my boss sent me bad news during a funeral, my new hire argues even when he’s wrong, and more

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

1. My boss sent me bad news during my grandfather’s funeral

I’m a research scientist in academia. A month ago, my grandfather died. I sent my boss an email to let him know I had to go to the funeral. When I came back from the funeral, I found that he had forwarded me an email from the editor of a journal I had submitted an article to saying that my paper had been rejected, which is a pretty big deal. From the text my boss had added, I’m pretty certain he’d read the content of the email. I have many problems with my boss: he’s generally rude, dismissive, and he has made humiliating comments about me in front of others. I try to let it go and remain professional while I’m looking for another job, but the fact that he sent me this email during my grandfather’s funeral is incredibily upsetting to me. I don’t think I’d get an apology from him if I brought it up. But I would very much appreciate it if you could give me some perspective about this.

The fact that your boss is rude and dismissive and makes humiliating comments about you is excellent cause to be job searching. But I don’t think the forwarded email is in itself an outrage. He probably emailed it assuming that you wouldn’t see it until you were back at work. And that is in fact what happened; you saw it once you were back. I think you can definitely expect people won’t contact you by phone or text with this sort of thing while you’re at a funeral, but continuing to send messages to your work email is pretty normal.

A more emotionally intelligent person still might have given more thought to the timing, but (a) it doesn’t sound like he’s particularly emotionally intelligent, so it’s not surprising that he didn’t, and (b) even an emotionally intelligent person might not have done anything differently, since they might not have felt right sitting on the news, which a lot of people would want as soon as it was available.

It sounds like disappointing news that happened to arrive at a bad time, but I don’t think your boss did anything really awful here.

2. My new employee argues even when he’s wrong

I have a newly hired employee who is bright and creative. This role is a new one for him, and it requires him to interface with the same people regularly both internally and externally. He is my direct report.

One habit that is an issue for me is his arguing that he is right even when he is shown to be wrong or just refusing to entertain a different point of view.

Case in point, I raised the issue of how something was named could be misleading and suggested a change. He argued that this was the client’s lingo but when I pulled out documents that showed that the term the client used in their documents was the one I was suggesting, he argued that there were other documents for a very small subsidiary that used his term. The presentation was not going to the subsidiary but to the parent.

Second example, he argued his spreadsheet was perfect but I found input and formula errors. It was a complex worksheet so errors are likely to happen — that is why I was looking at it with fresh eyes. He argued I was wrong until I showed him the raw data compared to the worksheet. His excuse was that he had taken a cold tablet but otherwise it was perfect, except it wasn’t — I found more errors in my second review.

Others have commented on this habit and he has already alienated another senior person. And there is a client that he cannot work on for the same reason. He has been here less than three weeks. I admit this gets my back up so I am conscious of needing a script to address this calmly explaining why this (not malicious) habit could hinder his growth.

It should get your back up. It’s a serious problem — one that shouldn’t just hinder his growth, but one that probably needs to be deal-breaker if he doesn’t fix it. Your message sounds a bit like you’re downplaying it (noting that it’s not malicious, etc.), but he’s doing this after only three weeks on the job (!) and is already unable to work with one client. Those are big deals which mean that you’re well into “this might not work out” territory, and I urge you to see this through that lens.

I’d say it this way: “When I give you feedback or correct your work, you’re often resistant to taking the feedback and argue with my corrections. I need you to be receptive to my feedback, not push back on it. The same thing is true when you’re getting input from others, like Jane or Fergus or clients. This is crucial for succeeding in your role and will prevent you from succeeding here if you don’t change it immediately. Can you do that?”

If you don’t see an immediate change, you don’t have the right person in the job. These are bad, bad signs.

3. I’m double-checking everything I delegate

I’m basically a one-person department for a medium-sized organization (which, to be honest, really isn’t sustainable, but that’s another story). My workload definitely ebbs and flows seasonally, and this year during my busy season it’s out of control. I’ve been asking for a permanent assistant (even part time) but thus far my organization hasn’t found the funds to put that in motion. They have, however, found me two employees from other departments who they are “loaning” me for the next two months. These employees aren’t familiar with what I do and will return to their own departments when those department’s workloads build back up. Without being told so, I’m making the assumption that these two employees probably aren’t very good at their jobs (because otherwise wouldn’t they be “essential” to their regular departments?).

Anyway, on the one hand I’m frustrated that I can’t get an assistant with some degree of ownership over their work, and on the other hand I’m grateful for any kind of help. However, I find myself double-checking EVERYTHING I assign these two people to do … after all, they don’t have any investment in this work and if an error is discovered even months down the road, I’d still be ultimately responsible. They’re not young, they’re not interns – they are both employees that have been with my organization for over 10 years. The work I have assigned them is spreadsheets/data entry/that kind of thing, which I think is pretty easy but you need to be meticulous about it; however, it’s not what they do in their regular departments. It’s not stuffing envelopes or anything generally considered “temp” or physical work – because that’s not what I do.

I have never received any kind of training in how to delegate work. This current arrangement isn’t actually saving me any time, since I feel like I need to double-check everything they do. (I admit, this may be a personality flaw on my own part.) Do you have any tips on how/what to delegate, and maybe getting over my tendencies to recheck everything?

I wouldn’t assume that they’re bad at their jobs or that they’ll be bad at this. People get plugged into temporary spots like this for all sorts of reasons, and it’s more likely that their workload right now is what got them assigned to you, not their work quality. And if they’re at all conscientious, they’ll want to do a good job because that’s what conscientious people tend to want.

Anyway, when you check their work, what you are finding? If you’re finding a lot of errors, then you’d coach them on what you’re finding and how to do the work correctly. If that doesn’t change their work quality, then yeah, these people aren’t going to save you time — especially in the limited amount of time you have to train them.

But if you’re spot-checking regularly (across a range of assignments) and you’re not finding mistakes, it’s reasonable to assume that they’re being pretty meticulous on the stuff you’re not checking as well. And to be clear, “spot-checking” doesn’t mean “reviewing everything they do.” It means sampling their work and assuming that the pieces you’re looking at are representative of the whole.

For more general advice on what and how to delegate, I wrote a bunch of pieces on delegation for QuickBase that might help, like this and this and this.

4. Do I need to broaden my job search?

I left my last job after a year this past July for multiple reasons (mainly a toxic work environment, the stress taking a serious toll on my physical and mental health, and the fact that my lease in that city was ending). It was my first real job post-grad and my parents were gracious enough to welcome me back home. I know it is less than ideal to leave a job without having another lined up, but I was truly at my breaking point and was optimistic about finding a new job now that I had the time to devote to job hunting. I have been trying to be slightly more selective with my applications to avoid ending up in another situation like the one I left, and then in turn likely coming across as a job-hopping millennial. It’s now been four months of unemployment, and all I have to show for it is a few phone interviews, but none that led to an in-person interview.

Is it time to stop being picky and just suck it up and apply to every job I am even remotely qualified for, even things I’m not necessarily interested in? I’m eager to get back out of my parents’ house and also feel like the gap on my resume is getting harder and harder to explain as time goes by. I’m not sure how to balance the longer-term benefit of ending up in a job that I am legitimately excited about with the short-term reality of needing a job, period.

Different people will have different opinions on this, but mine is: Yes.

With only one post-college job of a year on your resume, the danger is that as time goes by and you’re not working, you’ll be more and more at a disadvantage compared to your competition. You have many, many years to work in jobs that you’re excited about, but right now what you need is a job and to start building a stable work history — which will make it much easier to get a job you’re excited about later on.

5. Can my cover letter mention that I eventually want a higher up position there?

I know where I want to be in the future, but right now I recognize that I need to first “get my foot in the door” of my ideal organization. I know I have a lot to learn and I’m happy learning through positions I will hopefully hold in the future. Is it okay to state in my cover letter that I would like to be a higher-up in that organization in the future even if I am just applying for an entry-level admin-type position? I can see it from both sides — yes, because that will show I have initiative and drive, but also no because it may signal that I will jump ship from that position when something better comes along.

Don’t do it! It’s not so much that it’ll signal you’ll jump ship quickly, but it will make it sound like your main focus and interest isn’t the job you’re applying for. Hiring managers want to hire people who are excited about the right-now job, not hypothetical possibilities down the road. It’ll raise concerns that you won’t be all that happy or fulfilled doing what they’d be hiring you to do, and that you may neglect the less glamorous pieces of the job in favor of things that aren’t key pieces of the position.

There are lots of other ways to show you have initiative and drive that aren’t about how you want to use those things to move on from the job you’re applying to — which is what you’d ultimately be saying there.

{ 339 comments… read them below }

  1. Jerry Vandesic*

    OP2, you might want to recommend the book “What got you here won’t get you there” by Marcus Buckingham. It’s a very good book about growing in your career, and he talks a lot about the value of feedback. Buckingham makes the case that feedback is a gift, and the one thing you need to always say when receiving feedback is “thank you.” It’s a message that I have found useful when talking with people I have managed and mentored.

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      Sorry, my brain slipped a gear and I wrote down the wrong author. “What got you here won’t get you there” is by Marshall Goldsmith.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, and I’d also recommend Douglas Stone’s Thanks for the Feedback: The Art and Science of Receiving Feedback Well.

      That said OP#2, the fact that your report is arguing on every point within the first three weeks, even when he’s wrong, has my spidey senses up. It’s time-wasting and obnoxious, and it shows a complete inability to understand business and client goals. The goal isn’t to be right—it’s to get the product/deliverable right. It’s honestly insane to me that someone would argue that their database was correct after being shown explicitly where it’s wrong simply because of their desire to be right. When people proof my work I’m grateful, not entrenched or precious about my work.

      It was unclear to me if your guy is new to this role or new to the workplace in general, in part because I associate his attitude with folks who are recent grads with limited work experience. If he lacks overall experience, then I think a stronger hand and coaching is in order. But if he’s got experience (just in another area), then it’s really not ok to alienate others and waste everyone’s time. This problem is serious enough that I’d reconsider whether I’d want to keep him.

      1. Dan*

        Oh yeah. The more I work with these types, the less patience i have. They make more work for *everybody*.

        I’d put the guy on a PIP ASAP, and if the company has any sort of probationary period, I’d consider using that and skipping the PIP.

        Usually, I have as much patience as the next guy, and advise coaching and training when possible, but this type of thing can easily justify skipping all of that.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. Some folks you interviewed may still be available at this point.
            Arrogant arguing guy needs to go.

            1. Quickstepping Matilda*

              If your company is like others, some of the people you interviewed may still be waiting to hear whether they got the job!

              1. RG*

                Laughing turns into sobbing.

                Seriously y’all, a form rejection email after an in person interview would be great.

        1. MCM*

          I love training people, getting them started at the job. But if my feedback and training is contested on a daily basis I would be ready to get rid of them. Have a serious conversation with them about the attitude, and errors. Have them sign the documentation. One serious conversation take place, and if the attitude continues fire them.

        2. Annonymouse*

          Yeah, I don’t think coaching is going to help too much.

          He reminds me too much of that junior who suggested a creative but unfinished client proposal and tried to get their boss fired after the higher ups decided on their idea. (with the caveats that it get made into a proper proposal and to drop the ongoing nonsense).

          In just 3 short weeks he’s alienated a SENIOR co-worker and been BANNED from working with a CLIENT.

          How many more people is he going to have refusing to work with him before 3 months is up?

          This guy is costing more hassle then skills he brings. Cut him loose.

      2. Myrin*

        I find it especially egregious that he’s behaving this way to his direct supervisor. I’ve seen such know-it-all-isms between peers but man, arguing about everything (!) with your boss (!!) after only three years of experience at your place of work (!!!) is a whole other level.

        1. Agatha_31*

          Yup. He needs to be taught some serious lessons re:workplace etiquette & norms. And if he’s only 3 weeks in and already this unrepentant and aggressively doubling down in his behaviour, the lesson may have to be letting him go, both as a lesson (if he’s smart enough to learn it) to him, and even more as a favor to everyone who is our ever will work with him. Honestly, just the *idea* of working with someone this bad this early on makes me feel exhausted.

      3. babblemouth*

        It’s not right, but it’s not an uncommon mistake to be made for people who are just out of university – OP2, is that the case here?
        The emphasis on right vs wrong answer being what you’re judged by can be hard to shake off. It might be that there is a need to emphasize that in this case, finding errors and learning from them is a perfectly normal, even encouraged, part of the job.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Eh, this isn’t so much vigorously defending an opinion as a complete inability to admit to being wrong, ever. That’s a personality defect, not inexperience.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Agreed so much with your last sentence.

            It was unclear to me if your guy is new to this role or new to the workplace in general, in part because I associate his attitude with folks who are recent grads with limited work experience.

            And funnily enough, I’ve never seen this behavior from new hires that just graduated, and my company gets a lot of them throughout the year. Most of the new grads I’ve come across here at my current employer, and even at my prior firm, have been deferential to a fault almost like they were afraid of their own shadow. The biggest know-it-alls I’ve encountered are usually the employees who have been around forever and are bitter they’re not yet in management.

            1. Grant*

              Confused – you agree with the sentence you quoted, but your personal experience is the exact opposite of the sentence?

        2. Fake old Converse shoes*

          I wonder if this person is simply not used to feedback in general. When I started working I found difficult to accept it, because in my mind feedback = bullying. In fact, the first time someone praised my work I thought it was a joke.

            1. Susanne*

              I”m curious too. Why would you think that a supervisor/boss/manager would be bullying you by providing direction in how to do your job better? Is it that you thought you knew it all already, or that you weren’t familiar with how to interact with “superiors” or … what?

          1. Say what, now?*

            Yeah, if he sees feedback as an attack it could explain his reaction, but it doesn’t really change the outcome unfortunately. He has to learn to take it or he’s going to lose his job. He may already lose it because of his behavior toward clients even if he does commit to change. I think the question is how far does the OP go to TRY to help him see the value of feedback.

          2. OP 2*

            OP 2 here. Thanks for the insight. Even though Allison published my question quickly, things came to a head a day or two after I wrote in. (We are starting Week Five now.) For background, the individual is 35 and this is his fourth job out of school. As we started down the path again of me having to “prove” my facts and why I wanted something the way I did, I sat him down and explained that he was showing a pattern of behavior that was career crippling.

            He truly seemed shocked. No one had ever pointed the pattern out to him and he came to his own conclusion that that he was “creating conflict”. To the points raised above, he said no one has ever offered him coaching before and that he worked for a person who berated anyone publicly (love open floor plans) who made a mistake and then sent the person home for the day.

            He has promised to work on this but admits it will take time to adjust. I am willing to give him time, but also have let him know that the client facing role we had both anticipated is not going to happen until I can trust that he can handle these situations well.

            I feel like changing jobs is a Big Thing, so I don’t like to give up on people until they have been given feedback and a chance to adjust.

            1. Gingerblue*

              Oh, wow. What an interesting update (and what an example of how a toxic workplace can sabotage you for jobs to come).

              1. EddieSherbert*

                I’m glad you talked to him so frankly – it obviously DID get through. Hopefully he can also change his behavior.

            2. Kaitlyn*

              Oh wow, I feel like being sent home for a mistake would make a lot of people VERY invested in never making any mistake, ever. I’m glad he was receptive and hopefully he can turn it around quickly!

              1. Legal Beagle*

                Yes, very interesting context! His behavior is hugely inappropriate, but I sympathize with the instinct for defensiveness. When you’ve had a terrible manager before, any negative feedback can feel like an attack and you immediately go into a protective crouch. And if admitting fault is considered a negative in your workplace culture, denial/arguing is the better option, even if you know you’re wrong. I hope he can learn some new responses now that he has a good manager in the OP.

              2. Snark*

                That explains it, but once you’re out of that situation, it’s dysfunctional behavior and it really needed to end once he walked out that door.

            3. LKW*

              That is surprisingly self-aware. Given such a toxic former workplace, I can see how acknowledging a mistake would be something to avoid at all costs. I hope that he’s able to learn new patterns and reactions.

            4. RVA Cat*

              Oh, wow. So this is a workplace cycle of abuse and you may have set him on the path of breaking it. Kudos to you for making a difference in his life and career, even if this job doesn’t work out for him.

              1. RVA Cat*

                P.S. I hope your employer has an EAP that can help him work through the damage from his prior manager’s bullying.

            5. McWhadden*

              Interesting. Not much would make me sympathetic to that specific pattern of behavior. (I’m a soft touch in a lot of ways but refusing to take feedback like that is a horrible sign.) BUT this is the one circumstance where I do kind of get it. If he’s used to having to justify every single thing he does or fear being publicly humiliated then I do kind of get it.

            6. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

              Honestly – this was my first thought! Defensiveness in response to a previous toxic workplace. Not that it’s ok – it needs to be fixed, or at least worked on with signs of progress ASAP, but understanding where it stems from really helps you focus in how to help this employee.

              Also – I’ve been that defensive employee. Had a job where anything that went wrong or any small mistake or incorrect choice (and by incorrect choice – I mean my choice did not line up with my manager’s whim of the day) was attributed to “laziness” on my part. I definitely displayed some signs of defensiveness in my next role (I had gotten into the habit of over-explaining how any any small snags or issues – even those that I had no control over – were NOT.MY.FAULT).

