my interviewers didn’t hang up the phone after my interview, my boss can’t move past a mistake I made, and more

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

1. My interviewers didn’t hang up the phone after my interview

I had an interview today that I thought went well — right until the end. I was prepared for all questions, had a few on my own to ask (thank you for the great interview advice by the way – I wasn’t at all caught off guard by anything thanks to your tips!), I projected myself as confident and able to handle the job. Brilliant!

The interview itself was over Skype, and for some reason when they disconnected the program, only the video shut down. I sat there in absolute silence listening as they discussed the previous 20-minute meeting. I didn’t know what to do! If I tried to disconnect, they would know for sure I was still able to hear them, so I froze.

I don’t think I did as well in the interview as I thought. What I took as confidence they called “control issues” and the main takeaway was they thought they might have problems keeping me low-key enough for the position. I’ve never been told I was controlling before, so I’m not sure how to take that, but my initial thoughts are I certainly have not landed this position.

My question is, what should I have done? Should I have interrupted them as soon as I realized I could hear them all talking and they were unaware I was still on the line? Do I email them back and tell them that I actually overheard their discussion and let them know I’m not really a control freak, I was trying to project confidence and obviously failed at that?

Oh no!

Yeah, ideally you would have either disconnected as soon as you realized you were hearing what was supposed to be a private conversation or spoken up right away so they knew you could still hear them, although I can certainly understand how you ended up sitting there frozen.

I would not email them and explain you heard the discussion; it’s going to raise the question of why you stayed on and listened. And to be clear, a lot of people would have found it hard to resist the temptation too — but the fact that you didn’t is not likely to go over well with the people you listened to.

Instead, I’d just take this as a behind-the-scenes glimpse that you normally don’t get to have. Unfortunately, that glimpse may or may not be useful, though. Maybe you really did come across as overly controlling … or maybe these people react that way to appropriate amounts of confidence (which might indicate that they penalize employees who dare to be confident or assertive too, in which case, it’s better that they screen you out). It is worth reflecting on whether there might have been something in your manner that a reasonable person could have misinterpreted, and maybe seek feedback from someone whose judgment you trust and who you know will be candid with you. But otherwise, sometimes hiring managers just get it wrong, especially when all they have to go on is a 20-minute Skype conversation.

2. My manager can’t move past a mistake I made

What do I do when my manager won’t forgive me for a mistake? It’s part of my job to send out correspondence and various paperwork to clients every month. A few months ago, I made a careless mistake that caused me to send some paperwork to the wrong client. This was a problem because the client saw sensitive information that they should not have seen. My manager told me about it, and I was mortified at my mistake. We were lucky in that the client was not upset and worked with us to resolve the issue, but it could have gone much worse.

Ever since then, I have been extra careful and have made sure to pay better attention to what I’m doing, and I have not made the same mistake again. The problem is that my manager still comments on and brings up my mistake, even months later. When I do the monthly paperwork, she will always remind me, multiple times, to double check and not mess anything up.

It’s not that I don’t take responsibility for my mistake, because I do, which is why I’ve been, and will continue to be, very careful not to repeat it. But I can’t help but feel like my manager doesn’t forgive me and that she’s holding this over my head. Maybe I deserve this for making such a mistake, but I’m not sure. How do I go about addressing this, if at all? Should I not say anything and just hope she eventually forgives me?

If this was a very serious mistake, it’s understandable that she’s worried about making sure that it won’t happen again — and she’s not in your head, so she doesn’t necessarily know what you’re doing to ensure that it doesn’t. But the way she’s going about this isn’t particularly useful. Just reminding you not to mess things up isn’t going to be especially effective.

What she should be doing is talking through what you’ll do differently to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Since she’s not doing that on her own, though, you can do it! Try saying something like this to her: “I want to let you know what steps I’ve taken to ensure that doesn’t happen again. I think before I was sometimes letting my mind drift when I put the client packets together, and I realize now I can’t do that. So I’m staying very focused when assembling these materials, and I have a checklist for each client that I check off as I put their packets together. I’m also double- and sometimes triple-checking everything before it goes in the envelope. I know how seriously I need to take this, and this new system is working really well.” (Or whatever your system is. If your system is now just “I pay more attention,” that itself may not be enough to set her mind at ease, so if you come up with concrete steps, it should help.)

That said, she still may remind you to double check. I wouldn’t see that as her holding it over your head, and instead just see it as her natural concern that a client relationship was potentially jeopardized. It should go away in time, but if it’s still happening a few months from now, you could say, “I get the sense that you’re still very worried about the care I’m taking with these materials. Is there anything you’d like me to do differently so that you can be confident I’m on top of it?”

3. Interviewer wants me to do a 30-hour, $2,800 project for free

I freelance on the side and am currently looking for a new full-time job. I got a second interview for an eLearning Developer position. Before the interview, they asked me to do a “sample task”. I’ve been asked to do pre-interview tasks and assessments before and they usually only take an hour or 2 at most. I got the “sample task” for this interview and it was essentially: create an entire 30-minute learning module with video, graphics, at least 2 interactions, voice over, and an online discussion community. If this was for a freelance client, I could bill this “sample task” at $2,800 (and would take over 30 hours of my time). This seems outrageous to me.

I offered up my portfolio as an alternative (I already include all the components they are asking for) and they still want me to do this sample project. It seems like they are trying to get free work, but some family and friends I’ve talked to say I should just bite the bullet and do it because it’s “normal”. What are your thoughts?

Nope, not normal. Asking you to do a smaller piece of work so they can see you in action — yes, good and normal and useful. But that should be an hour, two hours tops, and it should be clear that they’re not asking you to do anything they actually might use.

I’d say this: “I’d normally bill close to $3,000 for this work and it would take 30+ hours of my time. I absolutely want to get you what you need to be able to assess my work though. Would it work for me to do a piece of this rather than the whole, such as (suggest specific piece here, one that would be more reasonable)? Alternately I’d be glad to show you projects I’ve done that include all of these components.”

But if they insist, you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to walk away from the job over it. If you have other good options, you should.

4. I’m leaving in two weeks and my employer has no plan to replace me and is piling work on me

I work at a small nonprofit as the only person in my department due to the departure and non-replacement of the other people who were once part of it, with my responsibilities requiring vastly different training than the rest of the employees on staff. This includes any and all money-related duties, especially donations that flood in at the end of the calendar year.

I gave a month’s notice to make sure everything was taken care of to best set up my position for my successor but have been informed that the organization has no plans to replace me, requiring me to write an extremely in-depth succession plan and do a considerable amount of set-up for the next five years for the parts of my job that would have required overlap training to hammer out. My boss has put even more work on my overflowing plate, including projects that will be starting after my departure because she “doesn’t know who else to give them to” and has given unrealistic expectations of my capacity to work on these projects to the people we have hired externally to help. Am I being unrealistic in thinking that there should be an exit plan on her part?

Nope. But that’s their problem, not yours, and you shouldn’t move the burden over to yourself. You don’t have to work extra hours or take on extra stress to do everything that they’re piling on you. It’s fine to tell your boss, “I won’t have time to do all of this before I leave. What would you like me to prioritize?” If she tells you “all of it,” then say, “I want to make sure I’m flagging for you that I’m not likely to get to all of it, so that you’re not planning around it all being able to be completed in the amount of time I have left. I’ll start with A, B, and C, and then if I have time once that’s done, I’ll spend any remaining time on the rest. But let me know if you want me to prioritize things differently.” And then stick to that.

By the way, even in organizations that do replace people, it’s pretty normal not to have the replacement start before the outgoing person leaves. The point of a notice period (even one-month notice periods) isn’t to do training overlap, since hiring someone and waiting for them to start often takes longer than that. The point is just to get your projects in decent shape and leave behind some decent documentation for the next person (but without requiring the exiting person to work longer hours than usual). So don’t stress over that piece of this.

5. When can I check back with this company about their hiring decision?

I have been talking with a company for a couple of weeks now about potentially being hired. They said that they should know for sure about what is going to happen early this week. Monday was a bank holiday for them, and I haven’t heard anything yet. I was wondering when it would be prudent to follow up with the company? If I email them today, is it too soon?

Friday at the earliest. Hiring often takes far longer than people think it will, even the people setting the timelines. Always add at least a few days to whatever day they tell you to expect to hear back before you even start thinking you might hear something soon (and even that won’t always be enough; sometimes you have to add a week or two or more).

{ 324 comments… read them below }

  1. Viki*

    Re # 2.
    I mean it sounds like it was a Big Mistake. Sensitive Information like financial and personal info someone not related to the project got or something a long the lines is a Big Deal. Privacy, confidentiality, security, and so many other things could be at risk-especially if your company/manager’s reputation is on being careful/dealing with sensitive information. It could be much bigger than what you actually know from your manager. In my line of work, a breach like that would result in termination on the spot. I don’t know what industry you’re in but it could be much more than just a mistake-it sounds lower risk than mine though.

    If it were me, as the manager, you can bet I would be so on top of that. I would be so paranoid that you would do that again, that I would be having safe guards in the process, constantly asking you if you double/tripled/quadruple checked and even then it would take a long time for me to be sure that you were not going to do that again.

    Like Allison said tell your manager what are you doing to avoid this. Work with your manager to make a check in system if that’s what they need to be able to breathe easier if they’re worried about this.

    1. Polly Pocket*

      It is really serious and for that reason I don’t think the LW should say they were letting their mind drift. It’s ok to put it down to human error, but I wouldn’t say that. Say you didn’t have a robust enough system in place.

      1. PJs of Steven Tyler*

        This is great advice. We had a direct report do this exact same thing and it was in conjunction with other cognitive function lapses. Knowing that they had a concrete plan for dealing with it was the only thing that made it tolerable.

    2. Emily K*

      This also might be something that, because you only do it once a month, is going to take longer for your manager to regain confidence in you on that task. It’s been a few months since you made the mistake, but that means you’ve only completed the reports correctly a few times since then. If it was a daily task, it might take your manager 3-4 weeks to feel assuaged that the problem has been firmly corrected, but for a monthly task, it might take six or nine months before she has seen you do it correctly enough times for her to feel confident in you again.

      OP, I also did key on your use of the word “forgive.” I might be reading more than is warranted into that, but just in case: Does your manager actually seem angry with you? When she reminds you not to mess up the reports, does she sound annoyed or bitter? Barring malicious behavior and unreasonable bosses who make everything personal, forgiveness is not typically a concept in play with honest workplace mistakes because you didn’t wrong your boss by making a mistake. So if you’re worried that your boss giving you these unhelpful reminders means that she’s harboring ill will towards you and hasn’t forgiven you for what you’ve done, that may not be what’s going on. It’s very possible that your boss could have moved past the fact that you made a mistake, but at the same time still be nervous about it potentially happening again, and the “reminders” are an expression of that worry, not of a lack of forgiveness or any upset towards me.

      My report makes mistakes from time to time, and I do tend to double-check on her work for a while after a mistake to make sure it doesn’t resurface. Sometimes my double-checking involves her/is visible to her and other times I’m just logging into our system and verifying that everything she set up looks correct without involving her. But I have never been mad at my report or felt she had done anything that needed forgiving. Mistakes happen, she handles feedback appropriately and learns from her mistakes. There’s no problem between me and her – but I still might double-check or ask her to verify parts of her work that have given her trouble in the past, just because I’d be kicking myself if the mistake happened a second time and I could have prevented it by providing a second set of eyes on her work until she was in a comfortable routine.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        Yes, I thought the use of “forgive” was a little odd too. Forgiveness is for personal slights, not workplace errors. It’s not that your boss hasn’t “forgiven” you, it’s that your boss has not moved past worrying about the mistake happening again. No, hovering over you and reminding you not to screw up isn’t particularly effective, but she may not know what else to do. Definitely have a conversation with her about it, as this is clearly a big deal and if she does not perceive that you are taking it seriously and taking steps to never do it again, she’s not going to leave you alone. Unless she’s angry with you over it, which she should not be displaying to you even if she is, there’s nothing to forgive. There is only her lack of confidence in you to rebuild and that simply takes time and diligence.

      2. SometimesALurker*

        I think it’s also possible that your boss feels partly responsible for your mistake, in the sense that she’s responsible for what her team does, and so is checking up on you more as a part of improving her own practice.

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

        Agreed. Forgive in a work context is not “forget and never speak of again” like it might be in a personal relationship, it’s more like no formal disciplinary action will be taken — no PIP, transfer/demotion, firing. If the boss really didn’t “forgive” this error, the OP would have been removed from this task completely or fired.

    3. Ron McDon*

      OP2 – I’ve done this.

      I work in an academic setting, and I had to send one page of a multi page word document to a parent – the other pages contained the names and addresses of other families.

      I *always* pdf just that one page and attach it to an email… well this time I pdf’d the entire document; because the letter I wanted to send was the first page of it I didn’t notice – and for some reason I didn’t scroll down to check.

      Cue the parent phoning my boss to alert her to a data protection breach – a huge deal!

      My boss called me in, and told me what I had done; I was absolutely mortified.

      However, she never once raised it again – at the time it happened she said it is very unusual for me to make such a mistake and she knew I would be really annoyed with myself, we discussed what I must make sure to do in future (carefully double check the attachments) and that was it.

      I think I pre-emptively said about a week or so later ‘I am making sure I don’t rush when I’m emailing documents, and checking by opening the attachment at least twice before sending, I was so embarrassed that I made such a silly mistake’ so she knew I took it seriously and was building in extra checks so it doesn’t happen again.

      For those saying you should be fired – it is a big deal, but we are human and sometimes make mistakes.

      I think it’s worth having a chat with your manager to reinforce that you know it’s a big deal and are taking it seriously, and that may help her realise she doesn’t need to keep checking up on you.

      But you do need to be sure this is a one-off and you are otherwise conscientious.

      Good luck.

      1. A tester, not a developer*

        I’m not saying she *should* be fired, but in my industry this kind of breach is a regulatory issue. Once the regulators get involved, it’s a 90% probability that someone is getting fired – or at the very least demoted.

        1. Viki*

          Same. Because at that point, there is public facing damage control and interior damage control. My industry , the reputation for security is how companies/people sink or float. If someone is found guilty of this type of breach and it’s out to clients-it’s not going to go well for anyone involved. But the LW has what seems to be less high stakes which is good for them-there’s chance to recover then.

      2. Angela Ziegler*

        You hit the nail on the head. It drives me crazy when managers fixate on *one* out-of-character honest mistake, particularly the small and harmless ones, despite changes being made to fix it and prevent it from happening again. I think it shows good judgement when a manager can recognize a mistake (especially serious ones) and address it the way you described- the goal is to fix it and make sure something has changed so it doesn’t happen again.

        Unfortunately, some managers fixate on the rare (even small) mistakes simply because they happened, even if time shows it was a one-off issue that was addressed. I’ve had inexperienced managers who will constantly bring up the smallest of one-off mistakes despite otherwise good quality work. There’s a point where it’s less about job performance and more about having bad ideas of what ‘managing’ someone is. I’m not sure OP’s boss has this issue, but it’s possible.

    4. Coffee and Cake*

      Op needs to have steps in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. I would recommend that Op write up her new process of work and email it to her boss so that she is aware that there is a concrete plan going forward. I agree that it may be a bad idea to say your mind was wondering especially if you are dealing with financial or phi information and this breach could cause fines or sanctions for your company.

    5. Susan K*

      In my line of work, mistakes are taken very seriously, but it’s rare for a single mistake — even one with million-dollar consequences — to result in termination on the spot.

      Usually when somebody makes a serious mistake, we try to learn from it and put something in place to prevent it from happening again. A checklist would be a good idea, or (something we rely on frequently in my industry) having a second person check the work could help. It is also very common to keep bringing up mistakes, not only with the person who made the mistake, but with everyone else who does the same task, to remind them of the consequences of doing it incorrectly and discuss steps to be taken to avoid recurrence. So, I don’t think it is necessarily wrong or punitive for the manager to continue to bring it up, but it sounds like the way she is bringing it up isn’t very helpful. It doesn’t help to say, “Don’t mess this up again,” but if she says, “Please double-check the address on each packet before you seal it,” (or whatever steps you are supposed to be taking to prevent recurrence), it’s understandable that this could make you feel embarrassed, but reasonable for the manager to say to help you avoid making the same mistake. And that is the way she should be discussing it — to help you, not to punish you.

    6. hbc*

      If a single person can make an honest mistake, and the solution to that mistake is a verbal reminder every time the task is done, the data protection policy sucks. Even if “be careful” worked as a process step, what happens when you aren’t there that week?

