason except mistaken identity.

  14. Jessesgirl72*

    OP1: You say you (and Marketing) are waiting or are waffling about going to your manager because work isn’t being impacted. But work *is* being impacted. Time was wasted in your meeting trying to get information out of Tangerina that she couldn’t give you because she’s lying about the meetings, and then you had to take more time to go directly to marketing to get the answers you needed- that Tangerina was supposed to be able to supply.

    Just lay out to your manager that you were getting vague answers from Tangerina so you had to go directly to marketing for them, and in the course of the conversation, they mentioned that no one from the department has attended their meetings in 6 months. Just basic bland facts.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Yes! That is what I saw in letter #1. You found out because you went searching for information that you needed and were not getting. It is impacting your work even if it’s not up to day-to-day levels yet. You need to tell your boss. It’s not impacting marketing yet, but it is impacting you so you need to relay the information to your boss so the problem can be resolved.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        It hasn’t reached hit the fan level yet, but most organizations would rather know about problems while they can still prevent that level from happening.

  15. Newbie 101*

    OP #5 – Congratulations on what, in my opinion, was a brilliant answer under pressure! I think it’s underappreciated what a good response you pulled together – here’s hoping you won’t have to use it again. Wishing you good luck and that you’ll soon find a position where you can make use of all your skills.

  16. Workfromhome*

    #5- It might be just a personal preference for me but I do not like the idea of giving a guess as to why you were laid off. I’d prefer to say :
    “As far as I know none of the people who were laid off were given any reasoning behind why they were laid off. We were all given a letter and then asked to pack our things (or whatever the process was). I can say that I was one of the top performer, exceeded my quota etc etc in the year I was there”

    I realize there may be logical explanations that come to mind (I was a newer higher or ones that we like to think are to to make ourselves feel better “I made too much commission” . Unless we know these to be facts “I know for a fact that 75% of the layoffs in my department were people with 2 or less years tenure” then its best not to guess because it could be untrue. If you guess wrong and and someone asks around it might look like you are making things up to cover something deeper (even though its not the case>

    Stick to the facts. If you don’t know you don’t know. Seems to me its very common for people not to know the true reason they were selected.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      This is really good advice. I hadn’t thought of this angle but it’s honest and 100% true.

  17. Karyn*


    I was recently laid off (in February) as part of downsizing in the firm. They had lost several partners (and thus, clients) within the previous two years, and when one of the two partners I was supporting announced he was leaving, that was the day I put my resume out. I got a job through a temp agency, but am now interviewing for permanent positions (since I am taking the bar in July). When they ask why I was laid off, my answer is generally “the firm had to downsize for business reasons, and I was one of the five people chosen because one of my two immediate supervisors decided to leave the firm. I’m also taking the bar exam in July, so it was probably an easy choice for them to make, given my diverging career path.”

    I also offer references from the firm, as it was an amicable split – which shows them that it had nothing to do with my performance, it was just a choice they made. If you can do that, it might make things a little easier.

    But yeah, they suck for continuing to ask.

  18. Dan*

    Op #5

    AAM is right. There are reasons to ask, but pushing just becomes very rude. I had that experience with a manager who was just an all around dick, and pretty much self selected out on the spot. The guy was pretty shocked. I pretty much told him that I’m good at what I do, and have my choice of offers, so why should I come and work with him? It didn’t help matters that I would have to relocate, and in my industry, that’s pretty much the only employer in town, so if things went South, I’d have to move again. I didn’t want to take that chance with him.

  19. OP#2 Update*

    OP#2 here. Thanks, Alison, for answering my question! And thanks to all the commenters. I approached the volunteer one last time, because if I were in her shoes, I’d want to know where I stood before being let go. I told her kindly but firmly that if the emails didn’t go out today, we’d need to cancel the meeting and I would approach the project differently. I also asked her point-blank if she could commit to getting the project back on track in time for the kickoff. I think she got the message because the emails went out and we’re on schedule to have our meeting next week.

    Though I’ve been the president of this society for 2 years, I find managing to be very difficult, and I rely so much on my volunteers, that I become a bit of a pushover. Working on it though!

    1. Miss Nomer*

      Thanks for the update! I’m glad she got it together. Hopefully it will be smooth sailing from here.