              It’s also really kind that you’re willing to work with this guy. It’s on him to change now that it’s been pointed out to him, and this sort of thing probably will not be changed overnight (this behavior is often so ingrained that it’s automatic), but giving him some space to work through this really could set this guy up for a positive future.

            7. SophieChotek*

              Like everyone else said – thanks for update. Going in a different (but hopefully better) decoration than I had anticipated. I hope he can find ways to change…it sounds like he might be open to it.

            8. Snark*

              “He has promised to work on this but admits it will take time to adjust. I am willing to give him time, but also have let him know that the client facing role we had both anticipated is not going to happen until I can trust that he can handle these situations well.”

              This is a better – for him – outcome than I anticipated, but I think it would behoove both of you to emphasize that the adjustment period needs to be maybe a few weeks, no longer. It’s a kindness for you to give him time, but you only need to give him so much time – especially when he’s not capable of filling the role you hired him for because you don’t trust him to handle clients well.

              Changing jobs IS a Big Thing, but keep in mind that it would be his Big Thing, not your Big Thing.

              1. LBK*

                Agreed, I would need to see really rapid improvement here or I think he’d still be heading out the door. If you’re committed to giving him another chance given this additional information I don’t think it would be unfair to put him on a PIP to make it clear you’re willing to give him a shot at getting over this but you also need him to do the job you hired him for. Otherwise he needs to find somewhere with lower stakes for him to work through these issues.

                1. Snark*

                  Yeah, if nothing else I’d absolutely formalize this with a PIP with specific, detailed goals. He WAS hired to do a client-facing job, not bad-boss rehab.

                2. Annonymouse*

                  I think that can happen now since he is aware there is a problem.

                  First step to fixing a problem is knowing there is one.

                  Second step is stop problem from getting worse.

                  So if/when he starts to slip back into arguing help him catch it and get him to shut up and listen.

                  You’d need to see him catching himself and greatly reducing the number of arguments in say a month to keep him on.

            9. designbot*

              That sounds great–another thing that I thought might help for him is reassuring him that it’s normal to make mistakes. Something that I like to remember is that we were taught in school that an ‘A’ was 90% correct and up, meaning that 10% mistakes is still pretty dang good. Now your tolerance might be lower than that for a variety of reasons (and obviously some mistakes are bigger than others) but it’s been really useful to me to remember that you can be good without being perfect, and if you’re handling a certain amount of data then some mistakes are just bound to happen. It sounds like you have an intuitive grasp on this, but he maybe doesn’t, and is taking each correction as a personal affront/challenge to him which likely heightens the intensity of the response.

            10. Hrovitnir*

              How interesting. I hope this means you will see improvement: inn usually pretty cynical about people who behave like this changing.

              I’d love to know how it goes.

            11. Big City Woman*

              I had a similar talk with an employee I had hired at my former job. She was always very defensive, from the start. If I said, “The such-and-such goes here,” she would answer, “I didn’t put it there.” This was a constant, and draining. Finally, I sat with her at about three weeks in and asked, “Are you happy here? Because I notice that you tend to get a bit defensive when I tell you something.” She said, “I’m not defensive.” But I pointed out how even saying that was defensive. I told her that when I say things like “ABC has to be done this way,” I wasn’t accusing her of doing it wrong, but just trying to make sure she was aware of procedure. It helped.

            12. PlainJane*

              Other commenters have addressed the toxic workplace aspect, so I’ll call out the other interesting piece of his response: “He said no one has ever offered him coaching before.” I had an employee say this to me once when I addressed a performance issue. The person (who was about the same age as OP’s employee, i.e. not new to the workforce) devoted great effort to correcting the problem and became a stellar employee. It may feel awkward to give it, but constructive feedback is truly a gift to an employee.

            13. Close Bracket*

              > He truly seemed shocked. No one had ever pointed the pattern out to him and he came to his own conclusion that that he was “creating conflict”. To the points raised above, he said no one has ever offered him coaching before

              Over the course of my career as a Person With a Job, I have noticed that nobody will ever tell you that they are unhappy with you, and nobody will ever tell you what they want you to do differently. You find out when you are PIPed/fired/laid off, rather than given feedback as problems arise.

              Giving him that feedback *should* be standard manager behavior, but since it’s not, you are truly an extraordinary manager. I hope he realizes how good he has it.

              1. Julia the Survivor*

                Yes, I went through a few years of getting yelled at and fired from jobs and not understanding why. Even when I asked, they would just say things like “it’s not working out”. Very hurtful and not helpful! Luckily I was smart enough to figure out some of it, and occasionally someone would give me feedback. Not always managers, colleagues or friends did too.
                There is nothing more hurtful and less helpful than rejecting someone without feedback. It’s basically throwing them away. :(

            14. Julia the Survivor*

              If you don’t mind, I’d like to add more thoughts about this.
              There is nothing more discouraging than not being allowed to work. You keep trying to work and getting fired, and don’t understand why.
              I’ve known people who turned to crime and considered it myself at one point. Or people give up completely and become beggars.
              In my experience there was also an element of elites (upper management) having an attitude that workers are non-people who aren’t worth saving. Even more discouraging!
              OP 2, you aren’t just helping this employee. You are helping to save society. :)

            15. Gina Cioffi*

              “He has promised to work on this but admits it will take time to adjust.”

              How much time? The unofficial improvement plan should include a date by which you expect him to be able to modify his behavior so he can deal effectively with clients and with you. Concrete goals, including a definite date, are essential IMO. Otherwise, things tend to …drift.

        3. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

          I’m managing university aged people right now. Most of them take direction well but there is one that I’ve had to say, “Because I said so.” to several times. I’ve try to teach them to pick their battles but sometimes you just have to do what you are told and follow the rules. The nature of the job is such that safety protocols must be followed and there is no room for argument.

          1. Close Bracket*

            > The nature of the job is such that safety protocols must be followed and there is no room for argument.

            I’ve been in the position to enforce procedural protocols and customer requirements, and people of all ages at all career stages piss and moan and try to get out of it.

          2. Julia the Survivor*

            This is why I don’t work in the trades or labs! That one jerk who thinks he doesn’t have to follow the safety protocols will get me killed! :o

        4. Observer*

          I don’t think this is just about being new to the workforce, even assuming that this guy hasn’t held any jobs before. For one thing, I can’t think of any environment, even school, where this level of arguing, doubling down and plain refusal to accept correction and instructions is acceptable. For another, most newbies straight out of school manage to not behave this way. This just is not a typical newbie mistake at all.

          There are two issues here. One is the total conviction that he is ALWAYS RIGHT, even when he is clearly not right. Secondly, he is refusing to take instructions from his supervisor. That’s just ridiculous.

          1. Amazed*

            The consensus so far appears to be that the environment you’re trying to picture is “a previous toxic workplace”. You say weird and unacceptable, they say critical survival strategy. And they’re not wrong.

            I can attest to that personally. I just came off a work situation where I was this guy’s opposite twin. When your boss accuses you of dropping the ball on something, you explain that nothing actually happened and present physical proof that there was no ball that was dropped (let alone that it was you who dropped it), and the outcome of that is that the boss elevates the disciplinary action from the reprimand he planned on giving, up to an instant suspension without pay, because of your backtalk?

            You either learn to keep your mouth shut and take the punishment, even when there’s no way it could have been your fault, or you won’t be there for very long.

            1. Observer*

              You actually proved my point. Even (perhaps especially) in most toxic workplaces arguing isn’t acceptable. In a reasonable workplace a moderate amount of arguing, once you’ve proved yourself or when you have absolute proof you are right, is generally acceptable. In a toxic place, even that can get you in trouble.

              So, while I can see some kinds of toxic workplaces breeding the kind of behavior the OP described, this is NOT acceptable in any sane school or workplace, and not even in most toxic workplaces.

              You, by the way were not the “twin” of this guy. You were the mirror image. You learned to shut up and take the (unfair) punishment. He keeps on arguing – and then keeps on some more.

  2. Sami*

    OP #2: If someone is being so argumentative after only three weeks (15 days!) that’s he’s alienated a client and higher ups in your company, it’s DEFINITELY time for a very serious conversation. I’d be crystal clear on consequences (being fired) for even one more instance.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, a bunch of this. It’s not unexpected for someone to push back on the odd piece of subjective (not “your formula is wrong”) feedback, and we’ve all been there, but if this guy has caused this much damage in this little time – when he’s learning and his entire JOB is basically to take feedback – and already has a client he’s alienated…..mmmm. MMMMMM. Mmmmm.

      This is one of those situations where I’d be going into the Very Serious Conversation with my firin’ face on, honestly. I’d still give them a chance to improve, but unless that improvement was basically instantaneous and complete, this is the wrong person for the role. If they’re making you litigate even the smallest newbie errors, you’re going to end up hating how they eat crackers before they even have any vacation time accrued, and nobody is going to want to work with them, including clients.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        In isolation, one ‘push back’ on the file naming would make sense–“Wait, I named it like these files; I thought that was the client’s style” “No, that’s just spouts and this isn’t going to spouts. The overall convention is X” “Oh, okay. Thanks.” But you don’t push back, and you certainly don’t suggest your Excel skills go down the tube any time you take an allergy pill.

        Is the employee fresh out of school? I’d have a more sympathetic “Come to FSM” talk if this was some sort of reflexive “Always argue they should have given you a higher grade on this essay” instinct that paid off for them as a student, that they needed to throttle tout suite.

        1. Sarah*

          Honestly, speaking as a professor, I wouldn’t particularly want to hire the “always argue they should have given you a higher grade on this essay” person either. Even though this is a common trope, it’s actually a small minority of (deeply annoying and entitled) students who actually do this. Honestly, a student who had a pattern of this type of behavior is not one I would write a recommendation letter for — I don’t mean someone who might point out a legitimate error in grading when it occurs, but rather the type of student who reflexively challenges every grade just because they want a higher grade but don’t want to put in the work. Again, at least in my experience, this really is a small number of students — it’s not something you can generalize about everyone who is newly out of school.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Oh, I agree on it not being something that should work in undergraduate. But I’m more sympathetic to people in their early 20s discovering “Wait, whoa, the world doesn’t work like this? It was just my little narrow subset where this behavior worked and didn’t get you figuratively dope-slapped?” They’ve just had less time to stumble into this revelation, even if ideally it hits in your teens.

      2. MCM*

        Other clients will hear about him, wouldn’t be surprised that some refuse to work with him. He could damage your business.

        I can a client coming and and ask for Sally, Sally isn’t available and they redirect to your direct report. They ask for Sally again, she’s not going be free for 15 minutes or so, he offers to help. They see who it is and walks away.

    2. LKW*

      But in this case is the “instance” the error or the inability to accept criticism/correction? Everyone makes mistakes, but the number of mistakes 3 weeks in is a bit concerning. But the inability to listen and make corrections without getting defensive and argumentative is alarming.

      OP#2 needs to lay out the full picture.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I’m so sorry for your loss and that you had to go through this experience. Your boss sounds callous, demeaning and petty, but I agree with Alison—I don’t think forwarding you the rejection email was inherently egregious. For example, if it had been a revise and resubmit, you probably would have wanted to know sooner than later. I think it may feel worse because you’re seeing it in the context of all the other nastiness your boss brings to your interactions.

    Given how generally nasty he is toward you, I wouldn’t expect an apology (I’m not sure an apology would even be required?). But I think cool professionalism / workplace manners and active job searching will be much more satisfying than trying to convince a jerk that he’s a jerk.

    1. Julia*

      I agree. I, too, am very sorry for your loss, OP1. And your boss sounds pretty horrible, so I’m sorry for that, too. I hope you can find something new quickly.

      That said, at least in my field (linguistics), having a research paper rejected is really common (according to my academic supervisor), as the top journals often only publish 5% or so of the articles they’re being sent. I’m not sure if your field is different, or if your boss has just been feeding you nonsense to make you feel bad, but I thought I should mention this. If it doesn’t apply, I apologize sincerely!

      1. Snark*

        In my field, they tend to request revisions until you give up and stop, but yeah, publication rates are not high.

        1. Birch*

          What field are you in? In mine (cognitive science), they’ve started rejecting instead of “major revisions” but send us the revisions anyway. Then we make a “new” manuscript that’s actually the first revision, and send it back for a (theoretically) shorter process. I’ve been told it’s so journals can game their publication time stats.

    2. Susanne*

      OP #1, I too am sorry for your loss. As it so happened, earlier this year I was corresponding with a former coworker we will call Jane (who now runs her own business) regarding doing some free-lance work. I would easily consider Jane a work friend and vice versa; we know the broad strokes of one another’s personal lives, spouses, children, etc. She had sent me paperwork and indicated it was no rush to complete it. So I happened to complete it and sent it over with a cheery “Hi! Hope all is going well! Here’s the paperwork, and I’m looking forward to catching up with you and hearing what’s new!” I contemplated sending a friendly text to alert her, but thank goodness I didn’t, because literally, just a few minutes after hitting send, I received a text from another mutual acquaintance indicating that Jane’s mother had died and here was the information on sitting shiva at Jane’s house and what time was I planning on going (this person and I had gone together to sit shiva for Jane’s father a few years back). I was so mortified that I’d sent this cheery shoot-the-breeze email on the day that she was sitting shiva for her mother. Luckily she understood that it was just a bad timing coincidence.

    3. Snark*

      I tend to agree. My feeling is that the boss here was more thoughtless and tactless than he was malicious or intentionally hurtful. And, its many sterling qualities aside, academia tends to elevate to positions of high status, power, and managerial responsibility many people who are thoughtless, tactless, obsessive, selfish, narcissistic, absentminded, and/or many other flavors of personally dysfunctional. My feeling is that your boss is this much of a dick to everybody, because he mistakes that for blunt honesty, or thinks he lacks the time for interpersonal niceties, or hasn’t considered that he comes off as abrasive at all in the first place. And my feeling is that he forwarded that email without a second’s thought about your emotional state or connecting it to the funeral.


      1. oldbiddy*

        I agree. I had a wonderful PhD advisor and we got along very well. Nevertheless, when I was in grad school I overinterpreted everything my advisor did and took it personally if he was absent minded on issue regarding my project or career. Now I’m in his shoes, and am about the same age as he was when I was in grad school. I’m also just as absent minded/forgetful, because a) I don’t have plastic brain like I used to, b) I am remembering details about a lot of people’s projects and careers and c) I have to spend a lot more of my life and mental energy on adulting than I did when I was in grad school. To compensate, I have developed habits to stay on top of things. Forwarding emails as soon as I read them is one habit, because otherwise it gets lost in the shuffle.
        So, it sounds your advisor is an asshole but I think the email forwarding was an autopilot error and not one of malice. Good luck with everyhting, and I hope you can send your paper somewhere else.

        1. Sarah*

          I agree here — I assume this is a paper your coauthored with your advisor (otherwise why would he be getting the rejection notice and not you??), but in any case I assume that any email I don’t respond to/forward on to the correct recipient quickly will die a slow death in my inbox and possibly never make it to the correct destination. Although I’m sure this wasn’t fun, probably this is a better outcome than wondering what happened to the paper until 3 months from now when you find out he had failed to send on the rejection notice and you’ve now lost 3 months of time you could have used to revise and submit to another journal.

          That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck to receive more bad news at an already difficult time. But, I would think of this more as if you’d just gotten the notification from the journal itself — i.e. bad timing — rather than a malicious act on your boss’s part.

        2. Academic Addie*

          This is such a great comment. Any one lab member is one stream of input, and some niceties get lost in managing all those streams. I only have three employees right now, but each of those employees is a full person who I’m mentoring on their path. As much as I try to be sensitive about life stuff, I’m not perfect. One thing I try to do is note that I’m aware the person is out for X time, and that my sending the email doesn’t mean I want or need an immediate response, or that I don’t need a response at 5 am on a Sunday.

      2. Anon anon anon*

        I agree with this except that I’d say he’s more of the narcissist flavor of dysfunction. He makes humiliating comments about LW in front of other people. That makes him sound like someone who’s intentionally mean. So the timing of the email could be part of that. Alone, it wouldn’t mean much, but I’m getting more of a “manipulative jerk with possible ego issues” sort of picture than “garden variety lacking some emotional intelligence”. Anyway, the solution is job searching, which LW is doing. I hope s/he/they can escape!

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ugh, so much of this. There are wonderful aspects of academia, but good management or interpersonal skills among ladder faculty (particularly those in senior departmental positions) is not as common as one would hope.

    4. LKW*

      I would say that there really is no good time to get bad news. I would imagine had he dealt with a different person and waited a day or two that person might have complained that he kept important information from them, that he assumed they wouldn’t be able to emotionally handle bad news at that time and felt it was humiliating or condescending. In short, in some cases you can’t win.

      Now, the other lovely facets of his personality – keep up the job search, but for the situation you outlined, I think you’ve hit BEC with this guy and anything he does will be through that lens.

      1. paul*


        I don’t expect my boss *not* to forward emails with relevant news while I’m out, and if something crossed my desk she needed to see while she was out, I’d forward it regardless of *why* she was out. Why not? it means it won’t get forgotten in the meantime.

