updates: the conference expenses, asking to move back to an old job, and more

Here are three updates from people whose letters were answered here in the past.

1. Should we let an employee pay their own way to a conference in an exciting location? (#2 at the link)

Thank you for answering my question and to all the commenters for their advice as well!

I dropped it on my end and what we ended up doing was telling the employee that they could attend on our company registration (which lowers the fees compared to registering as an individual) but they would have to cover their portion of the cost. We also do not ask staff to use PTO when they’re attending professional training or conferences so this was still paid work time (this was something that was expected by everyone here, but since there were a few passionate comments about policing vacation time I wanted to address that). They had been hoping the company would be able to cover more of the costs (they asked if the funds from the other events they are scheduled to attend this year could be used for this instead, but I need someone to attend those events so I can’t reallocate), but they still seemed excited to attend. Then something happened (and unfortunately I can’t elaborate more) and they have now backed out of attending so I’m working with the conference to get that portion of the registration refunded. Now we have a plan in place in case this happens again, though I think this is unlikely to come up again for us any time soon. Thanks again for your response!

2. How can I ask to move back to my old job? (#3 at the link)

I didn’t want to go around my boss, “Joe,” to talk to my director Ned directly, so I told Joe directly but professionally that I wasn’t happy in my new role and that I wanted to move back to my previous role, as Ned promised. He said he understood, and he promised that he’d bring it up to Ned the next time they met.

Well, long story short–Ned said that moving back to my old role was not going to happen. This was disappointing and frustrating, as they hadn’t even filled my old position yet. I started looking for a new job immediately, including internal jobs suggested by contacts/colleagues who had a high opinion of my work.

When I began applying for transfers Ned started trying to convince me that I’d “hate working in [that department]” and I “wouldn’t find the same flexibility elsewhere” and so on. I immediately recognized that he was being manipulative, and it really solidified for me that I needed to leave.

I did get a happy ending though! Five months after my letter I ended up getting a promotion in another department. It’s been really great. My team is amazing, and my work has been well-received. I’m less stressed, have a better title, and I make more money. Even though I didn’t get the outcome I originally wanted, I think I ended up where I needed to be! Thanks for your advice!

3. I might not have the skills for the job — should I point that out to my interviewer?

You answered my letter earlier this year about a job I was applying for that stated in the JD that the ideal candidate would have a “high level” of excel skills and I wasn’t sure what that meant, if I should pursue this job, and if I had that level of Excel skills.

Turns out I got the job! And I love it and I’m so happy I didn’t let the “high level” piece scare me off. So many of your commenters said something along the lines of, “there are so many different things you can do with Excel that asking for a “high level” of skill is so broad as to be almost meaningless.” Well, not entirely meaningless but you know what I mean. Don’t ask me to conditionally format anything but let me make some pivot tables and I’ll show you what’s up.

I would say that your answer and your commenters suggestions made me go for it and I’m so glad I did. Good companies are going to look for the right fit and experience and not just check skills off boxes to determine who to hire. I do have enough Excel skills to do what I need to do and I have also learned a lot in the few months I have been there because there are so many easy online ways to learn what you want to know. I was pretty upfront when I started, saying that I didn’t have a lot of experience with X, but I know Y and I’m good at figuring stuff out. I’m also taking some Excel courses early next year so I can get even more skills.

Hopefully someone else will read this and feel empowered to go for their dream job – I’m so happy I went for it. Thank you and thanks to the commentariat here. You’re all awesome.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. TootsNYC*

    Oh, I love updates!

    Thank you to all the updaters, and thank you to Alison for posting them.

    I’m glad our peeps had good outcomes. We were all rooting for you.

  2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m so glad that these all have solid conclusions.

    Especially the conclusion that the things in job adverts that can spook a person. Been there, done it. In all my situations it’s been much the same turnout, it’s not really as scary as it sounds like when you’re a stranger to the position, just wanting to find a place to do good work!

  3. EPLawyer*

    #1 – I hope its nothing too serious that prevented the person from now attending.

    #2 — Ned is a jerk is not going to change. Good for you for getting away.

    #3 — go you. Awesome.

