how to tell a pushy networker to back off, applying for a job with someone who asked me to leave a college job, and more

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

1. How to tell a pushy networker to back off

I’m a relatively new professional in my field and I’m increasingly finding myself in a place where even newer professionals are asking to talk about getting started after school, or asking for advice. As someone who was recently in that same boat, I always jump at the chance to help however I can and I’m universally flattered when anyone asks to meet with me.

I’m struggling, however, with one person who does not seem to know where the line is between helpful networking, and pestering. I met with him briefly months ago after he asked one of my employees (who he knew from school) to ask if I’d be willing to chat with him. I was happy to do so, and although he was clearly a little awkward, and maybe not the most socially adept, it went fine. In the following months, he sent me a few emails updating me on what he was doing and that he was looking for more permanent work. Then he started to pop up at a couple of programming events I’d put together as part of my work, and recently sent another unsolicited email asking if we could met again. I told him I’d be willing but that I would have to get back to him because it was too busy in the office to set up a time. A week or so after that, he was at another event at which I was presenting. He cornered me, asking again to meet, saying he wanted to tell me what he was working on and hear from me as well. Again, I told him I would have to be in touch because I couldn’t schedule anything on the spot. That was last Friday. I got another email today, asking again to meet.

I don’t want to discourage someone who is new to a small field that is hard to break in to, but I also really no longer want to meet with him. Not even just that, I also have no idea what we would even talk about. I get the feeling that he thinks this kind of persistence is just how you find work, but now I would never consider hiring him even if I did have an open position purely because he has been so intrusive. What is the best way to make it clear to him that he needs to back off, without being too harsh about it? My field is also very small and everyone knows everyone else — I would hate to totally burn a bridge with someone who I’ll still likely have to share professional spaces with.

Email him this: “My schedule is too busy to schedule anything right now and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. I hope I was helpful to you a few months ago, and I wish you all the best.”

If he shows up at events you organize and corners you again, you can repeat that: “My schedule doesn’t allow me to take on anything new. I’ve got to run now because I’ve got a list of people here I need to talk with. I hope you enjoy the event.”

If he continues to email you after this, you can ignore those emails. You don’t need to be endlessly polite to someone who’s being this aggressive and not respecting your boundaries.

Also, it sounds like you don’t want to be more direct out of fear of burning a bridge, but frankly it would be fine to say, “I think you might not realize that continuing to push for a meeting after I’ve told you that I’d need to get back to you comes across very aggressively and will make people less interested in helping you. I realize you’re trying to network, but this is too much and will hurt your reputation.”

2. How to apply for the national version of a college publication I was asked to leave

In college, I wrote for a collegiate chapter of a national website. The national version of a website has an open position which matches my skillset pretty well. My one hesitation is that I was asked to leave the college chapter after a year. My editors sent me an email asking me to leave, citing a mutual feeling of disrespect and disinterest. I completely understood where they were coming from as I was unable to attend chapter meetings and keep up on my articles because of several group projects for my major, a volunteer position, a part-time job, and other obligations. Basically, I had too much going on and one thing was bound to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, it was the website.

I fully accept that my overbooking is to blame for what happened and regret it deeply. I loved my time with the publication and still admire their work even after my spectacular screw-up. I really want to apply for this job because it’s one I could potentially really thrive in. One of the editors from my collegiate chapter works for the national website. After she asked me to leave, I did apologize and we have gotten along well when we’ve seen each other. While there is no lasting anger on my end, I’m not sure how she feels. Part of me wants to reach out and apologize again as well as give her a heads-up that I’m applying.

Should I even apply to this job? If I do apply, should I address this issue in my cover letter? How would I best go about explaining the situation? And what’s your opinion on reaching out to my former editor? I don’t want to seem like a selfish jerk but I also can’t stand the idea of someone hating me (even if I do kind of deserve it).

Yeah, that might be a deal-breaker, unfortunately. Having the person who had to ask you to leave now working at the place you’re applying … is not great for your chances. (Although it could also depend on how long ago that was and what you’re done since then.)

I wouldn’t address this in your cover letter; that’s way too much focus on your downsides for a cover letter. But I do think that if you’re considering applying, you’d need to reach out to the editor who asked you to leave and let her know. Acknowledge that you were overextended in college and took on too much, and say that you’ve learned a lot since then and are hoping to be able to demonstrate that if you get an interview. If you just apply without contacting her first and acknowledging what happened, it’s going to look tone-deaf or like you’re oblivious to why it matters.

Honestly, there’s still a good chance it’ll remain a deal-breaker, but that’s likely your best shot at it.

3. My boss won’t listen when I talk about the staff’s concerns

I work at a small (30 people), relatively flat organization. We have an executive director, about eight people at the next level of management, and junior staff. I have a sort of in-between position in that I’m not a manager but I work closely with the ED and participate in all management meetings. Because of this, many of the junior staff talk to me about things they don’t want to raise with their manager. If it’s important (not just venting), I bring it to the ED’s attention.

Recently though, I’ve been feeling very caught in the middle of some sticky organizational culture issues. I’m hearing things from junior staffers about unfair treatment from their managers and different access to information managers should be providing equally (like requirements for promotion), or even people experiencing microaggressions and wanting to quit over it. We don’t have an HR person.

If I mention it to the ED, she listens and takes it seriously but wants to find out what the managers are hearing. The managers say, “I haven’t heard that! Who has this issue? How many people? Which department are they in?” I don’t want to name names, but my reluctance to provide specific examples inevitably leads to the group deciding it’s not really an issue.

I’m starting to wonder why my telling the ED about a staff issue is not enough to verify that it’s real. In the absence of an HR person who can do an actual confidential inquiry, what else can I do to make concerns known? And if my raising an issue is not credible enough to act on — which it seems it isn’t until a manager has verified it — what can I say to the other junior staff to make it clear that I am not really a resource for solutions?

You’ve already made your concerns known and the ED and other managers don’t care enough to do anything about it. That’s what it means when they insist on names and decide not to pursue it just because they don’t have any. It’s not about your credibility — it’s about them not caring enough to investigate.

You can try saying to your ED, “Is there a way for me to get these issues taken seriously without revealing the names of people who spoke to me in confidence? I don’t have their permission to do that, and it seems like the organization isn’t willing to act without names — which means we end up ignoring real issues.” You can add, “To be clear, this isn’t one or two people — I’m hearing a lot of it. In general, are you not up for digging into this stuff if people aren’t willing to attach their names to it?”

Who knows, maybe spelling it out will make her realize she should be approaching it differently. But if not, then yeah, you don’t want to let junior staff think you’re someone who can help solve these issues. What to say to them depends on what resources they do have — do you trust any managers there to handle it well if someone talked with them directly? If so you can refer them to that person. If not, you may need to be candid about the fact that you haven’t spotted any good avenues for raising concerns — and you may also need to flag for your management team that that appears to be the case to staff.

4. Should I apologize for not knowing a past CEO’s name in an interview?

I had an interview yesterday. I thought I was reasonably qualified for the position, and my preparation included researching the company’s current corporate structure, goals, and initiatives, as well as a Google news search to see if anything major had put them in the news recently.

However, during the interview, I was asked if I knew a particular fact about the company history, and I just froze (it wasn’t a particularly obscure fact; think interviewing at Starbucks and getting the question “do you know who was our previous CEO?”). I was just really thrown off by being asked “do you know who previously held X office?” and instinctively replied, “No, I don’t.” (I felt like the worst case scenario would be to look overly arrogant, say I did know, and be incorrect.) The interviewer gave me kind of a shocked look, she told me the name, I wanted to die (because OF COURSE I knew that), and the interview continued.

I got a rejection email six hours later, even before I got home and started preparing a thank-you email. I know I’ve lost any chance at this job, but is it worth thanking them for taking the time to interview me, apologizing for my moment of total idiocy, and/or letting them know I am mortified?

That … doesn’t seem like a mortifying mistake to me. Unless this was Apple and they assumed you’d be able to name Steve Jobs (or someone similarly well-known), this is the sort of thing a lot of candidates wouldn’t know. And was there some context for her question, or was she just quizzing you? If she was just quizzing you on company history, that’s obnoxious interviewing.

If you want to let them know you’re mortified, that’s fine to do — but I don’t think there’s any real cause for it.

5. We have too many work lunches at our own expense

Today I have another workplace lunch. We have them every time a colleague leaves. I hate them because we have to pay out of our own pockets to go out to lunch with the team, at a restaurant that is in theory chosen by the team, but in practice chosen by my supervisor, who has terrible taste in restaurants in my opinion.

It also doesn’t count as work time, so even though I usually take a half hour lunch and get out of there at 4:30 or 5 pm, on these days I have to either use up some of my flex time to go home on time or else work late. I don’t get any pleasure from them but I feel it is compulsory because I’ve never seen anyone not go, and it would be mean to the colleague who is leaving not to go to their farewell.

I asked HR about the work time thing and they said that there is no general policy, it is just what she says goes. This time I tried taking charge by nominating two restaurants myself and organizing a vote, but no one out of nine people voted for my suggestions — they all voted for my supervisor’s.

I just don’t know what to do to manage these occasions. There are a fair few of us looking for other jobs at the moment so there will be more happening soon. Do I have any choice other than just accept the status quo?

It depends on how willing you are to take a stand. If you’re willing to rock the boat a little (a very little), you can try saying, “I’d love to join you but I’m on a strict budget right now” or “I’d love to join you but I’ve got to leave right on time today so can’t be gone more than half an hour.” And you might talk to the person who’s leaving and explain it’s nothing personal but you’re finding these lunches are tough to afford but you wish them all the best, etc.

Alternately, if you want to address it more broadly, you can try saying (maybe at a team meeting), “I’m finding it’s tough for me to pay for so many team lunches out of my own pocket, and not to have the time count as work time. Is there any way to consider them work time since they’re for a work purpose? Or should we start sitting them out if we can’t swing the expense and the flex time?”

{ 486 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oh, OP#2, I’m worried this may be a situation where you need more time to rehabilitate your professional reputation with this editor (or your network/peers). It’s totally normal to be overcommitted or overbooked in college. But if being overcommitted meant that you weren’t completing articles to the point where they felt you were disinterested/disrespectful, that’s a pretty severe blow.

    How long has it been since college? If you’ve been able to rack up a strong record of reliability in the interim and have references to that effect, it may encourage the editor to at least entertain your application. But if you’re coming right out of college (especially if you’re 1-2 years out), then I think you may have to come up with interim steps to rehabilitate your track record before applying to this job.

    1. I haven’t had my coffee yet*

      The other issue is that if this is what you chose to drop, it may look like you weren’t that interested in pursuing this field.

      But nobody is going to ‘hate’ you – it’s not the playground. They may feel they have information about you, but try not to frame it in such an emotive way.

    2. Jasnah*

      Yes, honestly the “disinterest” part seemed surmountable, but I was really confused how “I was too busy and couldn’t keep up” = “a mutual feeling of disrespect and disinterest.” I get that “mutual” could mean the editor was not interested in OP’s half-assed work, but what does “disrespectful” mean here? If I were the hiring manager that word choice would give me pause.

      1. Myrin*

        I can come up with an explanation for the “disrespect” in one direction – the editors felt disrespected by OP’s seeming lack of commitment. However, I find it hard to understand why the editors would admit to disrespecting the OP – that’s some pretty strong language to just throw at someone when simply saying that this doesn’t seem to work out would suffice.
        (We might be splitting hairs, of course – maybe OP just phrased this strangely in her letter and there’s nothing weird to be found in this instance at all.)

        1. Mel*

          Well, if it was college and the editors were college students, I can see it getting emotional and the disrespect going both ways.

          1. Alton*

            This is what I was thinking. If these people were all students and peers, then I could see it not necessarily being a highly professional situation.

          2. Myrin*

            I hadn’t considered that – that’s certainly possible. It still seems pretty ballsy to me to just come right out and say that to the person you’re disrespecting but maybe that’s just me.

            1. MoneyPowerPizza*

              My college publication was technically affiliated with a major publication through funding and mentoring, but it was just a college club in every way except the quality of our product. The relationship between the editors and writers was not a professional relationship whatsoever and the dynamic in no way resembled what I would consider a workplace (aside from the actual tasks associated with writing and publishing). I feel pretty confident that the situation LW is describing was much closer to two college students who didn’t like being in the same project group than an actual professional issue that resulted in employment termination.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                Yes, that was pretty much the situation at my college newspaper, too. It wasn’t quite as clubby as MoneyPowerPizza describes, but pretty close. There were mentors, there were advisers, but all of the writers and editors were college kids, and…well, you know, they acted (*we* acted) like college kids – and by that, I mean a mix of really adult and really juvenile behavior.

          3. Washi*

            Or the editor indicated they had lost respect for the OP as a result of her flakiness? That’s not quite the same as disrespect but maybe the OP just phrased it a slightly weird way.

        2. Lucette Kensack*

          I suspect the OP/her editor means that they both agreed that the OP was disinterested and has disrespected the website by dropping the ball on her work.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, the “mutual disrespect” thing made sense to me without additional detail: she disrespected her editors and coworkers by not doing her job, and because of that, they lost respect for her.

        3. becca*

          If OP did what I did–miss a deadline for a fairly substantive piece and leave the editor with nothing to publish like 12 hours before publishing time–I can see where “disrespect” would come in to play. (If anyone reading this was a college newspaper editor and had somebody do this in 2012 and maybe it was me, I AM SO SORRY.)

          1. Name (Required)*

            I forgive you.

            Just kidding, it wasn’t me, but I really hope the editor does read this somehow!

      2. Stephanie*

        I think someone who’s not responding to emails about when the website could expect to see her work completed, or who’s responding in a way that comes across as, “look, I’m a college student, I’m really busy, OK?!” could be disrespectful.

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          But also, like… they are college students. They are in college to fulfill the requirements for their major. Not to write for a website. This is extremely typical of college students, to the point where if everyone looking for work was judged on the standard of “did you flake on something because you needed to focus on schoolwork?”, almost nobody could get a job after school.

          I think it’s harder here because there’s a lot of competition for entry level writing jobs, but at the end of the day, it’s really hard to believe a hiring manager wouldn’t cut someone a break assuming they can demonstrate that they aren’t a complete flake in all areas of life, or assuming OP’s former editor didn’t poison the well.

          1. Name (Required)*

            I strongly disagree, I never flaked on anything in college. Also, I made very sure to maintain a great relationship with people connected to my planned career so that I’d have great letters of recommendation. If LW was serious about writing/this organization, that should have been the last or second to last ball to drop.

            LW, you aren’t/weren’t a bad person, but you did exhibit poor prioritization skills that will likely prevent the editor from wanting to work with you again. Best of luck, though!

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              That’s great for you. But for a lot of college students, it’s their first time managing their schedule/time all on their own. It is extremely–EXTREMELY–common for students to take on more than they can realistically handle. If LW was serious about the organization she should have, what? stopped doing her class work? Stopped working at the job she presumably needed? Stop the volunteer position that for all we know was directly related to her major/job prospects or a cause that was equally important and needed her more? You don’t have enough information to say that her dropping it meant it wasn’t important to her. Sure, that’s possibly the way it came across to the editor, and that’s fine if she’d consider that in looking at OP’s application. But *we* don’t have enough information to say that her dropping it meant she didn’t care about it.

              1. IndoorCat*

                …yes? Or, at least, when LW figured out she’d overextended herself, own it and meet with the editor to reassign her work to others and quit in good grace.

                But, yeah, if you want to write for a specific national publication someday and you find yourself overextended, drop something else. Drop a single class and do it in the summer, drop a volunteer project, or, if LW is like most college students I knew, drop the excuses that you have no time when, frankly, you’re wasting a lot of time socializing or entertaining yourself.

                Otherwise, try applying to a different publication where you have a clean slate.

                I’ve met college students who were in a tough spot financially, and they made understandable descisions, but I’ve met a lot more entitled college students who constantly made unwise descisions, then acted shocked that there were consequences even though they meant well. They expected compassion when being judged for their mistakes, when they clearly had no compassion for the people they caused problems for when they made their irresponsible choices.

                I’m not saying LW is definitely in one category or the other. I’m just saying if you’ve been burned by an entitled jerk who makes it clear they have no interest in helping resolve the problems they caused by bailing on you, you start feeling less charitable to those who even *might* be entitled jerks. LW probably isn’t! But they’re out there.

            2. A Reader*

              Yeah, I’m with Name on this one. I was on the other side of the table. I was an editor in college, and I had a section editor (who was also a college student) consistently…not do her work. I got the “I’m a college student, and I’m busy!” routine from her, and I was like “Same here, so….?”

              This happened many years ago, and if she applied to a position where I work now, it would be hard not to suggest throwing her resume in the trash. I am sure she has moved on and grown up, but when I think of her, I remember scrambling for stories because she dropped the ball. I’d need some proof that she realized she made mistakes and that she’s learned from them.

      3. Publishing*

        College publications are very insular, so I’m not surprised that “disrespect” was thrown around so readily.

        I had an internship at Big College Press, and when my managing editor asked what my future plans were, apparently “work at a publishing house” was the WRONG answer. She was so personally offended that I wanted to ‘sell out’ and work at a for-profit place instead of limiting myself to academic presses, she ignored me the rest of the semester and tanked my grade.

      4. Working Mom Having It All*

        Eh, to me that sounds like very young and very self-serious students who are basically still kids trying to make things more important than they actually are. I remember the High Drama that surrounded some of my college extracurriculars, and how often things like this were interpreted through a personal lens that probably wouldn’t happen in the work world.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          For sure! The way people handle things at 18 vs. the way they handle things at 25 is very, very different.

      1. Rabbit*

        I’m not sure what is is about this letter that has caused several people to ignore the ‘be kind’ rule in their comments… someone overextending themselves at uni doesn’t seem like an insurmountable character flaw to me, though I agree that it might be possible to overcome with the individuals LW was dealing with

        1. Daisy*

          But it’s not just any old uni society- the job sounds like basically the EXACT same thing she did before, badly. It’s going to be really hard to spin that into ‘I actually really care about this and will be good at it, honest!’ when there’s explicit evidence to the contrary. I think it’s that combination of melodramatics (‘SHE HATES ME’) versus lack of awareness of why it might actually be a problem that is getting people’s backs up.

          1. Busy*

            I’m not exactly sure that is the case at all. Sometimes people just project a lot here onto the OP whatever bias they have. There was nothing particularly offensive or upsetting about the OP asking this question; people are just reading a lot more into it. It is not like this is an uncommon situation when you are young and it is OK to ask this question. The OP isn’t demanding anything, just clarifying what she likely already seems to know.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            But the LW is not in college any more, and this would be a job that would have her full attention since she’s no longer burdened with classes, another job, etc.

            I can see why this might give the organization to which she’s applying pause, but I also think that if they’re even remotely reasonable they’ll realize that this is no longer the same situation that it was before (where she had a lot of obligations over which she had little control, but that she doesn’t have now).

            1. TootsNYC*

              yeah, real life is MUCH more streamlined than college.

              The perception problem might be there still, which would be its own reality.

              But that doesn’t mean the perception is still accurate.

            2. LJay*


              I do think that the OP may not have a shot anyway. Assuming this is a popular national publication I am betting that there are a bunch of people equally qualified as the OP that haven’t shown any potential red flags, while the OP has shown one. If I were in that position I would choose one of the other candidates.

              But it wouldn’t be out of ill will towards the OP. Nor do I think that there’s anything wrong with the OP asking how they could better their shot. It would just be trying to hire the best person for the role and using information that had showed me that the OP might not be the best candidate.

              (And god I hope that people don’t judge my character on my performance in college extracurriculars. I was overscheduled and depressed and had social anxiety and I dropped out of a bunch of things that I started because of that. I could see if someone had been the leader of one of those clubs them not wanting to hire me. But being called a lightweight and arrogant and a bunch of other nasty things seems uncalled for to me.)

              1. boo bot*

                I agree – it’s information they have about her, and the editor can’t un-know it.

                That said, I think this depends entirely on how long it’s been since college, and what the OP’s done since then: if it’s been fifteen or twenty years, and she’s been working in journalism (or whatever writing profession this is) for much of that time and has a few of the following: a hefty portfolio of clips from reputable publications, a strong social media presence, a good reputation in the field, staff writer positions at reputable publications, awards, contacts who can vouch for her work, etc. – essentially everything that would make a stellar candidate if she had no history with the organization, then I think it’s possible that they might hire her anyway. But I think she’d have to be pretty spectacular.

                If it’s been five to ten years, and she’s got a handful of clips, and is hoping that this job will be her major next step into the field – then yeah, I think it’s extremely unlikely. I know ten years seems like a long time, but I’m not sure it’s enough to establish the kind of reputation you would need to overcome that kind of history, unless you won a Pulitzer or something. (If you won a Pulitzer, definitely mention it in your cover letter.)