      2. Kathleen*

        Yes, I agree with Paul. I’d rather my boss forward bad but important news as it comes instead of waiting until later – just because “later” might turn into “oops – I forgot all about it!”

        So sending it even during a funeral sounds fine to me. He sounds like a jerk otherwise, though.

    5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I want to jump into this thread with a question about the email. Was the boss forwarding the message he was cc’d on or is your boss checking your email when you are out? Because I’m sure you set an out of office message. So my issue with this is that your boss is taking time out of his day to check your email, read the messages and forward what he chooses. That’s annoying.
      It’s not the norm in my office and in my group of 10 we all have each other’s passwords and home phone numbers. We respect boundaries.

      1. Natalie*

        In my experience it’s really, really unusual to have your colleague’s password and in most organizations it’s explicitly prohibited. I’d say it’s extremely unlikely that the boss is actually logging in to the LW’s email.

      2. Antilles*

        I don’t think it’s that the Boss actually had access to OP’s email account. It’s far more likely that the email came directly to the boss and not to the OP, so he just passed the email along so OP could see it.
        A lot of publications don’t like to mess with multiple correspondents, so they will only communicate with *one* person, no matter how many authors are actually listed on the article and require all communication to go through that designated corresponding author.

      3. LBK*

        I have zero clue how submissions like this work – is it possible the boss had submitted it on the OP’s behalf or in conjunction with the OP due to some kind of seniority thing, so he was the one who got the rejection notice? I think I’ve read on here before that if you’re, like, working under a professor or something, sometimes your submissions go in under their name?

        1. Snark*

          Generally but not always, the lead author is the POC for these kinds of things, and if OP was a contributing author but not the primary investigator, she wouldn’t necessarily get the notification directly.

      4. Cambridge Comma*

        Probably the boss is the last and the corresponding author, so will receive the editor’s decision and forward it to the other authors.

    6. a Gen X manager*

      Agree. I think (hope!) I’m generally a kind and thoughtful boss, but it never would have crossed my mind to delay sending a work related email to an employee’s work email when they are out of the office for a funeral. If it had been sent by text or IM that would have gone to OP’s phone that would be ridiculous and cruel, but forwarding a work message to a work email address does not require an apology no matter where OP was or how crappy the boss is otherwise.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I actually opened this thinking it was going to be a text, or a graveside note (which we’ve heard about before).

      2. Birch*

        It’s also not bad news in the sense that “you’re going to be fired” or “your dog died” is bad news. It’s frustrating but just a part of the process of being a researcher and often has nothing to do with the actual quality of the work. So I find it very telling that OP is so upset about it–I think it’s connected more to feelings about the boss in general rather than this actual situation because this actual situation is objectively Not a Big Deal.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          +1. Of course OP is upset, because she got bad news at a difficult time, but this particular thing doesn’t scream “terrible boss.” It seems like more of a bad timing/”bitch eating crackers” situation.

      3. Something Clever*

        Yes, I totally agree. In fact, I thought OP’s reaction was pretty over the top, to the point that I am skeptical that the boss is really so horrible overall.

        1. Birch*

          IMO it sounds like OP just hasn’t had a lot of experience in academic publishing yet, and a rejection can be emotionally difficult when you’ve put so much of yourself into the article. What I’m more interested in is why exactly OP thinks that emailing when it’s convenient for the sender is not a totally normal thing to do in any field. Maybe OP doesn’t have much/any work experience at all?

  4. LT*

    OP1’s letter reminds me of a situation I found myself in a couple of months ago. My director was out on bereavement, and the wake for her relative was a Friday evening. That Friday morning, I found out I was offered a job I had applied for, and with the way my personal and professional schedules were arranged, I needed to give my two weeks’ notice either that day or the next Monday, at the latest.
    I attended the wake but obviously kept any talk of work out of it, and told my immediate supervisor on Monday (the director was my grandboss, so I was at least able to tell someone above me without imposing on the director’s leave). My director was still out, but because she was so supportive of me advancing in my career, I felt the obligation to let her know, despite her being on leave. While I would’ve preferred to tell my director the news in person, the timing wouldn’t have worked out, so I sent an email to her on Monday acknowledging the sensitivity of her circumstance but letting her know about the news, and that I would be available to talk on the phone if she was able to.
    Out of the available methods of modern communication, phone calls require an immediate reaction, text messages less so, and emails definitely wait for the recipient to respond. Email was probably the least intrusive way to communicate to someone who’s on leave, as it is their choice (assuming they have the means) to check on it while out of the office.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      That seems like a very thoughtful way to handle it, especially in light of her support for your career.

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, when I lend folks to other departments, I lend my strongest performers because I know they’re quick learners, they’re competent, and they’ll reflect well on my team. I wouldn’t assume that you’ve received “non-essential” or low performers simply because they’ve been seconded to you. Of course they’ll be a learning curve. But if their work is generally accurate, improves over time, and reflects your coaching/direction, then ease up your level of review in proportion to their demonstrated levels of competency (and adjust as their competency increases over time).

    1. Runner*

      +1. I was confused by the assumption these are not good workers. Almost invariably, these tend to be high performers who can handle (both functionally and attitude-wise) their workloads plus a new assignment. And both have 10 years’ experience! I mean, it’s almost like the organization wants OP to succeed.

      1. Em Too*

        Agreed. My poor performers need to focus on getting the day job right. My stronger performers are up to date with their jobs and willing and able to try something new.

      2. Mookie*

        Seconding Runner and PCBH here. In competently-run organizations (and I understand, LW, that yours is not funding you a needed assistant and is also not long for this world, besides, so my characterizing it as competently-run may be unwarranted), the reports one “loan” outside of one’s department when someone else is experiencing a time crunch coupled with a high work load are not necessarily being gotten rid of*, and while being “loaned” out is sometimes a matter of seniority or just rank/function, it’s often an acknowledgement of a specific set of competencies that, in certain teams, are overlooked as not flashy or creative enough to attract special attention but without which few projects meet deadlines without error or need for extensive revision; since you require a meticulous approach to details, these people may fit your bill exceedingly well. Assuming that they lack investment in performing well is (a) probably something you’re already communicating to them, inadvertently, I should think, and (b) will not encourage them to do any additional investment; being regarded as invariably lazy and incompetent by a stranger with no familiarity with your work is predictably demoralizing. The eating in this proofing-of-pudding exercise all depends on how they’re performing now and how they’re absorbing your feedback (provided you’re giving them some and that it’s constructive). This is a good opportunity to either dip your toes into or brush up on your management skills, the soft and the hard ones, both. It’ll also make your life easier in the coming weeks as you adjust and adapt to making the most of this assistance**. They’re not the only ones being evaluated here, after all.

        *indeed, it’s unlikely to bring sunshine to the heads of those departments, but needs must
        **as you acknowledge, hovering over them is preventing you from your more specialized functions

        1. Mookie*

          Also, and this again may not apply to you, LW, but when someone is angling for the creation of a support position that will better enable them to do their job while farming out functions that aren’t essential, companies often test the waters in this way, gauging the true necessity of another position but also whether the current employee is up to task of efficiently managing someone in that role.

          1. TootsNYC*

            This is an important point!

            Now is a great opportunity (perhaps a necessity) to make the case of how much MORE valuable (to the bottom line and the core value) you and your department can be when YOU are freed up from the minutiae that a staffer would handle.

            You need to focus on that aspect of it.

            Sure, the work needs to be right, and sure, as the department head, you’re responsible for it, but no department head does other people’s work for them. Everyone you are delivering those spreadsheets to knows that you didn’t do them all yourself, and they expect you to handle accuracy -like a manager- :
            Train people carefully, ask them to show you how they’re doing things so you can evaluate, spot-check for accuracy, develop methods (automated if possible) that will let them know they’ve gotten something wrong, focus in on the things that are most important of all.

            But use this time to show the greater value YOU can be if you don’t have to do it all yourself. (And if the people who’ve been loaned to you aren’t as great as a full-time staffer would be, and if they make mistakes because they can’t concentrate on your work, that’s actually evidence that you need a full-timer.)

            Basically, you really need to show how more powerful you and your department can be when you are freed up to be the strategic department head. How will the company benefit when its Director of Your Dept. has brain space to plan strategically, interface more thoroughly with other departments, etc.?

          2. OP3*

            I honestly hadn’t considered this and it is definitely something I will ruminate on. I can see now how their is opportunity in this arrangement for something MORE, whereas before I didn’t see anything beyond these two months.

        2. MK*

          I think the OP meant it was not sustainable to have a one-person department, not that the whole company is falling apart.

    2. Julia*

      Yeah, I sometimes helped out other departments in my last job, and it wasn’t because I was underperforming in mine. It was because my underperforming co-worker was always “too busy” (sleeping) and avoided being assigned more work than the little she was already doing.

      Sure, sometimes you might get the people the other department wants to get rid of, but most times, I hope people get sent to other departments because they’re high performers. (In some cases probably even as “performance punishment”, i.e. “you’re doing well here, go and do a second job over there”, but that’s not the point here.)

      1. SusanIvanova*

        My last company had a loaning-out program where an employee could join another team for about six weeks, for cross-training in something they thought was interesting, or to collaborate on something that couldn’t be done if they had to do their original team’s work at the same time.

    3. Lars the Real Girl*

      Agreed on lending strong performers. Not only because I’d want any employee of mine to be a good reflection of our team within the company, but the old adage of “if you want something done, you find the busiest person in the room and ask them to do it” Because they’re usually the best ones.

      1. Hellanon*

        Yeah. When I was starting my career (and later, in new jobs), I volunteered to be the one who got “lent out” as it was a good way to learn different tasks, meet other departments, and generally raise my profile in the company in positive ways. Getting a reputation for being willing & able to master new tasks can be a good way to advance in companies with a cooperative culture.

      2. Lance*

        ‘Not only because I’d want any employee of mine to be a good reflection of our team within the company.’ And that’s just the key point here; sending over someone less competent makes the person sending them look bad, which is generally not what functional managers want (short of a given warning that they’re sending an underperformer in their department).

    4. MK*

      This assumption on the OP’s part is really unwarranted, especially since she also mentions that their department’s workload is temporarily low. It’s not impossible that they send her people they wanted gone for a while, but it’s very likely they are people who had already completed their tasks, or whose particular skills aren’t needed right now, or the most junior people (that’s how my org usually handles HR “loans”). And the assumption that they are going to do a poor job, because they just don’t care about the future of the department is bordering on paranoid; most decent workers do a good job automatically, they don’t recalibrate their skill according to where they will be in three months time. After all, they are still going to be working for the company, yes? If major mistakes are revealed later, it will presumably affect their perfromance reviews.

      Frankly, my sympathies here are mostly with these employees. Instead of being able to take advantage of their department’s slow period, they have been loaned to do what sounds like grunt work for another manager, who takes it for granted that they suck, or else they wouldn’t have been given to her, and that they have bad work ethic to boot. This sounds pretty weird to me, because it has happened twice for people to be temporarily reassigned to our team because of increased workload and my managers’ attitude towards these people was “sorry for the inconvenience, thanks for the help”.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Frankly, my sympathies here are mostly with these employees. Instead of being able to take advantage of their department’s slow period, they have been loaned to do what sounds like grunt work for another manager, who takes it for granted that they suck, or else they wouldn’t have been given to her, and that they have bad work ethic to boot.

        This. Give the employees a chance, OP! Assuming they are incompetent and unmotivated certainly isn’t going to help you, or them. You might think you’re keeping your feelings to yourself, but that type of attitude seeps out and it’s very toxic. Take this as an opportunity to show your company that 1) a permanent admin would improve the department’s productivity (not going to happen if you won’t let the loaner admins help you), and 2) you can effectively manage people (start by ditching the unfounded, negative attitude).

        1. OP3*

          I am not a manager, I have no one below me or any direct reports, and have not been trained on how to manage people – it’s a wake up call to hear such a criticism of my attitude and is definitely something I will have to work on addressing. I also hadn’t considered that this opportunity could help me better negotiate for a permanent assistant, which is also something I need to reflect on.

          Just as an FYI – I realize that this is an error in how I wrote my letter to Alison, but these two employees aren’t admins. They normally do physical labor in their jobs – I don’t want to state that they have “no experience” with computers (obviously almost anyone living in my country in 2017 has some experience with computers) but it is not a main component of their normal job duties.

          1. Snarky*

            I wondered a bit if you assumed the temporary employees wouldn’t be any good because you lack confidence in your employer to do right by you given your struggles in getting permanent help – they don’t seem to care about my needs so whomever gets sent my way probably won’t be any good. I’d just make sure you’re not taking out your frustrations with your employer on those sent to help who had nothing to do with it. Also, I’d look for the things these temporary employees are doing well that are truly helping you, and express sincere appreciation for it. People often live up to (or down to) the level you expect of them. If I was doing work not related to what I normally did, that kind of feedback would be invaluable to me.

      2. TootsNYC*

        “And the assumption that they are going to do a poor job, because they just don’t care about the future of the department”

        This is bad management. It’s a manager’s job to inspire people to care about the future of the departments they work in.

        So, even if they’re not with you long-term, why wouldn’t they care a little anyway, just because it’s the same company?

        And, a good manager presents the tasks that need doing, and the department’s mission, in a way that makes it clear how important these things are to the company, to the other departments they interact with, and (when *I* do it) to the betterment of the world in general (go, copyeditors! save the world!).

    5. Fergalicious*

      I’ve been loaned to other departments precisely because my supervisors trust me to do both my day to day and coverage well. My managers and I always get good feedback too, that I’ve been very helpful on the coverage assignments.

    6. AdAgencyChick*

      I have to lend and borrow a lot, and the way it usually works is that I figure out what my own team’s needs are during a less-busy period, then choose the person whose absence will be least likely to cause headaches. This does not necessarily mean the least competent person! If the workload coming through my team is mostly stuff a junior-level person can take care of, I will lend out a more experienced writer. If I need someone more experienced to stick with my team, then I offer up the junior writers. But I wouldn’t lend out an incompetent person. If I think someone’s incompetent, I work on getting them up to speed or getting them out of the organization.

      One thing I would do in OP’s shoes is clarify exactly what the agreement is with the loaned employees’ managers. It *is* hard to get a loaned employee to take the same level of ownership over work as someone who reports to you would have. I would assume they’re conscientious and hard-working until I see evidence otherwise, BUT what happens if work in their own department suddenly picks up? (And how likely is that to happen?) Will they tell you, “Sorry, I can’t work on this today, I need to go back to X project for my own boss?” If the agreement can be rescinded at any time, that’s not a good setup for you, and you have a case to go back to your boss and say that unless you can have more reliable help, you can’t guarantee that all your work will get done.

      To be clear, you wouldn’t be calling the *employees* unreliable, just pointing out that you (and they) have been placed in a situation that makes it difficult or impossible to count on their help.

      1. OP3*

        Our agreement is that I have the two employees until mid-January; they do most of their work outdoors and it is winter here (and will be winter well past January, but their department does have off-season work that also needs to get done, and it was decided by their manager that those tasks could be accomplished between January and March).

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

          Do they show any signs of not knowing how to use the computer, or do data entry? If they do, then that’s obviously an issue, but depending on your field the fact that they do physical labour most of the time might not be a good reflection of their other skills.

          For instance, I’m an archaeologist. Normally I’m outside in a muddy hole digging with a mattock and shovel, drawing things by hand and writing up data forms on paper. But I did a lot of computer-based work for my research (e.g. statistics, SQL), and I’m a bit of a geek and like to tinker with computers. Eons ago I worked in customer service and administrative roles. Obviously your people might be different but I wouldn’t assume that they have no experience just because it isn’t their main job. It’s actually really common for us to go spend time in the office doing various data entry tasks like this if work is slow or the weather is bad.

          In any case it sounds like you just need a little support in how to manage people. Frankly I wouldn’t know how to do it either! And it’s probably to be expected that they might not be quite as invested in your department as you are, but as long as they are doing what they need to do and doing it well enough I think you can relax a bit.

    7. Fortitude Jones*

      OP#3, when I lend folks to other departments, I lend my strongest performers because I know they’re quick learners, they’re competent, and they’ll reflect well on my team.

      This. I worked at a law firm for nearly three years and was loaned out to other departments pretty regularly because after a year in my position, it was obvious I was outpacing my peers in terms of workload completion and accuracy (I was the only one in my department to get a 100% rating on my file audits). No well-functioning employer would loan out bad performers to another department because it would be a waste for both groups. Hell, my law firm was terribly mismanaged and dysfunctional and even they knew that.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        I just spent 6 months dealing with temp loaned employee and now have the original employee back…oh, how I miss the loaner.

    8. Merula*

      Adding the thousandth agreement with this. My company doesn’t do loans often, but I’m part of a newly-reorged department pushing out a massive teapot design project. The person who used to do glazing testing is now on a completely different team, so we are borrowing someone from the teapot lid department who handles their glazing.

      She’s amazing. Phenomenal. Way better than the past people who had their sole job as glazing testing, probably because she knows more about the process; she’s been finding their errors left and right.

      She was lent to us because she’s so good; my company isn’t great at promotion and recognition, so this is a way to get her new experiences and review fodder.

