how to reject a really bad internal applicant

A reader writes:

I am in a fantastic position: I got promoted in May and get to build my own team from within the department. I’ve had interim team members up to this point, but people have now applied for two permanent positions. I have three applicants for these positions.

Here’s the problem: our job is fairly customer-facing, and requires mostly independent work. Two of the applicants, Chachi and Joanie, would be a great fit for the work we do. But I also know that Chachi is probably getting picked up by a specialized team that does work that he loves, and, if given the choice, he’ll definitely go that way. I don’t blame him and wish him well.

The last applicant, Marion, is a train wreck. She is barely competent in the fundamentals of our job and our work is fairly advanced. Our team is on call and does 15-25 hours of overtime on an average month, more in the busy season. She has done exactly 5.25 hours of overtime in the last two years, and feels that is excessive. She is passive aggressive, moody, and terrible at the part of the job we do. The drama she brings to work every day is exhausting and she’s been the subject of two different police investigations (one for threating a neighbor and one for elder abuse). I will leave an empty spot on my team before I hire her, because when she DOES do something, her inability to follow directions or adhere to procedures makes more work for her supervisors. Unfortunately, her coworkers love her. She’s been around for almost a decade with no promotions, and they feel like she really deserves this. She’s already spreading rumors that she isn’t going to be hired because I don’t like her, and I’m going to pick my favorite people, which puts my integrity in question (in a job where integrity is everything).

I’ll be responsible for rejecting her. I’ll run into her frequently and really would rather not crush her. How do I kindly reject her? Do I point out all the skills she is lacking? How do I deal with the fallout from her peers?

How have you been managing her so far? Have you talked to her about the issues with her work and attitude? If so, this will be relatively easy — you’ll frame it as “we’ve talked about the serious concerns I have with your work, and I need to see those resolved before I can consider you for a permanent position on our team.”

If you haven’t … well, now’s the time. You’ve only been in your job a couple of months, so that’s helpful; if you’d been letting this go on for a year without saying anything, you’d be in a much worse position. You can frame it as, “Now that we’ve had a chance to work together for a few months, I want to talk to you about how I’d like you to approach your work differently. If you’re able to make these changes, you could certainly be a candidate for promotion in the future, but for now I want to focus on the changes I need to see.”

If that won’t make sense because after this she’ll be out of her interim position with you and back into her previous position reporting to someone else (which I think might be the case?), then I’d just be direct about what the issues have been: “This work requires regular overtime and you’ve made it clear you don’t want to do that. You’ve struggled with some of the key skills we need for this role, like X and Y, and you’ve had trouble following directions and procedures. So I don’t think this role is the right match, unfortunately.”

If your sense is that will further inflame things, then the alternative is to focus on why you’re hiring the other person — what that person’s strengths are that make he the top candidate for the role. But while that might make your life easier, you’ll be doing a disservice to Marion by doing that — as have her previous managers who apparently haven’t dealt with her issues for nearly 10 years. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go that route, but be aware of that part of it. (That said, Marion is inviting that kind of disservice by being so difficult to work with. Her past managers have still been negligent by not addressing it, but human nature being what it is, it’s not terribly surprising that people avoid tough conversations with her.)

As for what she might tell other people, you can’t really control that, although you can talk in detail about why you chose the person who you chose. Beyond that, though, if you’re fair and transparent in your dealings with people, people will see that — and even if they like her, it’s going to be hard to square what she’s saying with what they’re seeing of you firsthand.

Updated to add: Commenters have pointed out that Marion may not be one of your interim team members! I read the letter as saying that she is, but if she’s not, that changes things. In that case, you’ll still need to be straightforward with her, but I’d say it more like this: “I really appreciate your interest in being on this team. Unfortunately, I don’t think this role is the right fit. It will require regular overtime and I know that’s something you haven’t wanted to do. It also requires strengths in X and Y, and I haven’t seen the skill level in those areas that we need for this work. If those things change in the future and we have another opening, I’d be glad to talk more with you again.” (You should also actively work to generate additional applicants for that second position so that you’re not leaving it empty!)

{ 94 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous 1*

    Maybe I read the OP’s letter wrong, but it sounds like the OP isn’t Marion’s current manager and that the OP is only familiar with her work because they both work within the same department.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I agree. I don’t think Marion is an interim team member, but she is in a different department so would be an internal hire so I don’t think the first dialogue works.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I had this same impression. Marion *might* be one of the interim team members, but it didn’t sound like it – it sounded to me like she was an applicant from the department, but not the interim team.