                1. Working Mom Having It All*

                  Honestly, if it’s been more than 3 years since graduation, I think none of this means anything and there’s really no reason OP isn’t perfectly qualified for the job. They may not be able to count on a good reference from their connection who works there now, but for real, as someone 15 years out of college I can’t even remember the last names of most people I had a part time job or school extracurricular with. I wouldn’t even know if one of them worked at my company, let alone seek out to deliberately tank them because of some slight from years ago.

                  In my book this is only a little bit relevant if the flake-out happened within the last year or two. Like if they are a brand new grad with no other experience in a competitive field, and literally the only person who could speak up for them will surely remember a fresh grudge. And even then… only if this person they screwed over also graduated within the last couple years. Because, seriously I cannot imagine blackballing someone who’d flaked on a school extracurricular I was involved with more than 3-5 years ago.

                2. boo bot*

                  Yeah, I think you’re right that my timelines are a little extreme. I think it depends a lot on the individuals involved, really. If it was a spectacular flame-out I think I would still be wary 3-5 years later, but even ten years on, it’s a whole different phase of life. I was thinking back to a particular place I worked around that age, where what she describes would have been a mark against her forever – maybe not a disqualifying one, but notable. So, again, it depends on the individuals.

                  I certainly wouldn’t tank someone over this – I think it’s more that, it’s a competitive field, the only info the editor has about the OP is negative (if outdated) and so the question is, is their resume good enough to discount the negative impression and put her on equal footing with the other candidates?

                3. Alanna of Trebond*

                  If we’re talking about journalism, I think everyone is taking this a little too seriously. You don’t need a Pulitzer to overcome a garden-variety college mistake five or more years later, for Pete’s sake!

                  I was a college newspaper editor 10 years ago. A few weeks ago, I got an application from someone whose name seemed familiar because I thought she was involved in a plagiarism scandal — basically the WORST POSSIBLE THING that can happen in journalism — while we were both in college. It turns out that it was just someone with a similar name from the same school and year, because I literally could not even remember that person’s name anymore, even though that scandal seemed like the worst thing ever at the time. (And I don’t think I would have counted her out even if it had been! She was 18 or 19. It was a student paper. She learned her lesson. I’d be comfortable evaluating her just like any other candidate.)

                  It’s a bad stroke of luck for OP if this is going to be their first job right out of college and everything is still fresh. But it’s absolutely not a career-killing mistake.

            3. Lalaroo*

              Yeah, we had a student worker once when I worked at a university who was frequently late and also called out for kind of iffy, but also normal student reasons. When we had a full-time position open up right after she had graduated, she applied. We decided that being a student worker was so different from being a full-time worker that we couldn’t really make a firm judgment on how she’d act as a regular employee, and we offered her the job. She was FANTASTIC, and promoted in the department and stayed about 5-6 years.

              Student jobs on campus are really their own beast.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s ok to point out that OP’s plan may not be viable, but there is a disturbing level of unkindness to OP in the comments. I don’t think the problem with the comments is content, but rather, tone.

          4. JSPA*

            Commitment to a job, over other commitments, shouldn’t count against someone applying FOR A JOB. The job of a student is to do well in school. The job of a part time employee is to be at work when promised. OP showed correct focus. Bad self – assessment / time assessment and bad communication — but correct focus.

            OP should highlight (presumably improved) time – management and “being a good colleague” skills.

        2. smoke tree*

          This sounds similar to someone flubbing an internship and later applying for a permanent position with the organization. It really depends on the specifics. If the person could demonstrate that they understand they really messed up, if they have a solid track record since, if some time has passed and particularly if they have a compelling reason why they weren’t bringing their best effort at the time, their previous coworkers may be able to overlook the history. But if not much has changed since and they seem flippant/clueless about it, they would have no chance and would likely also torpedo their reputation there.

      2. Cynthia*

        Your comment is really harsh and yet I feel it’s the only honest response to this letter. I wouldn’t have said things quite the same way you did but I agree: there’s no chance of this person being considered for the position, and the idea that they want to apply for it makes me question their judgement.

        1. Mockingjay*

          I think this might be more of a “do-over” for OP 2. She really liked the work but screwed up. Now there’s a second chance to do it right.

          OP 2, is this job truly a good fit for your skills and career direction, or are you viewing it through the lens of nostalgia? That might be coloring your perception.

        2. WellRed*

          Yeah, the worst thing you can do to an editor is not submit your articles. I am cringing hard at the notion of applying. However, LW, please stop beating yourself up. You’re not a selfish jerk and honestly, this person probably doesn’t give you any thought, let alone actively hate you. Move on from this job, move on from college.

        3. Alton*

          I don’t feel like this is a given. The OP should be prepared for it to be a possibility, but a lot of people overextend themselves in college, and it might depend more on what other experience the OP has and whether they’ve proven themselves elsewhere.

          We also don’t know how experienced the editor was back then, or how experienced she was relative to the OP. It’s possible that these days, she feels differently about how things transpired.

          1. LJay*


            I do quite a bit of hiring. But not for writers.

            But yeah, if I have other equally qualified candidates I’m probably not choosing the OP. But if they stand out in some way as far as their resume goes, and if they indicated that they felt badly about the way things had ended with the college club and had reasoning why it wouldn’t happen again (and “this is my sole job that I would be giving my full attention, while in college I was being pulled in 100 different directions at once and there are only so many hours in a day” is a pretty good reason) then I would definitely consider them.

            1. MommyMD*

              Agree. But then part of you wonders if something comes up for them in any other area, are they going to slack off?

      3. Artemesia*

        This. They would be nuts to hire someone when the one point of information they have about them was that they are not reliable which is a central requirement of a deadline driven business. Saying you changed is not being changed; you have to demonstrate that change before expecting to have a shot with the same organization again, if ever. Would be journalists are thick on the ground; why would anyone hire one they know doesn’t meet deadlines?

        1. LJay*

          I mean, they may well have demonstrated since then that they can and do meet deadlines in their job with a different organization.

        2. MommyMD*

          OP seems very responsible now but to this organization she wasn’t and first impressions are everything. It’s not going to happen for her there.

      4. Cameron*

        Yikes. I don’t view the candidate as an arrogant lightweight – I view them as a normal college student. What college student doesn’t overcommit, face some challenges managing their time, and let one or two things fall through the cracks? College isn’t real life – it’s a learning and growing experience. I am sure the OP is a better person for having gone through this failure. Let’s not judge so harshly. It’s always better to give people the benefit of the doubt – we don’t know if the “other commitments” could have been a sick parent, a mental health issue, etc. We ALL struggle sometimes.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          College is real people having real lives with real consequences, unless you have managed that thing where your parents still sprint in and rescue you from any consequences of your actions. (Leaving the less fortunate floundering in those consequences.) I would move someone way down my list of potential candidates if they tried to claim some past experience–high school, college, internship, first job, working for their parent’s friend–was not real life and so should not count.

          Even if the experience was not real life because it was in a virtual reality simulator, if that’s remotely relevant they’re using the fake experience to judge what you would do before they let you drive the jet plane.

          Real life is a learning and growing experience, not something that switches on for the first time sometime in your 20s. (And I’m sympathetic to OP for asking. But I wouldn’t be if she framed it as nothing college students do having real impacts that affect people.)

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Yes high school, college, internships everything is real life in the literal sense with consequences, but I think it is a little disingenuous not to know what people mean by “entering the real world or real life after college.” I realize that for many people “real life” begins a lot earlier than HS/College. But also for many people being in HS/college is nothing like having a 9 to 5 job, living on your own. Eating on a meal plan, paying utilities, having friends within a small geographic area, many aspects of your life change drastically once you leave college. The “real life” comment I think refers that for many people once you leave college you tend to have the full weight of responsibility on your shoulders that will for the most part be the same the rest of your life. Your actions in HS/College should be taken into account, but they should not define your entire life going forward and the further removed you are from that the less it should matter both good and bad.

            1. LJay*

              I mean, I feel like outside of some sort of egregious behavior (and I’m talking criminal stuff here), there quickly reaches a point where actions in college and in high school especially should not count anymore.

              I know plenty of kids that were high achievers in high school that burned out quick in “the real world”.

              I also know plenty of kids that were stoners and slackers and cut class constantly in high school who then found a career that they are passionate about and have turned into high achievers.

              One of my best friends quit a few jobs like on the first day in high school because they seemed boring to her or she didn’t like her boss or other dumb stuff like that. (And I was horrified at the time because OMG you don’t do that. You’ve gotta at least give the job a chance.) But it turns out that getting into the right field, and also, you know, having to rely on the money you make in a job to eat and stuff like that, have made her into a high performing and highly respected person in her field. Anyone who was looking to hire her and judged her on quitting a job at a donut shop midway through her first shift in high school and not by her performance in the 10-15 years since is an idiot.

          2. Yorick*

            College is definitely real life, but writing for your school newspaper or the equivalent (which is sounds like this might be) isn’t a real job.

              1. jolene*

                Of the four of us who ran our college paper in my year, there are: a novelist, a writer for the New Yorker, a campaigning journalist and a magazine editor. None of us ever let our colleagues down by missing a deadline. Journalism requires being able to turn out copy under great pressure. I wouldn’t touch this candidate with a bargepole.

          3. Working Mom Having It All*

            When I was in my last semester of college, I did a highly sought-after internship in what I wanted to be my future field. I fucking ROCKED that internship. Worked harder than I ever had before. Prioritized it over school in some cases, because I knew that in a sense the internship was probably more important than whether I got an A or a B on some paper in my last semester as a full time student anywhere. After the internship was complete, I easily transitioned into full time work in my field based on strong references from my supervisor.

            However, there were some other interns working alongside me. And they didn’t work hard, didn’t prioritize it over other areas of their lives, flaked on things, slacked off, didn’t take the proper initiative, etc. Those people did not get hired on immediately afterwards.

            Years have passed.

            If any of those people’s resumes passed across my desk, not only would I probably not remember them at all, even if I did recognize the name, or they had that internship on their resume for some reason, I still wouldn’t be enough of an asshole to tank their chances based on the fact that they used to be a flakey college kid years ago. Life is too short, and people have to eat. I’m not a monster.

            Granted, if the OP’s situation happened a year ago, and the memory of it is fresh, and the coworker in question definitely remembers this clearly and associates it strongly with OP, they might be screwed. But if it was more than 2 years ago, and the people in question have a little real world experience under their belts now, it seems very petty to try to blackball OP regarding something from college.

          4. smoke tree*

            I wouldn’t say that college isn’t real life, but it is a time when many people are learning things like professionalism and how to balance responsibilities, so I would give someone more slack for making this kind of error at that stage than I would if they had more work experience. That’s not to say that the hiring manager isn’t likely to count this history against the LW, but I think there is more room to recover if you made a mistake like this at the beginning of your career and haven’t done anything like it since.

        2. Angela*

          To be fair, plenty of other college students hold down jobs and stacks of obligations, and don’t fall down on job responsibilities to the point of being asked to leave. Sometimes it comes down to what each person has to deal with (some may have part-time jobs to pay bills, others may not) but often it comes down to priorities- which can vary a LOT in college. I’m not going to make any assumptions on OP since we have limited information. But I also know being stressed, overbooked, and overextended during college is pretty common, at least from my experience .

          1. JessaB*

            I think there’s an added issue of the fact that the OP didn’t resign the job before being pushed out. The idea that the OP was completely stressed is absolutely true, but there’s a bit there where maybe the OP didn’t realise how badly they were falling down on the job there. And that’s a bigger issue than the being unable to handle it due to other things. The fact that the OP didn’t notice and resign with an apology that they were so overbooked, or at least bring it up before they were dismissed. If I were the editor I’d be more worried about the OP not realising they’re having an issue and bringing it to me before it becomes so big I have to let them know. That’s the thing I’d want to hear from the OP not that they’re no longer so crazy busy, but that they realise they have to keep an eye on their own performance and talk to me before it becomes a problem.

            Because if the OP suddenly has outside of work issues, would they tell me now, rather than failing to perform?

            1. Tupac Coachella*

              I do think that the “knowing when to quit before you’re fired” skill is a moderate to high level professional competency, so I’d still extend OP some slack. I work with college students, and so many of them never learned how/when to give up. They’re told that they’re responsible for sticking things out under any circumstances, and they don’t even know quitting is an option. A lot of people have to fail a few times before they realize that quitting gracefully before too much damage is done is an appropriate outcome sometimes.

        3. Arts Akimbo*

          Yes. I would have quite literally gone insane if I took on the amount of work OP was doing when I was in college. I don’t know why people are being so hard on them!

      5. Ella*

        …It was a college publication, the OP didn’t skip out on her surgery rotation at the local ER. It’s totally possible her old editor won’t want to hire her based on past performance, but this is a really over-the-top negative reaction to someone considering applying for a job after they made a mistake once in college. (And honestly, I would think your response is over the top even if the OP had been fired from a non-college publication then debated applying to another similar job.)

        1. pamela voorhees*

          I’m gonna agree with this! I’m sure at the time, the editors were very upset. At the time, I assume the publication was their biggest priority, and anything that damaged it was a big deal. But now, what I assume is years later, looking back? You didn’t skip out on a surgery rotation, you weren’t a firefighter abandoning a burning house to watch Netflix, you didn’t put people’s lives in danger or hurt anyone in an irreparable way. I’m sure there’s people who carry grudges that long, just because there’s lots of types of people in the world, but for the most part I’d imagine the emotional sting of whatever happened has passed. Your chances will be rough, it’s true! They have specific information/baggage associated with you that won’t exist for other candidates. But just like haven’t had my coffee said, it’s good to separate out emotions from information. Let’s say you apologize, apply, and still don’t get it (and they cite this as the reason why) – that still doesn’t mean it’s personal or carries emotional weight. Could just be they had a unicorn of skills who walked through the door.

      6. Le Sigh*

        This comment reflects far more on you than anything you wrote about the OP.

        I worked for a competitive college publication and we all took it very seriously. Too seriously at times. Yes, the work matters and the reputation follows you for a time, of course, so it might make it harder to get this job. But I think a lot depends on that — how long it’s been, the people involved, the LW’s current track record, etc.

        People make mistakes and they grow, in professional jobs but especially in college. Sometimes you can recover, sometimes you can’t. But the OP is owed a little more courtesy than this mean girls nastiness. Please do us all a favor and sit this one out.

      7. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I was going to disagree entirely. It’s a national publication, with a separate college section, and the college section is divided into chapters run by a professor at each university.

        That means the college section of the website is three levels removed from the national website. When you make allowances for staff turnover, etc., it’s probably going to be impossible to track down someone who knew the OP back in her college days, and she can spin it in the interview. “Oh yes, I worked for X in my college time. Unfortunately I was a business major and working on three senior capstone projects, and I had to cut back on my extracurriculars to complete them. I really enjoyed my time at Publication and I’d really love the chance to be able to focus on it full time!”

        1. Marthooh*

          “One of the editors from my collegiate chapter works for the national website” so, no, that previous experience is definitely going to come up if the OP applies for this position. Aside from that, Oughterarder’s comment was pretty nasty.

        2. Polymer Phil*

          I’ve worked for a company that experienced so much turnover that anyone who left under unpleasant circumstances could probably get away with being rehired because the people who know the real story are all gone.

          I would also say that in a big organization like the one the OP describes, the right arm usually doesn’t know what the left arm is doing.

    3. Sometimes editor*

      But if being overcommitted meant that you weren’t completing articles to the point where they felt you were disinterested/disrespectful, that’s a pretty severe blow.

      This. I’ve lost count of the number of journalists I’ve had submit articles late/in a terrible state/not at all. The only one that crossed the line for disinterested and disrespectful was the one who would roll her eyes and sigh loudly when asked to submit her already overdue articles as soon as possible and, when it was pointed out to her she’d gone off brief and needed to submit amends, argued her idea was better, despite me explaining very clearly why certain parts of the brief were non-negotiable. Either OP#2 and/or the editor have a flair for the dramatic or OP#2 behaved in a which was beyond merely overbooking yourself at college and that would give me serious pause over re-hiring (I’m not ruling out the possibility that I might ultimately hire again, just that there’d be some major red flags over it).

      Sorry OP#2, as know that’s not what you wanted to hear!

      1. Le Sigh*

        Given what I know about college publication life, I think it’s quite possible people were a bit over dramatic. I mean, your other theory could also be true…I just wouldn’t be surprised if there was also some soap-opera-style drama, too.

        Or both!

      2. anathema sometimes*

        Hi OP here! Just to specify, I missed two articles which put me on a two-week probation from writing articles. By the point my probation was over, our publishing period was over (aka it was finals week). All of my previous articles I had submitted were published without issue. Up until where they asked me to leave, I had talked to them twice about articles. Once was when my article was incorrectly flagged for being under the word count. The other was when I wrote a quick piece on a campus event being canceled. She told me the tone in the article was too harsh. I asked her to specify sentences so I could fix it/see what she was. She did but also told me I couldn’t mention something another related campus event because during a meeting they had decided not to mention it in any articles. I fixed the article, sent it to her, and apologized because without the angle it, was under the word count. She never responded to my email and the article was never posted. The next thing I heard from her was telling me I was on probation and then her asking me not to return next semester.
        And as for the other commitments. my job was overscheduling me, like a lot (I had to quit shortly after because of it). And I was planning a retreat for 200+ people as well as producing weekly and daily content for an internship.
        Thank you for your advice! Not what I wanted to hear but it’s the right response!

        1. Alanna of Trebond*

          This sounds like pretty garden-variety college publication stuff. Unless the person you know at the national publication is the hiring manager or has a lot of sway over the process, you’ll probably be fine. (If one of my young staffers came to me and said that someone I was hiring for an entry-level job got put on probation for missing two deadlines near the end of the term in college, I’d likely just roll my eyes.)

    4. katherine*

      So I work in media and have survived extensive bad blood with my college newspaper, but I’m at a loss to what “a collegiate chapter of a national website” is. It is not something I have ever heard of in media, online or otherwise. (My best guess is something related to the Greek system?)

      But either way my advice is the same: If it’s a standard media site, and especially if it’s the kind of website that only introduced editorial content in the past few years, then the editor you are worried about is probably going to quit, get laid off, or get fired within the next couple of years, because that’s just how it is in media these days. So there is a good chance that the next time a job opens up, the problematic colleague will be gone.

      The fact that you have negative history with the… whatever it is, isn’t great, but the basic scenario of picking and choosing which publications you work with/apply to based on where the editors who like and dislike you currently work is unfortunately, a basic fact of life in this field. But in the intervening years, you will hopefully have more of a track record to point to.

      1. ContentWrangler*

        The only example I could think of for a national website with collegiate chapters is something like Spoon University, which is a food/lifestyle website aimed and written by college students. People would lead “chapters” of writers at their colleges, but there was also the overarching company run by the founders and “real” employees.

        1. katherine*

          Ah, that’s also a possibility — my other thought was something like (Unnamed Major Sports Site) that sets up farm sites for regional teams, a lot of which obviously are going to be college sports.

          1. ContentWrangler*

            Yes, that makes sense. So my take was that while dropping the ball and missing deadlines is not good no matter what, OP probably was being paid in experience or very little money. And in those cases, I think people have to be prepared that they won’t get the best quality of work.

        2. Working Mom Having It All*

          Oh my god I sincerely hope OP isn’t experiencing this much drama and uncertainty based on a college chapter of a food blog. For chrissakes….

      2. Amelia Bedelia*

        I “worked” (it was all unpaid) for a company like this in college as a contributing editor. It’s a national social content website that tends to have viral/listicle type articles. They were headquartered in NYC with full time editorial staff who were in charge of several different college chapters, and then each college had an editor in chief, social media managerr, contributing editor, etc. I think they have drastically changed their structure since I was a part of it (only a few years ago) but it sounds very similar in structure to what OP is talking about. And we definitely had a lot of turnover as there were weekly article deadlines and college students and extremely busy – honestly most of our contributors struggled with what sounds like the same issues OP did.

        1. katherine*

          Yeah, I didn’t want to say this necessarily because I didn’t know what sort of site it was, but I did suspect this kind of thing. And if it is a viral content-type website, your bigger concern should be the longevity of the company and job (almost definitely low, even Buzzfeed just had massive layoffs), and whether they see their contributor divisions as farm teams for future “real” employees (probably less than you think)

          1. Amelia Bedelia*

            Yeah I know the person who was in charge of our team was laid off with a large chunk of others, and after that happened my college’s branch kind of just disintegrated. It’s not necessarily the best business model in my opinion and while writing for these kinds of sites does help build up a bit of an online portfolio (it’s definitely helped me land some writing gigs that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise), I would also question the longevity of a full time job at such a company. It’s definitely a unique sort of set up based almost solely on online trends which (at least from the outside) seem very finicky.