      1. Susanne*

        Sometimes those who are “lent out” are those who are seen as rising stars and therefore the “loaning out” is a way to give them experience in facets of the business that they aren’t generally exposed to, especially in a company where you have to get that experience hands-on as opposed to a formal management training program. I think your assumption that they are probably aren’t very good is what is holding you back here.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Susanne, I agree 100% with this. This is why I was always loaned out in a previous company, and it really gave me a lot of diverse experience. I looked at it as a reward, actually.

          When other departments asked for help in the past, I always gave them someone who would make out department look good. There’s no way I’d lend out someone who was struggling or was a poor performer in general; it would make me look bad! Plus, those people need to focus on what’s in front of them.

          1. LQ*

            Yup this! This is what happens a lot here. Unless I specifically ask for someone who isn’t great (which I have, I just need someone who can fold and stuff envelopes for 8 hours a day kind of stuff) I know that when I’m asking for a person on loan that I’m getting the best people, and often I’ll get a chance to negotiate based on what I need (I need someone who can do tedious detailed work, vs take a task and run with it, vs work closely with me on developing something, vs good with computers). But they always give me good people. (And having been lent out several times as well, it was only because I was doing well!) And we have occasionally been able to keep those people which is awesome, or ask for them to come back frequently (like share them).

            Lending employees is nearly always a recognition of excellence and potential to move up/over/expand in the org.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        my company isn’t great at promotion and recognition, so this is a way to get her new experiences and review fodder.

        This was the case for my firm. People rarely got promoted (the firm was a churn and burn factory-type deal), so they would see who had interest in assisting other departments when time allowed and would go from there.

    9. Shiara*

      Nthing this. Also, I was loaned to a small department whose work I had previously expressed interest in during their busy period, and the loan ended up being made permanent. Maybe the LW knows that won’t happen, or has other reasons to believe the two aren’t good workers, but from the information available in the letter, the assumptions seem surprising.

    10. Bea*

      Exactly! My thought process is to lend the person who is going to do the best job and has time because they’re generally fast at their own tasks, hence why they have time to spare.

    11. Trout 'Waver*

      Absolutely agree.

      Also, if I felt that the team members I loaned out to another manager were being perceived as less competent by that manager, I would be very hesitant to help that manager in the future. Not because of some tit-for-tat pettiness. But, because I care a great deal about my team members’ morale and engagement.

    12. OP3*

      I didn’t realize that my question had come off that way, and you are correct that I am not giving them the benefit of the doubt. These two employees work in a department that does outdoor work – they don’t have regular access to computers (really just to log in and see their assignment for the day, then they leave in a work truck and are gone from the building all day). We’re in a heavy winter here, so that’s when that department has less work to do and transitions to doing more maintenance/catch-up work.

      I think my poor attitude about it has more to do with their (lack of) work on computers, which gets me very nervous. However, hearing all the commenters state they only loan out their best/good employees is reassuring and honestly something I hadn’t thought about before. I am going to try to focus on that instead, while trying to correct my urge to double-check their work.

      1. TootsNYC*

        why not talk to them?

        Tell them you’re a little worried that they have less experience on computers, explain the necessity (to others, and the company) that what they do be accurate, and then ask if they have suggestions for how to be sure that what they’ve done is accurate, without you checking everything they’re doing.

        They may surprise you! (Or, maybe they can check one another’s work… Checking someone’s inputting is often support-staff work; department heads only do it when they’re training, or when something is extra-high-profile, or on a sporadic basis. They’re your support–they can check one another.)

        1. OP3*

          Your suggestion to have them check each other’s work is such a light-bulb moment that I actually said “DUH” out loud. THANK YOU.

          I’m totally over my head here – I know that I’ve been asking for an assistant but I wasn’t expecting to be handed two people out of the blue and told to “find them work” immediately. I hadn’t come up with a plan, didn’t have time to transition, and now I feel like I’m scrambling. Anyways – thanks. I can fix this and I can make this situation into something better and more helpful both for me and for them, and I really appreciate it.

          1. AM*

            I’m sometimes in a similar situation – we have field workers who don’t have enough to do, and I take on part time people to do admin catch-up. The field workers know that if they pick up computer skills they can sometimes avoid winter layoff, so they have incentive to work. Some of them enjoy it and some don’t, and I get to know who to ask for next time.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This is honestly a great opportunity for you, too, OP! Assuming these folks are not the dregs of another department, you get the chance to practice managing skills with them—something you’ll need if you’re able to secure an assistant (or if you’re able to grow your department). So in addition to being able to demonstrate the business case for why you need an assistant long-term, you’re also getting a professional development opportunity that will strengthen your promote-ability in the future.

            But yes, please do ask them to assess their skills for you. I’ve found people are usually pretty self-aware, and they’re more willing to disclose their shortcomings if they think you believe in them. Managing and delegating can be really hard at the beginning, especially if you’re in a position where meticulousness really matters. Honestly, I still struggle with both!

            Alison has great guidance, though, to help you feel less underwater. You’ll still feel like you’re in the deep end, but at least you’ll have floaties!

      2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

        If they don’t have very good computer skills they might really enjoy and appreciate a chance to work on them. Also if you usually work outside in the cold it can be a welcome break to be in the office, so they probably have an incentive to do a good job so that they can come and work indoors the next time bad weather hits!

    13. designbot*

      I tend to lend people who just happen to be coming off of a big project and have massive amounts of availability. It has nothing to do with their skill level–in fact, I always brief whoever I’m lending to on the ways they work best so that they can get some expectation alignment. It’ll be like, “That would be really good timing to loan Sansa because she’s just coming off of the Bolton project, but she’s super junior and needs checking in with a couple times a day. Does that work for you?”
      Between your method of doing this and mine, I feel like there’s a wide world of options here other than loaning out your weakest workers.

    14. TardyTardis*

      I worked for someone very like the OP, and there was a reason she had only one employee to supervise at a time. She ran through four other accountants before she found one who could read her mind (and then she retired). She used to supervise several other people, but micromanaged them so hard nobody ever wanted to fill a gap internally after a few years. Eventually she only had the one accountant, but only because she physically couldn’t do that part of the job herself.

      Don’t be that person. Please.

  6. Drew*

    LW#2, I think Alison’s script (especially the second one) may be soft-pedaling a bit. What I would tell someone in the same situation, especially if the problem continues after Alison’s first script, is pretty blunt: “Someone in your position has to be able to accept feedback without pushing back on it or feeling a need to justify your errors. Can you commit to accepting corrections and guidance without arguing moving forward, or should we talk about your end date and figure out how to gracefully hand off your work before that time?”

    If someone came to work for me and in less than three weeks had alienated someone in senior management AND one of our clients, I’d be worried about how much more damage they could do if I kept them, not about how best to work with them to improve. It’s not a manager’s job to fix someone who isn’t working out but to make sure the work gets done correctly, on time, and on budget.

    1. Cap Hiller*

      I agree but I don’t re your script. Although I agree with the seriousness of the situation, you don’t want to imply that the report can’t ever share thoughts on the more squishy/less black-and-white conversations. For example, in OP’s first example, was he or she making a “suggestion but no really change it”? If so, OP should have just asked the report to change it, not suggested it.

      1. Mookie*

        For example, in OP’s first example, was he or she making a “suggestion but no really change it”? If so, OP should have just asked the report to change it, not suggested it.

        That’s true, that the guidance was vague there, but that’s also sort of the point. If you’re the OP, you’ve got to be able to trust the judgment of your reports and their ability to sometimes and eventually make smart choices independently, particularly when they’re client-facing and you’re not going to be baby-sitting those interactions for the remainder of their employment; nudging them towards a better answer and a sounder method for obtaining it is useful for evaluating whether or not they understand cues and are willing to objectively consider a contrary opinion without first reverting to defensive, knee-jerk hostility. The OP led her report to where the answer to that question about language was located: you double-check your client’s materials and use that as proof of the strength of your position. Seeing the evidence in front of him and then denying reality is him failing that test.

        I do disagree, though, with the LW, that this habit isn’t malicious. The intent doesn’t matter if the end-result is that a client’s back’s up and, secondly, this sounds like the defensive behavior of a large-egoed or insecure person. Egos and insecurities, unchecked, can be toxic, which would lead to the same result if he were getting some kind of kick out of being difficult and stubborn. The LW has the right idea by not wanting to alienate him but instead name and address behavior that will debilitate him and anyone he works with in the long-run.

        1. Mookie*

          Also, taking shortcuts as he did, ignoring simple procedures, maybe even trying to “optimize” things he doesn’t really understand yet — and in under a month — is pretty damning and speaks, among other things, to a lousy work ethic, where’d you’d rather waste time arguing than check to make sure what exactly it is you’re arguing and why (and whether it’s petty to begin with).

      2. Drew*

        I disagree. With someone who has a track record of thoughtful suggestions and questions that don’t start from the premise that they’re right and I’m wrong, sure, we can have those squishy conversations. With someone who’s already building enough of a reputation after three weeks that he’s pissed off a client badly enough for them to say “Don’t assign him to us anymore,” and has come to the attention of at least one senior manager, my approach is “You need to do what I’m telling you to do, how I’m telling you to do it. Don’t ask a question unless you don’t understand the instructions – if you disagree with them, that’s something we can talk about after you complete the assignment the way I’ve asked you to.”

        I’ve BEEN the employee who pushes back and tries to interpret what I’m supposed to do instead of just doing what I’ve been told. My boss had to have almost exactly this conversation with me, complete with a very uncomfortable “I supported what you told the client because you happened to be right, but you were WAY out of line in raising the issue with them instead of asking me privately, and you can’t make that mistake again if you want to keep working here” conversation. Fortunately, I had the sense to “shut up and soldier,” and I eventually won that boss’s trust back, but it was a matter of a year or more.

        1. Just employed here*

          As someone who has been the team leader of someone like this (and was relieved when he quit to get another job, where he didn’t last long before he called to ask for his old job back — fortunately, he got turned down), I’m happy and surprised to hear that you were able to learn from the feedback and turn your situation around. Well done on that!

      3. neverjaunty*

        But this isn’t a problem of an employee having trouble knowing when to advocate and when to let go. This is someone so invested in always being right that he denies reality rather than admit he made a mistake. To the point of alienating a client.

      4. Snark*

        But it’s reasonably understood by a report that when a knowledgeable and decent boss makes a suggestion, that’s mostly padding language over a directive, and that they probably have very good reasons for directing you to make that change. I “suggest” things to people all the time, with the mutual understanding that they will be done.

        And at this point, the report needs to err on the side of just shutting up and doing as told. He can phase sharing thoughts back in if he walks himself back off the ledge.

        1. Close Bracket*

          There is a surprisingly large percentage of the population that doesn’t get hints. Nobody (in management) has ever died from being direct, and it won’t kill management to try to understand how different people operate, either.

    2. Em*

      The only exception I might make is of this employee is fresh out of college/this is a first professional job. In that case, I’d go the stern warning route, but not immediately write it off as a lost cause. I’ve met a lot of people in my career that are Big Fish in small college pond and need to be acclimated to the real world, where they do not poop rainbows.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But it’s not on the LW to do the acclimatize game, even if this guy could be salvaged. He’s alienating clients and he’s only been there three weeks. If he’s going to get over his fragile need to be right all the time, he needs to do it in an environment that isn’t client-facing.

        1. Close Bracket*

          > But it’s not on the LW to do the acclimatize game

          Isn’t it? The LW doesn’t say whether they are New Hire’s direct manager or not, but if they are, then, yeah, it is on the LW to do the acclimatize game. Being manager isn’t all handing out assignments and shutting down arguments. They also have to care about their people and understand them in order to develop their workers, and that goes for workers at all experience levels.

      2. Snark*

        Well, sometimes that acclimitization is gentle and mentorly, and sometimes it comes with a pink slip and your shit in a box. I disagree that the OP should factor that in when making a decision about what to do about this very significant performance issue, though.

    3. Snark*

      I’m kinda in your boat, Drew. I’d be going into this with firing explicitly on the table – the alienating clients thing being the main issue. If someone can’t represent the company well to the clients, that’s a major, major issue connected to but on top of the issue of not being able to take feedback. And it’d be fatal, with my employer – we live or die on our client relationships, and if we need to, we swallow our damn pride.

      1. fposte*

        I certainly think it makes sense for it to be part of the conversation; I might change Alison’s language about “succeeding here” to be more explicit about staying at this job, not just doing it well.

        1. Snark*

          That’s what I had in mind – maybe give the guy two or three weeks to show a significant change, but make it very clear that if it doesn’t, he would not be retained.

  7. Anonymoos*

    #4: As someone who was in a very similar situation, yes, look at everything. I quit my last job after a year and it took me over a year to find a new job and by that point I was barely scraping by (thank goodness for occasional odd jobs). I know it may be a bitter pill to swallow when you expect to get fulfillment out of your job, but laying in bed wondering how you’re going to pay for food in a month’s time feels a lot worse.

  8. Not My Monkeys*

    Letter 2: the best part about the script offered is that if he disagees, he’s proving the OP’s point perfectly.

  9. Finally Got Around to Posting After Lurking*

    OP2, I have worked with a person like this before – nothing was ever their fault, they always managed to blame everyone else. The main issue arising from this was his inability to learn from his mistakes, as according to him, they were always someone elses fault, even when I had proof that it was an error of his making.

    He was making the same errors in spreadsheet formulas time after time after time, leaving everyone else to pick up his mistakes. This lead to major friction within the Team, as we were constantly having to check his work even after he said he’d fixed it. We had clients refuse to work with him, as his work would have constant mistakes, meaning extra work for everyone else, while he sat looking at Facebook. Luckily he moved on to a new workplace in the past 18 months, and, funnily enough, there have been no errors slipping through.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        Bad manager? Decent manager blocked by bad HR? Nepotism? You should know by now that there are all sorts of (bad) reasons for a terrible employee to be kept on the payroll.

    1. Finally Got Around to Posting After Lurking*

      A combination of a series of managers, who would start the ball rolling, then leave, and an incompetent HR Manager who insisted the new managers start the process from scratch again, plus an employee taking advantage of our generous personal leave, and when he knew a major mistake was about to blow up, he’d take a week off sick, we’d run around and fix it (and document), and he would return, insisting that it couldn’t have been as big a mistake as we made out, as he’d left everything perfectly, so it must have been our fault. Trust me, the champagne flowed after he left! Joy of joys, the incompetent HR manager has now become our manager, and, is worthy of a post all on his own of all his various issues!

  10. Artemesia*

    I have had a lot of rejections (and a lot of acceptances) from journals over the years but none of them has gone to my boss. Why was the boss getting your email from editors? Or was he just snooping in your email while you were gone? Or was this considered a work necessity to cover your email while you were gone? Very odd.

    And the worker who has already alienated a client in 3 weeks? This person should be on notice that it doesn’t look like ‘it is working out’ and you should be considering the steps to termination. It is one thing if it is the result of an honest newbie mistake, that happens, or if it is a difficult client and not the employees fault, but this guy has given ample evidence that he is going to be a pill to work with and damage the business. I don’t understand why he hasn’t already been told that he is on thin ice and needs to turn this behavior around or he will be terminated. One incidence of his arguing should have been a cause for firm feedback; several coupled with alienating a client suggests management is dropping the ball here. I doubt he can change; he needs to be gone if he doesn’t.

    1. Geneticist*

      Could be that her boss is the corresponding author. If so, journals often send communication to that person and not necessarily the first author.

      1. Artemesia*

        Oh that would make sense. I assumed the OP was annoyed because they were embarrassed to have failed in front of the boss and thus the overreaction on the email. I would expect work emails to continue in my absence with the idea that I would deal with emails when I chose — it isn’t a ‘right now’ message like a call or text. I didn’t have the vibe that they were doing published work with the boss, but that would account for him getting the email which would be a rejection of his work as well as the OPs.

      2. Snark*

        Almost guaranteed. The corresponding author is often, but not always, the lead author, and the corresponding author is the point of contact; I suspect OP was a contributing author not lead, but even if she was lead, he might have handled the submission.

  11. Dan*


    OP… TBH, your letter is really, really vague. You don’t mention your field or what went wrong at your last job, so it’s hard to give specific advice.

    But in general, it’s really difficult to “judge a book by its cover,” so to speak. It’s usually really difficult to know much about what a “company” is like to work for from the the outside. I use quotes, because in reality, your department and team dictate your work environment, not the company — and it’s often difficult to know which department you are applying for. Second, most people write lousy job ads.

    On top of that, when you are inexperienced, it’s really hard to know which tea leaves to read, and how to read them. You may not even be able to accurately pinpoint the causes of the things that went wrong.

    My suggestion is to apply for everything under the sun, and interview like crazy. Granted, even interviews aren’t perfect, but you’ll hopefully get a better sense of the manager, job and team from the interview.

    Pro tip: Entry level jobs usually aren’t the most glamorous. You need them to get the experience to get the jobs you want in the long run.

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      I agree that when you’re less experienced it may be hard to read the tea leaves, but I think there are lots of ways to find out what a company is like to work for. None of these are fool-proof but things like speaking to others you may know in the company, asking about why the prior employee left and what turnover in the position/department is like, checking online reviews, etc are all really good ways to form a picture of what it’s like to work there.

      That being said, there may always be bad departments and bad managers.