      Alison, does that change your advice in any way? If Marion’s not part of the team now, would a discussion with her current boss also be relevant to this in any way?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Huh. Maybe that’s right! I read this part as meaning Marion was one of the interim team members: “is barely competent in the fundamentals of our job and our work is fairly advanced.”

        But if she’s not part of the team currently, then yes, it changes things! Then it’s really about the last two paragraphs of my answer — be really clear about why you’re hiring the person you do hire.

        1. LizB*

          I read that as Marion is barely competent in the basic stuff the whole organization does, and the OP’s team does a smaller, more advanced subset of that work.

        2. Flossie Bobbsey*

          I’m not sure that would work since OP would rather fill only 1 vacant position than fill the 2nd position with Marion. If she does offer both Joanie and Chachi the 2 open jobs and talks up their qualifications to Marion, but then Chachi turns it down for the other possible opening, then OP hasn’t left an “out” to still reject Marion and leave the position vacant.

            1. OP here*

              She’s not currently one of the people I manage. My interim gal is Joanie, and is a delight to manage! I just learned today that Marion’s going to be placed on a PIP for current work performance, but probably not until next week. I’ll still have to reject her, but it’s helpful to know that the new upper admin sees the issues as well.

              1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

                I’m being completely nosy here, but does her PIP help you dodge a bullet? She can’t apply for jobs in the same division if she’s on PIP, right? Maybe you’ll be able to avoid the conversation if this is a rule or best practice.

              2. Malibu Stacey*

                Is there a policy at your org that people on PIPs can’t transfer or put in for promotions? I think that’s a good idea as a best practice.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  My org has a policy that in order to be eligible for an internal position, either promotion or lateral move, you have to have no current PIP or MOU, and must have had a clean record for the prior six months. Basically, we need to see that not only did you successfully complete your PIP, but you’ve maintained that improvement for at least six months before we’re willing to allow movement into a new role.

              3. Snark*

                Ok, then what you do, is you kick the can until next week, and then reject her then, with the PIP as justification, and “your willingness to do overtime and performance at X, Y, Z” as backups.

    3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      That is how I read it as well. She hasn’t addssed Marion’s performance issues, becae she can’t. She ist her manager. She would be she got this interal promotion. But currently OP is just aware of Marion’s work and work etc, not actively supervising her

    4. Flossie Bobbsey*

      This was my take as well. There’s nothing in the letter that says the interim team members are the same ones who applied for the permanent position. And it seems clear that OP’s history working with Marion dates back to before OP’s promotion.

  2. Antilles*

    Let’s pick out some choice quotes here:
    Barely competent at her job … Feels that five hours of overtime in two years is excessive … Passive-aggressive, moody and terrible … subject of multiple police investigations … giving her work actually makes things take longer … inability to follow procedures … questioning other people’s integrity
    Forget hiring for a new position, the real question here is why the heck this woman is still employed period.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      Probably similar to how my coworker has stayed employed: a manager who manages over her shoulder, a complex firing process that starts with a PIP and lots of documentation on the manager’s side, and finally apathy by management to fast-track or skip any of the process.

      1. Fenchurch*

        It’s amazing how prevalent this is. We have an employee in my area who is particularly not great. She’s rude, has regular blowups at coworkers as well as our clients, has noticeably lower numbers in our processing work, and comes up with any excuse not to work. She broke her leg and decided to spend 2 months recovering at her father’s house that does not have internet. Meaning she chose not to work for 2 months (despite fighting for and getting work from home capability at her own home).

        Why is it so hard to fire people?

        1. Mike B.*

          Sometimes there’s god so quickly. My department made two bad hires for my group this year (the final decision wasn’t mine, but I didn’t give a thumbs down in either case so I’m partially to blame), and we were allowed to fire both within weeks when it became clear that they’d never perform at the level they were hired for. (One of them first took a voluntary demotion of two ranks from senior to junior, then demonstrated that he couldn’t even do entry-level work–people have succeeded in this position fresh out of school.) It was a relief given that we for some reason don’t have a probationary period here.