  2. I haven’t had my coffee yet*

    #4 It is completely normal to freeze up in an interview and forget something you know, and if they rejected you over this then you don’t want to work for them anyway.

    1. lyonite*

      And that goes double if they really thought it was that important for you to have the name of a former CEO on the tip of your tongue. The only way that happens is if they’ve got some weird loyalty/cult of personality thing going on, and you don’t want any part of that.

      1. Massmatt*

        I think the interviewer’s reaction is only understandable if the former CEO was really famous, like Steve Jobs famous. Maybe a handful of Former CEOs meet that standard. Honestly, for 99% of companies, who cares who the former CEO was? This seems like an idiotic way to interview candidates, unless it’s for a position as company historian.

        It reminds me of a story I saw on 60 Minutes years ago, about a trust in Hawaii that ran a university, and terms of the trust made governance very opaque. The trustees required that all students memorize All their names. WTF?

        1. Busy*

          I can name maybe like 4 famous CEOs off the top of my head.

          I don’t know why I laughed so hard about the trustees making the student memorize names. Haha it is such a massive ego trip to the land of ridiculousness that I can’t even.

          1. LJay*

            Yeah I’m trying to think of the ones I know of.

            Like, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Lee Iaccoca, Howard the Starbucks guy, Carly Fiorina was the CEO of HP at one point but I only know that due to politics.

            Then in my field I know the CEOs of the major corporations, but couldn’t tell you the former ones. (Though for Southwest it’s the opposite, I know the former CEO but now who is CEO now).

            1. Massmatt*

              The handful of names gets even SMALLER if you exclude those known due to scandal and malfeasance! Elizabeth Holmes and Bernie Madoff are pretty well known.

              1. Busy*

                Those are pretty much the only ones I know. I don’t spend a lot of time on CEOs unless they directly effect me. I learn the big ones from casual news reading lol.

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              Hmm. The only (semi)famous former/current I surface are Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Lee Iacoca of GM, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Carly Fiorina of HP, and Marrisa Meyers of Yahoo. Maybe Larry Paige of Google.And I’d probably forget most of those under the stress of an interview.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I’ve got Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elongated Muskrat, um…oh, Jack Welch, because he constantly came up in case studies in college because of his stupid stack ranking system. Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, because they both got into politics and I know them from that. That’s as far as my CEO-knowledge goes. They’re not exactly movie-star levels of household names.

            1. pamela voorhees*

              I could name Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and Marissa Meyers with confidence. If I had thirty minutes to think quietly to myself and it was a very low key interview where all the interviewers told me what a good job I was doing, I could probably come up with Jack Dorsey (because I work in healthcare, and he’s always doing some weird health & wellness thing that gets headlines) and Howard Schultz (because I live in Seattle). I absolutely would have forgotten Elon Musk and Bill Gates if other commentators hadn’t mentioned them. Don’t beat yourself up too much.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          Maybe depending on who the CEO was, what he’s done, and what your role is? Seems like a lot of famous ex-CEOs are public thought leaders and write books, or have books written about them. If you were applying to any type of business leadership role at GE and didn’t know who Jack Welch was, I could see that being a black mark because he was business famous and studied in business schools. Now, if you were an entry level graphic designer, I would not hold that against you.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think if someone were SO famous, I wouldn’t expect to be quizzed on the name.

            It would be like saying, “Do you know who our first president was?”

            1. TootsNYC*

              Though, actually:
              The first U.S. official to have “president” in his title was the President of the Congress, and George Washington was the first President of the United States.

              So, who knows who held the office for a short time?

              My company just had some guy become CEO and about fourth months later, they announced he’d be leaving and someone ELSE would become CEO. So…

        3. EnfysNest*

          And even with Steve Jobs, it’s been almost 8 years since his death. I could imagine getting that question and not being sure if he was the last CEO or if there was another in-between him and the current CEO, and would they count an interim CEO if there was one, and then I might start panicking a little because I don’t have a good answer, and then wondering why they’re even asking anyway and if that fact matters more than I think and how important it is to getting the job, and then realizing that I’ve been sitting there too long without saying anything and oh my gosh, I just have to say something, and then blurting out “I don’t know,” like the OP did.

          1. Observer*

            Apple is one of the very few companies where I could see expecting people to know the answer to this question. Mostly because the handover was so high profile and a lot of the time when Tim Cook is mentioned, his being Steve Jobs’ successor is also mentioned in the same article. So if you’ve done your homework on the company, you should know that.

            But it’s the only company I can think of where that’s true. I’m trying to think of any organization in my field where I would expect someone to actually be able to answer that question, and I’m drawing a blank. Even companies with high profiles and high profile executives.

            Like is Marissa Meyer the last CEO of Yahoo before the current one? Or did someone else have the job for a bit? And, why would anyone care?

      2. Persephone Mulberry*

        I once had a phone interview and the screener was apparently floored that I didn’t know the CEO was a part owner of the local Major league baseball team. She made such a Big Deal out of it that I wasn’t surprised I didn’t get a call back, and, as I don’t follow baseball at all, it felt like it may have been a culture-fit bullet dodged.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          Some hiring managers will ask questions that can be found on the front page of the company website to see how much research you’ve done into the company – i.e. how interested you are at working for them/their industry. Been there done that (on the receiving end), and my brother was rejected for exactly this reason (as in, this reason was cited in his rejection email).
          It is obnoxious if it’s company specific – I think I got away with it because the questions I was asked were industry specific, and I was new to the industry (and so they wanted to judge how much extra training I would require).

          1. Gerta*

            I think it is entirely reasonable to expect candidates to have familiarised themselves with the public profile of the company, and stuff on their homepage is likely to be important to them, so it’s smart to know it. However, I also find it unfair to quiz people on specifics – in my view, it would be far more reasonable, and useful, to ask more open-ended questions which allow candidates to show off what they know, rather than seeking to pin them down on details like names or dates when they may have found something else more interesting, or might just freeze in the moment like OP did.

            1. No Tribble At All*

              Well there’s front page information and then there’s history of the company information. Unless the former CEO was the founder, the company isn’t likely to list the name of every past CEO in a convenient location.

              1. No Tribble At All*

                Also, I wouldn’t count previous CEOs as pertinent information! They’re not the CEO now. Who cares?

                1. LJay*

                  I could see if they made big changes in the field or had positioned themselves as the face of the organization for a long time.

                  Like, I work in aviation, and I would be surprised if someone applying for a job at Southwest didn’t know who Herb Kelleher is. (Though I guess that goes back to the founder thing as well).

                  Same if you were applying to work in Starbucks corporate and didn’t know who Howard Schulz is.

                  Like, if you didn’t know who they were I would think you didn’t do any research into the company and weren’t that interested in the industry because they were so influential and their name recognition is so high.

                  (But then I don’t ask job candidates anything about the founders or CEOs of my company because it’s really not important. I do ask outright “What do you know about [my company]” because I like to see that they do some research. But I’m looking more for that they know what sector of the industry we are in and generally what it is that we do, not info about the owners, etc.)

                2. Curmudgeon in California*

                  I am waaaay past being willing to memorize names and dates on a company like I was cramming for a history quiz. I might read their website, but not read the history, ignore the executive bios, and focus on their product and mission instead.

                  I don’t answer trivia questions, because that’s not what I study about a company. Even if I did review it, it doesn’t stick in my memory, because it has little to nothing to do with the actual work and the problems I would be addressing in the role.

                  I consider asking trivia questions, college level classroom exercises, and other school quiz nonsense to be lousy interviewing. Some of it *may* be appropriate for interviewing RCGs, but after a person has been out of school for a couple years it’s inappropriate, and smacks of age and disability bias (ie selecting for young people without memory/cognitive impairments.)

                  I figure that the OP for #4 dodged a bullet.

              2. Justme, The OG*

                Yes. If I were going to work at Walmart Corporate I should know that Sam Walton was the founder and Doug McMillon is the current CEO. But the former CEOs? Nah.

                1. Curious*

                  Right, but in the example given, the previous CEO is the founder, so I’d say there’s a decent chance that it’s a situation like that where you ought to know. I don’t know why they would be quizzing her, that’s weird, but I wonder if it came up somewhat more organically.

                  Honestly, though, I think if it’s someone on that level, the interviewer will assume it was just a brain fart caused by interview nerves and it won’t look like you are unprepared.

                2. Curmudgeon in California*

                  I don’t bother with the name of the CEO. I look up the industry and the company’s product lines, not who their CEO is. If they expect me to know the name of their CEO, it’s a tip off that they are too invested in the cult of personality for my comfort.

              3. TootsNYC*

                and there are always interim CEOs.

                Take our country–our first “president” was not George Washington. Well, OK, not quite–the first official to have “president” in his title was the President of the Congress, and Mr. Washington was the first President of the United States.

                But that’s proof of the idea that there are lots of people holding positions for short times.

          2. MoneyPowerPizza*

            I once had an interviewer berate me for not reading the website, that I had open right in front of me and did not contain the trivial detail she had asked me about. One of the most awkward moments of my life was trying to figure out what to say as I realized with horror that this woman did not know the difference between internet and intranet.

            1. Former Employee*

              Since you weren’t going to get the job anyway, it might have been interesting to point this out to her in some way that would have made it clear that you wouldn’t want to work at a place where people didn’t even know something that basic.

              However, I seriously doubt I would have had the presence of mind to pull that off in a stressful situation like and interview.

      3. Stitch*

        I had the same thought. I used to work for Disney and there was this Walt reverence but they taught you company history as part of training, you weren’t expected to know it in interviews.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Also, yeah, Disney, you would know the former CEOs name. But even Starbucks until he ran for President I didn’t know his name.

          I think playing “gotcha” with job candidates is a terrible form of interviewing. They’re nervous. They might even forget Walt Disney in a stressful moment.

            1. LJay*

              I had to google his last name lol. All I could get out of my head was Howard Stern, but I knew that wasn’t right.

          1. Leah*

            also some people who aren’t neurotypical might have a hard time memoryzing names, not to mention remembering them in situations where they feel they are under pressure. I have ADHD and it takes me a while to know names by heart, which was hell on me when I was in school. Knowing the name of a company’s former CEO (or even current, if you ask me) isn’t more important than knowing how much the person knows about the company itself and what they do, how well the person will fit into the company’s culture, and how their technical knowledge might fit with what they’re looking for.

            1. anne_not_carrot*

              I always forget that it can be seen as an ADHD thing. I can usually remember names right up until the moment I’m asked. In a job interview, I was trying to remember the name of a celebrity and could describe what they looked like, the three movies they’d been in, but the name just wasn’t going to happen. Luckily, the interviewer was able to laugh with me about it.

            2. Curmudgeon in California*


              Between ADHD, MTBI and stroke, my memory for names, dates and trivia isn’t, and asking for it in an interview is discriminatory against people with cognitive disabilities.

              1. OhNo*

                Asking for it in an interview isn’t necessarily discriminatory, but using that as a primary marker for hiring decisions definitely is. Like asking about a candidate’s family – not inherently bad, but it’s a slippery slope that can lead to discrimination and potentially opens the company to a lawsuit.

                As someone who also has ADHD, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of random historical information relevant to my position, but I still can’t remember my grandboss’ last name or recognize the CEO on sight, despite working here for 5+ years. If memorizing names was a requirement for a job, I’d never get hired.

          2. TootsNYC*

            and that level of detail is just not important to whether they can do the job. I’ve never needed to know who the CEO was, not even when I was AT my job.

      4. OP #4*

        I think my concern is that not having the name on the tip of my tongue was conflated with not knowing who the person is. I’m seeing it pop up in the comments often enough that I do wonder if it’s worth clarifying to the employer that this was a case of the first, not the second.

        1. (not actually) Tim Cook*

          I’d encourage you to reflect on your goal in doing so and what you think it would achieve at this point (and then I’d advise you to definitely not do it..) This isn’t going to be the email that overturns their hiring decision, so at this point what would be the goal? Just think about what you can learn from the experience and move on from it. And good luck in your job hunt!

      5. Allison*

        I’m gonna be honest, I can name the CEO of the company I work for now, but I would draw a blank if asked about the CEOs of the past companies I worked at, even the one I worked at before this, two years ago. You’d tell me and I’d be like “oh yeah, that guy! I remember him!” but that’s just not information I make a point of storing in my brain. It’s not like I ever met 1:1 with the dude.

    2. MommyMD*

      It really is. Sometimes I forget the word toaster or some random word. In high pressure, it’s worse.

      1. Gaia*

        I once stared at the word said for like a solid minute before I figured out what it meant. I was in college. Our brains are not always operating at peak efficiency. Sometimes they misfire.

          1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            In 8th grade (circa 2004) I was in an honors social studies class, and I raised my hand in front of the class to ask who this “Mr. Bush” was that my teacher kept going on about. I don’t know why but I guess hearing “Mr. X” made me think it was a teacher instead of the President of the United States.

            1. Former Employee*

              Makes sense to me. The name “Bush” is pretty common. Using “Mr.” instead of “President” in front of the name does make it seem as if it could be any one of a number of people with that surname.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Ha, I can relate. Or when you write a word too often and it starts looking really weird and you just stare at it wondering why it looks so strange all of a sudden. I had that recently with the word eight.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        No lie, I forgot the word “iPad” yesterday. In front of an entire room full of trainees holding said objects. Brain glitches happen, and a job interviewer who will hold that against you is not a person you want as your future boss.

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      Yes. And unless there was some actual *need* to know who the *former* CEO was, I say bullet dodged really.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah—this seems arbitrary. Even if someone was Jobs-level famous, I think it’s normal to give people leeway when they’re in a high-stress situation like an interview.

      But seriously, I forget and misuse basic words when I’m mentally tired (nevermind stressed out!). It’s normal to forget things in the moment, and it’s weird to screen out candidates on that factoid.

      1. Busy*

        Right. And just because you know Jobs and Apple, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will “know” he was the last CEO. Like I would sit there and think this is some kind of trick question. Maybe Steve Jobs left and was just a figure head for awhile and I just didn’t realize it? Maybe I am missing something huge here. And I might even at that point side on saying I did not know. Cuz its really a dumb, random question that comes across like “YOU DO KNOW who originally sang ‘I Will Always Love You’, RIGHT?!?!? You’re not one of those posers who think its Witney, RIGHT!?!?” kind of insane cult-like ideologies.

        The only time the CEO should come up is if a person is applying for a job much higher in the org. And even then, asking so EXPLICITLY would come across as odd and maybe even adversarial.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Like I would sit there and think this is some kind of trick question.

          Yes! Because why would you ask me that when he’s so famous?

        2. Former Employee*

          It was written and sung by Dolly Parton. It’s a kind of fond farewell to Porter Wagoner.

          However, Whitney Houston’s version was amazing. Dolly Parton is both smart and generous.

        3. OP #4*

          Yes, this!!! Thank you for articulating my exact thought process!

          (My preferred fun fact about “I Will Always Love You” is that Dolly wrote it and “Jolene” on the same day. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a similarly productive day in my entire career.)

      2. DJ*

        This. I was once making small talk at the hairdresser’s and I forgot my own sister’s last name!!! (She took her husband’s, so it’s not the same as mine.) So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if I forgot Steve Jobs name in a job interview with Apple, lol.

      3. Batgirl*

        In a journalism interview I was once asked for the names of some of the local MPs. These were people I talked to all the time but I just spaced and couldn’t remember a single name.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I call it “midterm brain.” You go to take your midterm exams, and all the important information you’ve been studying all semester just falls right out of your brain.

        2. Jadelyn*

          I get this anytime someone asks for my “favorite” or “top 5” anything. I immediately forget the name of every movie I’ve ever watched, every fancy car I covet, every band I’ve ever listened to, it all just vanishes when I’m put on the spot. These are things I genuinely love! But if you ask me to list them off and then stare at me and wait for me to answer, newp. I have never heard of movies before, sorry.

          1. GG*

            This! I have *never* been able to give a favorite or top 5/10 of anything on the spot. It’s so frustrating.

    5. Daisy*

      I definitely don’t think she should email and say she’s ‘mortified’, because it’s going to come across really really strangely if they in fact didn’t hire her for some other normal reason. Like *she’s* the one who thinks that’s incredibly important.

      1. Marthooh*

        This was my reaction. That “shocked look” didn’t necessarily mean much — maybe the interviewer was also undergoing brain freeze. You don’t control everything that happens in an interview.

        And how would apologizing help? Either you didn’t get the job for that specific (weird) reason, and it’s too late to change that; or you lost out for some other reason, and apologizing for this little glitch looks disproportionately anxious to please.

    6. Tim Cook*

      Yes this. If they rejected you over this alone, you don’t want to work there (as a hiring manager, unless you’re applying for a job as company historian, I can’t see how this response on its own would tell me anything about your fit for the job. If it was part of a pattern of not knowing anything about the company or the industry, then maybe). If, as is more likely, they rejected you over something else, it’s going to look weird to bring it up. I wouldn’t read anything into the fact that you received the rejection on your way home – perhaps you were the last interviewee but they already had a first choice who remained the first choice after they spoke to you, or perhaps you are missing some key skill or experience that they need for this role.

      Also in terms of your follow up note, I wouldn’t apologize, but I would ask for feedback on what you can work on for the future. If it turns out they rejected you on the basis of the ex-CEO’s name, fine, you’ve learned something about what matters to this company. If not, you will learn something about how you can develop your skills for the future. Or you won’t get any feedback at all – either way, you still don’t need to apologize.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah, it’s a what question, rather than a how or a why. What teachers call questioning for a lower order skill.

    7. Mimsie*

      I have a weird feeling it *was* at Apple and they did forget Steve Jobs. And if so, how would Alison’s advice change if at all?

      1. Tim Cook*

        I don’t think there’s enough info to go on to know whether not knowing Steve Jobs actually matters to a role at Apple – e.g. for communications director, you probably need to know that stuff, I’m not sure the building manager or even a software developer needs that knowledge as an essential part of their role.

        The question was whether the applicant should admit to their mortification on making this error and I still think the answer is no way no how. Another aspect of this is that by thanking but also apologizing and expressing mortification, you’re essentially asking the interviewer for forgiveness or comfort or to think better of you – all things which are basically about your feelings. I don’t think that’s a good look in the workplace. If you really wanted to raise it in the email you could say “I realise in the interview that I may have appeared to not have the full awareness of the company’s history that is needed for this role. I want to let you know that I’m bearing this in mind for my future applications”. Don’t express how bad you feel – express how you’re going to fix it (this applies for practically all workplace feedback imo).

        1. TootsNYC*


          But also, i don’t think they care whether you’re “bearing this in mind for future interviews”–they’re not your job coach.

          1. (not actually) Tim Cook*

            Oh 100% – this is a great point. To be clear, I don’t think the OP should mention it at all, so on reflection I retract any recommendation that includes bringing it up :) thanks!

        2. Observer*

          Well, at Apple it DOES matter – not because you can’t do the job, but the culture of reverence is still pretty entrenched.

          But, I still think that the advice stays the same. It’s still the kind of detail that can easily slip in a high stress situation and doesn’t really speak to a person’s ability to handle stress.

      2. OP #4*

        It wasn’t Apple; the name I blanked on is less well known than Steve Jobs. I think the Jack Welch comparison upthread is more appropriate. I actually intentionally avoided using Jobs as an example because I messed up, but not THAT badly! :)

        1. Paper Librarian*

          Remembering names is hard, even if they are obvious. I mean, even the president couldn’t remember Steve Apple’s name. XD

        2. MagicUnicorn*

          If you manage to go back in time and redo this, please answer that “Tim Apple” was the former CEO.

    8. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP4, you obviously feel embarrassed about this incident. However, blaming your rapid rejection on this one item may not be correct. Leaving that one incident aside, look back on the rest of the interview. How did it go? Did you connect to the other person? Did you answer their questions well? My point is that the one thing you consider a deal-killer may have played a minor role in their decision.

      1. Gerta*

        Not to mention you never know who else they interviewed and how they did. That’s always out of your hands, even if you do a great job. Point is, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over one understandable mistake which may or may not have been the decider.

        1. Dana B.S.*

          Exactly. Unless you know for a fact that you were the only candidate under consideration at that point.

      2. TootsNYC*

        remember also that you have NO idea who your competition was.

        This isn’t a binary choice for them; you may have done quite well, and someone else was chosen for some reason you will never know.

    9. Washi*

      I wonder if the interviewer was actually shocked though. Maybe the sequence of event was: interviewer asks low-stakes question > candidate gets visibly very stressed > interviewer has confused look about why candidate is so stressed.

      I mean, I know interviewers do weird stuff all the time, but in 99% of companies and 99% of positions it would truly be very weird to quiz candidates about past leadership, so I wonder if this is a misunderstanding all around. Either way OP, just put it out of your mind! I don’t think it was that bad, and what’s done is done.