      (Also, I think most letters are really vague on purpose but that doesn’t mean the advice changes. The take-aways are the same whether she’s in teapot design or in camel husbandry.)

    2. Bookworm*

      I agree; I’m unclear on what sort of ‘toxic’ environment OP is trying to avoid. If it’s stuff like a crazy boss and dysfunctional co-workers, in my experience that sort of thing can often be difficult to discern from only the job posting. Usually, that’s stuff you’re more likely to pick-up on in the interview, so it’s still worth applying.

      Often life is a bit of a ‘pick your poison’ sort of deal, and over time most of us learn that there are some types of dysfunction we can sigh about and maneuver around, and some that are corrosive to our very soul.

      1. Britt*

        “Often life is a bit of a ‘pick your poison’ sort of deal, and over time most of us learn that there are some types of dysfunction we can sigh about and maneuver around, and some that are corrosive to our very soul.”

        +1 – this is amazing.

      2. fposte*

        I think that last point is really significant. I’m wondering if the OP’s previous job scared her into a level of risk aversion that’s going to be a problem. I’m glad she’s open to applying more places and I definitely think that’s the thing to do now.

    3. OP4*

      Hi there-this was me. I do realize my letter was vague, only because there were so many compounding factors about my last job that led me to leave that it could have been a short story. I’m realizing from the comments that my letter came across as more of me attempting to screen work environments from the job posting (which I’m not, because I realize that’s practically impossible). Obviously I hope to end up in a better work environment, I am picking over jobs that are not relevant to my degrees/future plans/interests etc, but am wondering if I’ll just have to end up in a position I have no interest in for the time being, just for the sake of getting a job.

      1. Sarah*

        I think there’s a difference between a toxic work environment that is actively bad for your mental and physical health (where, rightly so, being unemployed may be a better option than being in such a bad environment) versus taking a job that is just generally not the most exciting/interesting. If you pick up serious red flags in interviews that indicate your boss is going to be abusive or any other really serious problems, I think it’s appropriate to turn those jobs down even when you’ve been unemployed for a while. But if it’s just “I’m qualified to do this job but I don’t think the work will be super exciting and it’s not a great match for my interests,” then I think that’s true of many entry level jobs and is just kind of part of the deal of starting out in your career. I definitely worked some non-ideal jobs when I was younger that weren’t exactly what I wanted, but ultimately much better than not being able to pay the bills.

    4. Anon!*

      I doubt that #4 is as extreme a case as my friend, but I saw shades of my friend in that letter. I believe the letter writer as I did my friend, that the job was truly detrimental to their health. But I do think it’s helpful to hear the reality that it won’t be the last bad job they have, more than likely. I wasn’t wise enough to counsel my friend in that way since we were the same age at the time. She’s now been unemployed for four years– and it really started with wanting to get the “perfect” job. It spiraled into something much more complex than what the letter writer is going through, obviously, but I don’t think new grads hear the realities of the working world enough!

  12. tink*

    OP4, definitely YES. Take seasonal work, look at local reputable temp agencies, and if nothing else… national chain barista (at a dedicated store, not one that’s part of another store), or a certain grocery store that recently did stuff with amazon both typically start above minimum wage and will have you doing varied and sometimes interesting things.

    1. Starbuck*

      “national chain barista (at a dedicated store, not one that’s part of another store)”

      I’m curious, what’s the distinction there? Are they managed differently? I didn’t realize that coffee shops inside, say, a grocery store paid their workers less than stand-alone locations (and probably would have assumed the opposite since they presumably have lower overhead).

      1. Al Lo*

        The stores inside of grocery stores are run by the grocery store itself, not to the licensed chain. So, the benefits, etc., of the chain aren’t applicable to store employees, the training tends to be sub-standard, and so on. The product is supposed to be held to the same standard, and they have representatives visit, but having worked at both a Barnes & Noble Cafe serving Starbucks and at an actual Starbucks (or 5), the training as a barista was very different.

        Starbucks is known for great benefits for part-time workers, but that wouldn’t apply to the grocery store locations — the benefits would be based on the grocery store benefits, which may not be as good for employees at 20 hrs/week.

      2. Zinnea*

        When I tried to tip the barista at the Starbucks with a Target, they told me they were not allowed to accept tips.

  13. Sarah*

    LW1: The boss may be a jerk in other areas, but what he did was perfectly normal and not offense-worthy. Emails don’t have a timeline. I respond to emails at night– that by no means requires a response at 2 AM just because that is when I sent my email. The way I, as well as many others, manage emails is by dealing with them immediately, otherwise they get buried and lost in the inbox.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      +1 on dealing with email immediately, rather than plan to remember to forward the email several days from now.

  14. Kiwi*

    LW2, to borrow an idea from someone in the excellent Captain Awkward community, imagine how you’d feel if your new guy argues like this for the next 2 years. That’d be infuriating enough to make a saint fire him. I reckon you’re likely to have to fire him and better to do it sooner rather than later. It’ll be easier on you and the business, and less of a set-back for him because if he’s only in the job for a few weeks, he can just leave it off his resume.

    1. Liane*

      Or how your other reports and that senior person feel about *you* after 2 years of you letting this go?

  15. Close Bracket*

    OP #2:

    Don’t stop at telling him to change. Be sure to tell him explicitly that his pushback is impacting your opinion of him and that his continued employment hinges on making changes.

    1. MCM*

      Fully agree with you. His poor performance and bad attitude reflects on his supervisor. In 3 weeks he’s upset a client, how many more does he have to upset before you get rid of him. They could be wondering why you haven’t written up at this stage?

      You need to meet with him and have a “come to Jesus moment” with him. He still defensive, passes the buck, and refuses to admit making mistakes it might be best to terminate him than and there.

      1. OP 2*

        OP2 here. I provided an update above. We did have our tough conversation before my letter got published as I felt I needed to address it sooner than later. At this point, he will have not direct client interactions until there is progress at his response to feedback and coaching. He did accept the feedback well and I can see him thinking through his responses to the other team members. However, until there is a comfort level with his interactive skills, there will be little or no client contact.

        1. Close Bracket*

          I’m glad you are willing to work on his interactive skills before firing him straight out. I hope your willingness to work is not lost on him.

  16. MilkMoon (UK)*

    LW2: I can’t imagine this is going to get better – even *I* can keep up the pretence of being an ideal employee for three flippin’ weeks.

    1. JamieS*

      I hope this doesn’t mean you’re known for being a bad employee. Anyway, I agreed. By all means talk to him and give feedback but if I were OP I’d be refreshing myself on the company’s termination process and steeling myself to implement it sooner rather than later.

  17. Stellaaaaa*

    OP4: Consider focusing on companies rather than positions, provided you have the basic skill sets. That’s one way to change the way you’re casting your net. I’ll accept any position if I like the company enough. Along those lines, the perfect job at the wrong company could make you miserable.

  18. Tuesday Next*

    OP2, I was pretty shocked to see that your employee is only 3 weeks into this role, and already behaving like a complete ass. 3 weeks to alienate a senior manager and a client must be some kind of record. In 6 months time, how many clients will be refusing to work with him? I think you’re downplaying the seriousness of the situation. And it’s going to come back and bite you later on. Probably not too much later.

    My guess is that this guy thinks that he looks bad if he is found to be “in the wrong”. He doesn’t realise that he looks sooo much worse by refusing to admit his mistakes, and insisting on having the last word. It’s really immature behaviour.

    1. Jwal*

      Yes – at three weeks in most people would be being on their best behaviour, and if this is his best behaviour then that’s really concerning…

    2. Lily*

      Yeah, I found his time/alienation ratio pretty impressing. Within three weeks?! I don’t know how I’d even manage to do that on purpose!

  19. JamieS*

    OP #4, I get the impression your primary concern is avoiding another toxic environment and at the risk of speculating it seems like you’re trying to spot a toxic work environment via the job ads. Perhaps on some level you think if the job sounds interesting and like something you’d enjoy then it either can’t be a toxic job or you’d be able to overlook any toxicity because the work is interesting.

    If this sounds even remotely accurate I’d encourage you to drop that line of thinking immediately. You won’t be able to overlook any toxicity (least not for a sustainable amount of time) and there’s really no way to tell if an environment is toxic without having some sort of contact with it (such as in an interview). You definitely can’t tell just from a job ad. The best thing to do is due diligence prior to accepting an interview (industry reputation, Glassdoor reviews, etc.) and to look for signs of toxicity during the interview process. I think there was a post within the last couple weeks on that that would help.

    1. Anon for this one time*

      Also, I think it’s worth noting that toxic is often in the eye of the beholder. Sure, it’s a red flag if a company has a lot of bad Glassdoor reviews and those should be taken seriously, but I work for what I think is a reasonably good company, in a pretty good department, but there are people around me who consider it a toxic environment. I’ve also thrived in positions where previous incumbents couldn’t deal. I’m not saying due diligence is bad at all, and you certainly have a good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t at this point, but it also might be a bad idea to skip applying for a job you’re interested in just because it turned out to be a bad environment for other people. People value different things!

    2. Dust Bunny*


      One of the most technically boring jobs I ever had was unloading the dish machine in the college dining hall . . . and I loved it because my coworkers and the lunch ladies were awesome. A lot of students avoided food service jobs because ugh, dirty and tiring, but those of us who took them usually did them all four years and were practically a fraternity/sorority because the work environment was great, even if the work itself was messy and repetitive, and we were as happy to see the food service workers at reunion as we were to see our friends.

    3. OP4*

      Hi there–while yes I am definitely hoping to avoid a work environment like the one I left, I realize it is impossible to screen for such a thing through job postings alone. I am armed with interview questions that I think could help me pinpoint potential red flags in the future, but at the moment am concerned with just finding a job that is related to my interests, which is what I meant when I said I was being pickier.

  20. MommyMD*

    Your boss is a j erk OP 1. I’m sorry about your loss.

    Your new employee is neither bright nor creative OP 2. You flatter him. He is argumentative and defensive. That is his core personality. He’s already alienated staff and a CLIENT. Cut your losses.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      This is a really good point. He’s not bright – he is a pain in the neck!

      I think it’s worth one good conversation laying out the necessary changes (I’ve seen the odd update on here where that actually worked) but then he needs to go.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, I’ve seen the odd “I was always late until I hit a point in my life where that had negative repercussions, at which point I quickly became a person who is on time.” Sometimes all it takes is one good stare down the double barrel of serious consequences for someone to find it in themselves to mature right out of something. (Far more likely if you’re pretty new to adulthood, though.)

    2. Uh Huh Her*

      Bright and creative people can be argumentative and defensive. The two sets of characteristics are not mutually exclusive.

        1. Uh Huh Her*

          I think that’s a bit of an over-reach. Bright people make mistakes too. You seem to be assuming the absolute worst possible interpretation here. Are you always this negative?

            1. OP 2*

              OP2 again — actually he is bright and creative so there are positives. He seems to struggle with social cues, which is tough in a client facing role but if he is open to change, that is a big step. I really do not believe he was being deliberately difficult.

  21. Birch*

    OP 1 I’m also a researcher. Getting a paper rejected is disappointing but it happens a LOT and it doesn’t necessarily say anything about the quality of your work. I’m guessing either you aren’t the first or corresponding author or you would have gotten the email yourself from the editor, so it’s also not your responsibility to respond right away. In my field we email each other pretty much constantly, over 9 time zones and different life schedules. It’s not practical to expect people to email you only when it’s convenient for you. It’s hard to stick to, but I really recommend keeping certain time-sensitive-free in your life, and really do not check your email Anna don’t set any email notifications on your phone. Then you won’t get blindsided by stressful emails during situations when you need all your emotional attention elsewhere.

    1. Birch*

      I just read it again and saw that OP wasn’t checking emails during the funeral, just found the email later that had been sent during the funeral. OP this is completely normal work behavior. You can’t expect people to remember your schedule and time their emails accordingly, especially when you aren’t even going to respond immediately. How did you even notice the time stamp unless you were specifically thinking about it? The only thing I’m wondering is if he isn’t a coauthor, then this is an overstep. But otherwise this is something that happens all the time. You could spend a little time thinking about why it made you so upset and if it’s that your boss is generally so unkind that it makes you overthink everything he does, you might start looking for a new job.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

        Yes, I don’t really see the problem with the timing. Unless the boss expects the OP to be checking their emails constantly and responding instantly, which this letter does not say is the case. Email is kind of the equivalent of putting something in your internal mailbox, I think — people assume that you will look at it when you have the chance. Your boss doesn’t sound pleasant, OP1, but I don’t think they did anything wrong here.

      2. Cobol*

        I want to pile on here, but not pile on OP #2 (while suggesting they really investigate what’s causing their feelings).
        There was absolutely nothing wrong with what the manager did here. At all. I have no reason to believe the manager is “generally rude, dismissive, and he has made humiliating comments about me in front of others,” but I would suggest that OP really try to get to the bottom of their feelings, and see if they aren’t letting personal feelings about their boss color their perceptions of his actions.

        1. Cobol*

          Oh and I meant I am taking everything OP said at face value. I left out a not, and it made my statement a disagreeing one, not an agreeing one.

  22. Em Too*

    OP2: Where do you see this guy getting to in a year or so? Will you still be checking all his work personally, and arguing every judgement call? Because if not, I can’t see him working out a compromise with his peers, or listening when colleagues flag up issues with his new idea. I can see him bulldozing through ‘his way’, and causing huge amounts of collateral damage before you find out what’s happening.

    And if he isn’t listening to concrete feedback like this, I can’t imagine he’s doing anything to prevent the same problems occurring again, and again, and again.

  23. Bookworm*

    OP #4

    I think commentators would be able to offer more insight if you explain a bit more what your thinking is here. What sort of toxicity are you hoping to avoid? Why is it that you’re rejecting jobs without applying for them – is it an undertone to the postings? Are you finding bad Glassdoor reviews?

    I ask because many things that make a job so stressful it effects your health can be hard to see from the posting alone. These are things that are more easily picked up in a phone interview. If you’re screening jobs out based on say, keywords in the ad, you might be vetoing places that would be perfectly acceptable to work.

    If you’re sorting more based on whether the work itself sounds interesting to you, well then, it’s an old record, but a classic: generally entry-level jobs are not especially interesting. There’s not a ton you can do to get around that, but if you find one with a decent manager and friendly coworkers, usually work can still be an engaging place at least some of the time. And a lot of problems look really boring in a job description but can become engaging and thought-provoking once you’re in the weeds.

    1. OP4*

      OP here–I’m realizing now that my letter makes it seem as though I am skipping over job postings due to perceived red flags within them, which is not the case. Obviously I would like to end up somewhere that doesn’t make me miserable, but I realize that is next to impossible to screen for in a job posting. Your 3rd paragraph is pretty accurate–I am hoping to find a job that is interesting and also relevant to my degrees and future plans, which is what is proving difficult. I realize that entry level jobs are not going to be my dream job, but I am worried that if I keep taking jobs that aren’t even stepping stones to what I really want to be doing, then I’ll never be getting any closer….if that makes sense.

      1. Bea*

        I think one thing you need to understand is that just because a job doesn’t jump out as a stepping stone towards your end goals doesn’t mean that you will not find one along the way.

        Given your limited job experience right now, networking and meeting others within the business world is critical to your success over time. You never know who you’re going to report to or who your new coworkers are going to me.

        I started out doing part time data entry right out of high school, not sure what I wanted to do and found myself in a long happy accounting career that I never saw coming down the line at me. I quickly jumped up a ladder and that’s not normal but you also don’t know that what “sounds interesting” in a listing is actually interesting at all. I know many people with degrees who when in lines of work that their degrees line up with, they’re miserable and hated it so they moved to something else.

        Right now you’ll do better if you broaden your net and remember that working for someone boring or entry level for a couple years is better than explaining a 3 year gap in your resume if it were to grow that large.

        It’s also easier to find jobs when you’re employed. So get a job, dedicate yourself to being good at it and then after a year or so, start digging around for something interesting to launch into.

  24. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

    OP3: Honestly, something about your perspective here rubs me the wrong way. Unless there is something else about these people that are causing you concern, I think it is a bit insulting to assume that they will blow off their work for you and not do it properly simply because they are “on loan”. I don’t normally deal with data entry in my field but sometimes I have been sent to the office to do just that, and I don’t treat that task any less diligently or seriously than anything else I do for my employer. Why would I? So I think that unless you are actually finding errors or evidence that they aren’t doing good work then I would stop doing this.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

      Yikes, grammar fail. Something that *is* causing you concern.

    2. Birch*

      Yes, and also the assumption that temps and interns and anyone else in a less than permanent situation are inherently bad at their “easy” jobs! Temps are often underemployed. You have no idea why people might need that job. I temped while doing a PhD and was treated like I was an idiot because I was a temp. I wasn’t even allowed a computer–I literally alphabetized boxes of old files. For 8 hours a day. And I was awesome at it, because I have a work ethic and it was a job. Give these loans a chance!

    3. casinoLF*

      Yeah, I get loaned out somewhat frequently and the last thing I want would be someone reporting back to my boss that I did a bad job and wasn’t helpful.