          On the other hand, we had a slightly higher-ranking person whose middling work deteriorated over a few years to the point of being atrocious. But she’d established a long enough tenure that it took FOREVER to get rid of her.

          It’s frustrating from this perspective, but I wouldn’t change it given that the skittishness of large employers is one of the few things that works to the advantage of employees in the US.

        1. Jadelyn*

          It’s easy to like someone incompetent when you don’t have to clean up their messes yourself, and if her bad interpersonal behavior is focused at external contacts or higher-ups.

          1. Anonymouse*

            It happens.

            Can be fantastic to coworkers but an ass with the boss and the coworkers never see that side.

            This is more common in solo work like data entry or call centres where what you do doesn’t directly impact your team members ability to do their job.

            Because if it did you can bet your ass Marion would not be well liked at all.

      2. FormerHoosier*

        I had that exact thought. I also read that the letter writer is not Marion’s supervisor so she may not be able to do anything about it but I do wonder why she is still working. Co workers loving you isn’t enough.

      3. Coldbrewinacup*

        Sounds like my former employer. I worked with a bully for several years. This person was a menace– threatened physical violence, threw things at people in the office on multiple occasions, took 3 hour lunch breaks to go to the mall, and our boss knew all of this… yet did nothing. I went to HR when she threatened me and she was still employed when I finally quit a year later.

        I will never understand why employers would rather lose their good employees over doing the little bit of extra work it takes to fire someone.

    2. Cringing 24/7*

      It’s odd to me that, “in a job where integrity is everything,” she’s been investigated for threatening a neighbor and elder abuse (on top of being unbearable in many other ways), yet she’s beloved by her coworkers. It makes me wonder if OP is working in a really subtly (or overtly) dysfunctional work environment to which they’ve become accustomed.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. I also hunk it’s a little ridiculous that the complaint is that OP will hire people they like. Of course they will! What’s the alternative? Hiring someone unqualified whose judgment they do not trust to prove it’s “not personal”? Ability to take direction, to be a self-starter, and to step up are all measurable job responsibilities. I don’t think OP should let Marion capture the narrative. Although OP can’t stop people from talking, I think they should break out “liking someone” into the specific job-related traits that are necessary to be competent, let alone to excel.

        1. FormerHoosier*

          I agree. While we should all work to avoid hiring people just like us, supervisors do get the right to hire people they like who they also think will do a great job.

          I once fired someone because she wasn’t competent at her job but also because she was a really, really bad fit in our department. She started going around saying she was fired because she wouldn’t chit chat around the water cooler. At first it made me mad and then I realized she was right. She didn’t make any effort to get along with others and she refused to be cross trained even though I had explained it was an essential part of the job. If she considered that not talking around the water cooler then there was clearly a greater mis match than I thought.

        2. Artemesia*

          This. The OP needs to focus on the skills and characteristics needed for the job, make this very clear to people. Perhaps announce those skill and invite people to suggest people outside the company who might apply. It is also critical that the OP be interviewing more than these three people; she needs to be recruiting outside as well so that there is no risk of leaving a position open. It is easier to talk about why you hired than why you avoided the trainwreck. If management will not allow you to go outside then you will have to bite the bullet on only hiring for competence (otherwise known as fit.)

          1. Annonymouse*

            Yeah… it’s a little weird OP isn’t allowed to/hasn’t opened the role up to external parties.

            Surely there must be someone else internally with skills that match what you need/has shown potential in a junior role you could approach if you can’t go external.

            Also make it clear when hiring for your positions that it’s going to people with the skills first then attitude you need to be successful in the role.

            It’s not based on time served or personally liking someone without skills. THEN BACK THAT UP WITH WHO YOU HIRE.

            Leave the second job empty because “the current applicants don’t fit those needs.”

            And offer the job to chachi. Even if he turns it down or transfers later you can make it clear to everyone the calibre of person you expect for your team and that Marion ain’t it.

        3. Trout 'Waver*

          Totally agree. I’m never taking another management job where I don’t control who’s on my team.

        4. TootsNYC*

          yeah, I always like people who are competent. Even if they’re annoying.
          Especially at work do I like them!
          My admiration for their ability just overrides everything else.