  20. Ann O'Nemity*

    #1 I would talk to Tangerina directly. There’s no way I would approach Jane the manager without at least trying to have a more direct conversation with Tangerina. No matter how awkward that conversation is, it’s going to be worse if you approach Jane first. You’re directors, figure this out.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      Also yes!
      Go to Tangerina first and flat out say – “marketing director says you are not going to meetings, you say you are. What’s the story, I feel caught in the middle.” Don’t tattle without the full story, which is what this feels like to me.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I wouldn’t care if Tangerina herself wasn’t going to the meetings. The issue is easy access to the information the team needs. So I’d even suggest Tangerina secure a backup or even delegate the whole responsibility. I don’t think this needs to be an adversarial conversation, more like “what solution can we come up with to solve this issue.” I’ve feel pretty silly approaching my manager without trying to solve it on my own first.

  21. Pwyll*

    #1 – I think I’ve finally reached big-company-jaded, but are you absolutely certain the other director is not attending some kind of marketing meeting, and just not the one you’re thinking of? I can’t tell you how many meetings I attend with similar names, and the amount of confusion we have sometimes where people were on the “Comms” call, but call it the “Marketing” call, but they didn’t realize they were supposed to be on the “Marketing” call that is entirely separate.

    1. Arjay*

      I was thinking something along these lines too. I’m on conference calls where there are 40 or 50 attendees, and if they don’t happen to catch my name announcement or take roll and I don’t have anything to contribute, they might not realize I was there. Or they might know Arjay attended, but not know which unit I represent. Our teapots department is broken up into a lot of sub-units with very little crossover, so if I’m representing Teapot Operations, they might think I’m actually Teapot Manufacturing or Teapot Glazing because they don’t realize how many units are in the teapots department. The possibility of confusion seems at least as strong to me as the possibility of lying.

      1. Pwyll*

        Agreed. I think the bigger issue here isn’t the meeting attendance, it’s not receiving the marketing information that would benefit the OP’s departmental performance.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      Yes, I commented above something similar happening to me. And sometimes in large companies sometimes people get names/faces confused or departments confused, etc. I feel like there can be several dynamics in play.

    3. Gadfly*

      If nothing else, presenting it to OP’s manager as “I’m confused. Jane says no one was there, Tangerina says she attends but doesn’t have the info I need, I don’t know if it is a miscommunication or what is going on, but what should I be doing to get the info I need?” softens it a lot from “Tangerina is lying about going to the meeting”

  22. Green Goose*

    OP#2 – I had a similar problem recently with an intern where I was getting vague answers when I checked in about time sensitive projects, and then the work was not getting done. I asked advice from a more seasoned managerial coworker and she told me to have more progress check-ins with employees that might need extra managing.
    I explained at the start of the work day what I expected to be done before the person left and then did a repeat back, where I asked him to run through his priorities of the day (not in a patronizing way). It helped a lot. I also explained that he would need to check in with me if he felt that he was unable to meet a deadline so we could figure out together how to get the work done.
    I think the next time your volunteer comes in be very direct about exactly what she needs to do and in what time frame:
    “Hi Jane, I need you to call the people on X list by 3pm today. Please keep a list of each person you were able to speak with vs. who did not pick up and give me the report before you leave.”

  23. Jaguar*

    For #1, consider not mentioning who ratted her out if you’re going to confront her with the lie.

  24. Not So NewReader*

    For OP #1. How about sign in sheets? One company I worked for, you signed into almost everything. If you were meeting with two other people, you signed in. We never had any problems with people missing meetings or being accused of missing meetings. The top of the sign in sheet should show the date and the purpose of the meeting. Since the nature of the meeting was at the top, people could check to make sure they were in the right space at the right time. Yes, I have seen people read the sign in sheet then get up and leave.

    I have to agree with others, that you really don’t have solid proof she is not attending those meetings. It could be that the leader does not know her and thinks she is someone else. She could be going to the wrong meeting. She could be walking in late and the leader does not notice. Perhaps she assigned someone else to go.

    Her weak answers to you may stem from her blowing you off more or less. She does not realize she actually needs to answer you. Can you let her know before the meeting what questions you will need answered?

    I understand her lack of support is wearing on you and that makes sense. But not all problems are difficult. Sometimes stupid stuff happens. In trouble shooting a problem, my go-to is check the basics first. Machine won’t run–is the machine plugged in? Printer won’t work- does it have paper? Asking the basic questions first might save you a lot of hassle when a simpler answer becomes apparent.

  25. Yellow*

    Is there a chance that the Director mentioned in the first letter is actually calling in to the meetings? I know callers are usually announced but maybe someone is missing that – just playing devil’s advocate before someone is confronted, because in my office, there’s usually more than one way to “participate” in a meeting.