    4. DataQueen*

      OP#3, I completely understand the need to be so defensive when you’re a one-person department – data entry is a thankless job where a tiny error can have huge impacts – and you only hear about the mistakes. I used to be a one-person DataQueen, and I was told to delegate to the lowest-level employees in each department, so they could do thier local data entry and I could aggregate. It was terrifying. This wasn’t their primary function, and they didn’t want to do it, so I assumed everything they did was wrong. And I was super defensive too! But after a while, i realized that as long as I spot-checked the things that could cause an organizational meltdown, and trained them adequately on those things, I would be fine. Sure, I still sometimes see their work in the system and check it, and have a little panic attack because it’s not what I would have done, but I ask myself “Is this really a problem?” and it never is. I’ve let go in the last 6 months, and now I have more time to do my work (and am able to do higher-level work, which will help with advancement as well), and just the other day I thought to myself “Wow, I haven’t been checking up on Wakeen and Sansa’s work – and nothing awful has happened. We’re still in business. The world hasn’t exploded.” Because honestly, i thought for a long time that if I wasn’t involved, the world would in fact explode.

      So in summary, my advice is to – as much as it hurts – try to let go. Get out of your comfort zone and trust the work… and I promise you, the world won’t explode!

      1. OP3*

        I recognize that it is my failure to let go that is a main component of this problem. I read Alison’s three links about how/what to delegate and am going to take some tips from there.

      2. TootsNYC*

        on the spot-checking thing:

        I worked with a fact-checker who was quite good. But now and then I’d be reading and spot something a little weird and think, “Hmmm, $20 per candy bar? That can’t be right; those are unfamiliar candy bars, but they’re made near my hometown; I used to eat them. Is that the price for a box?”
        And I’d query it. I got some defensiveness (“that’s what he said, I specifically asked him!”), which annoyed me, because I brought it up in a very enquiring, neutral way. I always said, “I’m sure you’ve checked this, but I think we should dig a little deeper.”

        BECAUSE of the defensiveness, I started to really pay attention to whether I was finding errors, and realized that something like 99% of the things I asked about were wrong and needed to be fixed. So her defensiveness actually backfired on her. If she’d said, “Oh, wow, yeah, let me look” first, instead of after the defensiveness, I wouldn’t have really focused on it. She handled a lot, and she was dependent on the people on the other end of the phone; I didn’t expect perfection.
        The defensiveness set off alarm bells and framed the perception in a way that didn’t help her.

        But then I also realized: I was working with a selected data set. I -only- asked about things that were already giving off “I’m wrong” signals. So of course the error rate was high. That 99% said far more about my ability to spot problems than it did about her accuracy. If I thought something was wrong, it generally was. But all the things that didn’t set off alarm bells were fine. And we really didn’t hear about things being wrong from the outside, so they were right.

        My point: Switch to spot-checking, and then also pay attention to what signals there are that something is wrong–try to develop those so you can use them to save time. (But also remember that if your expertise is helping you spot problems, that doesn’t have to be a signal that everything else they’re doing is wrong.)

  25. hbc*

    OP1: I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry you have a jerk boss.

    However, do *not* bring this up. I’m not sure if you’re at BEC with him or this is your first journal rejection, but his actions are so, so normal that you’ll undercut yourself by complaining about them. The timing if the rejection was unlucky, but it’s not such a serious piece of news that I’d expect him to sit on it to tell you in person or make sure it doesn’t hit your inbox for a week. In fact, most times it would have arrived straight from the journal itself, so it was only a fluke that he had his fingerprints on it.

    Please try to let this one go.

    1. emmylou*

      This is very well put — I will take your word for it that he is demeaning in other ways, but unless the message he included when he forwarded this implied, “ha, you loser, this paper was rejected,” I really don’t think he did anything wrong here. He was clearing up his inbox, he emailed a pretty routine piece of work information to you, you got it when you got back. He didn’t text you or come to the cemetery and leave a note on the grave like that other boss.

      Was this your first rejection from a journal and this is why it felt so big?

      I am sorry for your loss, and I am sorry that you are feeling raw enough that this feels especially bitter — but I really don’t think the boss did anything wrong here.

    2. Yorick*

      OP1, this may feel like a big deal but I want you to know that it isn’t – most papers are rejected, especially by top journals. Nearly all of my published papers were rejected at least once. One of mine is well received and highly cited and is required reading in a top PhD program – but it was rejected 4 or 5 times!

  26. Just employed here*

    OP 5 reminds me of many, many people I’ve interviewed and some people I have hired.

    I guess it’s good to know where you want to end up, but *please* focus (both in your cover letters and just internally, in your own thoughts) for now on the jobs you are applying for currently. People are hiring to get a certain job done. Sure, it’s always a plus and exciting to get someone promising added to the staff, but mostly you just want today’s needs to be met.

    I have encountered more applicants and recent hires who had their heads in the clouds and didn’t really get excited or excel at the job they were applying for or working with, than people who were really prepared to learn from those first jobs and do even the boring bits of them well and with pride. I hope you are one of the latter.

    It’s such a hard thing to screen for as well, as everyone will tell you their not afraid of or unmotivated by boring, basic tasks when you talk about it…

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Yep. My friend’s daughter beat a lot of competition to get an entry level job in a big-deal museum because she actually seemed excited about that job and didn’t go on about wanting to be a curator. The job posting mentioned some menial tasks and she was one of the only applicants who bothered to mention that she could do these tasks.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I once coached a cousin who was applying for some desk clerk / receptionist / office support position.

        I suggested that she think about what types of tasks would be done there (filing, greeting people, directing them to the right administrator, ordering office supplies; many were listed in the ad itself). And that she also think about WHY those tasks were important to the company, what benefit did the company or her coworkers get out of having someone in that position (skilled people spent their time on things that utilized their skills; order in the office meant work could be done efficiently and pleasantly; etc.).
        And then, of course, think about places where she’d done those tasks, and how she’d made them enjoyable to do.

        And then to talk about all of those things in the interview.
        She did, and she got the job in a snap. (I got a Facebook shout-out–that felt good!)

    2. LKW*

      The funny thing is, that until you’re in the organization, or at a particular level, you have no idea what that role actually entails. One can say “I want to be Director of Sales!” but until you’re in the organization and see how it’s actually organized and get to know roles and responsibilities, you have no real idea what that role requires.

      1. Just employed here*

        True! And even regardless of the particular organization, a particular job or profession may seem like The Dream Job and then turn out not to be ideal after all.

        Jobs are not as they seem from the outside, people and their priorities change, many of us are in jobs that we didn’t know existed (or that actually didn’t exist!) when we were starting our careers…

    3. Koko*

      I would also caution OP #5 not to assume that getting your foot in the door will help you get a position higher up later. That’s true in some companies but not in others. Some companies it actually seems to hurt your chances of getting an upper-tier position if you come in entry-level.

      Take the job because you like it, or because you want to see more of how a company like this one operates, but unless you know for sure that they promote from within to fill senior roles, don’t count on it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I would also caution OP #5 not to assume that getting your foot in the door will help you get a position higher up later. That’s true in some companies but not in others. Some companies it actually seems to hurt your chances of getting an upper-tier position if you come in entry-level.

        I always say that if I ran my own company, I’d never win “Best Place to Work,” because I wouldn’t promote from within very often at all. I believe I’ve seen better work in my industry when people move around and work with different employers and different supervisors/mentors and different colleagues (and different subject matter). I worked at a place where people rose up from the bottom without ever leaving, and I think it didn’t produce as strong a result.

  27. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 I have just been through a quiet period at work due to a series of delays in my projects caused by other factors outside my control. If I’d been loaned to another department I would have cared about the work because I care about my organisation and also if I did a bad job I’d expect my boss to hear about it!

  28. Wanna-Alp*

    OP#2, in your shoes, I would be very *very* careful to make sure that your rear end is covered.

    Some people who have this need to be always right, even in the face of contradicting evidence, will take it so far into the land of the irrational, that they end up denying that they said things, or twisting things around to make it out like you are the one in the wrong. If your employee is one of these (and the red flags are a-flutterin’) then you will have to be careful in dealing with him to avoid getting burnt, because imposing your authority/correction on him will result in some kind of vicious backlash.

    Documentation is helpful, as are witnesses to conversations. Carefully following due-process steps of probation/PIP/termination is important. Essentially, try to avoid getting in a position where he can make something up and put you in a position where you look like you did something bad, or he can find a loophole (e.g. you didn’t do the end-of-probation firing quite right and he threatens to sue).

    [I have once been in these shoes and I hope that I am wrong and your employee is not one of those people, but better safe than sorry.]

    1. Sara without an H*

      Wanna-Alp, do you work for the government?

      After only three weeks, it’s possible that this employee is still on probation, but in general, I agree with you: it’s better to have documentation and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

  29. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 I am sorry for your loss. I’m not clear on whether this email went to your boss but, if so, it’s not egregious to read it and check what to do with it – or to forward it to you rather than having to remenber to do that later. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a toxic boss. But this particular act wasn’t objectively good or bad. It felt that way to you, but might be different for someone else.

    Personally, I would be very upset if someone decided to sit on an email I needed to see, as I don’t like being kept in the dark and I don’t like people making assumptions about what information I should or shouldn’t have. So, when I took time off work for a funeral, I would not have appreciated people withholding emails instead of sending them on. We are all different. I’d like to think I’m emotionally intelligent, but I would have forwarded this too.

    However, to you this is symptomatic of the experience you’re already having of your boss sucking. You are also grieving and probably feeling emotionally vulnerable – and the rejection didn’t help. I’m sorry your boss made a choice that wasn’t right for you.

    Sometimes when we are grieving it is easier to direct our feelings onto people who are around for us to be mad at. Maybe your boss is actually allowing you an outlet for some feelings right now. Be mad at him if you need to be. And take good care of yourself at this time.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      NB I mean feel mad at him if you need to. I wouldn’t try to bring this up with him however.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. I really think the boss’s sucky-ness is clouding her perspective. I don’t think he did anything wrong by forwarding the email; I would do the same thing. And like you, I’m not clear on how he got the email. I have to assume it went to him since he’s her boss? But I don’t know anything about academia.

      1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

        I’m guessing that OP is the lead author, but her boss is the senior author, and he’s either the one who submitted the paper, or they otherwise gave the journal his email when they submitted. In my experience, the senior author is usually not the corresponding author unless they’re also the lead author, but this probably varies by field. Or maybe even by lab, in some fields.

        I also agree that this is a neutral thing that happened to be done by a bad boss, not an instance of the boss’s badness. Email is asynchronous, and he had to send it sometime. In fact, it sounds like you’d have to be looking pretty closely at time stamps on several-day-old emails to even notice that it was sent during the funeral…

      2. Cassie*

        In my boss’s field, they send out rejection emails to every author who is listed on the paper, so it’s possible that the boss forwarded the email to someone (the LW) who already received the original email (the LW didn’t mention whether he also got the rejection email directly from the journal too). I can imagine getting the rejection email forwarded by the boss, after the original email, can feel like the boss is trying to be mean or whatever, but it’s more likely that the boss just forwards emails indiscriminately without bothering to see who is on the original email chain.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Exactly. I have lost both my parents in the last 10 years, and my employer was wonderful about it — they even sent flowers and coworkers attended one of the services (one was local, one was not). They did not specifically assign me things that could easily be done by others during the time I was out, but they did keep forwarding things that they wanted me to deal with when I came back. I still can’t imagine taking offense at that, but then I have a lot of mutual trust and respect with my employer and my managers. It sounds like you’re at the b*tch eating crackers stage with your boss, and they may even have forwarded things without the consideration they should have, but no specific detail in the original letter seems different from how my employer treated me, and they were completely appropriate and even supportive.

  30. Pepsquad*

    Op#4 – I’m in a similar situation, although I’m 5 days away from leaving my job… which I’m looking forward to. I have got more experience, and a number of jobs under my belt and am going to take some time to write before I go back on the job hunting wheel, however I’ve kind of done this all before multiple times. It gets slightly easier each time, although I did stick this job for far longer than I wanted to, to ensure I didn’t look flighty.

    Some ideas though – temping while you search for a job that’s a better fit (I did this but kind of grabbed at jobs desperately rather than thinking it through), volunteering so you have something on your resume, short-term roles so you can get an idea of either a company or an industry. I can understand not wanting to get locked down into a role after my experience, although I stuck it out for a number of years, due to the sporadic temping and short terms roles on my resume. Although 4 months isn’t great, I’ve got longer periods of ‘breaks’ on my resume, once you’ve got your next role, or got into temping, and done it for a while, these gaps don’t matter as much, but I’d jump on temping, if you can right now, I think nearing 6 months does make it harder to find work.

    Good luck!

    1. OP4*

      Thank you for the kind response! I am definitely trying to volunteer (although ironically it is almost as difficult to hear back from volunteer orgs as it is for jobs) and applying to as many jobs as possible in the meantime. I have also completed online certifications for skills that are in line with where I want to be. I will definitely look into a temp job, but I’m not sure my area (very rural, no major economic hub) will be extremely conducive.

  31. CoffeeLover*


    I think people take two major approaches with job hunts. 1) Apply to everything under the sun, or 2) apply to a select few jobs where you’re well-qualified and interested. I believe in approach #2 because it gets you to be more focused (and I believe better) in the positions you do apply to… that being said, you have to be realistic about how picky you can be.

    I was in a similar boat recently – I quit my first post-grad job after a little over a year, did some development work for a few months in Africa, then moved to Europe. I probably applied to about 3 jobs a week and found a job after 4 months. I think the number of jobs I applied to is low (for an aggressive job hunt), but I wasn’t qualified for about 80% of posted positions because of language requirements alone. Still, I also didn’t apply to just any job where I was qualified. I knew there were certain jobs/industries I would be miserable in, and I also only applied to jobs that were relevant to my career. That basically meant any kind of office position that wasn’t in IT, HR or admin. I didn’t even consider good vs. bad management at this point – that’s something for the interview.

    All that being said, how desperate are you, how good is your experience, and how good are your application/interview skills? I was somewhat picky even in my dire situation because I knew I had a strong track-record of performance at my post-grad job, which was a good position at a high-profile global firm. I also had interesting international work experience, a strong academic background, a great resume and good interviewing skills. I knew all this in part because I was getting good responses from the market with my approach. I heard back from several firms, got interviews and moved to final rounds. If you’re not getting positive responses (say 1/10) then you need to reevaluate your applications. If you’re getting first-round interviews, but not going further, then you need to develop your interview skills. I also think you should have an aggressive goal for how many jobs you apply to a day. It’s really hard to know what that number should be without knowing your industry/region, but something like 2 jobs a day would be my goal (if I didn’t have the language issue). If you can hit that goal with only jobs you’re really interested in, great. If you can’t, then you need to broaden your search and your definition of what’s interesting.

    1. OP4*

      Hi there, this was me! I have definitely been using attempt #2, because I’ve been thinking more long-term. My thinking is that if I am more selective and work to land a job that will keep me interested and is in line with my long-term career plans, then it is a good investment of my time, so to speak. My concern is that using attempt #1 will result in me taking a job just for the sake of having a job, and then ending up back in the job search in 6 months, 1 year etc.

      I am pretty desperate to get back out of my parents house, but it obviously isn’t a “I need a job ASAP so I can pay my bills and feed my family” situation (my parents are allowing me here rent-free). Thank you for sharing your experience and advice on job hunting though. I will definitely re-evaluate my resume and cover letters (I just discovered this site recently), but still struggle with the “non-rejection” aka sending job applications into the void and never hearing back either way.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        I think the biggest thing that helps with non-rejections is to not want any job too much. Apply to it, note the job details somewhere, and then forget about it. I generally assume I haven’t gotten the job if it’s been a month since I applied. In actual experience, I heard back within 1 or 2 weeks of applying for any jobs that wanted to interview me (though I have been pleasantly surprised).

        I went back and read your original email and something stood out to me that I wanted to mention. You said you’ve had a few phone interviews that went no where. I think this is a big flag that you may need to work on how you come across in a phone interview. This could be different in your industry, but in my experience, most phone interviews are fairly easy to “pass”. At this point, the employer has already decided you probably have the necessary experience for the position and now they’re doing a quick initial screen before bringing you in for an interview. I’ve only been rejected once at the phone stage. If it’s happening to you a lot, I think it would be worth having a mock phone interview (literally over the phone) with a professional and honest friend/mentor.

        1. OP4*

          Thank you for the advice! If it helps, my phone interview rejection rate isn’t as bad as it seems–with three there was a mutual decision to not continue (one turned out to be part time when the posting said full time, one turned out to be a stipend situation rather than a salary, and one was just not at all in line with the job posting and I wouldn’t have applied if the posting was accurate), Aside from those, one the hiring for the position got put “on hold”, one was an outright rejection, and one I got ghosted by the hiring manager (so I’m assuming it’s a no). Not trying to say I couldn’t possibly have any room for improvement, but also not as much of a red flag as it may have seemed.

  32. MuseumChick*

    #2, I really encourage you to use Alison’s script. There is someone at my company who just cannot take feedback and I really wish their manager would have this kind of direct, frank, talk with them.

    1. CM*

      Yes, but also, add specific examples of his behavior and how he should have reacted.
      It’s possible that just pointing it out can make a difference. I’d be prepared for him to have a knee-jerk defensive reaction, but give him a day or two to process the feedback.