      2. Mpls*

        Well, she’s been investigated, not convicted of…maybe there is a pattern of someone filing complaints against her that were heinous enough they required investigation but had no underlying evidence. Just being investigated isn’t proof of having done those things.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I don’t think the investigations are a legitimate problem. The legitimate problem is that it sounds like she comes into work and shares her drama about all the unfair things that happen in her life, including these investigations. Plus, elder abuse is really hard to prove and it can range from physical abuse and neglect to things like stealing and changing documents; its even worse if the elder has dementia or similar issues.

          Of course I’m projecting, because I had a coworker who sounds very similar to this: full-scale drama bomb. Her children were removed from her custody multiple times and every time it happened she’d come into work and vent for hours like she was the real victim (stuff like “Boyfriend took me on a surprise romantic weekend, and we assumed Roommate could handle watching the kids, but Roommate selfishly went to work instead. And then Stupid Interfering Neighbor Lady called CPS when she saw our 9 year old punching our 7 year old in the driveway, and they told her they could do whatever they wanted because Mom and Dad went out of town and they didn’t have a babysitter. When we got home, we had to kick Roommate out for getting the kids taken away, and we have to go to family counselling to get the kids back and we’re short one third of next month’s rent!”) They always got the kids back for some reason, which made her even more upset that they’d been removed in the first place (“I don’t understand why they keep taking them away! They always give them back, so obviously they shouldn’t have taken them.”)

      3. OP here*

        Until we got a new boss this year, it was incredibly dysfunctional! The culture is changing with new leadership, but it takes time to turn the Titanic.

      4. Dot Warner*

        Yeah, that jumped out at me too. Maybe Marion isn’t really beloved; maybe everyone is just tiptoeing around Marion and saying whatever they think she wants to hear to avoid her wrath

  3. Ramona Flowers*

    She sounds awful and I sympathise, but I think you need to separate out what is and isn’t a concern for you.

    Her work peformance: definitely a concern.

    The fact that she was investigated by police: was she charged? If not, that’s not exactly relevant.

    Overtime: this is field-specific, I guess.

    1. Justme*

      The overtime things is definitely field specific. I have worked exactly zero hours of overtime in almost 2 years. It’s not expected of me, nor is it particularly desired in my current role. But I have had jobs here (in higher education) where it was mandatory.

    2. Annonymouse*

      I’d argue that being investigated is a cause for concern if the job involves integrity I.e a school teacher or politician.

      Of course if the acusations are completely unfounded and done out of spite then it shouldn’t haunt them.

      But adding it to the description OP gives about Marion I’m not sure that’s the case here.

      And not pulling your weight in overtime when it’s an expected part of your job and expecting a promotion? Yeah, no.

      1. OP here*

        Unfortunately, they weren’t unfounded. She didn’t go through with the plan to for her mother-in-law to sign over her house (MIL has dementia) for $10,000 and put MIL in a nursing home (despite it being worth $300,000+ and the house being all she had to her name) because the rest of the family found out and threw a huge fit. Cops were called, a full investigation was launched, and the signed paperwork was deemed invalid due to MIL’s mental status. MIL is still in her home, but, when she does eventually go to a home, the proceeds from the sale of the house will pay for her care for the remainder of her life.
        The threatening neighbors happened as well (she recorded it, which is illegal in this state without notifying all parties). She got charged with the surreptitious recording, but they dismissed the harassment charge in a plea agreement.
        And, the truth is, I DON’T like her. That makes this harder. I find her sneaky, dishonest, and unreliable.

  4. Naomi*

    OP has two vacant positions, and would leave one vacant rather than hire Marion. In that scenario, is talking up the person who did get hired really that helpful? It will be clear that it wasn’t just a case of “Joanie was a stronger candidate who just barely edged you out”, and that OP specifically didn’t want Marion. (I mean, OP is right not to want Marion; I’m just not sure talking up Joanie will make Marion or her buddies any less disgruntled.)

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yeah, especially if Chachi is likely to take another role anyway. It would be awkward if the OP used the “Joanie and Chachi are more qualified” excuse but then Chachi took another job. Then the OP would have to come up with another explanation and Marion would probably think the OP didn’t like her and was just making up excuses. Better to be direct from the beginning, “I need someone with strong skills in XYZ and a willingness to regularly work overtime.”