      Getting on someone’s back feels like doing something and may ease your paranoia, but it’s actually very unhelpful.

      1. Micromanagered*

        THIS! This manager (or OP) needs to identify specific actions that will prevent this mistake from happening again, not just harangue OP every time she goes to do the task. “Constantly asking you if you double/tripled/quadruple checked” over one human-error would be a great way to drive off good employees and it’s just not a good practice. You’d potentially be training your employee to ignore those “checks” and even be more careless.

        I think this company needs to set up some kind of checks and balances for these packets or some kind of completion checklist–something actionable.

      2. hermit crab*

        Yes, exactly! I used to be in charge of a similar task at my old job, and there was a multi-step process for QA – not one but *two* additional people checked the files after they were created/before they were sent. We caught plenty of errors while there was still time to fix them.

        1. JulieCanCan*

          Once I accidentally send an actor client his past year’s earnings: gross payments, deal Point payout breakdowns, commission payments, his per-deal totals, EVERYTHING. Except (OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG) I sent him someone else’s yearly earnings details (alphabetically similar name) – a different actor’s. Who happened to be a friend of the original requester because holy crap every actor and actress on the planet knows one another – they all know each other and it can be annoying for so many reasons (“So-and-so got to meet with the Producers on Project X, and she and I always go in for the same roles. Why didn’t I get a meeting with Producers? Are you not doing all you can to help further my career??!!??!!” Our response (in our heads): “Actually Producers said they had no desire to meet with you because they think you’re a horrible actress.” Us (out loud, to client) “They said they love you but decided they’re going in a different direction.”

          The thing is, at the time I was still new and I was the only person who handled any of this information. Not only did I not tell anyone about my mistake, I didn’t even realize how atrocious it was. I just said to the client “oh, hey, I accidentally sent you the wrong information – please disregard everything and I’ll re-send you the correct stuff.”

          I later realized how major my error actually was and for years I had a lingering paranoia that this would come back and bite me in the ass hard core. I had handled it so nonchalantly and ignorantly, which might have been the only reason nothing more became of it. If I had freaked out and made a huge deal out of it the client might have realized how big of a problem it was. And the company owner I’m sure would have been upset, reasonably so.

          I was definitely more careful about double checking when sending out confidential information, but I still think about that mistake: in another company or with a different client, the outcome could have been very different for me.

      3. Queen of the File*


        In fact I think the stress of having someone on my back about something like this could easily distract me enough that I would be MORE likely to make a mistake.

      4. Matilda Jefferies*

        Yes, this. I’m a privacy officer, and in fact have committed the exact same breach as the OP – that was a fun thing to explain to my boss!

        The thing is, when you harass people like this for a single mistake, regardless of the scope or consequences, it *might* prevent the breach from happening again. Or it might not, human error being what it is. But it will *definitely* prevent people from reporting breaches when they happen in the future. If someone thinks they’re going to “get in trouble” for making a mistake, then what are the chances they’re going to speak up when they do?

        Mistakes happen, we’re all human. And most of the time, they can be fixed, whether it’s through technology, training, checklists, whatever. But “punishment” is not an appropriate response. It doesn’t fix the mistake, and it doesn’t prevent future mistakes – all it does is create a culture where people don’t speak up about them, which usually means they become bigger and harder to fix.

        1. Anita Brayke*

          As an honest, hard-working person with little self-esteem (bad relationship, and I’m making progress!) if my boss did this to me it would drive me out the door. I would already feel badly about the mistake in the first place, and would be mentally beating myself up over it. To add to that more than a couple times after it happened would just make everything worse to the point I wouldn’t be able to stay. Call me too sensitive if you will, but there are lots of us out there!

      5. Dust Bunny*


        I get that the manager is concerned but the way she’s doing it is not putting any real investment into making sure it doesn’t happen again–she’s pestering the OP with superficial “reminders” but not actually engaging in the process. Which is a long-winded way to say she’s just nagging, not managing. So apparently the OP is going to have to do this part of her manager’s job for the manager. (I’ve made mistakes. Nothing this big, but still. My supervisor always sits us down behind a closed door and goes through with us what went wrong and what we’ll do in the future to not have it happen again. It takes more time up front but things generally don’t happen a second time, and we feel like he’s paying attention to us as employees and not just raw output.)

      6. Lynn Whitehat*

        Agreed. If it’s that easy to make a serious mistake, something is wrong with the process. The best way to show you’re taking it seriously is to propose process improvements that would prevent this from happening in the future. Maybe one person assembles the correspondence and a second person signs off on it? Or maybe you have an email folder where you put them all, then double-check before you send them. Or something. But your manager periodically reminding you “now, don’t eff this up again!” is not a process improvement.

      7. Lucille2*

        Exactly! The only solution I’m reading in the letter is to be more careful and get constant reminders from the boss not to mess it up again. This is not a solution if the stakes are high. There are ways to mitigate the risk, and double/triple checking is not very effective.

        Password protecting an excel or pdf document is a very simple, low cost way to reduce this risk. If there is highly sensitive info involved, the company should really consider investing in an email encryption service or uploading documents to a secure sever their clients can access. The risk is not only sending the email to the wrong client, but there is risk of unauthorized parties gaining access to and viewing emails.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes. Sounds like there was a stack of papers for multiple clients, and some pages for another client got included with someone elses. If that’s the case, can they do one client package at a time? Or if that’s too time consuming, build in and run a filler page in between as a flag?

      8. JustaTech*

        My coworker took a class on root cause analysis and one of the things the instructor said that we really took to heart was “if the solution to the error is “be more careful next time” then you haven’t actually identified the root cause.” For example: employee forgot to do step 87 out of 150. Why did they forget? Were the steps written out? Had they been properly trained? Are they exhausted because they are working 12 hour night shifts?

        It’s not just “be more careful”; it’s how do we put structures in place to make being careful easy and making mistakes hard?

    7. A-nony-nony*

      But if you don’t trust your employee to do it correctly, and there’s nothing the employee can do to regain your trust, then find someone else to do the work. Continuing to be paranoid and double/triple/quadruple check with them every time they do a task is a) a waste of your time b) a waste of theirs and c) a good way to make someone miserable and drive them away.

      If that’s your goal, you might as well do them the favor of firing them. Otherwise, go through with them their process so you can feel confident they have a better process in place now and trust them to do it.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        The manager isn’t actually checking, though, she’s just bugging the OP about checking. She’s not doing anything about it directly.

    8. Old retired me*

      One of the legal secretaries in a former office copied opposing counsel on some confidential client correspondence. The error was discovered when the other attorney called our office to say he’d received information he should not have. This was a BIG deal and the secretary was let go.

      1. OP #2*

        Ick, I can feel the heat on that one. I work in the legal field. Anyway, I just wanted to clear up a few things and answer a few questions.

        My firm is very small, and the “breach” I made is not anything that would open us up to lawsuits or anything like that. Some of the paperwork is billing stuff so, basically, the client I mailed things to saw what another client was paying us. That’s confidential, for sure. And it’s mostly a problem because different clients get charged different things, depending on which attorney is handling the case, how involved it is, etc., so if a client sees another client paying less, they’re going to get angry and wonder why they’re getting charged more. If that had happened and we’d lost the client, this would probably be much worse.

        So yeah, it was bad, but in a “Oooh, that shouldn’t have happened way,” but not a “Oh my god, we’re going to get sued” kind of way.

        As for systems or whatever–there isn’t one. This used to be something my manager would do, but she delegated it to me a while ago. After I made that mistake, she took it over again for a little while, and then she gave it back to me. So, since then, I’ve been just double and triple checking things, and also making sure I’m focused (because my mind does tend to wander).

        1. Holly*

          Since you work in the legal field I just want to clarify that you understand that Old retired me’s comment is a perfect example of something that is a huge huge deal that could potentially have incredible cost that isn’t the law firm “getting sued.” Getting sued is not the only thing that could turn your office inside out.

          1. Holly*

            I reread and apologize if my comment unintentionally came off as condescending – I just want to point out that the metric for determining what is a big mistake or not is not just whether your firm is exposed to liability

        2. Susie Q*

          At my company that would be a huge mistake. Pricing rates are normally very protected company confidential secrets.

      2. HailRobonia*

        Yipes! I have accidentally emailed the wrong people because of #@*@&%$ email address auto-fill. Luckily it hasn’t been anything disastrous, just a bit embarassing (as in “I think you meant to send this to the Maggie in the other department…”)

      3. JulieCanCan*

        OMG!! my face as I read this—-> : O

        I feel sick on that person’s behalf, because I’ve been there (not as major but definitely an “oh sh*t!! I just instant messaged some very serious bitching to the person I was bitching about, who happens to be my boss! That message was supposed to go to Susie, my peer. Not Susanna, my boss!”


  2. Rick Tq*

    OP4: Have you spoken with the Board of Directors about your impending departure and what it means to the organization? The risk of mishandling donations should be a red flag to them and trigger a reset and investigation on why the entire department has quit without replacement.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s likely that people aren’t being replaced because of budget issues and that’s a situation the board is likely aware of. In general, “they’re not planning to replace me when I leave” doesn’t warrant a staff member going outside of chain of command and going straight to the board; that’s typically for serious malfeasance.

      1. Observer*

        I’m not sure I agree with this. Yes, going to the Board is usually for the big stuff. But this sounds like it really could be a big deal going on. Does the Board realize that the entire department has effectively been disbanded? That the ED is essentially lying to outside parties? That the ED has no plan and no clue about keeping things going – including bringing in money? What the OP is describing is the implosion of an organization.

        It’s possible that the ED has been misleading the Board. Or it’s possible that the ED has been keeping the Board in the loop and they are mishandling the situation. Either way, some information from someone like the OP could be enlightening to them.

        Not that I think that the OP has an *obligation*. This doesn’t sound like anything illegal is going on here, and probably not really unethical. Just really, really bad management.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          We may be reading it differently, but I didn’t read the letter as indicating the ED has no plan to bring in money. It sounds like the OP processes donations rather than doing fundraising herself, but I could be reading it wrong.

          1. Rick Tq*

            And, with the entire department gone how can the BoD be confident the donations will be accounted for and tracked properly? Donors expect an annual report summarizing their contributions for the year, does the ED or the line manager below her think that kind of report spontaneously appears? From OP’s note they have project-centric accounting that needs to be set up and maintained.

            Finally, OP’s manager is lying to the external partners about her availability for projects that start AFTER her departure.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yep, those are issues the organization will have to address. And may have a plan for addressing, or will quickly come up with one once the OP is gone. Or, who knows, maybe they’ll implode. But this isn’t the OP’s to solve or even escalate. People leave, don’t get replaced, orgs drag their feet on figuring out how to pick up that work — but most of the time, they do figure it out, even when it looks like the OP’s situation temporarily.

            2. anon for this*

              Agreeing with Alison here. This letter could describe a situation my org was in last fall. Our ED leaned on my departing co-worker more than she should have and we were all wondering what was going to happen with Co-worker left. Turned out, after a couple of weeks of uncertainty a plan was in place. It’s being handled fine now. I agree this isn’t something the O.P. should go to the Board about.

            3. Emily K*

              I worked for a small org in a previous life that laid off the only finance/operations person and didn’t replace him. Some of his more administrative task were shuffled around to the remaining staff (small org, lots of hats) and all the hardcore finance stuff they began outsourcing to a part-time bookkeeper who they paid for a few hours a week on a freelance basis to handle taxes, payroll, and compliance reporting. OP’s org might be planning something similar. I agree this doesn’t seem to rise to the level of going to the BOD.

              Also, I didn’t interpret the letter to mean her boss was lying that she would be available after her quit date. She refers to being given assignments now for projects that start in the future because her boss doesn’t know who else to give them to – which I interpreted to mean her boss wants her to do a bunch of advance work on those projects before leaving – and “unrealistic expectations about my availability” I interpreted as the boss telling the vendors that OP would do A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H for the projects before her quit date, when realistically OP will only have time to get through A, B, C, and D in her remaining time. I think if she were actually lying about OP’s availability, rather than just signing OP up for more work than she can realistically handle, OP would have called it lying, not “unrealistic expectations.”

              1. Q#4*

                Yes exactly this! She’s not telling folks we work with that I’ll be available but more “please do all of this somehow before you leave as well as everything else” and has grossly misrepresented how much time I have left (when it comes to the capacity I have to dedicate time to projects) to people perhaps less aware of the situation at hand. I don’t think she’s lying or is being malicious here but has unrealistic expectations over what I can and should be doing before I depart. We have had a lot of shuffling of responsibilities here but the responsibilities I carry out range from long-term (5+year projects) to short-term (gotta make sure these donations are in our system!) can only be done by someone who has any kind of direction or experience, especially with a dwindling staff. So happy (not happy we’re in it but happy we aren’t alone) we’re in this same club!

                1. First Time Caller*

                  I will point out that by overcommitting what you can do before you leave, your boss is putting you in a position to look bad to these other people. It may or may not be a problem for you, but I’ve seen bosses who prefer not to think things through, overpromise, and then would say, “Oh, OP was supposed to get this done before she left but she didn’t.”

                2. nonymous*

                  So why can’t you say something along the lines of “I’m working on A/B/C/D and it’s unlikely there is time to get to E/F/G/H before my last date. If something changes I will let you know.”

                  This is a variation of what I do before going on vacation. I touch base with partners on any active projects and let them know what progress I’ve made to date, when I will start working on it again, and who (if any) they can contact in the interim. If I was not planning to return, I’d also reach out to those collaborating on projects without urgency and give them a final update along with who to contact going forward. This last batch of emails can go out during your last week of employment.

                3. CoveredInBees*

                  Wishing you the best, OP! I left a non-profit with 4 months notice and they hadn’t even started advertising for my position when I left, despite my doing a very thorough edit of the generic job description that *day* I gave notice because it is a hard position to hire for. They also piled all of these extra projects on me that I had to decline. They were easy to deprioritize because they were grant reports due months after my last day.

              2. Observer*

                It doesn’t really matter if the ED is being dishonest or incompetent. The reality is that she is “grossly misrepresenting” reality. Being that deep in denial is just as dangerous to the org as deliberate lying, albeit in a slightly different way.

            4. beth*

              Yeah, it does sound like the organization is setting itself up for some serious trouble.

              But that’s not OP’s problem. OP is leaving and won’t be there for whatever happens next. It’s OP’s manager’s problem, and if they want to set themselves up for a major fail, that’s on them.

              My biggest concern here would be the manager potentially badmouthing OP when their wildly unrealistic plan for what OP will get done before their departure doesn’t happen. But I think all OP can really do about that is 1) be really clear, in writing, about what they can and cannot realistically do, and 2) do their best to document their processes and get their projects in as good shape as possible before they leave. It sounds like OP is already doing those things, so…that’s that.

          2. JamieS*

            Yeah sounds like OP basically serves as the one person accounting department since they’re the only ones doing money related tasks. I’m not sure it’s worth going to the board over and the nonprofit sector definitely isn’t my expertise but a nonprofit not having any sort of accounting department seems like a fairly big deal to me.

          3. Q#4*

            I actually do bring in fundraising and carry out all marketing, advancement and fundraising activities. There will now be no one on staff to do any fundraising activities from solicitation to processing!

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              In that case, this is certainly an interesting long-range succession plan they’re working on…

              Still, I would just keep reminding yourself not your monkeys, not your circus. Some things you cannot fix by the power of being very sensible in their proximity.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              That setup surprises me. Having the same person handling all of the fundraising AND all of the processing of donations seems like a crazy fraud risk!

                1. PJs of Steven Tyler*

                  We used to recommend SOX best practices to all our NPOs – I used to work for a CPA firm whose business was 95% non-profit audits.

          4. Observer*

            Handling donations is NOT separate from actually fundraising. If you can’t handle the donations that come in, you are absolutely assuring that you are going to have problems getting new donations. So, whatever the ED is say, the fact is that they don’t have a plan to deal with a critical piece of the fundraising puzzle.

        2. Woodswoman*

          I’m getting the same sense that this nonprofit is imploding. But if it were me, I wouldn’t be reaching out to the board. If they don’t know yet that things are going badly, they will soon enough. It doesn’t sound like there’s anything illegal happening here to require notifying the board. If the OP is already on their way out, they can just finish up there and move on without having to be pulled into anything after their departure.