  33. Thlayli*

    OP4 get yourself a “non-career” job asap just to keep your head above water – working in a shop or as a waitress or whatever. Then continue the job search for a “career” type job. This has benefits:
    1 you have money to live on while you continue to search
    2 you don’t have gaps in resume/can easily explain gaps in resume (depending on how you write it up)
    3 it avoids giving the impression of the “lazyself entitled brat” who lives at home and scrounges off their parents until they find their perfect job. (Not saying you are like that, just that some people have this impression of young people who choose not to work unless it’s at their perfect dream job).

  34. CM*

    #5: During the interview you can say that you’d like to be in a place where you can stay long-term, and you hope to learn all you can and eventually advance in the company. But I think it sounds naive to start out by saying your plan is to end up in a higher-level role.

    1. TootsNYC*

      You can also say you have a high opinion of the company. You used the term “organization,” which leads me to think it’s a nonprofit, so you can certainly say you believe in their cause, or whatever.

  35. i'maskingamanager*

    2 be direct and don’t mince. Words. Keep it brief. “johnny in the three weeks you have been here we have had several interactions in which you became argumentative when I pointed out errors in your work and asked you to correct them. Let me be clear—we don’t expect your work to be perfect after three weeks on the job. What we do expect is that you accept feedback about your work without arguing about it, especially when it is asking you to correct errors. You can ask clarifying questions or you can ask for help. But defending work that you and I both know had errors in it will make it impossible for you to learn, to grow, and most importantly, to be successful in this position. Now, I want you to go home and think about what I have said, and tomorrow I want you to tell me if you can get on board with our expectations.”

  36. Sara without an H*

    OP#2: Is this employee still on probation? You absolutely do not want to carry a problematic hire beyond the probation period, on the assumption that he’ll straighten out later. If he’s this difficult after only three weeks, additional time will only make things worse.

    I agree with Allison, you need to be very, very blunt and specific with him, but unless you see an instantaneous, Damascus-Road-type change in his character (which I doubt), you’re going to need to let him go. Consult your HR people and document as necessary.

  37. Sara without an H*

    OP#3: You’ve been asking for a permanent assistant. Suppose you get one — how will you manage that person? Will you double-check everything the assistant does? If you can’t delegate now, I doubt whether you’ll be able to delegate to a permanent assistant, either. You’ll never be comfortable with the idea that another person can do it as well as you can.

    Treat your “loaner” employees as new employees: be sure they understand what they’re supposed to do and what your expectations are for quality and accuracy, and be prepared to provide feedback. (Are you doing that? Or do you just take back the spreadsheets and correct any errors yourself?)

    And your assumption that the “loaner” staff are automatically poor workers is insulting. If I were their manager, I’d be seriously annoyed with you.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      If you can’t delegate now, I doubt whether you’ll be able to delegate to a permanent assistant, either. You’ll never be comfortable with the idea that another person can do it as well as you can.

      I don’t think that’s right; people learn and get better. But I do think the OP should treat this as a learning experience for herself — what systems does she need to put into place to help her manage an assistant successfully?

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I agree. I think the OP is scrambling and therefore finding safety in reinventing the wheel; she needs to find a system she can trust that’s genuine delegation and not just replication.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Another point: These workers are normally outdoor workers (not in the office), and they have little experience with computers.

      This could be a broadening experience for them. Present it as such.

  38. PhillyKate*

    OP #3- I graduated in 2010 at the back end of the recession and it took two years to find a job post college. I applied for everything and got nothing until one day, a nice man I interviewed with told me to look into anything-including data entry- because at that point, younger peers fresh out of school were viewed as more favorable than someone with a resume gap. I did find and accept that data entry job and am now working in my field of choice- but people STILL ask about that resume gap even though it has been several years in which I have steadily been working.

    Agree with Alison on this one

    1. CoffeeLover*

      There is a particular importance on “freshness” with new grads as you pointed out. Employers want the cream of the crop and they think that any new grad who couldn’t get a job after a year or so is probably a poor worker. With the inflow of new grads every year, why would they hire the guy who couldn’t get a job for 2 years over the equally qualified guy who just graduated. I think after the 1 year mark as a new grad, you’re in trouble. At that point it’s better to have any job than no job.

      As for asking about gaps… I think it’s really common to ask, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily view it as a bad thing. A lot of people (most?) have gaps on their resume (from things like layoffs, moves, bad markets, etc.). It’s fine as long as you have a good enough reason for why you have the gap and were doing something productive (besides job hunting) to fill the time. I have a couple of gaps (both about 8 months), but both with good reason and where I kept myself busy. It’s never been an issue. That being said, I think if they ask you about a gap and your answer is something like, “I left my job because I didn’t like it and then I did nothing for that whole time”, then that’s going to be a problem.

      1. OP4*

        Hi there–I am obviously hoping to minimize the gap in my resume, but do feel that I have a compelling explanation for it (at least for now, obviously if I hit the 1 year mark it would be a different story). Besides actively applying for jobs, I have volunteered and also completed online certifications for skills that will be valuable in my field. When I explain the gap to interviewers, I generally reference the fact that I moved home to be closer to family, as my dad got sick over the summer (this is true and not my attempt at playing any kind of sympathy card, I just use it as an alternative to badmouthing my last job). Thanks for the input!

  39. casinoLF*

    LW3, that’s such a weird assumption, that staff would be loaned out because they’re bad at their jobs?!? I am loaned out because I’m smart and pick things up quickly and my department frequently just doesn’t have enough work to fill my work hours — hell, I volunteer my time and assistance to other departments, which my boss encourages!

  40. Observer*

    #2, I see at least one update from you. What you write is a good start. But, if your guy doesn’t start showing SIGNIFICANT immediately you are still going to have to cut him loose. I know you want to give him a real chance, but this is not a small issue. You can’t let him near clients, you can’t even have him work with most other staff, and he’s wasting a ton of your time. All of this is major and needs to start changing immediately. If it doesn’t, that’s an indicator that he can’t or won’t change in a reasonable timeframe. Cut your losses in that case.

    1. Snark*

      I agree. This is not a “gradually improve, with occasional significant backslides, over the course of a few months of frequent reminders” kind of thing, it’s a “this behavior, for all intents and purposes, ends now, and you demonstrate that you can stick to it for a few months of probation” sort of situation. I’m concerned, based on how OP2 phrased it, that it’s the first one, and noooope.

      1. Cobol*

        I agree too. OP’s response makes it seem like the behavior is residual from a very bad situation. The fact that new employee is 35 and this is only their 4th job makes me think they can recover, but I would keep them on a short leash. I’d also consider having a frank talk with the client if possible just to fill them in.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      I’m wondering how much of the OP’s reluctance is because they made the hire, so they feel like if the hire fails, then they also fail. And I further wonder if it’s one of the first hires they’ve done themselves.

  41. LSP*

    OP2 – I used to write for a local weekly newspaper. After I gave my notice (to take some time off before moving to another country), I stayed on to train my replacement and do a little freelancing.

    My replacement lasted about 3 weeks because of the same kinds of issues your new hire has. She would send the editor her copy, then the editor would send it back with changes and some suggestions. She routinely ignored suggestions and changed the language back to her original, without even telling the editor she had done so. The editor then had to do her work twice, and argue with my replacement over every minute word change. I had worked for this editor for 4 years, and while we clashed occasionally, she was an excellent writer and editor, and if I felt strongly about keeping something a certain way, she would listen and would acquiesce when it made sense to. My replacement reporter treated every suggestion as a personal insult and felt she knew better than someone who had been in the business for 40 years!

    Eventually, my editor fired her and asked me to come back as a freelancer to just provide some coverage while she looked for a new reporter to cover the beat. This replacement then had her MOTHER call and argue with my editor about firing her daughter (who was in her 30s). Her insubordinate and argumentative behavior was a red flag warning of other issues, that are even further from business norms. Beware!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      If I felt strongly about keeping something a certain way, she would listen and would acquiesce when it made sense to.
      And to get that respect from your boss, it’s important to show that you only push back when it’s something important. Not every. single. time.

  42. Observer*

    #3, I have not read all of the comments, so if you have updated I missed it.

    To be honest, your attitude comes off as a bit obnoxious. Your assumptions are highly illogical and really don’t reflect well on you. Your work load ebbs and flows, but no one else’s does? Supervisors will only “lend” incompetent staff, and not lend anyone if all of their staff happen to be good at what they do? Any worker is automatically going to be a slacker who won’t be bothered to do a good job unless they will have THAT SAME SUPERVISOR around to yell at them if it shows up months later?

    I feel bad for the people who are working for you. You can be sure that if you don’t turn this around, the good supervisors in your company are going to be very reluctant to help you out again in this manner. And your superiors might just look at this as an indication that you are not management material. I wouldn’t blame them.

    1. fposte*

      That’s pretty rough to a letter writer, O. I agree that the OP has a somewhat clouded lens about these employees, but I don’t see any claim that she’s the only one whose workload ebbs and flows, for instance.

      I think the OP is somebody who is still working her way up the learning curve on delegation and the accompanying vulnerability, and I’m betting that the stress she’s feeling about her situation is making it even harder for her to let go. OP, follow Alison’s tips, but also be aware that the extreme defensive position you’re taking risks making the situation worse, not better, and that good delegated work doesn’t have to look exactly the same as if you’d done it.

      1. Observer*

        The OP doesn’t SAY that no one else’s workload ebbs and flows, but that’s the logical explanation for why of course only the slackers could be spared.

        Now, I don’t know if the OP really thinks that, or just didn’t think this through. But either way, that’s what comes across and it’s quite likely that any supervisor whose staff were “loaned” to the OP is going to be very unhappy with their attitude.

        To be honest, even without that piece, if I found out that my staff was being treated like this, I would definitely resist allowing my staff to go to them in the future. And, that’s really why I’m bringing this up. The OP needs to realize that this could be a seriously career limiting management style.

    2. OP3*

      I am aware that my attitude is not reflecting well on me. I have updated some of the posts to reflect a key component that I believe I left out of the original letter – the two employees that I have been loaned are not admins and don’t normally do office work; their regular duties are outdoors. Also, I do not have anyone working under me – I am a department of one. I have not been trained on how to manage, how to delegate … to be honest, I am scrambling and I really do want to fix my behavior this so this opportunity isn’t wasted.

      1. Observer*

        I hear what you are saying. But, you’re still making some serious logic errors, and not treating your temp reports well.

        Firstly, as noted, the assumption that these people are not going to be competent based on the original reasoning is untenable and so is your assumption that they are not going to try to do a good job. And the constant double checking, even though there is no indication that there is a pattern of errors is just a really bad idea. What Alison says about spot checking and giving actionable feedback IF you find errors is the way to go in practice. But you also really need to adjust your thinking.

        The fact that they do outdoor work doesn’t mean that they can’t do data entry and other admin jobs competently. In many cases people who do outdoor work still have to do data entry and admin tasks – it’s just not the focus of their regular jobs. Even if it’s not, it doesn’t mean they can’t be shown what they need to do, and do it well, unless you are talking about work that needs a high level of skill or specific knowledge that they would not normally have. Do yourself a favor and don’t make assumptions about people – you’re likely to be wrong a lot of the time.

  43. Sualah*

    #1 – Yeah, I have to agree with other commenters about this. I’m so sorry about your grandfather, and I definitely believe you that your boss is a jerk in other ways, but in this situation, I don’t see anything wrong. Isn’t that the point of asynchronous communication, that the boss can deal with his email when he can and you deal with yours when you can?

  44. Dust Bunny*

    OP4: I have most of a BA in biology, an actual BA in history, and my first non-temp job out of college was cleaning kennels in a vet’s office. My coworker in this literally wasn’t sure how to spell his own last name. The difference, though, was that I moved up quickly and he didn’t. I did eventually find a job nearer my field of study (in an academic library) but I use the veterinary assistant background far more than I would have anticipated.

    I don’t really recommend starting that far from where you want to be, but don’t get married to the idea of working only in your field. Find a job you can stand, do well at it even if you think it’s beneath you (and be very careful about thinking anything is beneath you), and keep looking. What you need right now is a paycheck and a work history.

    1. Murphy*

      I don’t really recommend starting that far from where you want to be

      I second this. I also took a job very far from my field and I had one interview where one of the first questions was “Why are you working in X instead of *your field*?” They didn’t seem to like the answer that the economy was rough and I needed a paycheck. (I did phrase it more eloquently than that.)

      1. Close Bracket*

        Clearly the fact that you could only find x meant you were substandard in your field, bc if you were really good at x, you would have found something in spite of the economy.


        Or the fact that you were willing to settle for x meant something else unflattering that they projected on to you.

        People have really interesting preconceived notions about what a good candidate looks like.

      2. Been There, Done That*

        I’ve long been astounded at hiring managers/employers who think a bad economy/poor job market shouldn’t affect the scope of one’s job search. But they’re out there. Boy are they ever. A paycheck is a powerful incentive to do a good job, even if you aren’t turning handstands over the job itself.

    2. OP4*

      Thanks–my main concern is definitely taking non-relevant jobs for the time being, and then looking back and realizing that I have drifted too far away from my original career plan to make it back. I’ve basically been subscribing to the idea that if it isn’t a job that aligns with my experience/interests/future plans etc, and is not a “stepping stone” job that would put me on a path to a more relevant job or give me transferable skills, then I’m passing it over. (I realize this may not be the correct philosophy, but it is what I’ve been thinking)

      Re: not taking something below me–I am also somewhat running into this issue. For example, I have years of customer service experience and could likely be a potential candidate for admin jobs, but have absolutely no desire to answer phones/book rooms/schedule travel etc etc. I realize admins to valuable work, and don’t want to come across as up on a high horse, but at the same time I have a graduate degree and can’t help but feel I would be selling myself short. Again, if this was an admin role in my dream company, I would certainly consider it as a being a potential stepping stone to a more relevant position. However, to not even be in the ballpark in terms of job function OR industry, that’s where I’m weeding jobs out.

      1. fposte*

        I think it makes sense for a while to focus on the jobs that you want, but there’s a time limit on that. After a while, having no job is a worse problem than having the wrong job. The challenge is figuring out for you personally and your career plans when “after a while” is.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          For me, it was 11 months after graduating from college. I was living at home rent-free, my mom was paying all of my student loans on top of her own bills, and she was paying for all of my meals and clothing – she. went. ballistic. I was trying to find jobs that were tangential to my degree in journalism, but it was 2009-2010, so yeah – wasn’t happening. I was applying to everything under the sun, but she thought I wasn’t doing enough (she was at work all day, how in the world would she know?). And then I was going on auditions for community theater to keep myself from sinking even deeper into depression from feelings of uselessness, but that looked like I was “playing around.”

          So after 11 months, I bit the bullet and signed up with every temp agency I could find in my area. One place was able to immediately get me a job as an admin at a for-profit school. It’s an icky environment for sure, but I needed the little $8/hr they were paying to at least cover some of my own loans, so I took it even though it wasn’t remotely what I wanted to do. Five months later, I was working at a law firm making twice that amount, and three years after that, I ended up in insurance making a little over $40k a year.

          Eight years after graduation, and I’m finally going to begin a new job in a new field next Monday where I actually get to use my degree full-time (proposal management). That may seem like a loooong time to get back into a field after taking a detour, but I truly believe I’d still be unemployed or still temping had I not taken that first job that turned into a permanent position. It really did open the door to much better opportunities for me, and I’m now making more money than my peers who stayed in journalism exclusively.

      2. Thlayli*

        I worked selling mobile phone covers from a stall on the high street after I finished my PhD. Granted it was only for a few weeks, but I needed the money. It most certainly has not held me back – and it gave me a funny story (one of my former students bought a cover from me and got some shock when he realised who I was haha).

        I also got made redundant after having my first baby and I worked doing office admin for one day a week when pregnant with my second – this was after working as a project manager managing a team of 35 in my previous job. In total I took 2.5 years out to have my kids and just did one day a week work for a few months during that time.

        Employers understand you can’t always have something perfect lined up between jobs, but they will definitely look more favourably on someone who got out of the house and did something to bring in some cash than someone who sat at home waiting for the perfect job. You don’t have to give your admin job the same level of detail on your resume as jobs in your field. Depending on the job I have structured my resume to say things like “engineering experience” and “other experience”.

        1. Thlayli*

          My total career path since graduating: retail, engineer, tutorials, retail, PhD student/lecturer, retail, lecturer, engineer, office admin, office admin, tutorials, engineer.

          Life isn’t a straight line. When I took my retail job after my degree I was honest with my boss – I told him I was going to continue looking for engineering jobs, so I didn’t know how long I would last there, but I am smart and learn fast and work hard and I would do my absolute best for him every shift I took. He hired me and I worked for him for 6 months but he was happy to have me for the 6 months because I did learn fast and work hard. And I wasn’t sinking into debt while job searching.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I literally work with people who got Ph.D.’s in various things (usually some kind of literature) and then turned around and got MLIS’s because they couldn’t get jobs with their doctorates. (I don’t necessarily recommend this, either, since the job market for libraries and archives is cutthroat.) Vet tech wasn’t a stepping stone job . . until it was. I know far more about the content of a lot of the material I handle than my boss does (we’re in a med school library) even though he’s the one with decades of library experience.