    2. Elfie*

      I’m a bit late to this, but I was the Marion in my last job (in that there was a position going, and two internal applicants, of which I was one, but I was the one who didn’t get the job). When I was told I was rejected, I was told that neither of us had got the job, and they were going externally. Fine. I didn’t want the job, but a management job had come up at a previous place, and I hadn’t applied then (I knew I wouldn’t get it anyway, I could see where I fell in the pecking order), but it had been held against me (as ‘Doesn’t demonstrate ambition’). I swore that I would never put myself in that position again. So when this management job came up, I applied. It turned out that that other guy had been offered the job, but had turned it down, and then they made some changes to the contract so he accepted. I joked that I came third out of two applicants (they were never going to promote me, for one thing I had some legitimate attendance issues caused by disability for which I was on a PIP, and for another thing they only wanted more of the same of what they had – mainly yes men towing the party line – and that’s not me. Plus, I hated it there, and one of the reasons I applied was to work for anyone other than my manager at the time!!)

      All of this is to say, I didn’t get the job, I knew I wouldn’t get the job, and I knew some of it was because there was a black mark against me and it was definitely personal. They’d rather hire ANYBODY ELSE but me. And still I took it well, didn’t spread malicious rumours, or anything else. It happens. I wasn’t what they wanted. The whole place was a bad fit for me in every way, so I left not long after.

      Which is to say, Marion’s a jerk. You don’t have to hire jerks if you don’t want to. You don’t have to hire rockstars if you don’t want to. If you can fire people for pretty much any reason you want (at-will), then surely you can fast-track the process by not hiring them in the first place? You doubt Marion’s integrity – she’s not a good fit. Just don’t hire her, and let the chips fall where they may. It sounds like she’s got so much to gripe about, something new will come up and your lack of hiring her will be forgotten soon enough anyway!

  5. Startup Life Lisa*

    Hoo boy. I sympathize with this “everyone likes the person who isn’t competent” dilemma so much!

    I also read it as OP is not Marion’s manager, but will run into her frequently and will work with several people who like Marion and thinks she deserves the promotion.

    If that’s the case, OP, my suggestion is that you be honest with Marion about why you’re rejecting her, without framing it as a character flaw. I learned the term “miscast” from this blog. As in, “I think you would be miscast in this particular role.”

    You could say something like, “Marion, I’m sorry but this role seems like a poor fit for you. For instance, this role requires overtime on a regular basis, and I know you prefer not to work overtime. I’ve also been able to see some of your work throughout the time I’ve been here, and it’s just not up to the standards required by this role. If this is something you’re very interested in for the future, I’d be happy to talk to your manager about some of the specific things you would need to improve to be a strong candidate.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh gosh, I’m reading this letter wrong all over the place! You’re right. There are two positions open. I’d say the OP needs to do more to generate additional applicants for the second slot.

      And that last paragraph is great.

      1. H.C.*

        Yeah, I was wondering if there was a policy or unspoken rule that internal applicants get first dibs at openings – was going to suggest opening it up to external candidates too, justifying as getting the best person for the job (i.e. NOT Marion)

        1. Zip Zap*

          Exactly. Bring in a great external candidate and make it obvious that they were chosen for their outstanding qualifications. Don’t say anything to or about Marion.

          If Marion’s behavior is affecting you, you could definitely address it as a separate issue. Just keep that very, very separate from the hiring process.

          1. FD*

            I think that’s an excellent idea. However, I’d also keep an eye out for Marion causing trouble for that candidate. I have seen a situation where a poorly qualified internal candidate went out of their way to make life hard for the excellent external candidate.

              1. Zip Zap*

                Yes, definitely. Someone needs to be keeping an eye on Marion. Two police investigations? Yikes.

        2. OP here*

          In this case, it was only an internal opening. This is the second time these positions have been open. Marion and Joanie applied last time too, but the minimum pool for 2 positions in my department is at least 3 people. Chachi was talked in to applying.

  6. Jesmlet*

    This is one of those situations where being required to post externally would be a good thing. That way you’d have more options and could legitimately say you just found someone more qualified. I’d do what you can to get more internal options if possible because it’s going to look really bad if you openly hire no one in lieu of hiring Marion.

    1. Artemesia*

      Well it would look ‘bad’ from one perspective or would make the OP look like a hard nosed competent supervisor who puts up with no nonsense from another. That is not a bad reputation. Surely she is not the only person to notice Marion is not competent for this job.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Well from the post, it seems like everyone else who associates with Marion thinks she “deserves” it, whatever that means. It’s interesting because there’s nothing in there about what her manager thinks of her so we just have to go off what the coworkers think.