          1. Lance*

            Yup; this is where the expression ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’ comes into play. All OP owes them at this point is continued work through their notice period; everything else is on the org itself. It would be understandable to want to try and help… but it’s really not necessary, and may not accomplish anything in the first place.

              1. Recent Anon Lurker*

                I had somebody in a deptartment I supported where everything was always an emergency. The first few months I would fall for his “this is more urgent than anything else you are working on” and help him out. That ended when I realized he liked to work in a constant state of not planning beyond the next few hours. I looped in my boss, and wasfully supported when I started telling him that “his failure to plan didn’t constitute an emergency on my part any longer.” This guy was really upset, just short of meltdown level upset, but there was nothing he could do because our mutual boss was supporting me and not him.

          2. Observer*

            I do agree that the OP does not have any requirement legal, moral or otherwise. I just think that it would not be unreasonable, given what’s going on.

            If it were me, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t go to the Board either. This place is imploding and I suspect that the Board won’t thank the messenger.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It’s also possible that the BOD is the source of the decision to not replace OP4.
        OP4’s manager could be officially assigning tasks to OP4 in preparation for a fight to fill the position. The requested job documentation & 5-year plan could be part of the paperwork required to justify a new/replacement hire.

        1. Q#4*

          So my direct manager is the top of the organization so there is no middle manager here. She is the source of not filling it and has reassured the BoD that things are fine without an indefinite replacement.

    2. Q#4*

      Hi! The BoD is aware of what is going on, with only a few of them concerned about this turnover. There has been a staff “turn over” rate of 50% since my arrival at the office with only one person being replaced (my predecessor) and it is unfortunately not budget-related but more closely aligned to the idea that, to be a good non-profit, you always should try to do less with more.

      1. Psyche*

        Wow. If the organization has decided that to be a good non-profit they should not hire anyone to solicit or process donations, they are beyond your ability to help them.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, if they’ve decided to hold so firmly to “less with more” ideal that they don’t consider it worthwhile to hire people to perform essential functions, there’s nothing you can say that would possibly change their mind. Take care of yourself by limiting to only a reasonable workload and let the chips fall where they may.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              “Do less with more!!!!” as a motto plastered on all the corporate swag.

              Maybe for a diet company?

            2. The Tin Man*

              “Do less with more” instead of “Do more with less”

              Though more perfecter would be if OP4 wrote “Do less with less”

      2. Smithy*

        Ouch….this is definitely a case of “do what you can” and accept what you can’t.

        I used to be the only fundraiser for an org, I gave three months notice and in that time they were unable to replace me. It ultimately suited my situation very well to serve as a consultant for a few months – but took about 9 months to replace me. As “eek” as all of that does look written down – the organization was ultimately able to figure it out though did have to acknowledge part of the reasons why that role was proving so hard to fill.

        The nonprofit has survived and it’s worked out – but nothing you can do in your last month will fix or ruin the organization.

      3. Observer*

        Oh, gosh. Forget about going to the Board then. No one here is behaving responsibly.

        I’d try to make some connections with the Board members who have some clue, because they MIGHT be useful to you down the road – the rest of the Board will undoubtedly blame you for the inevitable problems, just as your ED will.

      4. Dr. Doll*

        Less with more is a perfect description of what happens sometimes with grant budgets. The grant I’m working with now poured money out to people who produced almost nothing because the grant didn’t include funds for actual support for them to do it, or for accountability.

        1. Observer*

          Of course it didn’t include those funds! Don’t you know that that is OVERHEAD. And OVERHEAD is evil! Evil and to avoided at all costs, even when it wastes money to do so and actually negatively affects the project. /sarc

      5. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, this place is going down.

        I work for a nonprofit that is trying to claw its way out of the hole created by an ED with a “do more with less” attitude. It sucks. Morale is not great, wages and hiring have been frozen for quite awhile. We’re not going under but our reputation, and thus our ability to attract donors, has suffered a lot.

        You can’t fix this. Do what you can and get out. Let the ED deal with it if she thinks this is the way to run things.

      6. Woodswoman*

        As a nonprofit worker of many years, this mentality pains me and is unfortunately common. I have images of people sitting in a room talking about how to be more effective. I know, let’s not hire replacements when people leave and work the remaining staff 200 hours a week. I’m sure we’ll raise more money and the one person who doesn’t quit after the other 10 do will surely be happy and loyal to our organization.


    3. Marthooh*

      I don’t think this warrants going to the board, but definitely CYA. Communicate or follow up by email when you use Alison’s scripts. Let the external partners know how much, or how little, you’ll be able to do. If this organization does fail, it’s an unfortunate fact of human nature that the people left standing in the ruins will be looking for someone else to blame.

      1. CM*

        I think this is an excellent idea. Establish a paper trail where you consistently communicate both internally and externally that you will not be able to complete all these tasks. For instance, you can note in your transition memo that the fundraising work would typically require about 3 full-time people with expertise in the area, and it’s a risk to the organization to not have any full-time employees focusing on fundraising and donor management.

        Just remember, even though it feels like you’re drowning in work, you don’t really have to set the organization up to survive the next five years without you! That’s their responsibility, not yours.

  3. Maggie*

    LW4, ugh. Yuck. It’s pretty clear why they’re losing you. Since times you really do just have to let people crash their own car/boat/train/ whatever. Experience is a great teacher.

    1. Maggie*

      *Some times. My kingdom for an edit button, because then I’d erase my whole comment and second the suggestion above to tell the board of directors.

  4. Serendipity*

    OP #1

    Oh how awkward! I feel for you and can imagine what it was like for you during that conversation. I probably would have been fighting an urge to sneeze the whole time.

    I’ve been reading this blog a long time, and not knowing how an interview went or receiving an insight into an interviewer’s thoughts is a common theme. Can you reframe the situation in your mind as a learning tool, however uncomfortable, that very few are given the opportunity to have?

    The kind of people who have given me feedback before have always been kind and very diplomatic (or obtuse!) in their comments, which has left me wondering what their true thoughts were. As a straight talker I appreciate feedback without sugar-coating but it is rarely given.

    This was perhaps a fly-on-the- wall insight into how strangers perceive you, and you can use this information to improve your interview skills.

    Best of luck

    1. JulieCanCan*

      OMG so so so very awkward. I cringed as I read OP1’s letter. Poor thing. At least you can move on and don’t need to waste any precious time on wondering if it’s going further.

      I’m so sorry Op1, that’s got to sting. BTW I 100% would have listened to the entire conversation also – you are not alone in your actions. I mean, is there anyone who wouldn’t have listened?

      1. Screenwriter*

        I once was on a business call (I’m a writer, and was on a call with a studio executive), and they didn’t disconnect me, and simply rolled over to their next call, and in the same way, I was frozen to the spot–afraid that if I hung up it would reveal that I’d been hearing them–so I had to listen to the exec calling another writer (a team of two young guys, thankfully I didn’t know who) to tell themhat they weren’t going to go forward with their project, had to listen as the guys sadly begged for another chance and the exec told them no. I was so cringing on their behalf. But thank goodness at least I didn’t know them. OP1, it happens. Do NOT tell them you heard them–that would really make them uncomfortable, and they’d take that out on you, and perhaps even badmouth you further. I’d just try to take a useful lesson as to how you are perceived, and either try to address it with the help of a coworker or friend (in terms of how you come off), or write it off to them being out of sync with you. It will strike you as really funny in a few years, and will just be yet another crazy experience you’ll log in the work world.

        1. Myrin*

          I’d just try to take a useful lesson as to how you are perceived, and either try to address it with the help of a coworker or friend (in terms of how you come off), or write it off to them being out of sync with you.

          I think this is useful advice in general for all kinds of people which I’ve personally taken to doing from childhood on; if a piece of criticism is the first you’ve ever heard of it (general you, not OP in particular), the other person is either an outlier with specific sensitivities/”triggers” you inadvertently pulled and can be more or less ignored, or everyone would’ve perceived you that way but you had an off day and you aren’t normally like that, or the thing in question actually is something you regularly display but no one’s ever told you before. I always like to think through such things earnestly and honestly, and sometimes I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, it does seem like I’m more X than I thought, and sometimes I’ve come to the conclusion that the other person was an outlier and I can safely write them off.

          Which is not the meat of the OP’s question at all but I felt like you worded this really concisely and pragmatically and I wanted to expand on that!

          1. Jaybeetee*

            I get you. I actually had a break-up awhile back (with unfortunately a pretty toxic guy), and there were quite a few moments of “Huh, no one’s ever said THAT about me before.” That said, I realized he was right about some things, and part of my work post-breakup has been weeding out the “Okay, that’s actually something I should work on” vs. the “That was him on another planet coming up with ways to blame me for his own inadequacies.” Then there’s that third category of “Well yes, that’s a flaw, but is it actually a huge deal in general?” With toxic people in particular, they tend to trump up every mistake you make into something huge… when honestly it just may not be. Like that poor OP who’s manager is docking her a day’s pay for sleeping through her alarm. Yes, it was a mistake, but it’s not some huge character flaw that warrants that level of “punishment” or needs to be corrected IMMEDIATELY.

            1. Jo*

              Oh, this. So much this. I had someone many many many years (pretty much a lifetime ago) do this to me, and it took me a while before I realized that that is actually a textbook defense mechanism. She wasn’t trying to convince ME of all of my horrible shortcomings and character flaws – she was trying to convince herself. Because the harsher and crueler she was about how terrible I was, the less likely that any of it – any at all – might’ve been her own fault/she might’ve behaved poorly in any way. The more you can blow up someone else’s actions to seem egregious, the easier it is to let yourself off the hook for your role in whatever altercation you had.

              Essentially, toxic (and frankly, abusive) people love to keep all the focus on what you did wrong, or “wrong.” And they blow it up as big as possible so that there’s less of a risk that anyone will think to look at their own faults and shortcomings. “As long as I keep yelling about how awful YOU are, we don’t have to think or talk about how awful *I* might have been!” There’s an odd zero-sum mentality there: “if you are at fault in this way or that way, that means my behavior was perfect.”

              Me, personally, I subscribe to the “outlier” view mentioned above. If you are literally the only person I’ve ever heard this from, and not only that, but I’ve heard the total opposite from everyone else my whole life long before and/or since, I’m not going to really give your opinion much, if any, merit. Sorry, but it’s just ridiculous that you expect me to believe that literally everyone else all these years got it wrong, and not one person ever said anything, and ONLY YOU see and know the truth. It’s just reads so arrogant. When it becomes a pattern, and I keep running into this, then we’ll talk. But until then, your opinion is just your lone opinion, and expecting me to give it the most weight makes no sense.

              (This was my main issue with the discussion about “just because no one’s said anything doesn’t mean your behavior is okay” that happened here once. At some point you have to trust that if you’ve literally never heard a certain piece of criticism, it’s because you’re not doing anything wrong, or at least, certainly not egregious enough to be spoken to about it. It just seems really, really, really unlikely that not one person in your life EVER said anything before now. The much, much more likely scenario is that the other person has a trigger or a certain sensitivity. Or maybe I’m just used to being around very blunt people, LOL.)

        2. Ego Chamber*

          “Do NOT tell them you heard them–that would really make them uncomfortable, and they’d take that out on you, and perhaps even badmouth you further.”

          Badmouth them further how? Are you saying the interviewers might tell other people in their industry that OP was listening in on their part of the call, or do you consider the discussion the interviewers had to be badmouthing? I know it sucks to hear negatives about yourself but nothing they said sounded mean-spirited, and most people are less diplomatic when they think they can speak freely.

          I agree that every acknowledging what they heard would be the worst possible thing to do in any context. If their criticisms had been more blatantly potentially sexist, like saying OP was “overly aggressive” or “too loud” or “not a team player,” I’d be tempted to send a thank you email that linked to 1 of the many articles about how perception of leaders in the workplace is affected by gender with a little note like Saw this and thought of you! Good luck in your search!

            1. ControlFreak*

              Totally agree with this! I don’t think they were badmouthing me at all, they were legitimate concerns. MY concern is if that is how I’m projecting myself, I’m in need of an overhaul. I’m not controlling, at least I don’t think I am. I am confident, I’m assertive when I know that I need to be, but I have no problem taking a step back or being a team player either.

              Unless I know you are wrong, and in that case, just do it my way because that’s the right way. :P

        3. ControlFreak*

          I thought about that, Screenwriter. If I did get the job (not holding out hope there) it will be an amusing story to tell at a company Christmas party hahaha

        4. JulieCanCan*

          Oooohhhh!! I must be semi evil because I probably would have relished hearing that call – maybe because you’re in such a cutthroat and competitive world, it would be kinda nice hearing someone else being rejected. Not that I enjoy hearing other people’s difficulties. I’d use that as “OK it’s tough out there for everyone, and I know that groveling is definitely NOT the way to change an executive’s mind.”

      2. ControlFreak*

        Thank you, JulieCanCan – it’s nice to know I’m not the only one that could not resist temptation. I’d make a lousy spy, zero ability to resist anything :)

      3. Queen of the File*

        I was once on a conference call where people began discussing the termination of a project I was working on, clearly assuming I was not on the call. By the time I realized I wasn’t supposed to be hearing the conversation, it would have been WAY too awkward to hang up and alert them that someone had been on the line. I felt awful that I’d heard what I did but also felt ‘frozen’ in place! OP is definitely not alone.

    2. ControlFreak*

      Thanks for the comment, Serendipity – I really value hearing from other people in “omg-what-just-happened” situations. You are correct – the “no sugar added” feedback was something you very rarely receive, and in the last couple of days I’ve tried to turn that into a “gift” rather than the slap in the face it was at the time. It’s inspired me to do a bit more skill building on my interviewing skills – obviously what I’m projecting is unintended.

      I truly believe there are two ways to look at everything, one is negative and one is positive, and though you might have to search and stretch to find the positive in some situations, it’s there. I will take the positive out of this as “ok, you know what to do next time, and you know there’s some areas that need a bit of polish.” :)

      1. Psyche*

        It is highly possible that you do not come across as controlling at all and that the problem is that the company does not want someone confident and proactive. Remember that this is a data point of one. One company thought you were a bad fit, and if they wanted someone passive, they may have been right! Self-reflection is great and you should defiantly think about whether they have a point, but don’t assume that they do. You may be giving this way more weight than it deserves.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        As someone who also has to work carefully on projecting confidence in interviews, I’m so curious – what do you think it was that made them see your “confidence” as “controlling”? I could see it being easily misinterpreted as arrogance (maybe this is where the “keeping you low-key” thing came in), but I don’t tend to think of control issues as the red flag for people who are actually too assured in their superiority.

        1. ControlFreak*

          I’m actually at a loss to answer that, Legal Beagle – I really was just being me – maybe a bit more “braggy” than normal, but it was an interview, I had 20 minutes to let them know why I was the right person. It’s very odd.

          1. JulieCanCan*

            OP thinking back now, were there certain points during the conversation where you might’ve tried steering the conversation topic in one direction while not realizing that they wanted to keep it where it was? It could be something where you believed you were moving the conversation along, the way an interview is supposed to flow. Meanwhile from their (incorrect) perspective, you were trying to take things to a different place and they didn’t want that to happen. And that, to them, was “controlling” when you were simply “conversing.”

            I mean, this is the mystery of the human mind at work. Even when making every effort to appear a certain way, what we think was obvious can go over another’s head so easily. I’ve had conversations where I felt I had been crystal clear and transparent to the core, with no ambiguity whatsoever. Come to find out that the other person had taken away a completely different understanding and if a third party hadn’t alerted me to the misunderstanding issue, a huge problem would have developed as I remained blissfully clueless until it exploded in my face.

  5. Bowserkitty*

    OP1 – I second Alison’s advice!! absolutely do not reach out to them and thoroughly consider everything she just advised.

    1. Ann*

      And it would perhaps reinforce their belief that you indeed are controlling- to the extent of “eavesdropping”…

      1. ControlFreak*

        Hi Ann –

        Yes – that was my fear. It’s pretty hard to deny too, I really was eavesdropping!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Absolutely pretend that at that point you got up from your computer and went to do other stuff.

        2. Diamond*

          A lot of people would have listened! And then the longer you sit there listening, the less possible it becomes to shut it off!
          I wouldn’t give any hint that you heard. I don’t see any way that telling them can make things better.

    2. ControlFreak*

      Absolutely – in hind sight I have had a number of interviews but not many callbacks, so perhaps this is the reason why. In any case it’s certainly given me something to improve upon… so a small win?

  6. Polly Pocket*

    #2 I wondered if your manager was just really anxious because it’s on her head if you make the same mistake again. You said she’s not forgiving you, but I think you might need to separate two things.