      4. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

        It might be helpful to think in terms of transferable skills. Maybe the admin job is nothing special but you will get a chance to learn to use a database really well. If you already have customer service experience you might be able to apply for the more “higher level” admin jobs that don’t involve being on the phone.

        But I know that it sucks to have a hard time finding a job in your chosen field. I struggle to stay employed because there are so few permanent jobs in mine, and if you happen to apply at the wrong time you won’t get hired. At the same time I am hesitant to start doing a completely different career track because I have a graduate degree and I want to be working in something that is at least related, you know?

  45. just another day*

    I’ve been thinking the past few months about why it is that this AAM column is SO effective in its purpose. No one can deny the entertainment value, the opportunity to feel heard and understood, and the real world advice that is actually applicable real life. However, I believe the magic happens when an OP writes in with a sincere question about their situation – often with a lot of angst and heartache – and Alison and the Commenters hold up an objective mirror for OP to see how startlingly different reality is (if OP is open to seeing it).

    In today’s thread OP1’s post is a perfect opportunity for that magic to happen. OP1 is clearly angry, hurt, and feeling wronged by their boss, but if they allow himself/herself to really hear what Alison and others have written, it could change OP’s perspective on not just the email, but about the boss and others in general. OP1 seems to be so far down the “rabbit hole” of emotions and bitterness (not altogether unjustified it seems!), that every action by boss is added to the (mental) list of grievances and OP’s perspective has been lost.

    I had a similar experience just in the Comments on a post here and I am still (a month later?) thinking about what another commenter wrote to my post. I posted a confession in my Comment to an OP’s post regarding names in the office and someone wrote back to my Comment/Confession that they wondered based on my avoiding what they considered to be a small inconvenience what else I was cutting corners on. This one comment has genuinely provided me with deep insight into one of my personal patterns and has helped me tremendously. I truly hope that OP1 will find a gem among the comments (and Alison’s reply obviously!) here today to help them on their path.

    Separate question: do we have a name for the part of the AAM community that posts comments? “Commenters” is kind of lame, but I wasn’t sure what we’re called / should be called.

    1. fposte*

      “Commentariat” gets used sometimes here and on other blogs with commenters–I like that one. And thanks for your really interesting input!

    2. La Revancha*

      Love this and absolutely agree! It’s easy to become so angry at someone and everything they do just makes you more angry. A while back my husband sent me a piece called “This is Water,” which is a really great piece of writing on how to remain objective and not let things get to you to the point where it’s affecting your life (I actually think AAM posted this several years ago as well). I think especially in this day in age, we feel like we are victims and it’s easy to over analyze situations. Not everyone is out to get you or being purposely rude/crappy/etc.

  46. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP#1 – Even the worst managers can be given the benefit of the doubt because they do things without malicious intent – sending you news is just a part of their job. It sounds like your manager’s timing was unfortunate but not intentional. However, when your faith in your manager has eroded to the point that even benign acts are viewed with suspicion, it’s doubtful things will ever change for the better. I’m glad you’re looking for a new role.

    Please accept my condolences for your loss, and please be kind to yourself.

  47. NB*

    In this situation, what is a good way to answer the interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” If we don’t want to let on that we’re interested in eventually moving up in the company, what should we say?

    1. Snark*

      Ugh, I hate this interview question so much. I think “Obviously, life takes its twists and turns, but I’d love to see my career progress to positions of higher responsibility and more complex duties,” is the best thing to say if an interviewer is dumb enough to ask it.

      1. Grits McGee*

        I was asked this in a undergrad scholarship interview. Probably don’t give the answer I did- “….. gainfully employed?”

    2. McWhadden*

      Seriously there is no right answer. Any variation on “Right here in this job, sir!” You are either being inauthentic or unambitious (also presumptuous.)

      Any variation on “I hope to be mid-level/senior management at this or a similar company” then you aren’t serious about the job you are applying for, are presumptuous, and a flight risk.

      (Obviously actual answers would likely be more subtle. But still.)

      1. just another day*

        You’re so right on here, McWhadden! I’ll admit I’ve asked this question in the second round of interviews, but it is less about the right answer (your suggestion is perfect though!) and more about what candidates reveal when answering it. The question – even as lame as it is – often yields surprising answers or information that the other interview questions have not. The answers I’ve been given to this question include, “I start my graduate degree full time in the fall”, “It will depend on whether or not I stay home with my baby; I’m 18 weeks pregnant”, and “It’s hard to say, but I’d love to have your job”. These are not exaggerated whatsoever! eek!

        Note: I have no problem at all with hiring pregnant women or parents of infants/children and have hired a pregnant woman who was literally a week overdue, but it is shocking for a candidate to reveal this in an interview!

    3. Been There, Done That*

      After I answer this question, I usually follow up with, “On the flip side, where can I reasonably expect to be in five years with your company?” The response gives me a good idea of whether there is opportunity for advancement.

  48. just another day*

    OP2, omg, cut him loose! You won’t know the full extent of the damage he is doing/ has done until he has left and the longer he is there, the greater the impact and more difficult to resolve.

  49. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    For OP #4 – I totally get being afraid of finding yourself in another toxic mess of a job. Been there, had a few of those, and finally climbed out of that death spiral. It sounds like though, that you’re trying to do the majority of your screening before even applying – and the problem is, that might not be the most effective way to go about this, particularly if your experience/skill set are not in high demand.

    I would highly recommend being less choosy about what jobs you apply to. Don’t apply to everything under the sun, but definitely broaden your applications. HOWEVER – you can still be somewhat choosy on what role you take. You do not have to complete every interview process that you are invited to (you can withdraw your application if you get any toxic vibes in the first interview), nor do you have to take the first role you are offered! Though admittedly, this does need to be balanced with your financial needs at the moment.

    Alison says it repeatedly, but its worth saying again – interviews are a two way street. I know it took me quite awhile to really internalize this and fully believe it. Keeping that in mind might allow you to apply to a greater variety of jobs (with less anxiety), even if you’re not completely sure that they are the right fit for you. As long as there’s a chance that you could take the job, then go ahead and apply. If you decide midway through the process that it isn’t a good fit, that’s totally ok!

    1. OP4*

      Thanks–I am realizing from the comments that my letter made as if it sound as though I was attempting to identify toxic environments from the job postings, which I realize is next to impossible. Rather, I am concerned about taking jobs that don’t align with interests/goals etc just for the sake of taking a job. I hope that I end up somewhere where I am happy with both the work and the work environment, but it currently feels like the Venn diagram of jobs I would want and jobs I can get are two separate circles…

      I do appreciate the advice about using interviews to get better vibes and withdraw if necessary, but unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to interview in person anywhere sooo

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        Ah – sorry for misinterpreting! I completely hear you on the Venn diagram with two separate circles – again been there!

        I would still recommend broadening the types of jobs you’re applying to. You don’t have to apply for anything and everything – but if right now you’re only applying to jobs that are a 75% or higher match to your longterm goals then maybe lower it to include 25-50% matches (I don’t know if that helps – I’m a numbers person, so thinking of things like that helps me) – at least for applying. Also – have you done any research into recruiting agencies in your area (especially those that specialize/focus on your desired industry)? Maybe you have already explored this route – if so apologies! I was in a fairly similar position – had a job for a little over a year after graduating, but I was laid off and then had such a hard time getting any traction or finding the next job. I was unemployed for a full year. It was getting in with a recruiting firm that finally opened some doors and got me some interviews. They could vouch for me/push me for companies that were on the fence about my experience. They also sometimes had temp assignments which were a great way to build up some more experience/references and it gives the agency some stuff to tell potential permanent jobs “Sunshine received great feedback on a recent temp assignment”.

        Finally – I saw that you mentioned in post upthread possibly being able to find admin work. I would recommend avoiding this route if at all possible (but if money/times are tight – do what you gotta do). That’s what I did (after a year of unemployment and being kicked off my parents insurance the siren song of benefits and a steady paycheck lead me to taking the first job that was offered. Big mistake!), and I’m still in an admin role trying to get out. The only exception is – if you find a company with a proven track record of promoting admins out of admin roles – then it could be worth exploring that as an option to get your foot in the door.

        Good luck! Keep putting yourself out there and applying – and definitely read through all of this blog!!! It will help your applications stand out.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        I hope that I end up somewhere where I am happy with both the work and the work environment, but it currently feels like the Venn diagram of jobs I would want and jobs I can get are two separate circles…

        Ugh, this is an incredibly frustrating feeling – that’s why I loathe job searching. I too ran into this situation during my most recent job search. However, things started to look up for me when I sat down and made a list of all of the things that were absolute job deal breakers for me. For example, I hate talking on the phone with external customers, so any job that had that as a component was an absolute non-starter for me. Once I really took stock of the things that have irritated me to no end from a job task perspective and nixed them, I found I was more open to exploring other jobs that I probably wouldn’t have considered had I approached this from the perspective of, “this is absolutely what I have to do RIGHT NOW because of DEGREE and I can’t take anything less.” Oddly enough, that approach led me to a position that does require my exact degree, so I ended up where I belonged anyway.

      3. Close Bracket*

        > Rather, I am concerned about taking jobs that don’t align with interests/goals etc just for the sake of taking a job.

        I get your concern. At this point, bc you were at that job for a short period, you need to pick a job that you can stand for a good 5 years. That makes screening to the best of your ability crucial.

        I recommend networking within your field to build up your connections now. You can screen a job to the best of your abilities and still not be able to stand it in another year. That’s the point where having people who already know you can work to your benefit. Applying for jobs with two 1-year stints on your resume looks bad. But networking your way into a job when you have only been at your current job for a year doesn’t look quite as bad. It’s a long game, and networking is not the magic bullet everyone makes it out to be. But it’s a tool to sharpening now, not just for your personal benefit, but bc you might just find a candidate for an opening that you have some day!

  50. Granny K*

    LW#1: Hey I think I worked with this person! Wasn’t my direct report but I had to send corrections and email blasts through this woman (because that was the team process). Every time I pointed out an error (and I mean Every. Single. Time) this person would come back and explain to me at length WHY there was an error, and then confirming when I asked that she wasn’t going to make changes. Honestly, I didn’t care why, I just needed her to fix it. It got to the point where I just created and sent the emails myself because I didn’t have time for a 30 minute list of excuses/reasons. Her manager came to me, reaffirming that I understood the team process and I explained that I didn’t have time to argue with her direct report and would be sending out my emails myself. She later had to fire her direct report because she sent out emails with larger and larger errors and couldn’t seem to understand why that was unacceptable.

  51. McWhadden*

    OP #3

    I know that if I had to loan employees to another department I’d make sure they were at least competent. Obviously, my work comes first BUT I’d also want to leave a good impression about the quality of work my department is capable of.

  52. Emily W*

    I think I’ll disagree with Alison about #1 only because of the context of it being in academia. For better or for worse (and it’s definitely for worse) “publish or perish” is the name of the game for most disciplines and having an article get rejected is devastating and potentially damaging in ways that’s hard to understand if you’re not in academia. His boss knew this, knew that the news could sit for a day, and sent it anyways. This doesn’t read as a lack of emotional intelligence to me, but malicious at worst and willfully ignorant at best.

    1. fposte*

      I’m in academia. You get articles rejected all the time; it’s part of the game. It’s not the boss’s job to pad basic professional information for his researchers.

    2. Shiara*

      I… really disagree, as someone who was once in academia. When you get emails that need to be passed along you do it immediately so they don’t get buried/forgotten. If someone’s at a funeral, there’s (in my experience) no real assumption that they’re going to be checking their email hourly (unless there’s a looming major grant/submission deadline in which case… there may be that assumption and that’s something you kind of have to be able to deal with). If an email can wait, it can wait in the receiver’s inbox just fine.

    3. AnotherJill*

      It is not looked on well to consistently get rejected, but no one gets published 100% of the time, especially if this involved a highly selective journal. In many cases it it is totally normal to get such a rejection. I would forward such an email right away as well.

    4. Observer*

      I disagree with you. The issue is not how devastating this is – I have no idea, and I’m not going to argue this. But email is, by definition, an asynchronous communications medium. Absent other evidence, the boss wasn’t expecting the OP to read it during or the day of the funeral. As others have pointed out, when an email gets sent and when it’s expected to be read, are two different things. And you simply can’t deal with when emails are sent the same way you can with when the expectation of their being read, or with media like texts are sent.

    5. LadyKelvin*

      ” having an article get rejected is devastating and potentially damaging in ways that’s hard to understand if you’re not in academia”

      Actually totally normal and something you have to get used to if you hope to survive academia. Seriously, even the top people in my field who are the editors of the journals they are publishing in get rejected fairly regularly. As a normal peon? Its just a fact of life.

    6. Emily W*

      I see quite a few people disagree with me and I’m actually really glad! What I’m discribing is obviously not a healthy situation — it is true to my experiences and experiences of friends across a few disciplines, but any indication that that’s not true everywhere or is changing is very welcome!!

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

        It can be devastating if it’s your first paper, or one that you were really proud of and got harsh feedback on, or if you have an unreasonable boss, or you are really stressing about tenure or something. But really, every academic has papers rejected all the time. If you are devastated at every rejection then you might want to re-examine your expectations. I knew some people who thought of their PhD as their life’s work and were really over-invested in it and the papers that they published from it, but really it should be your first big research project, not the pinnacle of your career. Being devastated at these rejections could be really damaging and a sign that you are being way too hard on yourself.

  53. Bookworm*

    #4: Agree with Alison. I’ve been in somewhat similar situations (left a dead end retail job because it wasn’t what I wanted, lease at crappy apartment was ending, roommate I liked was moving and I didn’t want to go through the whole roommate process AGAIN then a few years later I left a horrible job that made me miserable for a temp one) and I advise you to broaden your search.

    You may find that you’ll “fit” with your co-workers in work you don’t care for but they make it worth it/the pay is decent enough for you to build a work history/financial stability/etc. You may find that broadening your job search will help you in finding stuff you do like that you might have never considered if you kept your search narrow.

    Over the past few years I’ve come to accept that a field that I went to graduate school for is simply too stressful (among other factors) for me and I need to find something adjacent or something related. But in the meantime I’m working in a couple of different jobs because I need the money, I don’t want too much of a gap and I do genuinely get bored if I don’t have work to do. You might be surprised to find something that you may have never even considered turn out to be work you end up enjoying. Good luck!

  54. Turkletina*

    #1: My experience with academia is that there’s often a blurring of the line between personal email and professional email. The academics I know check their .edu email addresses at all hours of the day and often get push alerts on their phones in a way that is not normal/expected outside of academia. I can definitely see this being more jarring if “when I came back from the funeral” means “when I got home and switched on my phone” rather than “when I returned to the office/lab the day after the funeral”.

    That said, I still don’t think it was bad form for the boss to forward the email when he did, even if he seems like a jerk in other respects.

  55. Hello patriarchy*

    LW #2 you start by saying your direct report is bright and creative. He’s not very bright if he doesn’t know better than to push so hard his first 3 weeks in this position. (!!3!!) You need to re-examine your overall bias in favor of him. Talk to him, and the very next instance of this behavior means an immediate firing. (I bet $500 teapots that the behavior will not stop.)

    Also as someone who is not a white male this frustrates the hell outta me. I guarantee if this person were a POC with a white boss they would have been fired at least a week ago. (As they should.) The number of second chances mediocre white men (who remind bosses of themselves) get is a waste.

    1. OP 2*

      It sounds like you have had some bad experiences and I am sorry for that. In this case, the employee and I are not the same ethnicity, gender, religion. We did not grow up in the same area or type of area and did not attend the same school. We do not have similar lifestyles, nor have we come to the same company by the same career path. By the time I was his age, I was at a different point career wise. So, he is not a mini-me or a semi-me or a somewhat close to me in my youth. However, I do think anyone should be given frank feedback and a chance to change. Someone was kind enough to do that for me — the least I can do is pass it along.

  56. in a fog*

    I’d be interested in hearing how anyone has coped with the same issues as OP2, but with their supervisor. Mine always has an excuse when she screws something up (too many meetings, childcare issues, etc.), but if any of her five reports do anything wrong, it’s a big deal that’s pointed out in front of everyone.

    1. Observer*

      Well, document your head off. But if there is no one above you can talk to, start looking. I don’t think you are in any position to change her behavior.

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

    On #5: several years ago my department was hiring for a new Admin Assist. I understand that is a position many people see as a starting point and not a long term career, but we had one interview where the candidate revealed right away that her goal was to work in HR. She wasn’t really interested in the AA position…it was just a foot in the door for when an HR position opened up. Um…+1 point for honesty, -10 points for letting us know we’ll need to go through this whole process again in probably 3 months (because HR is constantly hiring at my school). We know things happen and people leave but at least pretend you WANT the job you’re applying for.

  58. MaryBethQ*

    OSHA ( governs workplace safety, but I don’t know if OSHA would apply in this situation. But if it does and if someone was severely injured on the job because of the dog, I shouldn’t think the employer would be too happy to have an OSHA complaint filed.

  59. ResuMAYDAY*

    I’m concerned at how off-base OP1’s interpretation and reaction is to this non-incident. This actually might be a good boss who has an employee with a perception problem.

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