        1. SarahKay*

          I’ve seen the ‘deserves it’ thing in action, and it’s very frustrating. Yes, someone may want a job. They may have done their best to work towards it. But that only means they deserve a chance to apply for it. It does not mean they deserve to get it. The thinking that someone’s ‘served their time’ and deserves it…just, no!

        2. Annonymouse*

          For time served not skills and competence displayed.

          That’s the way to earn a job, not trash talking your hopeful future boss to the office and peer pressuring them to hire you.

  7. Stranger than fiction*

    Coincidentally, my bf just had to interview (a director in another dept, who’s currently higher up and known for not really working) for a lateral position to his (so this would technically be a demotion). It was clear in the interview he’s lacking the fundamentals for this position (but company seems to treat this role as a landing place for people they want to save but are not doing well in other roles).
    So while he didn’t have to give feedback directly to the internal candidate, he did have to give it to upper management. He used the “sandwich” technique of listing a strength followed by a weakness, so it didn’t sound like he was just throwing the guy under the bus or had something personal against him. It was very concise and well thought out. But he agonized over this feedback email for exactly the reasons the Op is concerned. All this to say, if Op is neutral in demeanor and can dig deep and find some strengths marion has in addition to telling her what she needs to work on, that would probably be best.

    1. Mike B.*

      I don’t get the notion “throwing under the bus.” In that situation I would give an unequivocally negative evaluation of the candidate. Unless the guy is somebody’s best pal (and why bother with an interview if he were?), nobody’s going to take it personally if you say he’s dumb as a stump, and it’s not fair to upper management to pull your punches when you know they’re contemplating a bad hire.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        The term “throwing under the bus” is so often misused in dysfunctional workplaces that it’s meaningless. Instead of the original usage of “blaming Person X for the whole thing while ignoring the culpability of Y,” dysfunctional workplaces have turned it into “any time someone is criticized and the person criticizing them doesn’t fall all over themselves detailing their own faults and accepting some of the blame, even if they weren’t directly involved in the situation.”

        F’rex, at a past workplace I was accused of throwing someone under the bus when I found notes on an account that showed a glaring policy error. I was supposed to review and approve fee waivers and report any fees that were waived for incorrect reasons. Reasons for the waivers were documented on the accounts and using the reason “It’s against the Bible to charge late fees and interest. Waived everything from the past year,” is definitely something that the person’s supervisor needed to know about. When I reported it, my peers said I threw this person under the bus because I disagreed with the person’s religion (I was more confused that the person was working for a bank if they felt that way), and spread a rumor that I was a Satanist (… whut?).

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I think the sandwich technique would backfire here because it will end up sounding like the OP has more positive things to say about Marion than negative, which isn’t the truth; and Marion and her supporters may latch on to those positives and easily ignore the negative feedback. It’s probably best not to give any reasons why a rejected candidate would be GOOD in the position. The hiring manager doesn’t have to personally attack a rejected candidate with irrelevant insults like “he smells of elderberries”, but giving concise answers as to why they aren’t a good fit for the position isn’t a bad thing.

  8. Trout 'Waver*

    “Unfortunately, her coworkers love her. She’s been around for almost a decade with no promotions, and they feel like she really deserves this.”

    Are you sure they’re just not saying this because they want to get rid of her?

    1. tangoecho5*

      I wonder how much Marions coworkers would love her if instead of the supervisor swooping in and doing the work Marion can’t/won’t do, if instead they passed it out to the rest of the team to complete.

    2. Malibu Stacey*

      Or Marion is complaining about not getting promotions & raises and her coworkers are feigning agreement with her in order not to the rock the boat.

      1. Artemesia*

        I’ll bet they know she is a dog and are happy to see her out of their area. It is fairly common for people to be unwilling to rock the boat while harboring secret desires to see the awful employee out of there.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been guilty of this. When my supervisor’s best friend was working in a department I helped to oversee, the best friend got a lot of slack even though her work was subpar, because it was known that our supervisor could be volatile in her role and no one wanted to risk pissing her off.

          My bet is that Marion has some kind of connection to someone higher up who people want to avoid upsetting for whatever reason—or maybe she had that connection 10 years ago and the feedback loop has continued even though that person isn’t there anymore.