    Firstly, how she treats you and if she’s holding this against you or not. How is she with you the rest of the time? You didn’t say, and that would have been really helpful context. Is she otherwise a supportive manager? Does she micromanage or criticise or ask for multiple reassurances about anything else? Bear in mind she hasn’t fired you and you haven’t mentioned a PIP or even a write-up.

    Secondly, the fact that she might feel anxious because this reflects on her and her only opportunity to influence things is through you when you do the work. Why don’t you show her some sort of process that involves a tangible acknowledgement that you followed the right steps to check, like signing a sheet and adding the date.

    Try to imagine how you would feel in her shoes. It’s not about forgiving you.

    1. MsSolo*

      Depending on where you are in the world, it’s possible OP’s boss is still waiting to see what the consequences of the data breach are. Being able to demonstrate that you’ve been open and honest about it (and reported it promptly) and changed the system which allowed it to happen can be significant factors in determining whether or not the organisation gets fined. Repeatedly telling someone not to do it again isn’t changing a system, but supervisor might not be in a position to make actionable changes.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      This is pretty close to what I was going to comment on, so I’ll just add to it.

      Micromanaging would be if the manager looked over your shoulder to watch you do this task. Reminding you to be careful is just that, a reminder. Your boss would be well within their scope to review the work before it was allowed to be sent out, and that would not be out of the realms of normal. A lot of jobs have audits and reviews built in to the process.

      The term forgiving is really odd to use in this context, unless the letter was missing some details. Very rarely is forgiveness even a factor in a situation like this. As a manager she is responsible for your work. It may be a little hard to get used to at first, but there is a disconnect between personal and professional.

      In general, your boss’ oversight isn’t necessarily a reflection on your performance. I ask to review certain things from my staff before it’s made public for lots of reasons. None of those reasons are that I don’t think they can do the job or I don’t trust them. Sometimes it’s because the stakes are that high, other times it’s because I want to know and understand the task, and sometimes it’s only for me to understand their performance.

      In this case, I think your boss does trust you, otherwise as I mentioned they’d probably review the work before it’s sent out. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t concerned about the mistake happening again, hence the reminders.

  7. MrsMurphy*

    OP#2 – Maybe it‘ll just take time.

    We take care of sending out monthly bills to our clients. My colleague made a mistake once – not sure how it happened but basically, two bills were mixed up and sent to the wrong clients. This is a big deal obviously – us being a law office made it an even bigger deal, since bills include details of the work done for each client.

    My colleague was mortified and we all were a lot more careful from then on. The mistake happened two years ago – but you bet every month when I‘m working on the bills that story is on my mind, keeping me on guard, and our manager still brings it up occasionally.

    Just keep your head high and make sure it doesn‘t happen again. Mistakes happen. Big, problematic mistakes happen. The more time passes without a repeat, the better things will be.

    (We changed our workflow in our case so that after every envelope is filled and labeled a second person double-checks content and label before closing each envelope. It‘s tedious, but safer!)

    1. AdminX2*

      Humans are humans. I made the same mistake- smallish local office, multiple generations of a family with same names and multiple cross addresses and the records had been messy since inception. I accidentally mailed son stuff to the dad. It’s not ok and there’s no excuse- but it is understandable.

    2. CM*

      OP#2 could also proactively show her manager that she’s doing the right thing — when it’s time to do the monthly paperwork, she can say, “And it’s on my checklist to review the PDF before it goes out to make sure it doesn’t contain any extra information.”

    3. OP #2*

      Holy moly, that’s very close to what I did! I’m in a law office. I thought you were talking about me for a second, until you said it was two years ago. Do I know you? haha

      I would actually like it if my boss (or someone) would go behind me and check the content, but nope. My manager is controlling but lackluster, though that could be a whole ‘nother letter to Alison.

      1. A-nony-nony*

        I have a sneaky suspicion if you polled people who work in law firms (or small business accounting firms, or other services) you’d hear similar stories. Big mistake, something that should be taken very seriously, but…not super uncommon.

  8. Observer*

    #4 – I’d prioritize the documentation. Let your boss know, and don’t kill yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get drawn into an argument or “discussion” of the matter. Inform her, and then either re-prioritize based on what she says, or ignore her. What’s she going to do? Fire you?

    1. Auntie Social*

      OP#4: Send your boss an email that says “you’ve given me the following 20 projects—A, B, C, D—Z, and it is physically impossible for me to complete even half of it before I leave. I am prioritizing A, C, and F. Once those are done (those are the most time sensitive) then I will see how much I get done. If you have different priorities, please let me know. For the projects N, O, P and Q that start after my exit date, I suggest that you start looking at staff in other departments and assign one or more tasks to them. It makes no sense to just have projects sit on my desk. If you assign them now then you can oversee their set-up.”
      I think you need to set out in detail everything she’s assigned to you and the date she gave them to you so it’s clear how unrealistic her expectations are. Anyone who does this to you will also try to blame you for everything not being done.

      1. Q#4*

        I have unfortunately done this and have been told it’s my responsibility to “step it up” and get everything done before I leave and that everything is top priority, including these new projects. Every time I push back I am told that I need to “try harder” or should be working later or on the weekends. I have just decided to do as much as I can and let whatever I cannot get to go.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just because they say it’s your responsibility doesn’t make it so. Say this: “I’m not able to work extra hours during my remaining time, so I want to make sure you’re aware that I’m only likely to be able to complete X Y and Z.” If you’re told you need to do more, say: “I’ll certainly get to as much as I can, but I don’t want you counting on me doing all of this, because it’s not possible in the time I have remaining.” After that, it’s their problem, not yours.

          1. LindsayGee*

            Agreed. LW don’t bend to the pressure they’re putting on you. It is ABSOLUTELY NOT your responsibility to try and fit in months worth of work into your notice period. That is their problem, and you should absolutely not put in overtime or weekend work to accomplish this. I would say to, after a certain point if you can’t get through to them, just keep your head down and accomplish what you can during a normal work period. The absolute worst thing that can happen is they fire you during your notice period…but based on the amount of work they want you to do i doubt they have the luxury to let you go

            1. Anon For Always*


              And I’ve seen this happen in many small organizations. They have a staff member who does a ton and their manager has no real idea how long it takes to do any of those tasks. And/or they assume because things get done that those tasks are quick and easy, so they can farm them out to other staff. They’ll figure it out, but it’ll probably take months, perhaps even years. First will come the farming out, and then work won’t be completed and/or the other high performers will leave. Second they will hire someone to replace you (in six months when they’ve figured out farming the duties out others hasn’t worked), and then become frustrated that the person they’ve hired can only do half the work that you did.

              As Alison noted though, none of this your problem. Just do what you can do and let the rest go. What are they going to do? Fire you? Most organizations of this nature aren’t that stupid, and if they are, well it’ll give you a few extra days off before you start your new job.

        2. Beatrice*

          I had this experience, too. I wound up prioritizing about whatever I was getting yelled at about at the time (which was inefficient because I kept switching tasks). There was no yelling about documentation, so they got very little. I gave them five weeks of notice. ‾\_(ツ)_/‾

        3. Anon For Always*

          Then you’ve made a great decision to leave!

          Just keep in mind that you can only do what you can do in the time frame provided. And you were generous to provide a month’s notice. At this point it’s not going to matter how much or what you do. It’s not going to be enough.

          1. JulieCanCan*

            Totally! A good time to be so very happy OP is leaving this organization.

            Sometimes these actions from a company serve to remind us exactly why we’re getting the heck out. And I wish it was cool to say “THIS IS ONE OF 50 REASONS I WILL NOT BE HERE AFTER NEXT FRIDAY, THANK GOD” right in the manager’s face.

        4. ThankYouRoman*

          They’re unreasonable dillweeds. Let me take all those boulders off you’re shoulders they keep piling on.

          I’m glad you’re leaving. They’re not good managers to put it nicely.

        5. JulieCanCan*

          But after your last day (and even now, really), this is none of your concern if you’re doing all you can do within a reasonable period of time.

          I’m not sure why you are worried about what they’re insisting when you won’t be employed there soon, and everyone (save your unreasonable and semi-hideous sounding boss) can see you’re working your regular hours and putting in sufficient effort.

          Don’t even let this get to you – and remind yourself that this is exactly why you’re leaving. Just be happy that they won’t be your problem soon!

    2. Amylou*

      “What’s she going to do? Fire you?”

      The times I thought that during my notice period in a previous job. It puts things in perspective, and didn’t worry about petty little things that coworkers got worked up about.

      1. NotThatCompany*

        I actually did get fired on the last day of my 2 week notice once. That was a pretty toxic environment all around so it wasn’t unexpected. There was a pool among my coworkers to see if I would be and I’d previously gone to HR to discuss my concerns about being fired when I gave my notice.

        Worked out fine for me I got to leave early on my last day.

          1. NotThatCompany*

            Big Ivy League Hospital / Laboratory run by a jerk of a MD / Ph.D. he was a little tinpot dictator that was so toxic I actually left research after that job.

      2. Ms Cappuccino*

        Yeah but you still need a good reference from them. That’s what would worry me in this situation.

        1. MLB*

          Not necessarily. I had a toxic manager at my last job and I would have never used her as a reference. She shouldn’t have to sacrifice her mental (and physical) health and work enormous amounts of overtime because her job can’t figure how to handle someone leaving. It’s not her problem anymore, bottom line.

        2. Observer*

          Killing yourself to get a good reference from a toxic manager with ridiculous expectations is a fool’s game. There is no way you are going to meet their expectations anyway.

          And, if the OP already has a job, there’s a good chance that she won’t need a good reference from this manager.

        3. ThankYouRoman*

          Nope. My jerkwad boss would never ever everrrrr be listed as a reference. They’re unreasonable and given their reactions now, it’s playing Russian roulette with your references to use them.

        1. KimberlyR*

          Also, keep in mind that your boss may try to make you stay or take on projects as a “freelancer” after your notice period. Don’t do it! Your boss cannot make you work for the company after your last day. Alison has had plenty of letters to the effect of, “my boss won’t let me quit my job.” Do what you can to finish projects, leave documentation on the rest, and firmly (but politely) refuse to do any work past your last day. Sounds like your boss will try to guilt you into taking on more than you should. “Unfortunately, I am not able to do that” will be a good sentence to have handy.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        That happened to me, and I actually said it to my boss. I did not need a reference from her and we’d had a contentious relationship the whole time I worked for her. I was working out a month’s notice period, and on my second to last day, she decided to scream at me for doing something the exact same way I’d been doing for two years which she knew about and had always been completely fine with. So I looked her dead in the eye and said, “So fire me.” She just huffed away because she really needed me work my final day and didn’t have coverage planned and I knew it. Ah, small business drama. I don’t miss it.

  9. RUKiddingMe*

    I’d be interested to know OP 1’s gender. “Control issues” are seen differently most of the time depending on if an individual is a woman or a male.

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      +1 Also the ‘keep OP in their place’ rang bells if there’s a gender or race difference in play.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yeah I got the keeping OP in their place thing as a gendered issue as well. We all know that tons of things that are positive for a make will be seen as negative in a woman.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We don’t know the OP’s gender, and I’m going to request that we not derail on this since it doesn’t change the advice. (And because, frankly, I will lose my mind if every post here leads to a discussion of the potential role of sexism.)

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I’ve noticed that you’ve made this request a few times lately, and I get it… but the gender and race of the various people involved DO change the situation and could significantly change the advice (in this case and many others). Are you asking for folks to not speculate when race and gender are unknown (in the same way you ask folks to not speculate about, say, autism spectrum disorders)?

        1. Jaybeetee*

          I suppose it’s because in some of these cases it doesn’t really change the advice – OP can consider what she heard, and either decide it’s warranted and she should work on it, or decide it was unwarranted and write off that company anyway. If OP is a woman, and the interviewers were men, and they were interpreting what should be healthy confidence as “bitchiness” or “controlling” – apart from being discussion fodder I’m not sure if it would really change what Alison suggested OP do about it, and there isn’t much OP can do if the interviewers were indeed men who perceived her in that light.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, exactly (and what others said below as well). The question to me is whether it changes the advice in a meaningful way.

            Sexism affects everything. In theory, we could explore sexism in response to nearly every letter here. But that’s not what this site is for and it does become exhausting (for others in addition to me, I imagine). (As does sexism itself, for that matter.)

        2. Observer*

          How does the advice change?

          Fundamentally, the OP still needs to do the same thing – figure out whether this is an outlier and a problem on the interviewer’s side, or a reflection of something that the OP can change, and if it is, is it something they SHOULD change. Or maybe this a reflection of a bad fit.

          Possible sexism falls under “problem with the employer”

        3. Myrin*

          I daresay that so far, when any of the factors you mention would influence any advice given, Alison has done a splendid job at covering that in her answer already.

          In this particular case, there would be no change to the advice whatsoever since the conversation’s content isn’t what the OP was worried/asked about – it was just mentioned because it made her feel (understandably!) awkward and like she came across in a way that doesn’t represent who she actually is. But this was more of an etiquette/what-could-I-have-done-better question, not an “are these interviewers behaving unfairly towards me” one.

      2. Mockingjay*

        I got a different vibe from the letter, based on my own experiences. It seems like they need someone fairly skilled and experienced to stay in a tedious slot. I did a phone screen once for a position that sounded exciting and high-level. During the in-person interview, they revealed that the position was mid-level and the actual work was formulaic (and incredibly boring – I know because I did that type of work before). The work was a true business need for the company, but it didn’t mesh with my personality or career goals. The same may be true for OP #1; they are looking for a low-key person because they need someone long-term doing the same thing day after day.

        Just another perspective.

      3. Angela Ziegler*

        Honestly, I came to the same assumption reading the letter- partly because of the great series of comics you posted on how to be a woman in the workplace. I’m pretty sure there was one that pointed out how women are either ‘lacking confidence’ or ‘too bossy’, and it completely came to mind reading the letter.

      4. RUKiddingMe*

        Alison it’s your blog so of course I will respect your request to not derail.

        But before I go…I want to ask do you think that if an individual (OP or anyone else) is male and told to basically take it down a notch it’s a male being told he is being too much?

        Whereas if it’s a woman it could be that’s she’s too much or that it’s also likely, in fact given gender dynamics very likely, that she’s being told to be smaller, take less space, etc. in the way women are always told to/expected to be “less?”

        And does this change at all how a woman should go about presenting herself in interviews?

        1. Myrin*

          The core of OP’s letter is literally “My question is, what should I have done?”; she only gives the content of the interviewers’ conversation as background and as such, the question of sexism really doesn’t come into play here.

          1. yetagain*

            The response to the letter included advice to try “reflecting on whether there might have been something in your manner that a reasonable person could have misinterpreted”. To discount the possibility of sexism, which would have an effect on how much weight is placed on the interpretation, is tone deaf. An attempt to silence comments on sexism, an aspect of these business situations that readers are clearly very interested in, is tone deaf.

    3. Holly*

      I agree, but we don’t know enough about the situation to really comment on the *accuracy* of the interviewers comments. The only advice relevant to the letter is what to do post-eavesdropping.

  10. Tanklizard*

    OP. 3 This company is waving a huge red flag in front of your face. If they’re asking for this much free work (and that’s what it is, free work not a job application task) they will expect free work from you all the time if you’re hired. This is all assuming they’re actually looking to hire someone and this isn’t a scam to get a bunch of free work from multiple applicants. I wouldn’t spend anymore time on this company other than politely backing out of their “hiring process”. These are not people you want to work for, they’ve already shown they don’t value your time and by extension they don’t value you.

    1. Woodswoman*

      Absolutely. Any company that would ask this is not one I’d negotiate with about a different assignment to assess my skills. Assuming they are well-versed in the nature of the field and not clueless about what is required, I wouldn’t trust them enough to continue in the interview process.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I lean clueless over scam. Which is just as bad in its own way–they have no idea how long any of this takes or the resources needed.

    2. Scarlet*

      Yes, I think it’s a scam too. It’s unfortunately not unheard of in freelancing. The most generous explanation would be that they don’t really have a clue how much work such a project entails, which really wouldn’t bode well either. In any case, consider this a bullet dodged.

      1. MattKnifeNinja*

        I know small businesses who pull this scam to get new designs for letter heads and logos.

        Get six people to turn in stuff. You can pick from 6 examples and never have hire anyone.

        The project they want done is a bigger scale of that. Either the company is scammy or a clueless dumpster fire that will drive you mad.