  26. Name (Required)*

    Hi OP 5 and sorry for late response.

    I once worked for a firm of consultants who were tasked with identifying who (in a large multinational) would be laid off. (In my defense, I was a single mother who had to pay the rent and it was the only job I could get at the time)

    We started by identifying people who could not be laid off for strategic and money reasons (It’s always about the money) eg. the company had an R & D initiative that was looking to be a big money winner in the market so they were exempt. Next it went down to overpaid employees (mostly these were people who had worked at the company for a long time – I’m talking 20 years plus) who could be replaced by equally or better qualified people at half the price. Sorry lovely people but these are seen as ‘low hanging fruit’ by these kind of consultants. We had been given a $ target to meet + what strategic stuff we couldn’t interfere with. We started actually trying to do the ‘get rid of dead wood first’ thing but the client told us time was more important than fairness. They were looking only at the bottom line as they had been chipped publically by share market analysts and the share price (and their bonuses which were linked to the same) had tanked.

    When we were initially taken on, it was supposed to be a process ranging about 6 months to effectively identify who needed to go. 3 months in we were told it had to be wrapped up within a month and we would get a bonus (almost 2 x the contract price) if we did that. If we didn’t, they would terminate the contract.

    We resorted to putting all the non exempt employee numbers into a random computer generated programme and if your number came up, you were laid off. It was the closest to fair we could get and had absolutely no relevance to any employee’s performance. Appallingly, the only pushback we got was because one of the numbers that came up was the sister of an important manager so she didn’t end up going.

    I learned an awful lot at this job. (And fittingly, I got laid off myself when the contract ended early :) ) First, If you are laid off it’s probably not about you. 2. Businesses are in the business of making money and if you are in the way, you will be roadkill no matter how well you do your job if the organisation decides to go that way (and sometimes it’s as simple as the bank won’t renew a business loan if the company doesn’t shed 25% of staff for an eg.)

    Sorry TLDR version. Great answer at your interview. If it happens again, just tell them about your successes and tell them you don’t know and they would have to talk to the Consultants etc as you were not privy to their criteria. I would also have to say that any HR person who asked that question would be very inexperienced. The industry I work in is very cyclical and market sensitive and layoffs are normal and everyone knows how the game is played. I got laid off last job and when I went for a job interview the HR person went ‘Oh I heard your org got decimated, you poor thing.’ At the interview they actually mentioned how calm I was compared to some of my peers who had also been laid off and were upset about it. Although I hated that job where we had to choose other people, at least I learned early on that this stuff is mostly not personal.

    Don’t let this HR person make you think it is.

  27. Name (Required)*

    OP 1

    If you came to me in your capacity as a manager and were complaining about a fellow manager / director for not attending meetings I would be more worried about your performance than theirs. This is the kind of complaint I would expect from admin assistant level not Senior manager / Director level. It’s the kind of complaint I would explain how to deal with if you were a newly appointed team leader with no managerial experience.

    May I respectfully suggest that if you choose to follow this up, you go to the meeting armed with at least 3 potential solutions and frame it in a way that suggests you have identified a potential problem and here are your proposed solutions for fixing that. Even if higher up manager doesn’t agree, the fact you came armed with possible solutions will stand you in much better stead than if you showed up with a problem and hadn’t bothered to try and find a fix. At your level you are expected to find a fix and even if you don’t get it right, showing up with no idea how to fix the problem is going to look worse than if you proposed fixes that may not work.

    I’m also curious how come you are running this past your fellow director (the one who is lying) If you are at the same level then there is absolutely no reason you have to ask her permission to attend a meeting with a third party (the marketing people). All you have to do is ask the marketing people to add you to the invite list and if they refuse, you can then go to your boss saying I tried this to fix the situation, it’s impacting negatively on our department, we are still getting screwed and I need your support on this issue.

    Sorry if the above comes across as nasty, not my intent at all – I got screwed myself earlier in my career by a same level colleague who tried to cut me out of information I needed to do my job so I’m probably a bit more sensitive than I should be :)

    Best of luck. Also, please please don’t forget that showing up with potential solutions as well as the problem will get you so much further up the ladder than just showing up with a problem (from one who screwed it up herself the first time she ran across this problem)

  28. Amy*

    I am so glad you posted this. I am reading AAM and trying to learn to parse out these things because I don’t understand the behavior of the managers where I work. When do they work things out between managers or go to the manager above? And if it is to a level above is it with a question, with a solution, etc? I think I see all of the above in AAM solutions and cannot get the pattern.

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