    3. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Or else she’s selective in who she’s awful to and as long as her immediate coworkers don’t experience it, they’ve decided to ignore or deny that she does it to others. I work with a person like this. With a few exceptions, people at her level and above think she’s sweat and helpful and a really great people person — people below her level see that she’s condescending, dishonest, controlling, passive aggressive, and undermining. She actively cultivates relationships that are beneficial to her standing and really plays up how she acts as a guardian and advocate of her department. And yet, she’s gone through administrative assistants at the rate of about 1 every 9 months – 1 year for the last 8ish years and some of the big bosses think it’s because the position is difficult and not because she’s a terrible manager. The last one just quit with no notice after 3 months — I hope HR did an exit interview but I doubt it. I don’t understand how anybody can be so in denial of a clear pattern, but she has a built a booster club that goes to bat for her whenever she needs it.

  9. ArtK*

    OP, Alison has given you the kindest words to use, but I don’t think that they’re what you mean by “kind.” There are no words that will tell her “no” and avoid her reacting badly. In another life, I wrote an essay about those “Magic Words.” Don’t let her make her issues into your issues by taking responsibility for her reaction. That’s solely on her. Yes, it is likely to be unpleasant — she’s an unpleasant person from your description. If other people take her word that you’re an awful person for turning her down, then they aren’t very bright. I doubt that many except the most gullible will, simply because she’s established a clear reputation for being a pot stirrer and drama queen.

    Finally, from my essay: “Just because someone else is upset, it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong.”

    1. FormerHoosier*

      Good advice. OP you have concrete reasons to not hire her that are more than just not liking her.

    2. MicroManagered*

      Is this essay published anywhere online? It sounds like something I’d love to read!

    3. OP here*

      I’d like to read this essay too!

      I’m new at managing people, and I want to do it well. I know she’ll be unhappy with the final decision, but I imagine she’d be less happy if we put her on my team, then kicked her back off a few months down the road. I’m interested to see what her response is; I think she’s forgotten that we have been Facebook friends for a decade or so, and I can see the frequent tempers tantrums she throws over work things. This does not endear her to me.

  10. Tata*

    OP, do not hire & provide the advice Alison offered. My department hired the train wreck and prior managers did not give her proper coaching / feedback either. As Alison said, it is easier to just avoid her. Our train wreck has been in department for over 3 years with little effective coaching and attempts are now being made to effectively coach her but is being met with unprofessional & drama filled behavior. Like in insubordination behavior. Her teammates lover her as well but are well aware of a few of her issues. Do not let that influence your decision.

  11. Previous LW*

    I’m the one who wrote about an internal candidate who bombed their interview some time ago. Well, the boss has always liked her, and despite having no credentials and not even trying to get up to speed, she was hired. Two years later, the boss still loves her and has made her the go-to person in her absence ahead of those of us who have been in our positions longer.

    She gets big raises every year. I got no raise at all this year and a puny raise last yer.

    She has not been very productive at all, and my output is literally about 4 times what hers is. Apparently productivity doesn’t matter here.

    She takes credit for her supervisees’ work, while I have to beg my boss for permission to give interesting projects to my most talented and knowledgeable supervisee.

    She gets put on committees for which she has no qualifications. I was elected to a committee by my peers, and then the boss & her boss undercut our committee’s work leaving us with almost nothing to do in the next year.

    So in summary…. trust me. If you promote this person you will soon have a team full of grumblers working on their resumes during work hours.

      1. Previous LW*

        Oh yes, the boss is a majorly inept and horrible boss, but she is also perfect and cannot be questioned.

    1. LS*

      Is there some way to quantify the skills / knowledge / competencies she needs to do this job? If you are able to set minimum, measurable requirements, she’ll pretty much disqualify herself by being unable to meet those standards.

      In my field hiring managers often include a design exercise / technical assessment as part of the interview process to screen for candidates who can talk about the work but can’t actually do it. Maybe something like this would work for you?

        1. Previous LW*

          Ahhh Please c&p for standalone. People might miss it if they collapse the comments. You make an interesting point.

      1. OP here*

        I like your suggestion a lot! I’ve updated the interview process to include two tasks that any competent employee should be able to complete. That should make it very clear to the panel that she’s not able to handle the workload.

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