    10. Lucette Kensack*

      I wonder about the context. Quizzing someone on the name of a former CEO is weird, but I can easily imagine asking a question like that as a sort of casual setup to a conversation about the organization’s values/reputation/culture. Like:
      “So, do you know who our former CEO is?”

      “Not off the top of my head.”

      “Well, his name is Howard Schultz and he’s currently running for president. He’s no longer actively involved with the company, but his campaign does come up a lot with our clients. Let’s talk about how you would navigate relationships with clients who are opposed to his candidacy or policy ideas.”

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, I’m guessing it was something like this. The OP’s reaction probably gave them some information about how closely she follows the company/industry, which may or may not be relevant to the job and which may or may not have factored into their decision.

        We’re hiring right now and candidates are displaying hugely varying levels of familiarity with what’s going on in the industry and with our specific agency (which is high profile within our industry/region). It’s one part of the package, balanced along with their technical skills and other qualifications. Someone with absolutely no industry background could be a good fit for this particular job, if their other qualifications are strong, but it might make me less enthusiastic about an okay-but-not-great candidate, given what it would mean about the learning curve for the job.

        The name of a former CEO isn’t a great metric for this in most cases, but if that person is highly visible and well-known and left recently, I can understand an interviewer being surprised that someone didn’t know it. It’s also really easy to lose perspective on what kinds of stuff that seem like common knowledge to you are actually not something most people are aware of – the interviewer’s reaction may have been genuine but a little inappropriate.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          It’s still trivia, and a lot of people deliberately do not follow pop culture or news, or don’t pay attention to names/personalities. I wouldn’t assume that not knowing a name meant anything.

          Knowing “The VP of Company X left, and went to Company Y, then Company Y suddenly started doing the same projects and there’s a lawsuit” would still be valid. This type of thing happened recently in the self-driving car industry, but I can’t recall the two companies involved not the person’s name. It’s industry knowledge, but the names are trivia.

          For example, when I worked at Yahoo, we had a CEO who was found to have lied about his degree on his resume. He was fired. But I would have to do a web search to find his name, because I don’t remember it eight years later.

      2. OP #4*

        This would have been much less uncomfortable than what actually happened. It was more like:

        “So, do you know who our former CEO is?”

        “Not off the top of my head.”

        [awkward silence]

        “Well, his name is Howard Schultz.”

        1. Ella*

          What a bizarre way for your interviewer to handle that question! Even if, for some reason, it’s incredibly important you know the former CEO’s name (and I’m having trouble imagining such a scenario… maybe if they’ve been in the news lately and the job requires applicants be up to date on current events? But even that’s quite a stretch) there’s no need to react with awkward silence when you didn’t know.

          That said, I’m not sure from here if you genuinely didn’t know the CEO or were just blanking on their name in the moment, but if it’s the latter it’s probably worth diffusing the situation with a “ack, just having a brain lapse at the moment! But I’m familiar with your CEO’s work” if the situation or a similar one presents itself in the future.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          See, I never would have remembered Howard Schultz in that context. I think I read a total of one article about him when he decided to run for president. I was so unimpressed that I just rolled my eyes. I have to rack my brain to remember what company he is associated with, and only can recognize his name when someone mentions him.

    11. Overeducated*

      Yeah, this strikes me as funny because a few years ago I was a seasonal worker, in a staff meeting with all the permanent employees our boss asked us who was the national-level leader of our organization, and I was the only one who knew it. Sometimes these things just aren’t relevant to your day to day work.

    12. Lily Rowan*

      For the future, though, I would say something in the moment, like “Oh man, of course I knew that — it just flew out of my mind in the moment! I’ve admired Steve Jobs my whole life.” Or whatever.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        As Lily Rowan says, or when the question is asked say, my mind has gone blank or say something similar.

        I am thinking we should all have a polished go to sentence like that for times when outlr m8nds do go blank!

        1. Mari M*

          I’m considering “Not off the top of my head, but I know where to look and I’ve found that an invaluable skill as a llama researcher…”

          Make it into a positive. If Career Development has taught me anything!

      2. smoke tree*

        This kind of thing has happened to me in job interviews before, so I just say something like this and it’s generally been fine. But if the interviewer really places high value on having a good memory for this kind of thing, I wouldn’t stand a chance anyway.

    13. JJ Bittenbinder*

      Yup, I was once interviewing for a learning and development position and the interviewer asked a question to which the only correct answer was Abraham Maslow and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Do you think I could remember Maslow? Nope. Not a chance.

      I don’t think that’s why I didn’t get the position, but it didn’t help my confidence during the remaining time in the interview.

    14. Ron McDon*

      I interviewed for my first office job when I was 18. The previous year I’d worked in a nursery where the Director/interviewer had sent his kids.

      He said ‘oh, my children went there many years ago, what’s the owners name again?’ And I blanked! I’d worked for her for a year and couldn’t remember her name.

      I feel so foolish.

      I still got offered the job!

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I apologize if I’m being dense, but I don’t understand why OP#5’s employer isn’t paying for these lunches. If this is a time-honored tradition and this is not a governmental employer (or other organization with strict rules re: spending), then the employer should set a price limit per person and cover the cost.

    That said, it sounds like the coworkers are fine with the status quo (especially since no one voted for OP’s recommendations but stuck with the boss). If that’s the case, it seems like the best option would be to speak directly to the person leaving, wish them the best, and opt out if attendance would have a significant negative effect on OP’s wellbeing (which can include their feelings of financial security). The hard part is going to be deciding if you’re not going to any of the lunches, which could read as self-ostracizing or rejecting the “team,” or only going to some lunches, which runs the risk of looking like a snub whenever OP decides not to participate.

    1. MommyMD*

      People often vote for the Boss and status quo because they are afraid to do otherwise. They may not be fine with it at all. Power dynamics are in play here.

      1. Massmatt*

        I think that is likely also. LW says boss has rotten taste in restaurants but no one voted for her alternative. Either are going along with the boss out of fear of upsetting her, or their tastes are more in sync with the boss’s than with LW’s. Either is useful information, a warning reallybthatbLW may be out of step with the culture there.

        I would not enjoy frequent work lunches like this either, especially if the restaurants were terrible and I had to pay out of pocket. That it means a longer work day or use of PTO just seems extraordinarily cheap on the company’s part.

        But IMO if everyone goes, you are stuck with it. Being the only person not going will likely alienate you from you4 coworkers and even more so, your boss. I would only not go if it were really a hill I were willing to die on. Are these lunches THAT terrible?

        1. Bunny Girl*

          I think them being terrible is something that you could manage, but I’m just thinking of the cost. Depending on how often they go out, this could really wreck someone’s budget.

          1. OhNo*

            If the LW feels they have to go, but doesn’t want to spend, there are some options there – things like polite deflections when it comes time to order (e.g.: “No thanks, I already ate,” or “I’m keeping to strict diet”), or ordering something small.

            Getting away with those depends on the culture of the office, though. Some places, even the most polite and innocuous deflection would lead to intense grilling or well intentioned (but unpleasant) teasing.

            1. TardyTardis*

              This is why an appetizer can be your friend (and often have as many calories as the lunch special).

      2. Fish Microwaver*

        Yes this is so. In a former position I volunteered to be our group spokesperson when the team was managing some quite significant changes (think New office location, changes to benefits and work hours etc). It was not in our interest for our boss to be our spokesperson but the rest of the team agreed when they put themself forward . It didn’t go well but the team was too afraid to reject the boss.

      3. Koko*

        OMG this. And it’s not just this situation — those work surveys that are “confidential” but not really? Yeah, most people are giving their superiors high marks across the board.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Oh yes, I’ve heard some things in my workplace about that. They’re done online and we all know anything cyber can be tracked. Several years ago I heard about some people who “let loose” in the survey and were punished for it.
          The last survey I saw was falling all over itself trying to reassure us it really is confidential, done by a third party, results combined so can’t be identified, etc. Still no one trusts it. I’ve become so uncomfortable with the surveys I just don’t take them.

          1. AKchic*

            Right. Even the ones that insist they are confidential and don’t track will send follow-up emails saying “we know you haven’t filled this out yet, please do it”. Um… if you’re confidential and don’t track, how do you know? Oh, I didn’t follow the link? I guess you *do* track and it’s not as confidential as you claim.

            And if there are any portions where a person can write to elaborate, a person’s writing style or opinion may identify them.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              And there were 5 (now 4) admin staff in my office, and my boss and I are the only ones who do certain things. So if I say anything meaningful about my work, I can be identified instantly.
              Of course the dept. as a whole is much bigger, but in our suite with dept. admin it’s just us.
              I’d like to say things like “I wonder why corporate is so greedy when we’re supposedly non-profit… why is corporate finance so slow and incompetent? … It does not make a good impression when you keep trying to find ways to pay less to our highly trained professionals who work so hard…
              Our professionals see what you’re doing and hate you for it… If you keep doing this turnover will get worse and corp. finance won’t be able to keep up, not that they do now”
              Of course, I don’t dare!

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Gee, do you work for the same institution I do?

                They actually have to do surveys and studies on faculty and staff affordability because we are so underpaid for the area.

            2. Philosophia*

              The institution where I work has a biennial “employee engagement” survey. The third-party firm does track whether one has filled it out, and when I replied that this showed it wasn’t confidential (confirming that I would not participate), I was politely corrected: it was confidential but not anonymous. I still didn’t participate, because as AKchic points out, writing style and previously expressed opinions can be a dead giveaway.

          2. Katefish*

            One time when I worked retail I took an “anonymous employee survey.” 50% of our store said we needed upgraded fridges that didn’t break all the time. 50% of our store said there District Manager (DM) was terrible. A year later, we still didn’t have consistently working fridges, but the DM had replaced our great store manager with a lackey out of spite. So much for honesty on anonymous surveys!

          3. TardyTardis*

            Oh, we had one of those at old ExJob! Nobody I knew believed they were confidential, but a couple of the people were low-level and close to retirement enough that they told me they told the truth anyway. The Glassdoor reviews of my old company are also very…upfront.

      4. Curious*

        Peopl also often have different taste in restaurants and strong feelings about it. “Terrible taste in restaurants” might mean the boss likes TGI Friday’s or Olive Garden, and hey those wouldn’t be my first choice personally, but based on their ubiquity, apparently a lot of people like them.

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          It could be everyone likes Olive Garden and Red Lobster, and the suggestion for sushi, Thai or Ethiopian gets a huge thumbs down.

          The story of my life with extended family.

          Or OP could be like my cousin, if it doesn’t have mac and cheese on the menu, the food is suspect.

          1. Dahlia*

            Yeah, those three suggestions probably wouldn’t have anything I could eat so… I wouldn’t vote for them either.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Or it could be there are no other restaurants in the area. Outside big cities the choices are often all chain restaurants, no independents.

      5. Dust Bunny*

        Or the LW might have significantly different taste in restaurants than the rest of her department.

        We used to do departmental lunches at Former Job. My favorite restaurant near work was Turkish, but I happened to work with a bunch of people who had very different food comfort zones than I did and would never have voted for that over Olive Garden or a specific local cafeteria that’s like Luby’s but better.

        Departmental lunches at the job before that were better because our supervisor was a little bit of a foodie and liked to try new things, and several coworkers had traveled a bit and were comfortable with a wider range. They liked my Turkish restaurant.

    2. Clementine*

      In my experience, it is rare for an employer to pay for a farewell lunch. Is it possible to go and have something very slight, and eat your own food before or after?

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        If they are requiring employees to go then they should pay for both the food and the time.

        1. Margaret*

          Most common is they aren’t ‘requiring’ employees to go, it’s just optional- in that no one would force you, everyone would hate you.

          1. Jasnah*

            Yes. In my experience it’s not considered “work” and it’s held off-site so it’s optional, but also it would be kind of rude to not go for no reason. It would be like publicly snubbing that person. You’d have to look apologetic and pretend to have an important schedule conflict.

            1. DAMitsDevon*

              Yes, when we’ve had farewell meals or drinks for coworkers, they’ve always been after work, but as a result of that, they’re also completely optional. Also, the people organizing those get togethers are either not in a management role or if they are, are not managing everyone they invite out (so for instance, someone in the communications department invites her direct reports to a dinner for the awesome HR guy who is leaving, but also invites people from IT, Operations, etc. who don’t report to her at all), so there’s not a lot of pressure to attend beyond, “Oh I really liked working with this person, I want to hang out with them before they go.”

      2. FairPayFullBenefits*

        Same. At my last employer, there were lots of welcome/good-bye lunches at our own expense, and it was kind of assumed everyone would attend. I remember on my very first day, my manager had printed up my schedule for the day, and it included a group lunch at a nearby restaurant. I assumed it would be paid for, and was totally shocked when we got there and it wasn’t!

        1. Grace*

          I would also be surprised to pay of my name was printed on a schedule. They should make it clearer if you have to pay.

      3. Gumby*

        My current employer does pay for farewell lunches.

        My previous employer paid for farewell cake in the breakroom.

        The company before that only lasted 2 years so there were no farewells.

        The one before that was kind of hit or miss with farewell meals. If there was one, who paid varied (department manager? all but departing employee?). Also there were occasional farewell happy hours that were after work and self-financed.

        So I’ve seen a variety of ways of handling things.

    3. sacados*

      I think it also sounds like there are two separate issues at play here.
      First off is the question of paying for team lunches so frequently — which is something that other coworkers may very well also be bristling at a bit.
      But unless I’m misunderstanding, the voting seems like it was just about *where* to go for lunch. OP mentions the boss has “terrible taste” in restaurants, although based on the voting it does sound like OP might be the outlier there and her coworkers do prefer the kind of restaurants Boss chooses.

      I’m not sure if OP has actually asked coworkers whether they feel the lunches themselves are a burden or not. There might actually be others who would prefer to back off this particular tradition.

      1. OP # 5*

        Hi, I’m OP#5 – just wanting to let you know this is a Government Agency so we can’t expect to have the lunches paid for by our employer, as that’s taxpayer’s money.

        The vote was about where to go for lunch, as I was hoping that a few others would agree with me that my supervisor has terrible taste in restaurants and we could get something better.

        To Alison: talking about it in a team meeting might work, I will see if I can pluck up the courage for the next one.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          I’m wondering if it’s the definition of “terrible taste in restaurants”. I’m not familiar with restaurant styles in the US (where I’m making the giant assumption that you are from), but for comparison, in the area where my work place is located food options run the gamut from a McDonalds-style fast food restaurant to high-end several courses, turn you upside down to shake out your wallet when you walk in (aka posh) restuarants.
          If my supervisor were consistently picking one of the three high-end restaurant, that would be “terrible taste” because of the optics of picking a restaurant that is outside the normal budget of several people on my team. If they picked the McDonalds-style restaurant, they may be taking the opposite approach and people prefer it because it’s cheap.
          “Terrible taste” is a bit subjective, although if it’s always picking Greek food, when there is a perfectly servicable Italian you’ve never tried, that might be a better way of getting more coworkers on-side.

            1. doreen*

              Not necessarily – the OP mentioned “getting something better” not “getting something cheaper”. It could be something as simple as that the boss always picks the same pizzeria-style Italian restaurant rather than the similarly priced Mexican or Thai restaurants.

              1. valentine*

                OP5: It’s worth it for you or your supervisor to ask HR to reconsider counting it as work time. If she still says no, count it as your lunch break. Order the least horrid thing or nothing. (I’d say dessert, but I tried that and the server still brought it last, soundly defeating my purpose.) Leave after 30 total minutes, including travel time, because you have a prior commitment immediately following your shift. Enjoy decent food at your desk. (If this last isn’t possible, tell them your tight schedule means you can’t do this anymore and just stop going.)

                1. CanCan*

                  Order a drink (non-alcoholic, of course) and sit fifteen minutes. Then when they bring the food for everyone else, you can apologize and run back to your desk.

              2. Psyche*

                I actually wonder if the OP’s suggestions were more expensive. That could be another reason why no one picked it. Something with much better food but a little more expensive may not have seemed worth it.

            2. Zombeyonce*

              I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Where I live, there are a huge number of great local restaurants at every price range. If the boss suggested we go to Applebee’s or another chain, their idea would be considered pretty terrible even though it wasn’t that expensive (relatively). The relative part is also pretty important, since people have very different ranges for what they consider an “expensive” restaurant.

          1. Grits McGee*

            OP, if you really hate your normal place, you might have more success proposing an alternative if you have more of an understanding of why your supervisor and the people in your office might prefer this restaurant.
            I wonder if it might be a matter of accessibility rather than taste. Is it a middling-to-mediocre chain place, but it has nutritional information listed, or has a decent track record of being able to accommodate dietary restrictions/food allergies? Is it somewhere that has a broad enough variety of dishes or price points on the menu that everyone will at least be able to find something they like? Is it particularly easy to get to from the office?

          2. Yorick*

            I don’t think “terrible taste” means “too expensive.” OP5 is saying that they don’t like the restaurants the boss picks and wants to go somewhere with better food. Of course, that is still subjective.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Although it could mean “too expensive for the quality”. It usually doesn’t though.

            2. smoke tree*

              I suspect the LW is annoyed to be forced to spend their own time and money on a restaurant they don’t like and with a group of people they probably wouldn’t choose to hang out with in their spare time. I have to wonder if everyone else likes it or not. Moving it to cake and coffee in the break room might be a good alternative if others aren’t that enthusiastic either.

          3. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

            I wouldn’t get hung up on that part. LW doesn’t like the restaurants, doesn’t want to spend the money and doesn’t want to waste time that she later has to make up. I think that’s enough info to offer advice.

            1. Jessen*

              And not liking it can just be adding insult to injury. If I’m going to spend my own money, I want to at least be getting something I want to eat out of it. “I have to spend my own money and I don’t even like the food” is worse than “I have to spend my own money but at least I get something decent out of it.”

              1. EmKay*

                Right. I still remember being appalled after an optional-but-not-really work lunch where I had a mediocre chicken cesar salad and a glass of house wine and the bill was 30$ sans tip. I’ll never set foot in that place again haha.

        2. Jasnah*

          I think “terrible taste” is too subjective for you to expect real change on this front.
          Why not suggest that the departing employee pick the restaurant? At least then it’ll be a little different each time, though whether or not they have better taste than your boss is another matter…

          1. Antilles*

            I think “terrible taste” is too subjective for you to expect real change on this front.
            Especially given that all nine employees agreed with the Boss’ taste over yours. I won’t offer an opinion on whose tastes are better…but you definitely won’t get very far with an argument based around “bad taste in restaurants” when you’re firmly outvoted.
            Letting the departing employee pick the restaurant is such a natural suggestion that I think it would probably go over well (within reasonable limits of cost, travel time, etc)…though again, you were a minority-of-one on the restaurant preferences, so it’s likely that you’ll still end up at plenty of places you never would have chosen.

            1. MatKnifeNinja*

              I agree with departing employee pick.

              Terrible taste tells me nothing what the OP likes. My one relative considers all not from a big restaurant chain food, garbage. Real ramen. Garbage. Thai. Garbage. “Arabic” . Garbage. She considers it all way too expensive. Way too weird. And she’s not adventurous.

              I think big chain restaurants are the ultimate rip off, because they are not inexpensive. and the food quality is meh.

              I think Golden Corral is a crime against food.

              My cousin thinks if her plate isn’t piled high with a burger, fries and mac n cheese, she’s getting ripped off.

              Unfortunately, my extended family is more like my cousin. The only way I can hope to eat at that nifty Persian restaurant, is picking it for my birthday.

              If OP can get the boss to loosing the grip on picking the place, maybe it will be less rage inducing.

              1. EmKay*

                I’m in Canada but I see Golden Corral commercials when I watch american shows on cable, and everything always *looks* delicious. Disappointed to hear that’s not the case.

                1. CanCan*

                  “everything always *looks* delicious” – that demonstrates quality of the advertizing agency, not the restaurant

              2. valentine*

                The only way I can hope to eat at that nifty Persian restaurant, is picking it for my birthday.
                Do something else for family time. No one should be suffering. Go to the Persian place alone (with bday money?) or with someone else who actually wants to be there.

          2. Batman*

            Yeah, “terrible taste” is really judgmental and I think you’re kind of assuming that your food preferences are universal.

        3. sacados*

          Gotcha! I just wasn’t sure whether it was a case of wanting to go to a different (kind of) restaurant for the lunches, or wanting to be able to opt out of the lunches/have them less frequently.

        4. Washi*

          OP, how often do people leave and how big is your team? I’m just confused because if the team is large enough that with normal rates of turnover someone is leaving almost every month, then that’s a lot of people to go to a restaurant together! With a group that size (20+?) I would imagine it would be easier on everyone to eat pizza in the conference room or something.

          1. Washi*

            (Alternatively if it’s not actually that frequent, maybe a couple times a year, then I think you may need to just suck it up and go, at least for like 30 minutes or something.)