        Never give away or under price your work.

        Definitely bullet dodged.

      2. Auntie Social*

        I’m curious—can the OP say that before she agreed to do the job she’d need to have the company sign a document saying that the work product is not to be used or sold, since they didn’t pay for it and they acknowledge that OP is the creator? Do you think she’d have any takers? Or do you think they’d just edit her work slightly and try to pass it off as theirs?
        Not that she’d want to put in this much effort for this—I’m just wondering.

    3. dragon_heart*

      And the worst part of this is if someone actually does the assigned test.
      Then after that, the person hears nothing back, or gets a generic form reject email.

      1. I Fell for It*

        That’s what happened to me! After what seemed like a successful phone interview as “part of the interview process” I completed a module that followed very specific instructions on topic and format – it took me about 8 hours or more. After I turned it in, I was given a very generic rejection and then ghosted.
        This thing OP3 is describing is a total scam.

      1. MattKnifeNinja*

        Wrong G word.

        Grifting not gumption.

        I would love to think it’s cluelessness and grumption. As an artist, so many places pulls this now. You get work from 6 people. 3 maybe useless, but the other three is enough so you save money on a designer working from scratch.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          For this sort of work, though–and it’s related to what I do–I’m with Alison: This isn’t a one-off design they can just use, like “Make a poster promoting our upcoming egg-drop event” would be. Say they want 45 lessons of this sort put together. They are going to want a consistent style and user interface–not only would interviewing for a fake job 45 times be a terrible use of their time, the results aren’t going to be related enough to look like an actual product line.

          1. Observer*

            You are being WAAY to reasonable here.

            The kind of people who do this kind of stuff don’t think stuff through this way. And that’s true whether the reason they do this is cluelessness and gumption or scamminess. The thought process is a bit different, but they both land in the same place.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Whether malice or incompetence, you don’t want to work for them. In its way, “We have no idea what this job entails, and will just vastly underestimate the time or resources you will need” is going to be the worst to work for–See letter #4.

              What matters is that they would be a shitty employer, whether you’re full time or freelance–not whether that shittiness arises from sincere incompetence of malicious scamminess.

              1. Observer*

                Oh, absolutely!

                If the OP has any other options, they should walk away if these guys don’t respond well. As I said, two different paths, but the same basic result. And hat result includes “terrible employer.”

                1. JulieCanCan*

                  I hope OP walls away (*runs* away, actually) even if there aren’t any others options on the horizon. This place at best is bad at hiring, inconsiderate, and who knows what else. At worst they’re shady and unreasonable, which are two horrible traits in an organization.

                  My question is, who exactly will be reviewing these “sample” projects that candidates have taken hours to complete, and does that person truly have the ability to judge whether the samples are quality work? And does the person who is looking over all samples have the time to review everything if they are as knowledgeable and (I’m assuming ) as highly valued at the company? Don’t they have a job that takes up time?

                  It just seems like an all-around poor hiring practice and if they hire this way I can only imagine how the company functions in general.

                  Run, OP, run!

          2. LKW*

            They could have 45 different clients – or 6 clients and want 6 different representations to impress the client. None of which or may be one of which would lead to a job.

            I say maybe not scam but definitely shady as hell.

    4. MissGirl*

      Another question for the OP to ask themself is if the work is useable to employer. I recently completed an interview process with a sample project that took about three to four hours. It was very clear I was using dummy data sets and this was a test they had many people complete.

      Also how big and respectable is the company. Do they have Glassdoor reviews?

      It does happen, especially in smaller companies, that work is stolen. When I was getting my MBA, two students completed “trial” projects for a local start-up (20 hours each) and both positions disappeared after submission.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Incompetent hiring is a lot more common and likely than a deliberate scam. A deliberate scam is possible, but there are loads of companies that suck at hiring and don’t think about what is and isn’t reasonable to ask of candidates. I’ve talked quite a few managers out of using overly onerous exercises in their hiring processes, and none of them were just looking for free work; they just didn’t understand what was and wasn’t okay until we talked it through.

      1. MissGirl*

        Of course and that’s hopefully the case here, but the sample I cited above was definitely scamming for free work. They made a habit of reaching out to students and never actually hiring anyone. Our career office had to flag them.

        1. JulieCanCan*

          This is atrocious! Sadly it’s not as shocking as it SHOULD be, knowing how many crap companies exist out there. I’m glad they were flagged, I wish the flagging would be shared with all job boards, school-related or not.

          I was thinking the company OP is dealing with might be telling different candidates to do different sample styles, all with the devious thinking that the variety of what they’re asking candidates to complete will be sufficient supply for whatever job/client request the company is actually trying to fulfill. I mean, I know I’m kind of going down a rabbit hole here, and honestly I’d pray there aren’t any companies this shady, but nothing really surprises me anymore.

          It’s almost ingenious: find 10 highly skilled candidates, ask each one to complete a different very specific “sample,” then use the the best 5 out of 10 as templates for the project they’re trying to complete. Plug in the company’s variables, logo, and data, and BOOM! Present all 5 options to your client. The work that would have taken the project director and his team a month to do is done in a day of simple tweaks and slight revisions.

          (I know, I know. I’m paranoid and have a very active imagination.)

      2. Observer*

        You are right that it’s highly likely to be incompetence. But it’s still a HUGE red flag, because it’s highly unlikely that this is incompetence that is limited to just HR. These are unreasonable people with ridiculous expectations. If they don’t respond well to the OP’s pushback, it’s pretty clear that they will be a nightmare to work for.

      3. LQ*

        I think this is really true. I’ve been working on a hiring process and struggling tremendously with what is an appropriate amount of work to see someone do. I want something that is less than an hours worth of work but shows actual work. I wrote up a case study for a project I did a year ago and showed it to a friend who freaked out and said it would be a weeks worth of work to do what I’d asked. Which I thought (think) is absurd because doing the original thing didn’t take me a week and I did way WAY more detail than I’m looking for out of a candidate. I still think the case study is fine but I think I need to be clear about what I’m asking for without giving away all the answers which is tough. Mostly I’m going to just put them in a room and ask them to do what they can with an hour and then be done.

        I’m definitely way more bad at hiring than I am trying to scam someone.

        I looked at the elearning module requirements and went, I’d spend 2 hours on that and do something that was filled with lorem ipsum, borrowed from previous modules, and had very place holder audio. I often wonder when I see people talking about the work they are asked to do if the quality the employer is looking for is just radically different from what quality people thinking it’s a demand for free work are thinking.

        1. Important Moi*

          ” I still think the case study is fine but I think I need to be clear about what I’m asking for without giving away all the answers which is tough.”

          This is interesting. Are you looking for someone to come up with the solution/process you think is correct based on information you gave them without telling them that’s what you’re looking for?

          Why not just seek a candidate who can successfully implement the existing process you wish to use instead of focusing on whether or not they can come up with your preferred process?

          1. LQ*

            Because I’m probably wrong. I want someone who is going to be better at project management than I am and not constrained by how bad I am at it. I don’t want someone who is going to just implement the process because the process isn’t working. And I can’t be the only person like that, who wants someone in a role who can do more than just implement. If it was just an implementation role that would be much easier, but it’s not.

            If I wanted to hire someone to do elearnings I’d give them a template and information needed and see if they could update it, because that’s what I’d need someone to do, that’s really easy and straight forward and I could train anyone to do that. But if what you need is someone to come up with a better way of doing elearnings then you’re likely going to be broad in what you ask for which I think often ends up feeling (to the candidates who are contentious and complete and thoughtful at least) like a giant ask. Oddly the candidate you’re most likely to want is the one who is most likely to feel like what you’ve asked is onerous, because they are the ones most likely to think about a problem comprehensively. (Maybe one of the things I should be asking is how long it would take to come up with a complete version of what I want…)

            1. Important Moi*

              Thanks for responding. More thoughts:

              “I wrote up a case study for a project I did a year ago and showed it to a friend who freaked out and said it would be a weeks worth of work to do what I’d asked. Which I thought (think) is absurd because doing the original thing didn’t take me a week and I did way WAY more detail than I’m looking for out of a candidate.”

              Are you the best person to determine how long this task should take given that you want someone “better at project management than I am and not constrained by how bad I am at it”? Someone better than you is not necessarily faster.

              “I think often ends up feeling … like a giant ask. Oddly the candidate you’re most likely to want is the one who is most likely to feel like what you’ve asked is onerous …. ” If you accurately ask for what you want, then it is up to the candidate to determine if they consider it onerous.

              Are time and budget an issue? I mean is it possible you’re not accurately asking for what because it would take too long, cost too much or a combination of both and you’re hoping to hire someone at a low cost that would be able to do the work that would legitimately cost more? Not trying to be hostile. Your comment just struck my interest.

              1. LQ*

                100% I think I’m not accurately asking for what I want. Though it’s not that what I need would take too long or cost too much (I know it’s going to take a LONG time and cost a lot, that’s already understood and I’m looking for a contractor at this point so cost comes a little different with that), it’s that I don’t know how to ask for what I want because I don’t have the skill to ask for what I want. And I think that’s true of a lot of people who are hiring for things they don’t necessarily do or when there is a job that’s a little nebulous. What I want to know from the thing is that someone can sit down and do the work and that they can think it through with some level of extrapolation. (Oh, this project could have risks we should identify those.)

                I am entirely certain my boss for my current role wouldn’t have been able to ask any of the right questions to hire me, he doesn’t have the right way to talk about it. He’d totally ask for something like this for an elearning and want something that was not comprehensive, not highly planned or structured. And that doesn’t mean that when I sit down with him to say, “This project is going to take 3 weeks.” that he’s going to push back (assuming I can explain why). He just would know he needs something that has interactions, voice, graphics, and some kind of online thing to do the thing (LMS, what he’d want is an LMS). (The only thing he wouldn’t say is for it to be 30 minutes long because he’d never watch 30 minutes of an elearning, that sounds pretty brutal, 3, 3 minutes would be good!)

                I don’t think that the managers who do this are always hostile forces trying to get free work. I think a lot of times they are misguided, bad at hiring, don’t know what they are looking for (in the role or in the actual trial thing). I think that jumping to they are always evil and using the work isn’t true and isn’t useful. Push back, identify that something is onerous, but don’t just harumph and say all companies who ask for work are evil, some of them could be a lot of other things. (If you push back and they demand it anyway, that’s different, but then you just don’t do it. If you push back and they go…no! We are not thinking this is 30 hours of work, 3 at most, you adjust your expectations for what they want, spend 3 hours and call it done.)

              2. LQ*

                The thing that’s going to take a long time and cost a lot is the actual work that I’m hiring them for. The case study sample piece, I really want them to spend less than an hour on. More than an hour is more detail and work than I need. Because again, I’m NOT asking them for work I’m going to use. The case study work is a project that was done a year ago and is entirely irrelevant now. I’m trying to show how these kinds of things happen without someone maliciously trying to demand dozens of hours of work for free.

                And maybe I’m just the worst and there are no other people hiring anywhere worse than me unless they are malicious evil people, but that seems unlikely, just statistically.

    6. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Also, rethink talking to friends and family. That they think you should do this work for free indicates that they don’t understand/appreciate/respect your position as a freelancer. They think you are doing gig work until you get a “real” job. Of course it’s normal to to sample work, they say. 30 hours? You use a computer, work faster, it doesn’t have to be perfect! And $2,800? People don’t really pay you that. For making a video?
      Trust your instincts. Walk away. Well, run. You know, walk faster!

      1. Marthooh*

        One traditional bit of gumptioneering advice is “Offer to work for free for a week — they’ll be impressed with your work ethic!” But not even the gumptionest of gumptioneers says “Oh, they want you work for free for a week as part of the job application? Completely normal!”

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        And $2,800? People don’t really pay you that.

        Good point. The family view is good advice to give a would-be worker who is themselves delusional about how work works; it’s not helpful to someone who actually does get paid well to animate melting teapots, despite this not being a job the family can comprehend.

  11. xyZ*

    Corollary to #3, an acquaintence recently mentioned that they were flown out for an multi-day interview that involved, among other things, a team hackathon. This struck me as above and beyond the scope of a typical interview, but I am no longer in the field and do not know what is common. Curious to hear others’ thoughts.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      I’m not in that industry, but my personal line has to do with how much cost I’m bearing vs the prospective employer. Write a 40k ebook on a specified topic as a “trial assignment”? Not unless they’re paying me. Write a 750 word article on a specified topic at a reduced rate with an agreement for more assignments at my standard rate if the test article fits what they’re looking for? Yeah, I’ve done that.

      In your acquaintance’s case, I’m leaning towards it being legit (if a bit strange) because paying a team to fly out, and presumably covering lodging at at least some meals, for a multi-day interview seems like an expensive way to get free work. I hope it’s not typical, but it doesn’t seem like a scam or anything.

    2. dragon_heart*

      Full day on-site interview is common with big tech companies. In fact, Amazon and Google does this. The caveat is the employer needs to pay for the flights and the hotel of the candidate. I have never heard of the team hackathon though. Is that an actual hackathon event or just within the company(some companies have their own hackathon)?

      The thing with Amazon is before you even get to the on site interview you need to pass an online coding exam and an initial technical interview over the video conference.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        But if they’re participating in the hackathon, you’re right back to getting free, potentially useful work out of the applicant. I can kind of imagine how it happened. Especially at a smaller, newer company. “He’s coming the 3rd and 4th? But we’re doing the hackathon on the 3rd! What do we do with him?” “I don’t know, bring him, let’s see how he does.” “Ha ha, yeah, he’ll get to see what he’s getting into!”

        There are a lot of things wrong with that decision. It’s a bunch of free work, and the candidate isn’t in a position to refuse. And he doesn’t work for the company, so they don’t own his work product. At an internal hackathon, people will not be careful about discussing confidential information.

  12. Bilateralrope*

    When I hear stories like #3, I think that the business isn’t really looking to hire someone. They just want the work done for free.

    Walk away. I don’t think there is a job there.

    1. JulieCanCan*

      Yes – please walk away – I can’t imagine the gall these organizations possess to actually require a 30-hour “sample” from all top candidates. Does that mean some folks are actually doing these projects in their “free” time? The nerve!! And then are the hiring managers truly going through these sample projects word by word and graph by graph? How do the hiring people have time for that? It’s ALL nuts.

      OP I’m sure you don’t want to burn a bridge, but aren’t you so tempted to decline in a tone that tells them that they’re dancing in their crazy pants? I’m really bad about that type of thing and would want to say “wait – I must not understand what you’re really asking of me because what it SOUNDS like you’re asking would take a minimum of 25 hours, which I’m sure we can both agree would be ridiculous, right? RIGHT??!! So, clarify this for me if you would be so kind, because the suggestion I’m hearing sound literally INSANE. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!! BWAA HA HA HA HA HA!!!”

      Anyhoo, please don’t even consider this. That’s 30 hours you could be looking for a job at a healthy and hopefully normal company.

    2. E.Maree*

      Agreed. OP3, run the other way. It’s sadly becoming quite common in certain freelance industries (I’ve seen it in the art industry and in all areas of programming, webdev and UI design) to put out job adverts that are really just a way to get hopefuls to do a project for free.

      If you want to quickly get a feeling for the legitimacy of this job, check what the ownership situation will be for this project you’re creating. If the business expects to have ownership and commercial use of this ‘example project’ and leaves you with no rights over it, then you know exactly what’s going on.

      It’s really scummy but it keeps happening.

    3. irene adler*

      Not disagreeing. This is a scam to score free product. Best to just move on.

      It would be hilarious of the OP actually did the project-say the first 5-10 minutes in English but the remainder of the video completely in another language (like Urdu or Welsh or a little used Chinese language). Something that would render the video useless to the employer.
      Thinking they’d sit down to view the video thinking they had successfully scored free product, only to discover after a few minutes of viewing time, that nope, can’t use it. Can’t even understand it.

      Maybe, after a few minutes of the unusable portion, put in an announcement that the entire video can be had in the form they want, for a mere $3,000.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      A friend of mine got hired for what she thought was a regular full time job……… that turned out to be a three month contract. The company just wanted her for one large project and then they were like “ummm we don’t have any more work for you bye”. She was beyond pissed. Turns out the company was facing a huge escalation for regulatory breaches and badly needed someone with her expertise to help them fix it but couldn’t afford to keep anyone in that position for more than a few months. So they lied to her. At least she got paid though.