        5. Suzy Q*

          Maybe offer an alternative, like a cake in the office or even sandwiches ordered in from a reasonably priced place. Your arrangement sounds awful to me, OP5. I would hate it, too. Unpaid mandatory lunches were something I had to live with at my last job.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I would suggest changing the tradition to asking the person for whom the event is being organized what they want to do.

        6. WellRed*

          OK. Maybe you can try suggesting the person who is leaving is the one who picks the restaurant? that won’t solve all the problems, but it’s a reasonable suggestion.

        7. Beth*

          Not sure if this has already been asked — what about asking the departing person to choose the restaurant? They may have the same taste as the boss does, or not, but at least the lunch that’s supposed to be for them will actually be something they like.

            1. OP#5*

              Hi all, OP#5 here. Just to clear up a few things _ I did suggest that the departing person choose the restaurant for the last leaving lunch, to stop boss choosing, but the departing person said she didn’t want to choose. The reason I think the boss has “terrible taste in restaurants” is that the places she chooses consistently have food which tastes bad, to me. Everyone else says the food at these places (I can think of three off the top of my head) is great and so it’s true I am out of step with this group, but it is the first time in either my social life or professional life that I have faced this problem. I can’t really afford the lunches, but I would budget for it as a “treat” if it was nice food. But for average or horrible food I am really reluctant to pay the money.

              Then there is the work time issue. As it stands I have to count it instead of my lunch break, so instead of taking a quick half hour in the tea room, I have to spend at least an hour and a half, and then work that extra hour at the end of the day. I am also an introvert so losing the half an hour by myself at lunch in the middle of the day is also a loss. I spoke to HR to see if I could avoid my boss’ policy of making me take it as time off, but they said they didn’t have a department wide policy and it was just whatever my boss wanted.

              1. Jasnah*

                I see why the situation is really aggravating for you! That sounds frustrating.

                I think you should pick one aspect that is the most annoying, or the easiest to push back on, and focus on that. It doesn’t sound like you can argue on the taste issue if everyone else likes it, that’s just going to make you seem snobby and not focused on the goal of the lunch which is to celebrate the person.

                Personally I would choose having to work extra at the end of the day to make up time lost by the lunch. Everything else is kind of a personal preference issue that you can work around on occasion or in extenuating circumstances (like a goodbye lunch for a coworker). But I think having to make up that time later, and the impact it has on your work, is something you could bring to your boss. Maybe the proposed solution (changing it to a catered lunch in the office, for instance) will solve your other complaints as well.

                1. Antilles*

                  Agreed, focus on one aspect and try to change that.
                  One caveat here is that since OP is so far out of step with the group on taste, that shouldn’t be mentioned in the slightest. If you’re this much out of step with the group that they have three separate places (or more?) that everybody else thinks is great and you don’t like any of them, bringing taste into your argument at all is just going to make people roll their eyes at your pickiness. And if you mention taste at all, even in an offhand manner, you’re going to undercut your own argument by letting them discount your complaints as really about food preferences.
                  So when you’re trying to plan out your arguments and advocate for changing an aspect of the meal, don’t even consider taste as part of it. No mention of the restaurant choices, no “well, if I liked the restaurant more…”, none of that.

        8. nonymous*

          If your agency is like mine, there has been an uptick in retirements lately. We’ve been consolidating celebrations to once a quarter, hosting on-campus *and* inviting family. It can be kind of an ego boost to the retiree if their family gets to see a bunch of people saying nice things about them, and with the celebrations spread out usually someone higher up the hierarchy (as well as others in the building on adjacent teams) will also stick their head in and say nice things as well. Just some thoughts about how to encourage an on-site cake & punch type celebration instead of the expense and time you describe.

          When we do off-site meals, we count 1/2 hr as lunch and the rest as a off-site meeting – quite a bit of shop talk does creep in, but it’s more of the “fill in coworkers on backstory ” because we all go in separate ways during the workday.

          Of course, none of this really matters if the boss prefers a split shift or has internalized the idea that this is what “should” be done to demonstrate respect and appreciation.

    4. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      It doesn’t seem strange to me that the employer isn’t paying for the lunches – but it does seem very off that they don’t count for work time. I feel like it’s pretty common for this kind of thing to count as work time, especially if the supervisor is organizing it.

      1. yllis*

        OP said it is a government agency. That means for work to pay for it there needs to be a real need for the meeting backed up by paperwork (agenda, handouts, etc). While some departments can do that by combining a December team meeting with a lunch, I dont know any way to ethically do it for a farewell dinner that would pass scrutiny. It’s not even so much an audit anymore, it’s social media, press, etc. We have one local citizens watchdog group in our area who routinely files FOIA requests for receipts for our local government and does “Look at what our wasteful government is doing with your money!!!!” articles. The last big uproar was one cookie per person for St. Patrick’s Day.

        1. doreen*

          Maybe they can combine a meeting with an agency paid lunch – or maybe it’s like my agency , where if refreshments are provided at a meeting it comes out of the managers’ pockets.

          This is yet another reason why I am happy my agency does not have a tradition of a farewell lunch at a restaurant- we either have a lunch in the office with either potluck or catered food or for retirements, it’s a dinner at either a restaurant or a full party at a catering venue. It’s much easier to pass on evening events than lunches.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          This is why my agency holds all work-related parties as potlucks in the common area. Managers usually foot the bill for the “main course” type dishes out of pocket, other staff volunteer to bring something small like salads or desserts, and people can drift in and out as they have free time without it being a matter of official record.

          Public sector gets really weird about buying food for employees. We had The Great Sandwich Catastrophy when our executive director found out a manager had been using petty cash to buy sandwiches for event staff. Heads *rolled.* Even though A) the events were up to 12 hours long, B) staff didn’t have the option to go off site for their lunches because the events were in remote areas and C) there was no refrigeration on site. The $5/person for lunches were a huge morale boost that returned way more than $5 in productivity, but it’s taxpayer money so we had to nix it.

          1. former government manager*

            My government organization wouldn’t let me spend $75 on a water cooler for the office. We weren’t even asking them to pay for the actual water, just the machine for the staff kitchen. Spending money on staff comforts is completely off the table for most government offices.

          2. Governmint Condition*

            Generally, in the US, for government jobs, all compensation/benefits of any kind must be part of collective bargaining agreement (if unionized), or whatever documentation itemizes the employees’ benefits. As I have been told (only half-jokingly), our CBA does not include compliments or pats on the back.

    5. Venus*

      In my experience, if possible then it is better to explain it as a time problem. I had coworkers who made comments about money and were criticized for their spending (to be fair to management, he was being obnoxious about something small, but time seems to be safer than money)

    6. CupcakeCounter*

      Totally agree to many of your points.
      My (past and present) employers have covered the cost for lunch when the group was fairly small and have ALWAYS covered the cost for the departing employee. Usually the departing employee also gets to pick the location.
      When larger groups go (10+), we usually have to pay our own way but the lunch location is always close to our office and the time is partially paid (i.e. if the lunch goes an hour and a half the hourly people have their time cards adjusted so only their normal unpaid 1-hour lunch break is taken off so they get paid for that other half hour).

      As for the restaurant selection…OP seems to be the only one who doesn’t like it so definitely need to drop that battle immediately. I also get the feeling that the restaurant selection is a bigger issue than the OP indicates for them. If they were regularly going to restaurants that OP preferred I wonder if this letter would have been written in? Seems like they are more upset about paying for a lunch at a place they aren’t interested in the general policy of having to pay for lunches. Although since they mention many people are looking I guess it could just be the cost aspect.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        That is a good point about the departing employee picking the place. That’s how it was at my former company. My current company is more throw-your-own happy hour and everyone pays out of pocket.

        One thing that gives me pause in this situation is that there are so many people leaving that this is an inconvenience to the OP. I guess if it was the type of department with a lot of entry level roles, that might make sense, but I would be more worried about why so many people were leaving than lunch expenses otherwise!

    7. TootsNYC*

      the company may not be paying because it doesn’t consider this a business expense, and the gathering is generally organized by coworkers, or by the boss in a “coworker” role.

      Not everything a boss does is “boss” stuff.

    8. Horses for courses*

      And does OP#5 have to contribute to the cost of leaving co-workers lunch?
      If you are on a budget, this can be a little financially draining. LW has no control over the cost of the lunch, has to make up the time used for lunch, and (maybe) has to contribute to the cost of someone else’s lunch. I don’t even want to contemplate what the tip situation is like.

      1. Easily Amused*

        Every Co-worker leaving lunch I’ve ever attended required us all to pitch in and pay for their meal. I’ve never understood the mandatory requirement to spend my own time and money on a Co-worker who chose to LEAVE. They don’t want to work here anymore. I will likely never see them again. What are we celebrating?

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          That you now have a networking contact at another company if *you* decide to leave of course! :P srsly tho, this is how networks are built. Ok, also social stuff, like “Bye, we’ll miss you!” tends to go over better than “You’re dead to me now! No one leaves Aperture Science!”

    9. ginger ale for all*

      I was meeting with my book club at one particular restaurant that I started to have problems with. It just never seemed clean and I once saw them pounding chicken breasts outside on a tree stump. I looked up the score from our local health department and voila – a new restaurant was chosen. So, there is always that angle to consider.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, is there any way the more junior folks would be willing to share their concerns directly with the ED, either individually or as a group? It’s fine that you’re currently their interlocutor, but it seems like a frustrating burden for you to carry (especially when you can’t fix it), and your ED may be discounting the feedback because she’s not hearing it from more than one source. There’s also the risk that you become gatekeeper of junior folks’ complaints, which is a crappy position to be in.

    I don’t think OP#3 should have to validate their reports with additional “evidence,” but in this case, it may ease the load (and be a useful professional development skill) to help coach folks in how to address their questions to folks up the chain.

    1. MsM*

      It sounds like the junior staff are scared (and perhaps rightly so) the ED will just kick the problem back to the managers, who may just worsen the microaggressions and cutting people out of the loop in response. OP can certainly remove themselves from the process, but I think it would be helpful for them to get clarity on what’s going to happen if these people come forward and whether the organization’s prepared to treat this as a systemic problem before they encourage anyone to take that risk.

      1. EinJungerLudendorff*

        Yeah, considering the ED’s attitude and history of handling these complaints, and the fact that the managers themselves often seems to be the problem, I would not want to deliver these complaints myself as an employee.

        1. boo bot*

          I think the OP might be in a position to broker a conversation, though – the junior staff trust them, and the ED seems to at least listen to them. A meeting with the junior staff, the OP, and the ED might be a format where they can talk, especially if the OP makes it clear ahead of time to the ED that the staff are (rightly) worried about retaliation.

          I wonder if the OP could talk to the junior staff first, then say to the ED, “The junior staff come to me because they’re worried about retaliation from the managers, and frankly, I think that they are right to be worried. Can you and I arrange to meet with a group of them, where they can share their concerns with you directly?”

          1. Tom & Johnny*

            If I was an ED though, I would say no. Because my managers would (rightly) see me as undermining them if I agreed to meet with a contingent of their unhappy staff directly.

            Of course I might be right to do so. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do. But I probably would not be willing to cut my management off at the pass in this way.

            I’m not speaking about fair or unfair, right or wrong, just most likely scenarios in a practical sense, and why.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              You might be right if the junior employees were concerned about their managers’ annoying habits. But that’s not what the OP described in their letter.

              The problem is that when you’re talking about microaggressions, that indicates some level of racism, sexism, or some other form of unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Every job I’ve ever had has had some kind of policy where if you’re being discriminated against by your direct supervisor, you have the right to discuss your supervisor’s behavior with *their* supervisor. So in this case, junior staff requesting a meeting with the ED would be entirely appropriate if the ED is going to ensure that the organization is on the right side of the law.

              1. Tom & Johnny*

                This is a good point. And I entirely agree with the meaningfulness of the staff’s concerns.

            2. boo bot*

              Tom & Johnny, can I ask what you would do instead? I’ve never been in this kind of position, so I may be missing some options.

              To me, what seems frustrating here is that the junior employees basically seem to have no recourse to have their concerns heard. Talking to the OP isn’t working, and of course they don’t want to talk directly to managers who respond to criticism by demanding names – that kind of behavior has a chilling effect.

              I’m interested in the mechanics here, so I want to posit a more serious problem: what if the junior employees were being asked to work overtime without pay? Or being asked to do physically unsafe tasks? Or being subjected to severe and pervasive sexual harassment?

              Is there a point at which you would think it was appropriate to talk directly with the junior staff? Because otherwise, they’re going to have no recourse if things were to get really bad. And while it’s fine to say you would act differently if it were serious – how would you know when it’s serious enough to take the meeting? And how would you know this situation doesn’t meet that bar?

              I’m not trying to be snarky – these are genuine questions. As I say, I’ve never been in that position, so I don’t have much frame of reference.

              1. Tom & Johnny*

                You’re right that there are few options and that’s what makes this such a mess. I suppose I would have hired a correct and qualified HR leader earlier, or would do so now. This is exactly why they exist and the ED is remiss in not having filled the function. OP#3 is experiencing the evidence.

                If the ED won’t fill it, then they do need to step up and figure out some way to address these legitimate concerns, without doing it in a way that appears to undermine their own managers. Which is a no-win situation, and again, why HR exists.

                So in essence the ED needs to take the concerns of OP#3 seriously and hire for a real HR position. They need someone who can adequately address issues like these, but is outside of the chain of command that has given rise to the issues.

                I did not mean to poo-poo the real concerns the staff has. I think there is something going on here and something’s gotta give. I would just caution against getting hopes up that the ED will meet with a group of *junior* staff directly. In my experience in corporate environments, they usually won’t, as crappy as that is.

                In this case the ED might! Who knows. It might be worth a try, because something needs to change. I would just not to be too surprised if the ED won’t. Especially given the evidence so far. Expect the ED not to, and then be pleasantly surprised if they do!

                1. Tom & Johnny*

                  Note when I say ‘undermine their own managers’ yes, sometimes managers need to be undermined. But that step is usually only taken after evidence is gathered and the real meat of the issues have been established. Until then, the managers can point at the ED and complain that “you’re undermining me.” And the ED needs his direct reports to trust him and work with him, or he can’t lead. So.

                  He needs someone to gather the evidence and establish the implications and deliver them to him. Someone he will listen to and trust, when he is obviously isn’t listening to OP#3. I don’t have high hopes.

                  But I wanted to be clear that I’m not against dressing down managers that need it!

                2. Jasnah*

                  Agreed, this is what HR is for. It’s not going over managers’ heads like talking to the ED directly is, it’s going through a third party, in a way.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This, exactly. The ED’s disinterest has left the foxes watching the henhouse. If employees are complaining about managers, then the managers can’t be the only ones empowered to deal with it, which is what’s going on here.

    2. Tom & Johnny*

      OP#3 I wonder if you would find the term triangulation helpful. It’s usually used in interpersonal relationships, like family or marriage, but it can apply to any relationship where a person gets stuck in the middle between others, and tries in good faith to repair or change issues, but has no actual power to do so.

      Think of a child trying to help a parent and one of their siblings get along, or a roommate trying to help the other two roommates get along. Triangulation can have additional meanings as well, but in this situation that’s how it would fit.

      The problem with triangulation is that one person ends up as an intermediary, suffering the wrath and discontent of both sides, while the two sides are shielded from each other.

      Ultimately this is between the staff experiencing the issues, and the management who are failing to address it. You have no actual power to effect change. As has been made clear to you in a careless and awful way. You do not have the title (HR or any other title) or the political capital, or else your efforts would work.

      This is not your fault. This is not commentary on you. This is commentary on management. This is a structural issue. You are trying to be a pillar upholding a certain standard, a conduit carrying certain information, where those capabilities are not built in to the structure of the organization. Therefore it’s not heard and it’s not respected. Because management didn’t ask for that information or that standard, or they would have hired for an appropriate position.

      Again, this is not a commentary on you. You cannot give management the eyes to see or the ears to hear if they are determined not to.

      One of your few options for survival and for ultimately creating change is to get out of the way.

      You’re putting yourself on the line for something you don’t actually have the power to achieve, and it’s eating you up. Which is completely understandable considering the nature of what’s happening.

      But the effect is that staff think they have a conduit to convey information, when they don’t. It’s unfair to them.

      You are trying to achieve something without a title or a formal mandate which management has repeatedly rebuffed or failed you on. Which is unfair to you.

      And management is not experiencing the loss of staff or actual consequences they might otherwise have to deal with (people being so over this that they leave for instance, or grouping together and having hard discussions with their managers), because you’re acting in a role that shields management from the staff’s unrest. That’s unfair to management.

      I know you’re trying to convey the staff’s unrest, but management is taking it as an opportunity to discount and ignore, which in effect shields management, because staff think their concerns are going somewhere when they aren’t.

      In other words, you’re not only putting yourself under stress, you are failing those you are trying to help, and helping those you are trying to get to listen to you.

      That is what triangulation does. It fails to achieve the stated goal, while unwittingly serving the dysfunction the person stuck in the middle is trying to avert.

      Please stand back. Your heart is in the right place but you haven’t been given the title or the mandate. Staff is not served by thinking they have someone to go to. And management is scoffing because they haven’t formally named a role to serve this function.

      Until something blows up and management realizes they need to formally title and hire for this function, they are going to continue to ignore it. And nothing will blow up as long as you’re trying to keep the peace.

      You can make a few more good faith attempts along the lines outlined by Allison and by others here. But ultimately you may have to simply get out of the way and let the peace not be kept.

      I know that sounds like turning your back on the staff. You may have to be very clear with them you do not have the power to make their concerns heard you thought you had, and commiserate, and possibly even face a bit of backlash from them. But that is probably better than letting them think their concerns are going somewhere when they aren’t.

      Best of luck OP#3. This situation is a case study in why organizations have hierarchy, titles, and bureaucracy. It’s not just for the sake of having those things. It’s because certain roles fulfill certain express functions. When the needs of those functions are not met within the organization, the organization suffers until it changes. Right now you are suffering and nothing is changing.

      1. Burned Out Supervisor*

        I agree with this so much. The next time OP is asked to bring something forward, I would just lay it out for the staff and state that the OP’s efforts have not been very successful and that their best course of action would be to bring it to their manager directly, or to go to the ED themselves. She could even coach them on how to do that, but ultimately she needs to make the staff responsible for their own issues.

      2. Aiani*

        I am in a similar predicament to the LW and I think I really needed to read your comment today. Thank you for laying that out so clearly.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is laid out so thoughtfully and insightfully, and it’s 1000% bang on. I hope OP reads it and takes it to heart.

  5. Maria Lopez*

    OP2- You say there is no lasting anger on your end. There shouldn’t be. You should be humiliated and embarrassed at your poor behavior and that they had to ask you to leave.
    You had your college classes and a part-time job, then a volunteer job and other commitments that it sounds like you kept up with. You just dropped the ball with what sounds like a paying position at a great publication with local and national affiliations, just ghosting them on meetings and articles.
    Maybe after five years of stellar work somewhere else you can reapply, but I wouldn’t do it before then unless their entire staff changes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, she doesn’t need to be humiliated (!). People sometimes overextend themselves. That’s especially true in college, when people are just learning how to manage large workloads. She had her hands full and let something drop. (And if we all need to be humiliated about our failings in college, I guess sign me up.) It might mean that she needs to be realistic that she can’t get this job, but she doesn’t need to be humiliated, or scolded here!

    2. JB*

      It doesn’t sound like they ghosted a paying position – I would bet that the national organization is something like Odyssey Online, which only pays writers if their articles generate massive amounts of clicks. (The result being – both on campus and at the national level, it’s less journalism and editorial work and more a content farm. I’ve heard things from people who worked at the HQ, and read some articles about it.)

      That said, if you REALLY want to work there I actually feel like it might be possible, given that the nature of that specific organization is that writer turnover is high, the writers are all in college and balancing a lot of obligations, etc. In any case, I think it’s worth a shot. In any other situation I would say not to apply for a job working for someone who had to dismiss you from a previous one, but if I’m right in assuming this is something like Odyssey (or HerCampus, maybe? I haven’t read as many articles about that one) the conventions surrounding are less rigid, imo.

      1. Triplestep*

        Maybe the word “ghosted” needs to join “gas light” and “humble brag” on the list of really useful terms that surged in popularity until people felt OK about using them to mean whatever they pleased as long as it was close.

        1. pentamom*

          +1 Those are all overused, but humble brag really annoys me when it means “talking about a problem that you have, that I don’t have, because you’re better off in some particular respect than I am.” It’s as though, people who have certain advantages aren’t allowed to have problems, or at least not ask for advice on them.

      2. anathema sometimes*

        hi its OP 2! it wasn’t a paying position at all. the only benefit was getting published. every single article i wrote for this publication was published, got clicks, and ended up on the home page. so it’s not that was turning in subpar articles, its that I didn’t have time to write them and ended up on probation until the end of the semester

        1. pamela voorhees*

          Hey OP, thanks for coming into the comments and clarifying — and I’m also assuming your username is a Good Omens reference, in which case, you rock. I know this letter is making people react strongly but I’m glad you’re still reading.

        2. Burts Knees*

          Okay, so I also edit a website that is a runs reviews and we got to the point where we had the funding to actual pay people (!!) . And even so, reviewers who genuinely want to do their best, and are high achieving people, sometimes sign up for shows and then life happens, and they can’t make the day we reserved the tickets for, or they take way too long to get their review in and it runs too late. And we have a fairly strict policy about missing shows because we don’t want to burn bridges with local theaters who are giving us tickets, but I don’t bear any ill will toward any reviewer we’ve ever had to stop working with because life in theater is tough, and trying to make seven different side gigs into one paying life is almost impossible, and if any of them got a full time writing job that they could focus on based on their work with us I would be really excited for them! And considering you were writing in college for free- I also have a guess as to what publication it was because I had some friends who wrote for it, and out of the four friends I know who worked for it maybe one lasted more than a semester before dropping – I would guess you weren’t the first, or the last, or even just the 10th person who had a similar issue with taking on too much and the website taking last priority, and honestly you were probably correct at the time for placing it as your last priority. So, I would shoot your shot, try and get the job, maybe expect not too, and not give it a thought again.

    3. Ella*

      Dang, if we need to be humiliated and embarrassed over everything we dropped the ball on in college, even after we’ve graduated and entered the professional world, then I’ve got several dance instructors, a Russian lit professor, and at least two to three roommates to go do some groveling towards.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Yeah, it’s been decades since I was in college, but I now realize that I should have been hiding under a rock this whole time. I mean, trust me, I do have those flashes of humiliation that occur when a long-past bad behavior pops into your head on a sleepless night at 2 A.M., but I didn’t realize I should be wearing a Humiliation Hairshirt this whole time.

        1. CheeseGirl*

          I was hoping to see a comment from you soon. I just watched Kid Gorgeous yesterday for the first time and now I get it! :)

      2. smoke tree*

        I notice a weird shift in tone between this letter and the one from the recent grad who’s afraid to make mistakes. In theory, we’re all eager to say that mistakes are essential for growth and everyone makes them, but as soon as we hear about a real-life mistake, we judge the person for it. Maybe this experience allowed this LW to learn how to balance multiple commitments and that lesson really helped them in their work life since.

        1. Jasnah*

          Agreed, I think some commenters here argue for leniency when they’ve made that mistake before, and demand retribution when “I did it and so can you”.

    4. CrickettheCat*

      WHOA. That’s…very harsh. I guess you haven’t ever gotten overwhelmed and dropped the ball on something important? I don’t think LW needs to be publicly flogged for a mistake they made, owned up to, and apologised for. Yikes.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      But what role would OP’s humiliation and embarrassment play as they move on from that experience? [Aside: Anger is a common secondary emotion when a person feels called out, which is what appears to have happened to OP.] Regardless of how OP reacted emotionally, should they still wear their “poor behavior” as an albatross or hair shirt?

      It sounds like OP may be in a bit of denial regarding the seriousness of being asked to leave. It’s also possible OP realizes it was serious but is trying to ensure their feelings of guilt don’t prevent them from pursuing a coveted opportunity. But also, it’s college, where people often overcommit, drop the ball, are asked to pare back their commitments, and learn by making mistakes, some of which they may not be able to overcome. Nonetheless, I think most folks can relate to the idea that a person may be figuring out who they are in college, that they may hit bumps along that road to self-discovery, and that they may mature and change significantly post-grad.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Humiliation is not a helpful emotion–at least, not for very long. Same with shame.

        It’s useful for the time it takes you to realize that you’ve seriously messed up. And it’s helpful if the memory of it encourages you to act with humility.

        But nobody has ever learned a DAMN thing from wallowing in humiliation or shame.

        1. boo bot*

          “Humiliation is not a helpful emotion–at least, not for very long.”


          Also, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the OP to forgive themselves for their own mistakes – and ALSO accept that the consequence of those mistakes might be that they can’t have this job.

          I feel like there’s kind of a tendency to all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to forgiveness, like the only choices are “wallow in shame forever, lose all you hold dear, and probably eat some worms,” and “everyone forgets what you did and you get everything you want.”

          And that’s not reasonable or helpful – we all do things. Sometimes those things are stupid, bad, or miscalculated, or wrong, and those things have negative consequences. Sometimes that means doors close to us forever, even without our even knowing it at the time: we won’t get a job, relationship, judicial appointment, llama inheritance, etc., many years down the line. It doesn’t mean we can’t be forgiven or move on, it just means some doors have closed because of our choices.

          The other side of that is, just because doors have closed, that doesn’t mean we have to spend the rest of our lives banging our heads against them.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Absolutely all of this. And ultimately, both humiliation and shame are like guilt. If carried in the long-term, they can be absolutely debilitating and energy-sucking, and they totally detract from learning or bouncing back or addressing the actual problem. Self-awareness is valuable, but humiliation usually isn’t.

      1. Koko*

        LOL it’s like the commenter is taking this weirdly personally, behaving less professionally about it than the editor who had to let OP go.

    6. Jasnah*

      If the editor who actually asked OP to leave has already forgiven her and mended the relationship, why should OP be humiliated by strangers on an advice column?

      We don’t need public hangings for entertainment anymore, yeesh.

      1. Falling Diphthong*


        Often enough people write in and we tell them something like “No, this is not the eternal black mark you fear and you shouldn’t treat it that way.” (e.g. whether being fired means you can never be hired again.) No harm in OP double-checking her assumption that it is likely to rule out this job.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        “We don’t need public hangings for entertainment anymore, yeesh.”


    7. Myrin*

      I think it’s a rare occasion where it’s okay to tell someone to their (virtual) face that they should feel humiliated and embarrassed.
      I also think someone taking on too many projects during college and having one of these projects falling through the cracks is not it.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Right? I mean it was college FFS…you know ages 18-22 (approx.) for all intents and purposes still a “kid” just trying to figure out how to do “adult.”

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          If you’re 18, you’re an adult. Let’s stop with the kid nonsense. You can get married, vote, sign contracts, etc. 18 may or may not have more life experience than a 30 year old. It all depends on life. They are not kids–certainly not like a five year old is a kid. They are adults.

    8. Stitch*

      Are they likely to get the job? No. Do they need to wear sackcloth and tear their hair? No.

      1. Maria Lopez*

        Wow! You all are doing the very thing you say I shouldn’t be doing. I doubt that you will see the irony here. The OP really dropped the ball, and even says that but doesn’t seem to truly understand it. “While there is no lasting anger on my end, I’m not sure how she feels.”
        Since humiliation and embarrass seem to be trigger words here, I will state this in more palatable way.
        The OP does not seem to understand and really take responsibility for what they did just by the fact of applying to the national job without having any track record to point to to show how their work performance has changed.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          No one is doing what you’re doing.

          OP wrote in for advice because she would like some more experienced guidance.

          People told her that she screwed up and might not get/shouldn’t apply, etc. You told her that too, however you said it while making her carry her own execution device up the hill as centurions whipped her.

          Subtle difference.

          1. Maria Lopez*

            Last post on this, as telling the truth apparently is not experienced guidance.
            Your post is a lot of hyperbole, by the way.
            OP did not seem to get what they did, as they talked about not being angry and thought that having civil interactions with the editor meant that everything was ok. Sometimes one needs to have it spelled out clearly to understand.

        2. Ella*

          You have no idea if the OP has a track record outside of that one (unpaid, per the OPs comment above) writing gig that they got over scheduled around. I truly cannot fathom treating a college kid getting overwhelmed around finals time and failing to turn in a few (again, unpaid) articles as seriously as you are here. And heck, even if it had been a paid, non-collegiate gig it still isn’t a moral failing to occasionally drop the ball. The OP didn’t leave someone to die by the side of the road, just missed a few deadlines. The appropriate response is to apologize at the time it happened, which it sounds like the OP did, and then move on with life.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              You seem oddly fixated on this point, but I’m sure you are aware that “college kid” is a common colloquial phrase. I doubt that Ella is trying to say they were literally a child.

            2. Ella*

              Fine, I truly cannot fathom treating a college STUDENT failing to turn in a few (again, unpaid) articles as seriously as you are here. I’d feel the same if the student were 17 or 77. Someone missing the deadline for an unpaid article because they were overwhelmed by college finals is one of the most understandable and forgivable mistakes I can imagine.

    9. Tobias Funke*

      This is really mean.

      FWIW, this kind of stuff is why I thought I would never work again when I started reading this site. I thought it was constant perfection or perpetual unemployment. It’s really not a good look for a comment.

    10. Marty*

      Give the kid a break. I do not think the poster has a chance. It sounds like the poster is still at that in-between stage of self-reflection where they realize they were wrong, but haven’t quite grasped the ramifications of it. This kind of perspective can take years to develop. I am *positive* that 10 years from now, the poster will feel embarrassed but I’m sure many of us could say the same thing.

      Heck, I have a funny anecdote. I teach at a college. One of my new co-workers was absolutely surprised to see me, because she remembered me from 15 years ago. She said I was an awful student (skipping class to see my new boyfriend, hey, I was 19!). We had a good laugh over it. I’m ridiculously punctual now but I’m also 40. Point being, kids grow up. Some don’t, but most do.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        How dare you not be fully mature, self actualized, and wise by age 19! Slacker…

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          19 is an adult. Stop calling adults kids. If being young=being a kid, then we should have no problem with a 30 year old manager treating their 20 year reports as 10 year olds.

          1. in the air*

            This is a strange point to keep hammering on. I think everyone knows that 18 is the age of legal adulthood, but most 18-year-olds don’t have significant independent life experience and are still learning and growing and need to figure out how to be adults — usually by making a lot of mistakes or bad judgment calls! Plus neurodevelopmental maturity isn’t reached until somewhere around age 25.

    11. M. Albertine*

      High school/college is exactly where people are SUPPOSED to learn these kind of lessons about the commitments they can and cannot take on, just like your first job in an office is supposed to teach you about office norms. Yes, there are consequences to making mistakes, but humiliation and embarrassment has no part of it.

    12. Psyche*

      Wow. College is a time when many people learn what their limits are by overextending themselves. That doesn’t mean they should be humiliated and embarrassed. That means they scale back and try not to do it again. I had to quit a paying job in college because I simply couldn’t do it any more. I also dropped a class. I do not feel humiliated for either choice.

    13. Where is my coffee*

      “You just dropped the ball with what sounds like a paying position at a great publication with local and national affiliations, just ghosting them on meetings and articles.”

      I’m seeing a lot of assumption here. Many of these publications offer fairly informal unpaid positions for college students. They are often managed by one or two fellow students on campus while loosely supervised by a remote, fresh out of college assistant editor at headquarters. The Tab and The Odyssey come to mind right off the top of my head. Given the LW’s other commitments, casual free labor looks like 100% the safest option to let slip through the cracks when overcommitted.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        The Tab is what instantly sprang to mind for me, too. Having known a few people who wrote for them and similar sites at university, it is definitely not comparable to a real job in terms of pay, responsibility, formality or anything else – these publications are essentially student societies that contribute to the site. They pitch it to students as being an opportunity for writing practice and exposure, not as a job, and that is how most people I knew treated it. The “editor” was probably just another student at the time and may not remember or care. It’s unfortunate that it got to the stage of OP being asked to leave rather than just quitting, but she’s not a terrible person for that.

    14. smoke tree*

      I wonder if some commenters are being excessively judgmental toward the LW here because it was a writing position as opposed to a job in a less coveted field. As someone who works in a similar industry, I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we should all be filled with gratitude and reverence at any opportunity to get paid for this kind of work, and should debase ourselves if we screw up those opportunities. It’s not helpful.

    15. pamela voorhees*

      This is a buck wild position to take with someone who knows they did wrong and is trying to move on. People make bad decisions and handle things poorly all day every day, that doesn’t mean they need to be humiliated about it years later.

  6. Maya Elena*

    For #5, if you are the only one of the team who views the outings as compulsory, and who doesn’t hate the supervisor’s taste in restaurants, – and if you aren’t the most popular in the group hierarchy – you only option might be opting out in a nonconfrontational way and letting the others go on as they are.
    Also, most of the people leaving probably don’t care that much if someone doesn’t show up.

    1. MommyMD*

      And most likely many more people would like to opt out. Money and paid time off are finite. I’m not giving up vacation time for this.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Exactly. I’d bet it’s a silent majority that would like it to just…stop being a Thing.

      2. Former Help Desk Peon*

        We had a similar tradition at work (based on birthdays, but some departures) and all it took was one person apologetically bowing out of them to start the domino effect. We haven’t done a b-day lunch in 2 years.

        We seem to be developing a new thing where the birthday/departing person brings in a treat of their own choosing on a day convenient to them. Much easier and more popular.

        1. FabJob Tag*

          That’s a great idea! Then that person can enjoy exactly the treat they want with people who are probably much happier to celebrate than if they felt obligated to spend time and money to take that person out. Thank you for sharing this!

      3. WellRed*

        It sounds this place has bigger problems, too, beyond this lunch thing. It sounds like it has a lot of turnover, and the writer said she herself and several others are looking. I see no benefit in continuing to do something you don’t want to do and that probably has very little benefit to you.

      4. Aphrodite*

        I wonder if the OP might be particularly close with someone retiring or leaving soon who might be willing to be the change by asking that the celebration take place in the office with delivered pizza for their half-hour lunch or even just a sheet cake (that the retiree supplies) during a break. If a departing employee took the lead on this, it might help make it a permanent change.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I think OP#5 should say, “I just can’t swing this expense anymore. Can we change to having cake in the office instead of a meal out? And since it’s not work, it messes up my flextime schedule. I’d happily pitch in for cake–I don’t want to miss out on the goodbye!”

      Or just not go, but bring in a $5 bouquet of flowers for the colleague’s last day, or some other gesture that’s MUCH less expensive but still indicates strong good will.

  7. MommyMD*

    I was also thinking it’s Apple as the shock was so apparent when you didn’t know. Don’t be disheartened. Next time will go better.

        1. Juli G.*

          It was Indra Nooyi, who was fairly well known as a rare women of color CEO but she stepped down last year and I have no clue who it is now.

    1. MsM*

      Eh, I wouldn’t be so sure. I’ve dealt with a few founders who were legends in their field – but said field was so specialized that even someone transferring over from a related discipline could potentially suffer a brain fart.

    2. Perpal*

      Although, if the interviewer is so sure it’s obvious, kind of weird they are asking at all. Either it’s so obvious it’s not worth asking (and if you get an IDK, maybe it’s just a momentary freeze like LW said) or it’s a worthless “gotcha” question that is uninformative

    3. Moray*

      For certain nonprofits it would make sense as well. My friend works at an org founded by a Nobel Peace Prize winner–you would expect everyone interviewing to know who we was.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yes, but would that person be referred to as “our previous CEO,” or “our founder”?

    4. TootsNYC*

      but was there someone between the founder and the current CEO? I mean, I think not, but if you immediately asked me, “who was Apple’s previous CEO?” I’d assume there was someone else for a short while. Because I wouldn’t expect to be asked, “do you know who [Steve Jobs] is?”

      And I’d expect Jobs to be referred to as “our first CEO” or “our founder,” not “the previous CEO.”

      I mean, it’s Steve Jobs, why are you asking me at all? I’d assume you’re asking me because there’s a POSSIBILITY I might NOT know, and so I’d assume it was someone I hadn’t heard of, i.e., not Steve Jobs.

      1. pamela voorhees*

        It’s honestly hilarious to me to think that people at Apple are referring to Steve Jobs as “the previous CEO.” It’s like just barely one step above “the other guy.”

  8. CrickettheCat*

    For LW 5, I like the second suggestion the best. If you “get ahead of it,” so to speak, it will be clear to whoever is the next person to leave that it’s not that you’re skipping THEIR lunch on purpose, but that you can’t do ANY lunches from now on.

  9. MommyMD*

    I’d say a personal farewell to leaving employees and opt out of every lunch. Do it once and it’ll get easier. You don’t need to give a detailed excuse.

    “I wish you the best. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the luncheon and wanted to personally tell you good luck”.

    1. CrickettheCat*

      Totally. Better not to pick and choose, because that’s when people will take it personally.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      Yup. This, exactly. There are precious few people I willingly spend my money for (and using her PTO is using her money) and it is definitely not be every single departing coworker.

    3. Triplestep*

      And shortly after, you’ll notice others opting out as well. Someone needs to start.

    4. MatKnifeNinja*

      I love this reply.

      When you start dragging in budget/can’t afford it into the reason, many people get weird. It seems most folks here work at reasonable places, where “I can’t afford it.” would’t spin the gossip spotlight on the why not?

      OP has numerous reasons why not, and the pricey sushi place is not the only reason.

      MommyMD’s response is absolutely perfect. Leaves almost no opening for further questioning.

    5. TootsNYC*

      change to some other way to commemorate them. Bring cupcakes, leave flowers on their desk that morning, or something.

      1. MagicUnicorn*

        Or just wish them well and leave it at that. These are not events that require gifts.

  10. Chocolate Teapot*

    5. Another thing to consider is the size of the company. When somebody leaves my company, it tends to be people on their team, plus other close co-workers who have an informal lunch. In a smaller company, I can imagine it being more noticeable if somebody is not at lunch.

    Can you have another commitment when a leaving lunch is scheduled? (Bank, chemist, dog walking…)

  11. nnn*

    Reading #4, I realize I don’t remember the name of my own organization’s previous CEO!

    I know what she looked like, I remember which family friend she resembled, I can tell you the content of two conversations we had (which might be 100% of the conversations we had), I can describe a statement necklace she once wore, I can do a fair impersonation of her speaking style, I even remember the ethnicity of her surname…but I can’t remember her actual name!

    1. Jaid*

      I work for the government. I couldn’t tell you the name of the director of my campus…not even their gender. To be fair, we seem to have a revolving door…

      1. No Tribble At All*

        At one point my company had 5 CEOs in 5 years. No one knows their names. No one.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Other side of that coin – I was at a work event last week and this one woman kept going around and asking people work-related, but seemingly somewhat nosy, questions — how does your team measure productivity? Do you think those standards are fair? Do you struggle to meet them? — until finally I asked my boss, who is this lady and why is she getting up in everybody’s business?

      She’s the VP of the division I’ve worked for since January 2014. :P I knew her name, but obviously wouldn’t have recognized her if she walked up to me on the street.

  12. RUKiddingMe*

    #5: I’m not getting paid, I’m not going. “Here’s a Starbucks card and a balloon. Good luck.”

    1. Teal*

      I’m sure they’d appreciate a gift card more, AND when you factor in the value of your time plus the meal cost… Even a $25 card is likely cheaper. But I’d do 15 anyway haha.

      1. CanCan*

        I think that’s going overboard. You don’t have to give gifts to your departing colleagues.* Going for lunch is more of a celebration, not a monetary benefit to the person leaving. If you can’t go, just tell them you won’t be able to go (for the reasons you mentioned – time and budget, though don’t say anything about restaurant choice), and wish them well.

        * It is customary in our office to contribute to a gift to a retiring colleague, but the amounts are not tracked: everyone just puts money in an envelope (or not), and the colleague would never know who paid what, if anything. But we don’t do that for simple departures.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Of course gifts/gift cards are optional. That’s something *I* would do if I knew them well/liked them/had worked with them for a while.

  13. Gizmo*

    #5 I feel your frustration. My team does a lunch every time someone is hired AND every time someone leaves. This month alone I’ve been to three lunches at places that I would have never picked on my own. They also tend to run incredibly long (also always seem to be on Friday which in my opinion is the worst day for forced bonding) and the managers never warn the poor waitstaff that our 10 + group will all be paying individually.

    My solution has been to do exactly what Alison suggested and just say your goodbyes at the half-hour mark. I send an email to my supervisor before to say that I’m excited about the lunch but have to cap it at half an hour due to having a hard out at my regular time, a heavy workload, a scheduled call. Drive on my own (or with another coworker who also has a tight schedule), and make sure to say a personal goodbye to the coworker who is leaving before I go back to the office. There have been a few light-hearted jokes, as there are now a few of us that drive together with the goal of sticking to our traditional half-hour lunches. But the most recent lunch lasted over 2 hours and I’ll take a joke over that ANY day.

    1. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

      More is not always merrier for restaurant meals, for work – or socially, to be honest.
      A cake or some other treat at the office would be much better. The boss should budget for it.

    2. CanCan*

      “the managers never warn the poor waitstaff that our 10 + group will all be paying individually” – interesting! In my mostly government city, it is assumed that everyone will be paying individually. (And I’m sure it’s easy to tell that we’re with the government, but not at a level that our meals would be paid for.)