      1. JulieCanCan*

        That sounds like when a once very A-list actor (who is known to be extremely difficult on set and off, was once very cute, who may or may not have played a superhero-type comic books character role at one point in his once shining career) hired me to be his personal assistant at a very very high weekly rate – more than I had ever made per week and more than I’ve ever made since. I was stoked – my pupils became dollar signs. I quit my regular job (the one with benefits, PTO, and semi-normal hours), thickened my skin even more than it was, and took the plunge.

        For two months I worked almost daily on some very specific projects, I got him totally settled into his new LA home and it was Oscar season so I ran around LA to the hundreds of gifting suites to get his free things: clothes, shoes, toys, gift certificates, free hotel stay vouchers, probably $60,000 worth of free crap. He was co-producing a film and publishing a series of books so I was busy with that for an additional month at least. Then one day (after the intense craziness slowed down a bit) he sat down across from me in his living room and told me he had to talk to me. He couldn’t afford to pay me any more. Just blank-faced and monotoned, trying to look like he was sad. Typical to his weirdness, I didn’t know if he was trying to fire me or what the hell he was doing. So I said, “OK, then I suppose I can’t work for you anymore.” He looked disappointed but agreed. I was pissed off considering I had quit my other job and was kicking ass in every way for him, but I accepted it.

        Turned out he was hoping I’d want to work for him so desperately that I’d work for nothing. Also turned out that he had no intention of keeping me on for more than those few months; he knew he was in over his head with all the projects and needed someone who could multi-task like a maniac for a specific period. Also turned out that he only agreed to my amazing weekly salary because he only planned on me working for him briefly.

        It all made sense after I found out the details and back story from his publicist, who was my close friend. It was sort of a relief because he was batshit, psycho-ward CRAZY (he threatened my life, said he’d thrown me out of a window – and he was serious. He also tried to kick me out of the car when we were in the middle of the desert at night on the way home from Vegas….fun times…), but for what he was paying me I could deal with as much crazy as you can throw my way. I was mad about the original manipulation and lies and mainly mad at myself for being a gullible fool and seeing nothing but dollar signs.

  13. JulieCanCan*

    OP#4, you’re only one person and can’t be expected to do the work of several employees (organizing your department 5 years into the future! OMFG are you kidding me?!). Not only is it unreasonable, if I am guessing correctly, there will be little to no gratitude and anything that you don’t get to will be “all that stuff OP 4 let slip through the cracks before she left!” even if you work 24/7 until your last day on that job.

    The key things for you to do at this point are: #1) create some kind of manual-esque documentation so the MAIN responsibilities of your role are clear, so anyone can sit at your old desk with this guide and navigate through the major tasks you handled, and #2) email the manual to your boss and a few coworkers you think might be stuck with doing your job when you leave AND make sure to include in that email what you were and were not able to take care of, and the status of the various things your boss mentioned. Don’t worry about where these tasks stand – just make sure to point out if they are outstanding or where you left off on each one.

    I made the mistake of giving a month’s notice and working until midnight every night during the last week of my old job. After my trainee would leave, I busted ass to make sure my replacement was left with a totally clean slate with NO lingering, undone tasks. The thanks I got (after 12 years of working for this highly dysfunctional company) was getting a phone call from the CEO at home on the Sunday night before what was to be my last week (so i thought I still had a week to get everything done). The CEO said “we’re all set, no need to come in next week. Have a nice life” so not only did they not pay me for a week I depended on receiving pay for, I didn’t get to tie up all the loose ends and send emails out to say goodbye OR send emails with status info for the 6 different departments I oversaw in the West Coast office. That was my thanks for 12 years of my life. I was so taken aback that I just calmly accepted it (at the moment). But I regret the 3 weeks of post-notice 14-hour day mayhem my life entailed because I was determined to leave everything in a “perfect” state (which would not be possible regardless of how much time I spent trying).

    I hope you don’t get caught up in any guilt tripping or pressure – try to remember what Alison said- you can only do what one person can reasonably do, and everything else
    can be managed after you leave. I get so angry hearing about companies trying to force hours and hours of extra work onto their exiting staff because the company was too disorganized to properly hire and manage what they’re supposed to manage – no no no no NOOOOOO. Nooooo!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Woodswoman*

      Ugh, that’s awful what happened to you. And excellent advice for OP#4. I gave a month’s notice when I left my job at a nonprofit–a reasonable one–and what I left them were no loose ends with the projects I could wrap up and a detailed transition document for my eventual successor to pick up the projects that would be continued after my departure.

      OP, you are one person who can’t fix the shambles your manager has left. Do your best, put in a reasonable number of hours, and you can leave knowing you did a good job and the rest is not your problem.

    2. Q#4*

      Thank you SO so much for your wonderful reply! I’ve been doing the work of 2-4 employees (depending on the season) for years and definitely have the “we’re only going to speak up when you mess up because why would we reward you with praise for doing your job!” conversations. I thankfully have great coworkers who have encouraged me to set those hard boundaries and would not be able to resist the guilt without them. I am so sorry that you went through something similar and hope the future is great for us both!

      1. Auntie Social*

        I have never been replaced by just one person. The last place, when I left because I was being underpaid, said I should have told them I was doing so much. Really?
        You’re the one who keeps dumping things on me! My replacement threw up her hands after a week, saying “I can’t do all this, no one can!” That’s how they had to hire 2 people.

      2. tangerineRose*

        You deserve a job where you get complimented for doing great work – I hope your next job is like that.

      3. JulieCanCan*

        I think we worked at the same place! I only heard from the CEO when I did something wrong – never when the other 999 things went right. But my coworkers were phenomenal and many were dealing with similar issues, so there were strong bonds that kept me sane and marching on through the storms.

        I will say that I was absolutely gleeful when the woman hired to replace me quit after a year because she realized she was expected to do the job of 2 -3 people AND and they were giving her a really hard time for wanting to take medical leave. In my 12 years there, no one took medical leave.

        So….THEN, the guy hired to replace my replacement was fired because he couldn’t handle the job. Then the guy hired to replace him was fired because he couldn’t handle the job. Then they realized something needed to change, so they totally reconfigured the job and took away about 60% of the responsibilities and from what I’ve heard, the person in that role is doing Ok but it’s only been a few months.

        I know I shouldn’t feel so good about all of this, but I do. They were aware of the obscene levels of work involved, I just wish it didn’t get to the point where I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown before I finally escaped.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Organizing your department 5 years into the future! OMFG are you kidding me?

      Part of me is delighted at the sheer gumption on display here. Like OP would find a roomba fundraiser and accountant that could replace her if she just digs deep enough.

      OP, on top of “What are they going to do, fire me?” maybe be grateful that they are being so ridiculous it’s easier to disengage?

  14. periwinkle*

    OP#3: I work in that general field and would consider $3000 a huge bargain for the development course of the “assessment exercise” those cheapskates are demanding. Our vendors would charge 10x that.

    Not normal, not ethical, no no no no no.

    1. nonymous*

      Yeah I actually came here to say that at the ~$100/hr rate that OP#3 seems to be charging, at a corporate or boutique firm, I would expect to have access to staff being paid $18 – 22/hr. In my area retail workers make $12 – 15. The $20/hr range either gets you someone with no degree and ~5years experience or a new bachelors and <6mos experience. And someone with specialized technical expertise and a few years of experience should expect to command $25 – $30hr. With the self employment premium and an addition profit margin b/c OP#3 is running a business (and is handling marketing plus providing equipment), imo $125/hr would be a low end.

      When I see really low prices for creative work, my thoughts are that (a) the work isn't really that creative because the company has figured out how to automate processes via software or is recycling work and (b) some of the work is being outsourced to countries with extremely low cost of living and a well-educated workforce, like the Philippines. My advice to OP is that she cannot compete at the volume game, so her rates should not be a race to the bottom.

  15. Cathie from Canada*

    #2 It may not be just a matter of trust or distrust. I wouldn’t be surprised if the manager herself also got some blame in the business or by her own boss for the mistake too, and she cannot just brush this off by saying “well, it was all my employee’s fault” . She wouldn’t likely discuss it with her staff, but her own reputation within the business may have been affected by this, and maybe she was also criticized by her own boss for not supervising the mailing process closely enough. Now she has to reassure her own boss that such a mistake isn’t going to happen again, so this may also be why she has gone a little overboard in being extra-careful now that the work is being done correctly. Yes it would be useful for the OP to be able to demonstrate to her that she has a real system in place now, like a checklist, to make sure that such an error cannot be made again.

  16. Mark Roth*

    I’ve only had one non-teaching office job, and they were pretty good about my notice period; especially when it was on short notice to go back to the classroom. They denied me a promotion once assuming I wouldn’t be hanging around for long, but bent all sorts of rules when I quite with 10 calendar days notice to take a teaching job. It balanced out

    That being said, if instead of having me wind down what I could and turn over what I couldn’t, they asked me to take on new work, I would have been real clear that wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t imagine being asked to take on a project that technically wouldn’t start until after I left.

  17. HRJ*

    LW #4, I would love to hear an update once your two weeks are up about how those last two weeks went and how your boss handled you not getting everything they think should be done done! I’ve seen a similar letter to this before on here, and I always want to know how bosses respond when someone uses and then follows through with Alison’s suggested language.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I see someone, somewhere in this scenario–maybe a few months down the road–driving out to an isolated back road and just burning a pile of paperwork.

    2. JulieCanCan*

      Totally – I’d love an update too!

      I’d love nothing more than to read about how upset and whiny your boss was because you didn’t do the work of 10 people like she demanded, while you happily skipped out the door for the last time, final check in hand and smile on your face!!

  18. Michelly*

    #1 I am not used to Skype so I am a bit confused. Wouldn’t they be able to see she is still listening when they try to close the program? Or try to call another? How and when did the OP get disconnected without them noticing?

    1. Avasarala*

      Usually the button to turn off the camera is in a line with the mute microphone button and the end call button. I can easily see someone hitting the wrong button and turning off video thinking the call is therefore ended. But usually the counter indicating the length of call is still going so people notice (but if they just closed the window, which does end the call, they might never have realized their mistake).

      1. Arielle*

        I was on a conference call once with another company we had contracted with. They didn’t shut their side of the call down fast enough and the last thing we heard was their project lead say, “I f*cking hate every single one of them.”

      1. ControlFreak*

        Ironically, the interview was held with an IT firm… I will admit to a slight giggle when the panicked voice on the other side of a black screen said “AUDIO!” and then there was silence.

          1. ControlFreak*

            I’m quite confident that they knew the audio portion had not shut down – the last thing I heard was a panicked voice saying “AUDIO!” and then it disconnected, but as to whether I was still there listening or not would be a complete assumption on their part. A dead mouse was noisy than I was at that point in time.

            1. Washi*

              To be honest, I would guess in that case that they at least suspect you were listening. Most people sleep or shut down their computers if they are walking away, which would have ended the call, so the fact that the call didn’t disconnect would have made me think you were listening, even if you were quiet.

              I don’t think it changes the advice though; emailing to say that you heard the conversation seems like it would remove any face-saving for either of you. At least this way they can pretend that maybe you didn’t hear it.

              1. Antilles*

                Agreed – the best thing to do is let everyone just sort of wonder rather than confirming it – there’s just no way that telling them actually helps with the situation at all.
                Most people sleep or shut down their computers if they are walking away
                Is this really true? I’m at work, I’ll always lock my computer for various reasons (mostly security theater, to be honest), but at home, I’ll regularly just walk away from my computer and leave it open if I’m just running to the restroom or the kitchen or whatever. Or if I’m doing something quick around the house but plan on coming back in a few minutes, I won’t bother to shut it down and have to hassle with starting it back up again.

                1. Washi*

                  That’s true, I don’t always close up my laptop right away at home, I was thinking more about what I do at work. But I still don’t think most people would just walk away from their computer without noticing that it was still making noise?

                  Regardless, ControlFreak, I think your reaction was very understandable and you can write this off as a funny interviewing horror story you tell at parties!

                2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                  I do the same thing. At home I get up and wander away. In my office I get up and wander away (small office and I am in an office). If I’m at any other corporate location I lock my screen.

                  The funny thing is, now that I’ve just thought about it, I probably ought to start locking my screen at home so the cats don’t start chatting with my coworkers by walking across my keyboard.

                3. Jennifer Thneed*

                  @Random, my elderly cat is pretty good about avoiding the keyboard, but the foster kittens are very much not. Which is to say, they walk on it ALL the time. And I don’t sleep the computer because I play videos of cats purring for them. So I slide the keyboard tray fully under the desk surface when I need to leave the foster-kitten-slash-home-office room for a bit.

                  But sometimes I leave a chat window open with a specific friend who is also a cat person, and if I find that kittens have entered text, I’ll just hit the Enter key to share the joy with him. He loves to see things like “jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjweokkeeeeeeeeeeeeee3” and he replies to them politely and with encouragement, just like with a little kid.

                4. Amethystmoon*

                  At work, I just do ctrl + alt + delete to lock it to get to the password screen when I walk away. At home, since I live by myself, I leave everything running. It times out eventually and you have to log back in with password.

              2. Observer*

                That’s really not true. That’s especially not true when people are at home or in a space they mostly control. It’s an extra step that no one wants to bother with.

                1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                  I only started locking my computer when I was alone at home when one of the cats discovered the keyboard. Somehow how she balances completely zooms in my screen and changes the resolution.

  19. The Doctor*

    #3… This is clearly a classic case of “We need this task done ASAP so let’s post the fake job again.”

    #4… They have hired EXTERNAL PEOPLE to “help” with projects while you’re still expected to do all of the work AND they still don’t intend to replace you? Companies that pull this kind of stunt deserve to lose all of their best employees. Don’t be surprised if you have to quit during the notice period.

    1. Q#4*

      They have! Things we cannot do in-house, like printing and other things like that, but do expect all of it to fall on my position. There have been a number of specialized employees that have left or have been let go without replacements, with the understanding being “well we’ll just make it work!” which it does, for the short term. Thankfully the end is in sight and there’s a significant amount of time off between now and my departure so I am hopefully making it to the finish line!

  20. Wild Bluebell*

    Why didn’t you disconnect as soon as you heard them talking? You didn’t have to sit there listening for 20 minutes.
    They said goodbye to you? Well, now you can end the call.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t say anything to them. You can even pretend you left the room immediately after your call and didn’t know the call was still on.

    1. ControlFreak*

      Yeah, Wild Bluebell – in hindsight and a perfect world that is exactly what I should have done. Unfortunately, like really good comeback lines, I didn’t think of that until later. But you are bang on with your comment about pretending should I get any kind of call back. Which I’m fairly positive won’t be coming hahaha :) Thanks for the comment!

    2. Birch*

      This was my thought too… I find individual differences really interesting in this case as I tend to feel like in that situation it’s my responsibility to end the call after the goodbye, as it would be my responsibility to leave once an in-person interview is over. Is that not the case for other people? At the very least it’s the responsibility of both parties to make sure the call is ended.

      Video chat platforms can be confusing, especially when they update in ridiculous ways (lookin at you Skype), and even chatting with family I’ll make sure to log myself out of Skype once the chat is over, just to make sure the call is ended. I also am pretty anxious in these situations and would be itching to close down my whole computer and think about something else for a while!

      1. ControlFreak*

        I would agree with you, Birch – but in my defense, I saw the video go to black and assumed the call was over and then the talking began. I froze for a moment in confusion, then quickly realized what had happened and literally could not move.

        If I was really into conspiracy theories I’d wonder if it wasn’t done deliberately to see how I’d react to that situation. Oh goodness, one more thing to worry over! :)

        1. Birch*

          Understandable! I’m not criticizing, I’m just legitimately interested in the psychology of how these situations happen! :)

          If that were an actual psychology experiment, they’d have to debrief you on the deception afterward. Unfortunately companies don’t abide by the same ethical rules. If it’s the kind of company that regularly plays around with vaguely unethical deception like that, you definitely dodged a bullet.

        2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Totally understandable. Chances are, you could have just as easily missed the disconnect button and wandered off.

          I’d advise anyone stuck in this situation to listen for awhile then randomly start shuffling papers really loud and mumbling innocuous things out loud so it appears to be a technical failure for all parties :)

      2. Smarty Boots*

        Well, for an in-person interview, usually someone escorts you out, the two of you make pleasantries on the way to the lobby (or the next part of the interview process, say a presentation or talk with a group of the people who’d be your co-workers if you get the job, etc.), you get a last chance to express your enthusiasm for the job/employer. At least this has been my experience as an interviewee and interviewer.