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      At least they let people pay for their own orders. My least favorite kind of lunch meeting is the kind where the organizers insist on splitting the bill equally.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I dont split evenly unless it’s very informal, everyone orders about the same stuff and we do “family style” like Chinese food or something. In those cases *I* do the accounting, add in the tip for the total, ordered then split it.

        Otherwise…nope. I barely eat. A single hamburger might get half eaten along with two or three fries. I ordered it I will pay for it even though I didn’t finish it, but I’m not subsidizing Fiona’s two cocktails, appetizer, surf and turf, and dessert.

        Disclaimer: If course I’m talking about situations like OP’s. In my business as “the boss” when it’s staff lunch/snack/whatever I pay for all of it.

    4. MommyMD*

      This is horrible. Personally I’d start opting out. I’d give my welcome wishes or leaving wishes privately but not opt in to this costly time-consuming forced bonding. Once you opt out it gets easier. I opt out of virtually everything like this and no one holds it against me. They are now used to it.

  14. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    OP5: surely the person who is leaving gets to choose where to go for lunch?!

    1. Weegie*

      Exactly! I agree.

      My experience has been either that the leaver chooses the lunch place and asks people to let them know if they plan to attend so they can let the restaurant know the numbers (and often the orders – saves time) in advance, OR a boss/couple of work friends take the leaver out for an informal lunch (and pay for it) at a venue that they decide on together. In neither case do they run over the usual lunchtime.

      OP, you probably still prefer to opt out altogether, but if you’re minded to slowly change the culture, you could perhaps suggest that the leaver be allowed to choose the restaurant.

    2. londonedit*

      Yes, this is how it’s always worked in my experience. At my current company, when you’re hired, you’re taken out for lunch by your boss with the rest of your team (we have small teams of about 3-5 people). As people are new, the boss will usually have a couple of restaurants in mind, but it’s your choice (and we’re in central London so there are a ton of mid-priced options). The company pays for that. When someone leaves, it’s rare for the company to do anything unless they’re senior or they’ve been there a long time, but the person who’s leaving will usually arrange a lunch with their immediate team and any other friends they might have within the company – everyone pays out of their own pocket for that, but everyone also knows that we’re not the best paid industry in the world, so again it’s always a mid-priced restaurant that everyone’s comfortable with. We get an hour for lunch, so it’s easier (and I’ve never heard of anyone having to make the time up later because a lunch has overrun) but it’s not compulsory – if you have a meeting, or you’re working from home, or you’re just too busy or have other plans, then no one is going to mind if you say ‘I’m so sorry, I can’t make your lunch!’ There will usually also be a small office goodbye (cake and a card in the afternoon) and/or drinks in the evening (this is Britain; we’ll take any chance to go to the pub after work) so people can pick and choose which things they attend and that’s very much expected.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        “…and I’ve never heard of anyone having to make the time up later because a lunch has overrun.”

        Oh hunny…this is the US where workers are nickeled and dimed by the second.

  15. Margaret*

    My office had a similar problem with goodbye/birthday lunches. What was a managable tradition when we were a team of four got to be a big problem when we grow to a staff of twelve.

    We moved to a once monthly lunch where everything was celebrated- the birthdays and goodbyes of the whole group, carefully noted and discussed and celebrated. Could you propose something similar on your team?

  16. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    OP#1 – To be honest, I’d go a step further and block him. This is bordering on harassment: cornering you at an event? Demanding repeatedly that you meet with him? Tell him once that he needs to stop and then block.

    He might genuinely be socially inept and will back off once you make it clear he’s to stop. But definitely prioritise your safety first.

    1. valentine*

      I’d go a step further and block him. This is bordering on harassment
      Yeah, this guy’s creepy and weird. That was a lot of contact and I can only hope he didn’t go to the events just for you.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I can only hope he didn’t go to the events just for you.

        And yet I feel fairly certain that he did…

        Gumption gone wayyyyy too far.

      2. OP#1*

        Hi! OP#1 here – I honestly have no way of knowing if he came to the events specifically because I was there. It’s one of those situations where on paper (I realized as I was writing my letter) his behavior sounds more aggressive than it feels in person. In person it just feels tone-def and awkward. That said, – you’re all right. I’m definitely worrying too much about making sure everyone is happy (impossible!) at the expense of my own stress and comfort levels. It’s something I’m trying to stop doing in pretty much all areas of my life, so the advice here is very helpful in reminding me it is absolutely appropriate and right to say no and then just stop responding.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          OP#1, I learned as I became more senior is that it’s not your role to make everyone happy. You hope you can do so, but part of being a supervisor/senior team member is that you need to say no. You can try to make people happy with “no”, but it is not always possible. The good news is that this is the perfect opportunity to start. Your networker is neither a direct report nor someone on whom you must depend. Simply say no and block him.

    2. epi*

      I would too, although personally I would probably also tell him to stop contacting me (and therefore, wait until I was actually willing to do that). If this continues, there may come a time where the OP would not want to work with this person at all, even as a pet or if someone else supervised him. It seems like they are almost there now. If you know you would never willingly work with someone, there is no reason to placate them and avoid burning a bridge over their bad behavior.

      The OP makes it sound like the this guy is coming to events specifically looking for them. That really crosses a line! I get their desire to keep things pleasant with someone who may work in their field someday, but it doesn’t really sound likely that the OP will ever depend on this guy for anything. The OP is not that junior! They are established enough to have employees in a field that is hard to even break into, and are building a public profile presenting at these events. This is one unemployed guy who is naive at best, creepy at worst.

      And even in small fields, people survive not having everyone love them! You don’t see people’s negative history on display at conferences because at least one person in each pair is handling it like a professional, not because it isn’t there.

      1. OP#1*

        “it doesn’t really sound likely that the OP will ever depend on this guy for anything. The OP is not that junior! They are established enough to have employees in a field that is hard to even break into, and are building a public profile presenting at these events.”

        oh wow, yes, thank you for saying this. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a supervisory position, and I’m very new to being asked to speak at professional events so my imposter syndrome has been working overtime for a while! I think that’s a big part of what has made it hard for me to just stop responding. I need to be reminded!

    3. which_witch11*

      I think you absolutely need to tell him, though! I agree he’s acting weird and a bit stalker-ish, but it’s also clear OP#1 can see it’s because of awkwardness and eagerness rather than something worse. So they should tell him how his behavior comes across, but also that they’re actually really not available to help. I think he’ll be embarrassed and mortified, and correct his behavior immediately. In fact, I think he’d probably feel the same if you blocked him (probably a lot worse, tbh), but it would probably make OP#1 feel better to give direct feedback in this case. And FWIW I think he would really appreciate it (while also backing off in horror).

      Of course, if he keeps not getting it, or he get angry, you should definitely block him! I just think it’s best to say something and give direct feedback first. That gives the person a chance to act in a way to redeem themselves (and helps them grow, which this employee is definitely doing!). Plus, it seems like OP#1 feels more annoyed than uncomfortable.

      1. valentine*

        I agree he’s acting weird and a bit stalker-ish, but it’s also clear OP#1 can see it’s because of awkwardness and eagerness rather than something worse. So they should tell him how his behavior comes across
        I hate softening of gross behavior. He’s acting like a stalker. OP1 doesn’t know why and it doesn’t matter. They owe him nothing and explaining may be poking the bear. The safe play is to cut contact.

        1. which_witch11*

          I guess the gut feeling I got from reading OP#1’s letter and comments was that they don’t feel uncomfortable, really. And they also say it comes across differently in writing than in person. I don’t know the OP enough to say they’re underreacting, so that’s why I gave that advice. I also think the OP sounds more likely to take the kinder effect.

          Have you read Conflict Is Not Abuse? I’m slowly getting through it, but it has helped me understand that some situations, which usually terrify me because of trauma flashbacks, are better dealt with when done so believing the other person is simply trying their best. I really don’t want to dismiss this person’s behavior, but I do want to honor that the OP & Alison don’t necessarily feel this is worth such an intense reaction.

          Personally, I’d probably already freaked out and have gotten upset when they came to an event seeking me out, and I would have absolutely given this feedback and cut off contact by now. But I wanted to give advice that the OP might follow, and match their tone. Also, I’ve just noticed that young people are very awkward (especially when they’re told to “go get ’em!” when it comes to career opportunities) and I think if OP feels he might listen, he might really appreciate the feedback. I also think the OP would benefit from giving that feedback, at least in terms of learning to be honest and straightforward in these situations.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          “The safe play is to cut contact.”

          Absolutely. “Gift of Fear” is not applicable to only personal relationships. If it feels weird, 1) it probably is and 2) even if it’s not…better safe than sorry.

          1. Lurk Til I Can’t Help Myself*

            Every time I see “The Gift Of Fear” mentioned anywhere, I fist-pump in the air. The gut isn’t wishy-washy.

          2. Close Bracket*

            The reason it’s weird might be you and not them, though. It might be your own beliefs about the situation. It might be your own inability to self regulate. Just because you feel that something is weird doesn’t mean the other person needs to do anything differently. Understanding the difference between when the other person is being weird and when you are the one creating the weirdness inside your head is an important interpersonal skill.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, I got that vibe too.

      If LW#1 is a woman, it comes across as harassment or stalking. Even if LW#1 is male, it’s creepy and possible harassment/stalking.

  17. SezU*

    I frequently seem to be unavailable for work lunches. Either I have to run an errand, have too much to do, or have a diet restriction. Our office doesn’t do as many as OP’s, thankfully, so maybe it’s a little easier for me.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I do this a lot: “Oh, that sounds like so much fun! I’m really sorry I won’t be able to join you.” (and then change the subject, of course.)

  18. Oughterarder*

    Yes, this. Most departing employees likely don’t even recall who showed up at these things.

    1. Rebecca*

      This is a great point. They’re thinking about getting out of Dodge, and not having to go to work any longer, maybe if they’ve signed all the appropriate forms, and just being happy in general. If Karen doesn’t stay for more than a few minutes or can’t attend for some reason, they won’t care.

      1. Overeducated*

        Yup. Or feel really awkward about it. We’ve had almost 100% turnover on my team in the last year, and the last person who left insisted vehemently she didn’t want a goodbye lunch, they were turning into these tiny, sad get-togethers and frankly she was just ready to get out with minimal fanfare.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*


            An OldJob went through a year or two of nonstop mass exodus with at least one person in the department leaving every month. I still remember that time fondly, 15 or so years later. We did happy hours instead of the lunches, and of course ours were optional. We’d get together and commiserate over the state of things at OldJob over beers. You could probably even call it a teambuilding activity (in a good way). But the key difference that I see here is that 1) the events were optional to attend and 2) they were after hours, so came with no obligation to work late to make up the missed time. Maybe OP’s place should try that instead.

            I got both a happy hour and a team lunch when I left that place. The happy hour was really nice with a small group. The lunch was crowded and rushed and I frankly do not remember a single person that attended, other than the office admin who organized it.

        1. Bunny Girl*

          Yes this. I started my job knowing I was probably going to stay for 4-5 years tops because I was a student, and with the exception of 2-3 people in my department, I really, really don’t like my coworkers and I really want to get out of here with as little notice as possible and just not really have my departure announced except for a quick email after I’m gone.

          1. Burned Out Supervisor*

            My mom wanted to do this when she retired from the state job she held for 35 years. She despised one woman so much that she retired a year earlier than she was planning on and asked HR if it was possible to keep her retirement under wraps because she did not want anything to do with her outside of her direct work (she was also just so burned out and bitter). HR said they couldn’t guarantee it, but she could talk with her manager and ask that there not be a party/tea. Her manager understood and complied.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Yup they probably would prefer to just get their coat and get gone instead of needing to go through the whole goodbye lunch thing themselves. Seriously if I’m outta there I don’t want to spend extra time saying goodbye. I just want to get in my car and gooooo!

    2. infopubs*

      This. I don’t even remember who opted out of attending my wedding, much less any celebratory work thing.

    3. Narya*

      Right! I can’t even remember many of my former coworkers *in general* from the past, let alone who did/didn’t attend events. You might run into a few here & there, but you’re simply unlikely to ever see most of those people again.

  19. Washi*

    OP2, if you do reach out to the former editor, I wouldn’t frame what happened at the publication the way that you have to us. “Something was bound to fall through the cracks” makes it sound like it was inevitable, and what were you supposed to do. The big mistake that you made was not signing up for too many clubs (everyone does that!) but that you didn’t realize you were doing a poor job meeting your obligations and proactively bow out. If I were the editor, I would want to know that the lesson you learned was not just “don’t sign up for all the clubs!” but “let someone know BEFORE the sh!t hits the fan that I’m not able to meet deadlines, etc.”

    1. MsM*

      Great point. Showing that you’ve developed processes to keep what happened from happening again and what kind of employee they can expect you to be now is important. (And if it doesn’t work out here, you’re prepped for any other employer’s “tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question.)

    2. anathema sometimes*

      hi op2. thank you for the advice! definitely will take it into account if i do reach out to her. i’ll probably do it even though i’m not applying for the position.

  20. Cynthia*

    What sucks in the departing lunch situations, in my experience, as well as in birthday/marriage/new baby celebratory events or gifts, is that you tend to start out by chance going along with the status quo for people you know less well, and by the time you feel the need to resist, it winds up being people you’re closer to – and then you have to justify (at least in your mind) those people asking, or wondering, why you went to XXX’s event (or contributed to their gift) and not theirs.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think it’s easier to do something else for close co-workers though. Like “As you know, I hate boss-restaurants but congratulations! Here’s some of those chocolates you like and let’s get coffee sometime near your new office.”

    1. JustaTech*

      I impressed several coworkers the other day by remembering the names or descriptions of all our CEOs since I started working here. I didn’t get everyone’s name, but we all know who “couldn’t pronounce the name of the company” and “testified before Congress” were.

  21. Zombeyonce*

    OP5, I wouldn’t worry about telling everyone you can no longer afford to attend these lunches. You’re looking for another job, others are looking for new jobs, and apparently enough people are leaving on your team regularly that these lunches are causing a noticeable dent in your budget. It sounds like turnover is so high that people may not even notice.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I wondered about turnover too. How often are these lunches happening?! A couple times a year, may be best to just suck it up – pay for an expensive lunch with bad food and then work late. But if it’s happening monthly or weekly (!), I’d try some of Alison’s suggestions.

  22. Alfonzo Mango*

    5. Really try to build the courage to sit the next one out. You don’t have to go to these things, no one does, and if you act calm, nonchalant and casual about it- say “Oh sorry, I have plans for lunch” or “I really can’t make it this time, I’m on a budget. But best wishes” people likely wont make a big deal about it. But even if they do, this is clearly a really good boundary you should keep, since its important to you. I bet others are also frustrated by the frequency and are just waiting for someone else to take a stand as well.

    1. pleaset*


      I just wouldn’t go. I’d say bye warmly to the person that morning – something like “I won’t be at the lunch but wanted to give you best wishes.”

      And then tell if other raise it, tell or email them “I won’t be at the lunch, I’ve told X that and gave her best wishes”

      That’s it. No big deal.

  23. Autumnheart*

    Op2, it’s a pretty safe bet that a manager will never hire you again when they already had to fire you once. There are a ton of qualified candidates who would be able to effectively do that job, and unfortunately the choice you made in college has established your reputation with that editor. It doesn’t matter why you made those choices. What matters is that this person has experience with having you as an employee that was very negative, and similar letters from managers and coworkers of fired people have shown that people have very long memories, and reputations matter.

    The only way you’re going to overcome this impression is if you establish yourself in the field and develop a stellar reputation for performance among other people at her level, so that at least you can demonstrate, and others can confirm, that your college performance was a rookie mistake.

    As for reaching out and trying to get the editor to assure you that she isn’t angry and thinks you’re an okay person…don’t. It’s irrelevant. Most people can acknowledge that a person can be both likeable and a terrible employee. Secondly, in any type of relationship, you do not cause problems for someone and then ask *them* to make *you* feel better about how you screwed up. You apologize (which you did) and then you accept the consequences. Which in this case is very likely that you’ve permanently burned that bridge professionally.

    Don’t apply. Look for similar jobs at other publications, if you think that area of work would suit you well. Start cultivating that reputation for stellar work, and maybe in 5-10 years, you will have that body of work and recommendations to reassure this editor that there wouldn’t be a repeat.

    1. Autumnheart*

      Also, I would chalk this up to “The universe has a weird sense of humor”, like when someone wanted to apply for their dream job at a company, but then learned that the person whom they used to bully in high school is a rockstar employee there. Sometimes the things you do when you’re young come back to haunt you, even when you’ve grown and learned in the interim, and would not make that mistake if you could do it over again. All you can really do is just learn the lesson and move on.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        Really good points Autumnheart.

        On a side note, I remember that letter and the resulting comments and updates were a….doozy!

      2. EmKay*

        Or when the guy who got the job found out his manager was going to be the ex-live-in-girlfriend he ghosted (IIRC they’d been together a few years, he waited until she was away to move out and never spoke to her again, and he didn’t understand why it was such a big deal).

    2. SigneL*

      yes, I’ve worked with people that I liked very much as people, but they were totally unreliable and I’d never work with them by choice.

      I was OP #2 when I was in graduate school (!). My field is not really small, but at a certain level, most people know each other. It took me several years of good, solid work to overcome my well-earned reputation for being unreliable. There were also a few people who got to know me and were willing to vouch for me (and this is a tricky thing – if someone does vouch for you, don’t let them down!). It can be done, but it’s a long process. It’s not enough to say, I’m a different person and I learned from my mistakes – you have to demonstrate it.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        If someone does vouch for you, don’t let them down!

        Like OP 1’s persistent job seeker–I imagine the person who referred them cringing if they check in with their friend who explains how relentlessly they have been popping up everywhere friend’s manager might be.

    3. infopubs*

      Thank you, Autumnheart, for kindly saying this. We often talk about not burning bridges and protecting your reputation on this site. This situation is a great example of why. The OP may really want this job, but mistakes in the past make it unlikely to happen. In the end, the hiring manager will have good, solid choices without bad personal history, and will hire one of them. The OP will have other job opportunities where they don’t start right off the bat with a reputation handicap, and should pursue those clean slates. Why would either them choose otherwise?

    4. Natatat*

      Yes, unless the college writing experience was quite a few years ago (I’d say at least 5), I don’t think the OP should apply for this job. If it’s fairly recent then their chances of even getting an interview are very low. Better to apply when there’s a few more years distance from the bad experience, they’ve established a track record of reliability, and then the editor that knew them from college *might* look on their application more favourably.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      I agree with you in principle, but for me (based on previous experience with these types of student-run sites) I think it’s a mistake to be thinking of this on the same level as an employee/employee relationship of hiring and firing.

      If this is the type of site I’m pretty sure it it (along the lines of the Tab), the “collegiate chapter” is likely just a student society, possibly supervised by a professor or remotely by an employee. It’s unlikely to be paid or to legally count as employment, and the “manager” is most likely another student a few years older. Essentially, it’s not that serious. Yes, it will probably matter if that former editor is in a position to contribute to the hiring process, but I doubt they themselves would be thinking of it as “an employee I had to fire for disrespect and poor performance”.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Yeah, the editor is not going to be thinking that at all. They’re going to think, “I worked with OP before at Wakeen U, and they totally blew it. Now they’re applying for a paying position? I don’t think so.” *resume goes in circular file*

        I mean, it’s like dating. You can’t rules-lawyer the situation and be like, “Well, TECHNICALLY it wasn’t a formal employment relationship, so I wasn’t really fired and you don’t have a good enough reason not to consider me.” That’s just being extra tone-deaf. One should not strive to dig the hole deeper.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          I’m not trying to rules-lawyer anything. I’m not really sure why you’re taking this tone.

          What I’m saying is that if a manager goes through the formal process of hiring someone, evaluating their performance and firing them from an actual paid role in a workplace, they will probably remember that and consider it important information down the road. It is far less likely that this editor – who we do not know has any power in the hiring process and was probably also a student at the time – will remember about sending an email to someone who didn’t contribute enough listicles to say they shouldn’t bother next semester. It is not on the same level. I’m not saying that the OP would be completely unaffected by it because she still flaked out, but I don’t think all the “this is an unforgivable mistake that you can only hope to atone for after ten years of rockstar performance” in the comments here is necessary.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            Also, reading OPs comments below, the editor in question is not an editor at the national site, she is a writer in a different section. There is no indication that she would be in a position to do anything with anyone’s CV because she’s not the person hiring.