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        So, with POTS (plain old telephone service), back in the day, only the caller could disconnect the call. If you, the recipient of the call, hung up your phone and then picked it up to make another call, you would still be connected to the other party if they had not yet hung up their phone. (This was a great way for middle-schoolers to harrass each other, of course.)

        Does that still happen? I’m on VOIP these days because of —‘ing AT&T U-Verse or whatever it’s called. Also am not a middle-schooler and don’t have access to any, to ask.

    3. AdminX2*

      Freeze is a totally normal response to a surprising stressful situation. I’m so tired of people not understanding that. Fight/Flight/Freeze- any of those can happen any time our brain kicks into shock response. It has nothing to do with judgement or character or blame.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Agreed. And if you’re not familiar with Skype, you could very reasonably assume that the screen going black means the other side has ended the call. In OP’s position, I probably would have frozen in shock and done the exact same thing.

    4. Marthooh*

      OP#1’s situation is the result of normal human folly, just like you deciding to submit this unhelpful advice.

    5. CM*

      I would have listened and I guess I’m in the minority, but I wouldn’t really feel bad about it either if I were only hearing information about myself. I would have hung up if they started talking about other people or company confidential information.

    6. Genny*

      The same thing happened to me during an internship interview. They didn’t hang up the phone; I started hearing them (very negatively) discussing my interview. Why didn’t I hang up? I physically couldn’t. I just froze. The more they kept saying negative, and at times rude, things, the more paralyzed I became. I simultaneously wanted to hang up and cry and keep listening and tell them off for being rude. Inertia won that mental battle and I did nothing, including hanging up.

  21. Bookworm*

    #1: As awkward and embarrassing as it is, take it as a blessing and a reflection on them as an organization or them specifically as interviewers.

    I had something similar happen to me (got a glimpse behind the current) except it was a misdirected email where I was judged for not having enough personality via one 45 minute interview with one person (who I had never previously interacted with prior to this conversation). Upon advice from 2 people I trusted (one a career manager), I simply responded to the email to let the person know the email had been misdirected.

    Did not receive any sort of apology and was directed to call THEM if I wanted to have a further conversation about this (remember, they are the ones who misdirected the original email). I advanced to the interview stage and it ended there. The interviewer seemed to try to explain what happened (but again, no apology). Never received a rejection (despite a follow up) and the person who misdirected the email simply wrote that I should contact the interviewer directly as the Incompetent Emailer was actually leaving the organization.

    I’ll admit that this still occasionally makes me mad but in retrospect the misdirected email told me a lot more about how this organization operates. If I could have done it differently I wouldn’t have taken the advice but just either never responded OR told them off (politely).

    1. Elle*

      Yes, honestly I tend to fall on the side of ‘this tells you about how the company operates’ than ‘this is valuable feedback for you’.

      I’m a pretty direct person. I go out of my way to be as polite/tactful and diplomatic as possible, but at the end of the day I am confident in my knowledge and expect other people to be confident as well so we can get to the best solution through ‘productive’ banter without excessive hand holding. At some jobs I’ve worked, I’ve been repeatedly praised for this personality trait. At one job, it was really a pain point. I was seen as pushy/rude/aggressive no matter how hard I tried to be anything but. I just wasn’t a good cultural fit!
      Since then, I’ve started using “I’m an intense person” in response to the ‘my greatest weakness’ question, which gives me an excellent chance to assess how big of a deal that would be at the place I’m headed. If I’m not asked the question, when its my turn I ask about what kind of personality traits do well at the company and which do poorly.

      Sure, there are some things you can and should work to improve about yourself. But a company that has a problem with a go-getter because they’ll have trouble keeping you low-key enough? If you are someone who gets passionate about your job, you might be miserable.
      Or, maybe you just worked a little too hard at the confidence thing. So try running through your responses to some of the questions with a mentor to get their assessment. But I tend to believe that if you had over projected confidence the comments would have been more along the lines of ‘self important’ and ‘cocky’ rather than controlling.

      1. ControlFreak*

        Oh Elle – I needed to read that! Your comments were bang on as to how I’m feeling. At first I was mortified and then I was angry and now I think I’m just grateful because you are right – I don’t think I would be a very good cultural fit.

        Thank you for the advice on how to work that into future interviews as well – I like that. I think I’m going to steal your “I’m an intense person” line, because that sums it up well. So glad you commented – thank you!

      2. AdminX2*

        Yeah I once got rejected from a position because I was too proactive and the VP wanted someone passive. I was told “You were perfect in every way they said they wanted, he just doesn’t want someone who might ask questions.”

      3. T. Boone Pickens*

        Really well said Elle.

        OP, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read your letter because I kept picturing the man behind the curtain scene from The Wizard of Oz. I too, agree with Elle that this info provided you a clear snapshot of how the company operates. I would even double down on this info if one of the individuals you interviewed with was either a potential supervisor or worked in the same department this position would be joining.

        For what it’s worth, I would’ve stayed on the call too. Getting 100% unvarnished truth during the interview process is pretty rare. Let’s say the company decides to move you forward in the interview process, with this new information you have, how comfortable would you feel moving forward in the process?

      4. Marthooh*

        “…if you had over projected confidence the comments would have been more along the lines of ‘self important’ and ‘cocky’ rather than controlling.”

        Really good point! They most likely want someone who’s just easier to push around, so this job would be a bad fit anyway.

    2. ControlFreak*

      Ugh, not receiving any kind of rejection is horrible, my pet peeve, Bookworm. It always gives me the impression that they are embarrassed they didn’t hire you. I think you are correct in your reflection of the company operation though – and I’m hoping that is what I end up thinking here. Even if I did get a call back, I’m not sure how comfortable I would be suggesting ways to enhance my position, or the company’s position on any topic knowing that my boss thought I was controlling.

      Seeing as how this was just as much the company’s interview as it was mine, I think I’m safe in saying that having that glimpse of reality has cemented for me that we are not a good match. A blessing in disguise?

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        “It always gives me the impression that they are embarrassed they didn’t hire you.”

        This is a GREAT re-framing!

  22. Carlie*

    I’m always the one at the end of conference calls going “Did we hang up? Did they hang up? Open the line again and check for a dial tone. Are you sure?”
    Now I feel vindicated.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, I know–I’m always so paranoid about this. As an interviewer, I generally quit Skype and close the laptop before I’ll start a conversation, just in case.

    2. JulieCanCan*

      Oh my God that’s me after every call, doesn’t matter what kind. Or when I’m with friends: “Check your phone – did you hang up?” “Just make sure it’s off” “check your cell -I didn’t see you hang up from that call” Or on my work phone – I press and re-press all 7 other extensions then go back to the original line to make sure I get a dial tone.

  23. LGC*

    I like how the WTF Wednesday letter was “my boss wanted me to work a day for free (because I was 45 minutes late)” and letter 4 is “my interviewer wants me to work a WEEK for free.”

    On letter 2 – I’m admittedly The Third Worst Boss Ever (after Jill and the person from $90 LW’s job who created that fine), but…I can sympathize with your manager, but she’s also handling this REALLY badly. And she might not be aware of how badly she’s handling this (because people are oblivious) – she might think she’s just giving friendly reminders when she’s actually antagonizing you.

    (Before anyone responds: this isn’t an excuse! She needs to do better. And yeah, I’m projecting a little bit on her boss.)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Oh yeah, manager isn’t managing this very well. Neither are.
      But I didn’t get a read that the manager was being mean or unreasonable, just not expressing her concerns in a more useful or productive manner.

      1. LGC*

        I don’t think it’s intentional either, and I fully agree with you (and Alison)! I totally agree it’s a lot of miscommunication going on – LW2 realizes they made a huge mistake and is still (understandably) sensitive about it, so for them the regular reminders to be accurate feel personal. And to be fair to the manager…it almost certainly isn’t personal on her end.

        It’s actually one of the MANY things I’m working on myself – granted, some people will be looking to take offense, but at least 95% of the time it’s that I meant one thing and it came across differently.

    2. LGC*

      (That was letter 3 because I can’t count. Also, that should be “Third Worst Boss Of 2018” because I forgot about all the bad bosses past. (Although Jill is a legend. And if it weren’t for Jill, yesterday’s post would immediately have been the frontrunner for Worst Boss Of 2018.))

  24. jk*

    #1 When an employer asks you if you have “control issues”, run! I know they didn’t ask you this and you overheard but it’s a huge red flag to me.

    I had an interview a few years ago for a job I actually took and the VP asked me if I had “control issues”. I was like… wait what? I had no idea what she meant by that as at the time I was still quite young and naive. I assumed everyone was just like me and loved to work and being busy was a given.

    What I quickly discovered is that she was the one with control issues and the company was complete CHAOS! I was there for just over 3 years and left. She had become really awful during my last year there and I couldn’t take being treated that way anymore. What she really wanted was someone she could control in the position, someone who didn’t want to grow and didn’t want to get promoted. She wanted someone she could walk all over. Shortly after I moved on, she was fired for her behavior (she had driven several people out of the company).

    Anyway, what I’m saying is that when people talk about control issues they want to make sure you will do whatever they tell you, whenever they tell you. That’s my perception anyway. If you seem like you could stick up for yourself they may see this as a bad thing – it’s not!

    1. Polymer Phil*

      It sounds like they want a good little worker bee who won’t stand up for him/herself. You’re lucky to not get this job.

      1. ControlFreak*

        I think you are both correct – I cannot see myself being very happy in a stagnant position where I do what is given, nothing more, nothing less. I couldn’t stay in the lines when colouring either, I’m very much a “think outside the box” type of person, and while that works excellent at my current employer, I do understand it might not be a fit everywhere.

        Maybe I am lucky not to get this position. I should buy a lottery ticket! :)

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Although, control issues can also relate to creative type jobs where one is very nitpicky. But the results ate similar!

  25. Detective Amy Santiago*

    LW #2

    You said the mistake happened “a few months ago” and then referenced “doing the monthly paperwork”. I’m assuming that means you’ve only done this particular task two or three times since you made the mistake, so I can understand why your boss would still be double checking.

    If this is something you only do once a month, I think your best bet would be to create a checklist for yourself of all the steps, send it to your boss for review, and then follow it. That should demonstrate that you’re taking this seriously and taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

  26. Jule*

    LW 1 — reaching out to them is going to confirm their concerns. If they’re worried about control issues and then find out that you listened in on a phone call you should’ve immediately hung up on and then attempted to intervene further in their hiring process to correct their impression of you after your given opportunity to do so…they’re going to read THAT as controlling. The commenters here are generous and ready to empathize with being “frozen,” but these people will not be.

    1. ControlFreak*

      Yes, good points, Jule. And something that was pointed out by AaM as well. Leave it be and walk away. That’s going to be my plan of action. Thanks!

  27. MissDisplaced*

    #1. Ideally, as soon as you heard them talking you should’ve spoke up with a “Hello, hello?” Or something to alert them it was still on and then hung up. But what’s done is done. Do not contact them. Try and take this as insight about the place (or about yourself) but to me this says way more about the culture there.

    #3 This interview project seems excessive and abnormal. I can see being asked to maybe provide an OUTLINE of such a module, but not all of it plus a video? Nuts! I’ve been a designer for years and seen this tactic many times as a ploy to get free work.

    #4 I bet you’re SO glad you’re leaving! Do what you can to wrap up, and don’t stress. But keep notes & documentation on what you did to make a smooth turnover lest they try to burn you later. Employers who act unreasonable like this during the notice period will often try to claim you left your job a “mess” as justification for a bad reference as a way to punish good people who leave.

    1. ControlFreak*

      Thanks, MissDisplaced – I am going to do my very best to use it exactly that way – insight.

  28. Tom*

    LW #1
    As someone who regularly interviews job candidates, I agree with what Alison said: no point to let them know now, and take this as a peak behind the curtains. That being said, realize that you may not have gotten the whole picture. When I’ve talked with colleagues after we’ve interviewed someone, someone listening to that initial discussion could easily misinterpret our thoughts.

    First, there’s generally no reason to talk about the stuff that was good (unless it was exceptionally great) so we only talk about any concerns we have. This is much like when a teacher grades a paper, they often just mark up the things that are wrong, and only right “nice” or “good thought” next to the things that were great. Just because the marked off 10 wrong things and only wrote 2 positive things doesn’t mean you did poorly–you still might have an A or B if the rest of the paper was simply “as expected”. Second, my colleagues and I often talk about things that we noticed that might be negative but we want to check if other people got the same impression. When I interviewed for what became my first job, I later found out that one of the interviewers expressed concerns that I was “arrogant”, but another interviewer argued that it wasn’t arrogance but a passion for the work. Thinking back, I could see how some of my enthusiasm could come off as arrogance, so I made a mental note to be careful of that in future interviews. Third, realize that this was a (possibly incomplete) look at the thoughts of a couple interviewers after one interview, and may not be completely representative of the thoughts of everyone who has interviewed you.

    As for the specific criticisms that you heard and people’s thoughts here in the comment section that it might be a gender bias issue, I don’t have any insight. I’m a man, but I’ve never left an interview worried about “control issues” or being able to keep someone low-key. But for the work I do, enthusiasm is taken very much as a positive.

    1. ControlFreak*

      Thank you very much for that insight into an interviewer’s perspective, Tom. You brought up some points I had not considered – the whole grading the paper thing. That actually makes things fall into place for me quite nicely.

      I can, however, see it from their eyes now – yes, I am very passionate about my career – I have been in the same field for 25+ years, so I am not unaware of what is expected in the position, and perhaps came across as controlling (or arrogant) when I sort of glossed over that and focused on other aspects? It will be interesting to see if I do end up with a call back – maybe my take on what occurred is like you said.

      Again, thank you very much for this comment, it’s given me things to ponder! :)

  29. Dave*

    Alison, for #5, I’m curious would anything change if the person doing the hiring, is different than the HR department that processes any offer/contract?

    I have a situation where I was given essentially a good faith, verbal offer (salary, benefits, start date), with the expectation that HR would then send me formal details. That manager gave me a deadline that HR would get back to me, and I am well past that deadline.

    Would I follow up sooner? In my mind, I see this as not a general hiring timeline that went over, but I gave an employee/department a deadline (to get a hiree an offer in XX time) and they failed to meet it.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      That’s different than a company’s deadline for making a hiring decision. I’d say to follow up with them now if more than a few days has passed. It’s possible the manager gave you an aggressive timeline and HR just doesn’t move that fast. Or maybe he forgot to tell HR you’re the selected candidate.

    2. Anony*

      I’m in a similar situation. I talked to the Talent Acquisition person I’ve been working with through an interview process last week and she told me they were planning to make me an offer. We talked salary and she said she’d give me a verbal offer within a couple days and then everything wrapped up this week.

      I waited a week after our last phone conversation to follow up by email. I still haven’t heard back. I hope I didn’t follow up too soon. I keep worrying that they changed their mind even though I know this is quite normal.

  30. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #5

    Have patience, OP. It sucks to have to wait around, but these things take time. Very rarely have I seen an employer, including my own, stick to a timeline for hiring. Things happen, sometimes unexpectedly, that delay the process.

    One of my team members asked me this exact question yesterday. Our jobs are ending in February and even though she took an offer with the acquiring company, she’s still looking around. She had an interview last week and was told they plan to decide by last Friday and will let her know either way. On Tuesday she was asking me if she should call them to ask if they made a decision. We’re in banking and Monday the other bank was closed (ours was not), and she knew that. I told her don’t even think about contacting them (by email!) until this Friday at the very earliest. Things happen. Maybe they needed to reschedule and interview, or have a second interview with another candidate, or maybe an interviewer was out sick, or any number of things. I told her to contact them once and then just move on. If they contact her back, it will be a nice surprise.

    I put in an application more than two weeks ago at a company and my status on the online portal still says “applied.” It’s annoying, but I’m trying to keep in mind that the company is an enormous, international company and the bank I’m at now is very small compared to others; things just don’t move at the speed of light like I’d like them to.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Seconding Alison’s response and Dawn’s comment. It takes forever in my field.

      I applied somewhere on 10/8, had an interview 11/2, had references requested on 11/8, references were called on 11/9, and here we are. . .nothing.

      My current boss also interviewed someone mid-October, and he wants to bring him in to interview with the whole team, but he hasn’t scheduled it for him yet, a full month later.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        In the time it took me to write that comment, I got a rejection email. :( Oh well. At least I got something! And I got it at the application stage, which impresses me. I guess.