  24. CupcakeCounter*

    I would definitely contact your former editor BEFORE applying. Don’t be all gushy but a simple email or whatever saying Hi, you saw the posting and are very interested but know that you left the college version on poor terms and don’t want to waste anyone’s time by applying if that is a complete deal breaker for them. Remind them that you were overextended in college (as an matter of fact statement not an excuse such as “I know by overextending myself while in college and dropping the ball so severely with this website I don’t have the best reputation with you and the organization and completely understand if this is a no on your end”) but now that you have graduated and have a clearer schedule (and hopefully some additional experience you can highlight) the core issues that caused the poor performance should be gone.
    I wouldn’t count on an enthusiastic response especially if it hasn’t been very long but if we are talking 4-5 years later and you have some good experience, longish job history, and examples of your reliability and excellent work you might have a small chance. You will absolutely need to be ON THE BALL with this one though.

    1. Angus MacDonald, Boy Detective*

      I really like the script you suggest here! It acknowledges the issue but without coming across as defensive or like the OP would be making excuses.

    2. Me*

      I’m going to bet the former editor isn’t even there. If this is what I’m thinking it is, the editor was likely another student.

    3. Working Mom Having It All*

      If it was 4-5 years ago, honestly I wouldn’t do this, and I wouldn’t mention it to anyone, because there’s a strong chance that this former editor doesn’t even remember the OP, and wouldn’t even think about it or make the connection unprompted. Especially if the former editor isn’t the hiring manager for the job and wouldn’t be directly on OP’s team. Like… what do they care that someone they knew in college who was pretty flakey back in the day works for their company now? I’m trying to think back to my college extracurriculars, internships, etc. to think if I even remembered those people five years later, and I’m coming up fairly blank. Life is too short to bear a five year grudge over something that happened in college (that wasn’t, like, an actual crime).

      I would only reach out if the incident in question happened in the last year or two.

  25. austriak*

    OP#3 – I see it as being one of two things. One, management at your organization is not very good at managing and handling people, which unfortunately is too common an issue. Two, you are overreacting to complaints by staff. Staff at every job will complain about something.

    As a manager, you have to determine if the complaints are both valid and significant enough that action needs to be taken. Some managers, especially less experienced managers, think that they must be liked by their staff and have them completely happy with everything all the time and, as a result, they respond and take action for every little complaint. If you bring up every staff complaint up, management is going to discount what you say because they have heard too many petty grievances from you and will assume that is all you are bringing up. You have to be strategic and bring up only those items that really need to be addressed.

    Another way of handling it is that instead of saying people are not happy about something, suggest a solution. For example, don’t say staff are upset about promotion requirements not being communicated. Instead, say something like, “I’ve noticed that we don’t always let staff know about promotion requirements. I suggest that we ….”.

    If you want junior staff to stop confiding in you, when they start a complaint, stop them and tell them that they should talk to their manager about it.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Actually, there is no way of knowing if the LW is overreacting or not. If the other managers are treating staff unfairly, there is no HR, and the ED’s way of “handling” it is to have the managers police themselves, then . . . *somebody* needs to react. I didn’t get that she felt she needed to be liked: I thought it sounded like she was hearing about legitimate problems that the person who had the power to address had zero interest in addressing.

    2. BTDT*

      I agree with you. I work in a field where bad management advice and emotionally immature employees are rampant (veterinary medicine) and have learned the hard way to ask for specifics before acting on any information from a third party. It is reasonable for OP to let co-workers know to go to their boss or HR with concerns. Most of the time, the concerns are either WAY OVERBLOWN or flat out not legitimate. There are pot-stirrers in most work place and learning to recognize those individuals is essential to surviving and thriving.

  26. Christina*

    So I also wrote for a college chapter of a national website when I was in university, and if OP#2’s chapter situation was like mine then I think she should go ahead and apply (and not address it in her cover letter). My chapter was sort of like a club, everybody was unpaid and it was all volunteer-based and kind of informal, not a paying job. I stayed with my chapter long enough to become one of the managing editors (also unpaid), and we certainly got a little irritated when people said they were going to write articles and didn’t submit them by the deadline, but we were also all university students with a lot going on. I wouldn’t have assumed that because someone was dropping the ball in the chapter that they wouldn’t be a good employee in a job.

    I mention all this because a lot of other commenters seem to be referring to your chapter experience as more of a formal job, but in my opinion if it was more like my experience and not a formal job then this situation reads differently.

    It’s also not clear to me from the letter how the national side is organized and if the former chapter editor would even know that OP#2 was applying.

    1. Ella*

      I agree with this. Sometimes the things we do in college that feel incredibly important at the time seem a lot less important with time and perspective, especially if this publication was closer to a club than a paid job.

    2. Me*

      That’s what I thought too. I presumed the national level was the administrator of the org/program, but not really involved in anything day to day level with the chapters.

    3. Kelly L.*

      I agree, and I agree with the comment upthread about how there are probably many degrees of separation between the old job and this one. I think it’s very, very possible that no one will know or care.

    4. anathema sometimes*

      Hi OP2 here! Thats is EXACTLY how my chapter was organized. I was not paid except for the rare Maybelline mascara samples. I believe my former editor is a writer at this national version. The job I’d be applying for is as a branded content manager, which would be separate from her (I was an advertising major and all of my internships/professional experience revolved around branded content).

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Hi, OP – for what it’s worth, I think you should go ahead and apply. I think a lot of the advice you’re getting here would be very applicable if you had been fired from an actual, paying job, but I don’t think it’s relevant here. You were essentially asked to leave a student club. You have a relevant degree and experience and it doesn’t sound like your former editor will have much input in hiring. I would go ahead and apply and not mention it at all, but be ready with an answer should it come up if you get to interview.

        1. Sleve McDichael*

          As somebody who was the President of a differently themed student club while at uni I agree with EventPlannerGal and Christina. Uni is a high-pressure life stage and I wouldn’t hold any of my club members’ past actions against them (unless it was something like assault, obviously). We grow, we learn, we get better at this stuff. Go for it!

  27. Anna*

    5) Maybe suggest trying one of these lunches in the office and organizing delivery for anyone who wishes. Those who don’t like the delivery choice can bring their lunches. Also, anyone who needs to exit the lunch early to get back to work can just excuse themselves and head back. Or just do dessert and maybe everyone pitches in a couple of dollars and you get cake or cookies to share and everyone brings their lunch.

  28. Marty*

    #1 – If you are willing to mentor, the hardest but BEST possible thing you can do for someone is to offer this up:

    “I think you might not realize that continuing to push for a meeting after I’ve told you that I’d need to get back to you comes across very aggressively and will make people less interested in helping you. I realize you’re trying to network, but this is too much and will hurt your reputation.”

    It is caring and straight to the point. When you willingly take on the responsibility of networking with newbies (it’s optional!) or any form of adult education/guidance (it is!), it’s not always going to be good. I teach employment skills to adults and oh, these conversations are the WORST but they do inevitably happen. It’s very, very difficult to be blunt but you would be doing this person a major kindness by allowing them to see their behaviour from the perspective of other professionals. You can do this!

    1. Mockingbird 2*

      Yes, I think this would be helpful if you’re willing to do it, OP. Then if the behavior continues, block as suggested above (or block now if you feel threatened, this is definitely starting to become creepy to me but I could still see it as misconstrued “networking”).

      1. OP#1*

        I agree. I did email him yesterday with essentially Alison’s first suggestion “My schedule won’t allow” etc without any opening for a meeting in the future, but if I hear back from him again I think this response will be my last one to him.

  29. lawyer*

    I was the editor in chief of my school’s law review in law school and had to fire a staffer for not doing his job. I’m sure that it was something like what you’re describing, OP2, but he just wouldn’t communicate about the issue at all and ultimately we had to let him go. That’s a big deal in law school – law review is considered very prestigious, it’s important in your applications for post-law school jobs, and technically, if you’re let go, you have to contact your employer and tell them. So it wasn’t something we did lightly and the experience was sucky all around.

    If that person applied for a similar position with me post-graduation and he had a documented history of being successful at other jobs, I wouldn’t hold the law school experience against him. Part of doing extracurriculars in school is learning how to handle issues like these. I think the question for OP2 is how long ago this was, and can you otherwise demonstrate a successful work history.

  30. Garchy*

    #3 makes me wonder – at what point should an organization bring on an HR professional? Is it based on number of employees, culture issues, or something else?

    I ask because I work for a 200+ employee company based in another country that JUST hired an HR person – and that person isn’t focused on our team in this country (about 15 people).

    1. Jasnah*

      I would think of it as several categories, and whichever minimum you hit first, that’s when you hire full-time HR.
      For example, you could set a number limit at 50 employees, or when you start seeing culture disconnect, or when you have trouble hiring/cultivating the right people for your company. I don’t know if you’d need a full-time HR person with only 15 people in your country but I would want to clarify who you should go to if you have HR problems.

  31. Kristine*

    #4 You froze. Reasonable people understand that. Unreasonable toadies who name-drop and judge others do not and they make the workplace a difficult place to work. Absolutely do not fall all over yourself apologizing – it only makes their attitudes worse.

  32. Kitty*

    LW1 – hints and “soft no’s” clearly aren’t working, so you need to make it clearer. Alison’s suggestions are good. Some people are really bad at taking hints.

  33. Western Rover*

    “That’s what it means when they insist on names and decide not to pursue it just because they don’t have any. It’s not about your credibility — it’s about them not caring enough to investigate.”
    Isn’t collecting the names of the wrongdoers the first step in an investigation? Without knowing which of the eight managers is at fault, I’d think you’d be wasting a lot of time bringing each of them in for something that perhaps only one of them is doing wrong.
    But this problem might be solved even without an investigation: “different access to information managers should be providing equally (like requirements for promotion)”. Simply publish it to the whole company.

  34. Me*

    OP 4 – it’s fine and it’s normal. It’s unlikely that was why the didn’t move on with you, and even if it was do ya really want to work for a company that bases hiring decisions on that kind of crap?

    Anecdote for you…my current position involves planning. Planning is literally in the job title. I already worked for this org in a different role and new exactly what it entailed and the type of questions that would be asked. Nailed every single questions thoughtfully and eloquently. Until they asked me to talk about my planning experience where I froze and blanked. Finally stumbled through it but it was bad. Still got the job.

    A good employer who is looking for the right fit for the job isn’t going to base hiring decisions on that type of question. Best of luck with your continued search!

  35. RussianInTexas*

    This is funny to me, because years ago, it was lunch time, and few of us (old office)gathered in one cubicle to watch something on the computer or something. A man walked by. Said hello, chatted for a bit, left. Then one of the managers runs in “THIS WAS COMPANY PRESIDENT AND YOU ALL ARE SLAKING AND DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHO IT WAS”. Nope. Didn’t know his name, his face, nothing. Big company, headquarters in another city.

  36. Jennifer*

    #4 I can see them being turned off if you didn’t know who the current CEO, but the former? That is obnoxious. Many people who are job-hunting are interviewing at multiple places. Did she really expect you to spend a week memorizing all of their past CEOs, in addition to working a full-time job and preparing for other interviews? Girl, bye. Some employers are so entitled nowadays.

    #5 This is also obnoxious. If they want everyone to come out every time, and you have a lot of departures which is a little alarming, then they need to pay for it or not get into a snit when people decline. If it makes you feel better, get the person that’s leaving a card or something and tell them you are sorry you couldn’t make it.

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

    #4 At the second interview for my current job, with the President, Provost, and my potential new boss the Director in attendance, I slipped up saying the name of the university. I didn’t name a different university or anything thank goodness, just one word that my brain decided to substitute last minute. The President corrected me and we continued on. I learned later that apparently this word substitution happens often (not just me!), and it was a pet peeve of the President. I still got the job. If not knowing the name of the previous CEO eliminated the OP from consideration it’s a bullet dodged because that’s some cult-level devotion.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yes! I was thinking it sounds like one of those companies where all the employees have a cult-like dedication to their “leaders.” Seriously cannot stand places like that. Bullet dodged.

  38. stitchinthyme*

    Ugh, #5 reminds me a bit of my last job. It was a small consulting company whose employees all worked in one of two places (the company’s home office and a customer site) about a mile or so apart, so the owner had a mandatory meeting every month whose stated purpose was to get all the employees together away from the customer site and encourage them to get to know each other better. But there was very little of that, as the format was that an employee would give some sort of presentation (the subject was up to the employee; it could be work-related or not), so it was just one person talking and everyone else listening and trying not to fall asleep. Also, the employee who was presenting was supposed to bring food (usually bagels or donuts) for everyone else — purchased with their own money. This was not given as a mandatory rule, but it was the norm, so anyone who didn’t would definitely be noticed. I was always like, if they are going to require people to take time out of their day and do a presentation, the company should at least pay for the food. But the owner was notoriously cheap (I ended up leaving because I got only one raise in five years, and I’m not the only one who left for that reason), so I doubt it has changed since then.

  39. Klingons and Cylons and Cybermen, Oh My!*

    OP 5…

    Before you start the resistance movement, consider how your boss and coworkers will react. Are the others agreeing out of fear, or do they truly not like the restaurants you suggested? Has the boss ever threatened anyone who voted against her? Would the boss retaliate against you (say, through your evaluation) for declining to participate? Would your coworkers shun you for rocking the proverbial boat?

  40. Wing Leader*

    I honestly feel bad for the guy in Letter #1 because I have a strong suspicion that someone is telling him to act this way.

    “Did you set up another meeting with that lady yet? Well, email her again!!

    “You’ve got to start showing up at these events if you want to prove you’re serious and ready to work. Be persistent!”


  41. Working Mom Having It All*

    Re #1, I think there’s a lot of confusion (on this pushy person’s part, and also in general) about how networking works. Networking is not where you find a stranger at a higher level than you who you want something from, and then pester them until they somehow get you what you want. (I’m presuming that if you had, for example, a job lead for this person, you probably would have thought of them before now.) Networking is supposed to be an organic thing. I know X, Y, and Z people in my field – or new grads looking to get into my field – and I periodically get together with them to bond, share mutually beneficial information, know what’s going on in my field maybe at the next level up, or at other companies, etc. There’s at the very least a mutual feeling of friendliness and connection, and usually some reason beyond the business part (ESPECIALLY if it’s networking in this sense, where there’s someone outside the field who wants in) to stay in touch. Networking is me staying in touch with former coworkers who’ve moved on to other companies, in part because we’re friends, but also in part because someday I’m going to need references, they may have questions I can help them with, etc. Networking is me keeping an ear to the ground for jobs for friends who are newer to our field, and who I think would be a good fit here. Networking is not “gimme gimme gimme”.

    Re #2, I think this entirely depends on what the general feeling is about this sort of thing. Did lots of people ultimately flake out of this college publication because of school obligations? Or were you That Guy Who Screwed Us? I feel like in general, people tend to take college extracurriculars with a grain of salt, unless it’s a very memorable situation that obviously makes you look very bad to everyone involved. Also… college kids flake. I’d be surprised if there was anyone with a direct say in hiring at this publication who had never done something in college which wouldn’t fly in the world of work. The real question is whether the person who asked you to step down would be directly involved in hiring you, or whether the situation was so memorable that they would hear you were applying there and step forward to un-recommend you. Because if it’s a large group, and this person works on a different team that has little interaction with what you would be doing, eh. Unless it was personal or you fucked up really badly, it feels like a potential water under the bridge situation. In this situation I’d probably apply but know it was a longer shot than usual that I would get the job.

  42. Teal*

    OP #3 – I’d start keeping a count of comaints about “general topic x” and when you bring it to your boss be specific yet general. “This is the 5th complaint across 3 teams. It is not one person or one situation it’s widespread.”

  43. Monday*

    From the suggested response for #1 it seems like the he could come away thinking OP1 would be willing to meet if she/he were only not so busy. Would it be appropriate to make it clearer that it’s also a matter of his behavior?

  44. Another angle #3*

    I read this and thought of my slightly dysfunctional workplace. We have someone who is positioned like the OP and has a few junior level staff ‘friends.’ The in between person gets only once vantage point, but extrapolates it to the whole staff and has caused some problems.

    If people are venting to you and you have no authority to help them, start directing them to those that do – either directly to the ED or a reliable senior staff member. Someone other than you needs to hear this.

    1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      But there is no other one. ED isn’t listening and the managers are the problem.

  45. OrigCassandra*

    OP1, I had a student in the professional program I teach for a decade or so ago who was… decidedly not the brightest bulb in the firmament. They did manage to graduate (by the skin of their teeth), but they have yet to land a permanent full-time job in the field, they refuse to consider any other type of job, and they have haunted our halls pretty much ever since — yes, a whole ten years later they are STILL coming over here.

    (Assigning responsibility for their difficulties to… anyone but themself… was always part of the problem with them.)

    I avoid interacting with them. Our incredibly patient career-services advisor also avoids interacting with them and has strict boundaries around such interactions as cannot be avoided. At some point there is nothing you can do except waste your (and the job-seeker’s) time. It’s okay to realize that, and it’s okay to act on it.

  46. Isben Takes Tea*

    OP 1, it sounds to me like this fellow is confusing networking and mentorship–his continued insistence on keeping you updated on his progress, continual tries to catch up and discuss his work, etc. smacks of mentor/mentee behavior, which you clearly did not agree to.

    Perhaps something like “Dear X, It was nice to see you at [event]! As for finding time to grab coffee, my schedule unfortunately prohibits the more in-depth mentorship you seem to be hoping for, and I won’t be able to meet with you again. I’m only able to give the occasional one-off informational interview to those entering the field, and you’ve exhausted all my knowledge there! I wish you the very best in your career. Best, OP”

      1. valentine*

        He’s treating you more like a pen pal and friend.

        It was nice to see you at [event]
        I wouldn’t lie like this because he’ll keep following you.

  47. nora*

    That last question hits close to home for me. A couple jobs ago I was very underpaid and my spouse was unemployed for over 6 months. I had to attend two mandatory celebratory meals during this time (one for the boss’s birthday and one for a coworker who was leaving) and in neither case did I learn they were self-pay until after we got there. In one case I let a coworker pay for me (which made me feel terrible) and in another case I ordered an appetizer and left early (which made me feel worse). Lately I’ve gotten into the habit of “accidentally” scheduling a doctor’s appointment during restaurant lunches. Saves face and money.

    (The going-away party came with the added bonus of happening during my notice period – the coworker got a fancy dinner and I got donuts before a staff meeting. By that point any lingering doubts I had about leaving vanished.)

    1. George Kittle*

      I remember being pressured to contribute 10$ to the boss’ birthday fund when I was paid minimum. They got him an ipod shortly after they came out.

  48. K. Harrison*

    Oh! With regard to “5. We have too many work lunches at our own expense”, I have a trick.

    I always agree to go, but let the leavee / person being celebrated know beforehand that I’m so sorry I have to leave after one drink due to *insert unavoidable personal commitment here*, but of course I’m going to make time to have one drink at her party and, also, I really enjoyed working with her! You can do hugs and stuff when you have that discussion at the office, and then leave after one drink at the event and no one can get butt-hurt.

    Good excuses:
    *Have to visit neighbor in the hospital before the end of visiting hours.
    *Have to pick a family member up at the airport.
    *Have to attend a family member’s recital / play / award ceremony / game.

    1. K. Harrison*

      Also, if your workplace always does this on a Friday, just create an excuse like you’re on a rec basketball team with games every Friday night. If you do that, you’ll also have the excuse of team basketball practice other nights of the week…

  49. George Kittle*

    OP #2: you can apply, but if there is anyone with matching experience that did *not* have that against them, they would probably be hired over you. I would think you would have to be extraordinarily qualified for such a position to where the choices for the hirer are hard to find. Non-technical writing I wouldn’t expect to be one of those fields.

  50. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    OP#1: Since I’m an employment counselor, most of my networking is specifically about the status of various people’s employment situation. And it’s my actual job to do so, and to do so at no cost to the job seeker (so no barrier to access!).

    This, however, does not require me to be at the whim of folks who are simply seeking validation and/or attention.

    If I get overly-persistent contacts, I do a nod-politely sort of response with genuine warmth and encouragement, because that’s my job and all that. If they start asking me for more time or attention than that, I will do a warm-encouragement response basically saying “Gee, what would you want to accomplish during that meeting? What have you changed since last time, and how is it working out?”

    If they’re willing to provide specifics, I’m willing to have a specific conversation or meeting. If they just want to go over the same old stuff, they have to admit that, and then I have the chance to redirect.

    And if it turns out that all they were looking for was for me to place them gently and sweetly into some undefined dream job (either in my place of employment or somewhere else) with no further effort from them, then they pretty quickly get the point that I’m going to oh-so-lovingly demand that they get their act together and get it done themselves.

  51. ainnnymouse*

    I thought quizzing candidates on a company’s history was standard interview procedure. I’ve been to more job interviews where this happened more than it did not. I remember one time during an interview me and some other candidates were waiting to be interviewed. The lady was bragging about how much she had studied about this company. Honestly I make sure to study a company before I have an interview and throw out some obscure facts to impress the interviewer.

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