  31. MLB*

    #4 – Ditto on what Alison said about speaking to your boss. Tell them that they gave you more work than you can complete in the remaining 2 weeks and ask them to prioritize it. If they’re unwilling to do that, reiterate that it won’t all get done and you will prioritize as you see fit. And then do it. Don’t work overtime, don’t stress yourself out. This is 100% NOT YOUR PROBLEM. You don’t want to burn bridges, but your mental and physical health is not worth risking for a job you’ve already quite. Not your circus, not your monkeys anymore.

  32. LQ*

    I have a coworker (sort of) who made a mistake that was very serious (data breach levels of serious), it wasn’t intentional or malicious, but it was serious. I don’t remind him of this, but I absolutely double check everything he does that I am able to (because that’s how the first one was caught). The problem for me is that he didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the problem and his first instinct was to explain it away and talk about how we shouldn’t punish people. (There was never any talk of firing anyone, no one ran around with a stick hitting people, it was just This Is Serious You Can’t Do This Thing.) The immediate leap was to “be nice to me/other person involved” and his bosses all did the same thing. To me? That says no one is taking the underlying problem seriously. It is entirely possible in his head he’s very serious about it and is being extremely diligent like you are, but the focus on forgiveness? Makes it impossible to see.

    Making sure your boss knows you understand the gravity of it and are working toward making sure it doesn’t happen again (or things that are close but not exactly the same) matters. I think it can be easy to feel the weight and gravity of an error internally but if you don’t express that and instead focus on what you want from someone else (forgiveness) you may be skipping a step.

    1. Observer*

      (or things that are close but not exactly the same)

      I was thinking about this. Make sure that your new measures will reduce the chances of THIS mistake AND similar mistakes. If you come to your boss with that, then she’s much more likely to ease up.

  33. The Original K.*

    LW 3: A few years ago I was asked to work for a week for free as part of a hiring process. Just straight up, do the job for a week, unpaid. Use a week’s PTO from my paying job to work somewhere for free, after which I might or might not be hired. Really, the issue was that the outgoing person’s last day was coming up, the boss didn’t want any lapses, and she was too cheap to hire a temp (it wasn’t a junior role so a temp would have cost more, but still). The person leaving had given months of notice (she was relocating), so the hiring manager had had plenty of time to figure this out. Suffice it to say, I declined and opted out of the hiring process – and the hiring manager had the nerve to be annoyed. In the aftermath, I wondered if she got anyone to agree to do this “trial.”

    Walk away, LW. Either they’re scamming you to get free work or they’re bad at hiring. Either way, the assignment you were given was unreasonable.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That’s pretty nifty! If they can find 52 candidates every year that would agree to this hiring process, they won’t ever need to hire a replacement /s

  34. ThankYouRoman*

    #2 That’s the thing with mistakes, we have to allow others the opportunity to learn to re-trust us afterwards.

    I’ve made my share of mistakes and the people the effect seem to never let them go. If they’re badgering you, that’s an issue. All your manager is doing is reminding you to be careful, that’s annoying to dig at the old scar but you’re gonna need to take it on the chin.

  35. Andrew*

    #3 I had to interviews similar to what the poster went through. It seems to be common for a lot of elearning positions to either want sample work or produce something new. I never free lanced before so I Didn’t think anything of it at the time but I did have to create content for two different positions.

    First time I had to do sample work I was still working full time and spent over 20 hours in 3 days to do their required tasks with their material. Looking back and reading more about interview tasks being done free, I should have realized it was excessive. I understand they want to see the work you can do, but it was a lot of stuff to do with a really short deadline. I was working full time and was staying up later.

    Another job interview with a large company that many people may know if I mentioned what they do had me do a similar task, but it was really open ended with no clear guidelines. This one wasn’t as bad but since I was out of work I also put quite a bit of time into it.

    Both jobs I didn’t get but I am curious to see what other candidates did. My local university also had a similar project too, never got an interview, but former Coworkers did it.

  36. Four lights*

    OP 1: This happened to me once on a committee meeting conference call–I ended up on the phone for an extra hour! The other team from my area hung up, and I was a little late doing so. I would have–but just as I was about to say something, someone said, “Hey imagine if someone was still secretly on the line?” The group from the other city kept meeting about something else. (Nothing sensitive like-but it was really awkward and annoying for me.)

  37. Boo Hoo*

    I made a really bad mistake once. Three people had eyes on a document and we missed something, a date, which we sent to about 2000 people who then thought their certification was expiring sooner than it should be. My boss handled it so well and once we came up with a triple check system never brought it up again. This awful woman in customer service who hated me just for existing (but really she hated any woman) thought she really had one up on me since now customer service had to take all the calls regarding this and was bitter when my boss actually took the blame for it publicly and wasn’t mad.

  38. Jaybeetee*

    LW2: I worked in a role a little while ago that required periodic outgoing correspondence tasks (rotated between myself and other clerical staff). It was an Access to Information office, so one can imagine that much of the outgoing correspondence was rather sensitive – in addition, we had an annoyingly multi-step process for sending things out (including scanning AND making a photocopy for the originating party).

    Apart from “be careful and pay attention” (we are but mere mortals), I was trained from the start to just deal with ONE item at a time, specifically to avoid such mix-ups. If I had a stack of correspondence to get through, I’d put the pile on a different part of my desk, and only had ONE letter/package in front of me at any given moment. Especially when things were busy, it was tempting to work on multiple things at once, to bring multiple things to the scanner/copier (some distance away from our workstations). Working on one thing at a time meant tasks took longer, more walking (not necessarily a bad thing!) – but it made it close to impossible to shove something into a wrong envelope. So it might be something for you to consider if you want a more foolproof system.

    Now, I never found a good way to avoid incorrect attachments in emails, other than obsessively double and triple checking them before sending. I WISH emails were easier to recall.

  39. Dz*

    Dear god, LW4. Do not try to do all that. They sound like a terrible workplace. And this situation sounds like a GREAT candidate for saying “I’d be happy to continue helping you after my departure at my contracting rate of X/hr.” (As long as that doesn’t violate anything with your new employer).

    Also worth noting: if you were handling EVERYTHING related to money, that is, both the Development and AR processes, they may have been violating their own procedures. Most orgs keep these as two separate functions to prevent someone from having too much opportunity to do something shady with money. They do not sound like they have their act together.

  40. Qwerty*

    OP1, is it possible that you are overcorrecting when interviewing? It sounds like you’ve done a lot of preparation on interviewing, however the advice given on a lot sites about how to “project confidence” lacks nuance. Especially if you are nervous or not feeling confident, then it is easy to veer into “Look at how I did all the things and am full of gumption” when you are aiming for “I am capable and competent”. It’s an awkward balance to find between showing that you are high performer who takes initiative while also being a team player. Do you have a friend that you practice with? Interviewers generally have to read between the lines, so even how you phrase things makes the difference between “highly motivated / takes initiative” vs “will try to take over other people’s work”.

    This is going to sound frustrating, but being confident and knowing how to explain your work well will help you far more than trying to look confident. Confidence is one of those things that’s hard to describe and hard to portray, more like a building block than an obvious trait.

    *Some people have brought up the possibility of a gender component to the feedback, but I’d like to point out that a lot of advice aimed at teaching women to “project confidence” is often heavy handed. I don’t know if this applies to you at all, but if those are the types where you got your strategies from, then the reactions that you are getting are common.

    1. ControlFreak*

      I very well could be overcorrecting, Qwerty – one of the things I enjoy the most about high-level administration is that there are no hard fast rules. Everything is a priority to someone and it’s your job to shuffle through the BS and get the meat onto the table. I’ve been in this role for 25+ years, so I’m very confident in my abilities, and I can see how other people might take that as “know it all” in a sense.

      It’s a hard balance to strike, you are right.

  41. Bend & Snap*

    OP2, I made a Very Big Mistake in a job where I was on a fast track to promotion. I corrected it where I could, made sure it wouldn’t happen again, apologized to the owners (small company) and was a model employee from there on out. My boss still used it as a stick to beat me with for the next 3 years, including when I gave my notice. He called it What Happened. He was the only one who never let go of it.

    So I quit and it was the best move I ever made. I don’t usually advocate that people quit over mistakes, but if it’s been awhile, nothing like it has happened since and your boss is still bringing it up all the time, it’s something to consider.

  42. Justin*


    This is so similar to an experience that I had when I was job searching. I was tasked with creating a 10 minute eLearning demo/simulation on one of their customer-facing websites. I wasn’t expected to do as much as you were (they were pretty vague in their requirements), but my relatively simple module still took probably 20 hours all said and done. And when I sent it to the hiring manager, he calls me and goes….”Is that it??” After that (and a couple other red flags) I have a feeling this place would have been a nightmare to work for. For the record, I sent him a temporary link to the published module on AWS so they never had access to my sources files.

    Needless to say I didn’t get the job. My current job asked me to do something far less complicated (animated PowerPoint on one fairly simple topic) and I was happy to do it since it would only take me a couple hours max.

    I really wonder if LW3 interviewed with the same employer as I did and they just upped their requirements. Shady business all around.

    1. LurkieLoo*

      This is what I was thinking could be a compromise . . . do the project, but don’t hand it over to them in a format they can actually use. Demonstrate it on your own laptop or a temp host/link. That way they get what they claim they want (assurance of your ability), but if what they really want is free work, they don’t get the end results. Even better if the work itself could be used for another client in some way if you don’t get the job.

      Although, to be honest, I wouldn’t really be up for putting that kind of time into a project for an interview. I’d probably try to counter with the portfolio and making the sample the first project after hire (so you work the first 3-4 days on their sample if they want) with some sort of 30-90 day evaluation period.

  43. SCORMHacker*

    OP#3: I am an Elearning Instructional Designer/Developer and there is NO WAY that is normal to be asked for that type of work pre-interview. At most, a company might ask for an instructional design plan on a topic they have requested, and maybe a storyboard to go with it so they can see your ID skills and design process, not a full project like that. Could you offer to provide them with your instructional design plan and possible storyboard for their project instead of the the actual development of the project? I’m hoping what they are really looking for is something concrete they talk with you about during the interview as far as your design methodology and process (and maybe ensure that you know about ADDIE or SAM, etc), but just going about it wrong.

  44. Argh!*

    LW #1 — you really dodged a bullet there, and you have the added benefit of knowing that it would not have been a good fit. Very few interviewers will tell you that they are looking for a subservient, deferential plebe rather than the person they describe in the job posting.

    Also, let me guess… LW #1 is female.

  45. Argh!*

    I’m still paying the price for a “mistake” I made over two years ago. I didn’t think what I had done was wrong, but I found out afterward that Grandboss has a bad temper and weak ego, and something I did had triggered both.

    At the time I thought that it would either blow over or that Gradboss would blow up at the wrong person and be sent packing, but no. Grandboss is forcing my supervisor to build a case against me for termination for “cause.” They don’t actually have “cause” and what this amounts to is me building a case against them for workplace bullying.

    1. JulieCanCan*

      This has been going on for 2 years? Is it something you deal the repercussions of daily?

      I don’t quite understand what you meant about the possibility of it either blowing over or the Grand boss blowing up at the wrong person then being sent packing. Did you make the mistake (regardless of whether it was a true mistake or not)? Why would the wrong person be blamed and why would Grandboss be fired for blowing up ? And if they think it’s a problem, why wouldn’t they be able to fire you? (Not that I want you fired of course – I just don’t understand – if it WAS a mistake that was a big deal to them – why they couldn’t act on it if they truly believed it was actionable)

      I’m genuinely curious because I don’t know why a company wouldn’t be able to fire someone if they see it as a mistake that was a big deal. And why a Grandboss would be fired instead of the person who made the mistake (in their eyes at least).

  46. TootsNYC*

    Letter Writer #1, with the unexpected insight into the interviewers’ reactions to you:


    This is where you think craftily.

    In your thank-you letter, use wording that counters their impression of you as controlling and “too high-key.” Say things about enjoying the collaborative nature of the work.

    Also point out the VALUE of being the “energy source” on the team. Mention that you were often the one who got stalled projects started, and point out the value of working with many different energy levels, and how you’ve enjoyed both being able to inspire colleagues to greater productivity, and being open to their showing you where energy might be misplaced, and how you’ve learned from them.

    Also–if you think they might at all speak to your references or people who know you (like a former colleague who works there), tip THEM off to this unintentional feedback, so THEY can counter it.

    1. TootsNYC*

      (that is, if you still want the job; as others have pointed out, YOU are entitled to use this inadvertent insight any way that works for you)

      1. ControlFreak*

        That’s a good idea TootsNYC – I never thought of using a thank you letter as a way to mitigate the damage. But to be honest, after having a day or two to think it over, and listening/reading to the comments made, I think I’ve pretty much made up my mind I don’t really care what they think.

        I have a quarter of a century of experience at this job, I’ve kept current with all technology and have grabbed at every chance to lean new skills that I can. If that comes across as controlling – well they might be right. I am definitely in control of my own future, and it just may not have room in it for them.

        Of course, should they come back to me and offer me a job paying a hundred grand a year with fresh roses on my desk every Monday – hey, I’ll be whatever you want. Meek and mild it is! :)

        Thanks for the advice and encouragement, everyone. You’ve made me feel much better about simply being human!

  47. Lucille2*

    #2 – Alison offers great advice. Just telling your boss you’re more careful is not enough to give her confidence the same mistake will happen again. It sounds like you are required to put together documents sent over email to clients, and are responsible for delivering this to multiple clients. If that’s the case, this is human error and is always a risk no matter how diligent employees are in their attention to detail. The fact is, there will come a time when an employee is buried in work and has to quickly check off some easy tasks and their normal level of attention to detail will slip during busy times.

    There needs to be an effective action plan that prevents, or at minimum, reduces the risk of human error. If you’re sending sensitive customer info or confidential client agreements or billing, it’s best practice to protect sensitive documents sent over email with an encryption service or at minimum password protecting the documents. Passwords should be specific to clients, not a single one for all, and never sent in the email with the document. If this is done, if info is sent to the wrong client inadvertently, they would at least not have the ability to view it.

    Your manager should be offering this kind of guidance, but if not, and you offer some concrete solutions that will effectively reduce this risk, you, your boss, and your clients will be much better off. Trying harder, or paying more attention is not a solution that invokes any sort of confidence when the mistake is somewhat severe.

  48. Ben*

    #3 I work in the same field (eLearning developer with freelance work on the side) and I agree that this sounds like “we want free work”.

    Surprisingly, a large retailer did the same to me early in my career (then attempted to a second time because they forgot they’d tried it before). They went bust a few years later.

    In terms of the project itself, is it a project that directly ties in with what they do? Are they providing copy to you? If so, I’d say there is no real job.

  49. Gadget Hackwrench*

    #3 if the company you are interviewing for has the initials MSS, and is headquartered around a lot of horses, RUN NOW. I worked for an e-learning company of those criterion just out of college that pulled that kind of thing on me in the interview, and they squeeze devs dry on unreasonable deadlines that force a metric butt-ton of unpaid overtime sprung on you at 5pm when you thought you were about to leave, and when you eventually burn out and get sick from overwork they throw you away and replace you. I literally lost my job there for a lack of “dedication” for not working unpaid overtime when I was working *Against Medical Advice* in the first place. If it’s the same place you do NOT want to work there.

  50. Candace Green*

    Re #1 – I had a similar experience, though not quite, in that it was an in person situation and I couldn’t hang up. I was on an in person campus interview for an assistant dean job at a university. At the end of the formal all day interview, I was to go to dinner with the Dean and another bigwig, but before I did, they sat me in a room and told me to stay there. Meanwhile, they met in another room, which backed onto the one in which they left me. The whole committee met – and discussed my candidacy. I didn’t think it had gone that well; I just didn’t “click” with the place, and had some technical problems with the presentation (not my issue – an issue with the equipment they had on site), and well, my presentation didn’t go great. They had said 20-45 minutes (a huge range), the Q & A. It was 32 minutes, so I wasin range, but it felt like they thought I gave too much detail. Oh well. Sometimes it just doesn’t go great. Those were my impressions, anyway. The problem was that where they put me, I could clearly hear every dang word the committee said! And sure enough, they said things like they just didn’t think I’d fit. Fine. I’d already decided I would not. But hearing it all was the most awkward experience of my life. I almost turned around, when they came to get me for dinner, and said “I heard. Why don’t we skip the rest of this, as it clearly won’t matter?” I didn’t. But putting on a mask for the rest of the night was awful. I can’t quite forgive the lack of care, of putting an interview candidate in the next room, separated only by thin walls.

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