      1. Viette*

        I love that the resolution to #2 was, “I tried with Ned, but Ned was a turd. Too bad, huh. Welp, see you never, Ned!”

  4. Miss Muffet*

    #3 — I’d also mention that a lot of times, you don’t know you want to do something in Excel until you are trying to do it — so learning a lot in a class (esp something you won’t use for a while) might not be as useful as just googling what you want to do when you want to do it! There are lots of pages out there that will walk you through things step by step, give example formulas, etc. I am a pretty savvy Excel user and every so often something just comes up that I’ve never done, and google has always saved me!

    1. Well Then*

      Yes! I find that “soft skills” are much more important in these types of things, and having examples prepared can be a great way to make the case that while you might not know to do discrete task x (ie, pivot tables) today, you *do* know how to recognize gaps in your knowledge, find resources to learn, and apply your learning to your work. That is going to be much for valuable to an employer over time than whether you can or can’t do x today.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – I think an ability to admit you don’t know everything and a willingness to ask a question instead of just guessing and doubling the work when it goes wrong is an invaluable skill.

        I will approach my lead and say “I think this is what I’m supposed to do – am I correct?” I have also used, I’ve checked “resources XYZ, still don’t see my answer, where should I check next?” I like being shown where to find my answer so that I can hopefully find the answers next time.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes. I have taught myself Excel chiefly from just trial, error and the Google.

      Sitting through a class would just bombard me and fill me with stuff I don’t necessarily need and would quickly leave my brain. So you piece it all together in most cases.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I highly recommend a one-day class. I took mine nearly 10 years ago — of course I didn’t remember how to do everything, but I learned that certain methods exist. So when I run across a need for X, it’s just a matter of remembering what Excel calls it in the helpfile. I’m a fairly casual user, but I look up & use things from that class at least once or twice a year.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          I took a pretty basic seminar-type class (I think it was three or four days) and it did help me out a lot as well. No, I don’t remember how to do everything we went over, but I did get a pretty good grasp of how Excel thinks, which has helped me reason out a lot of issues I’ve run into. It has also been helpful to have that, “this sounds familiar… I know there is a way…” voice in my head when I hit something I don’t remember how to do at all. It makes the googling a bit easier too.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Fair enough.

          It’s often very much a personal thing of course, some will gather a lot from those trainings and others will gather nothing. I tend to not gather much, I need much more hands on and specific situations instead of hypothetical cases!

          I have had so many people say they take these things for Quickbooks specifically and then as I watch them struggle with the software, I die a little inside. But Excel is it’s own thing naturally, so I hope those classes help people a lot more than the ones for QB. I’ll take your word for it in that regard!

          1. Drtheliz*

            I’ve a friend who lectures at his local university and there’s a lot of debate about “just in time” learning (i.e. what exactly do I need to know for just this specific project) versus “just in case” learning. Software and coding tools are very often best learned just in time, but having that just in case basic knowledge can really help people (me included!) fit in future info.

      2. Dragoning*

        I had to make an excel sheet this week my coworkers were using, and one of them was like “Why can’t it be like this?”

        I hadn’t known how to do that, so I just googled it, and made the change.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      This is true for every program I use. I swear I am googling, “How to X in Excel/SAS/R/Tableau/ArcView/Access” at least once a day. Even when I know how to do something one way, there are often faster and easier ways I have not learned yer.

      1. Emmaborina*

        We have a couple of Excel experts in our office, and in the last week, I’ve shown them a few things that they didn’t know about (ie using F4 key to put the $ in a formula reference, goal seek function) and I learnt things from them too (using the tab function to indent in a table, plus some formatting). So high-level Excel really is a broad church.

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      Law firms all use some sort of case management software. Job listings are often very specific about which one that firm uses, putting great weight on the potential employee having experience with it. This is just crazy. The basic functions are all pretty much the same, so learning a new one is a matter of spending half an hour clicking on buttons to see where everything is. The advanced functions may or may not differ, but no one uses all of them. So even if you have experience with that software, you may never have used the particular functions that firm puts so much weight on. Learning them might take another half hour. This stuff ain’t rocket science.

      I think this attitude is partly a holdover from when the senior partners thought computers were magic boxes of great mystery, requiring arcane knowledge of the correct incantations. They found computers incredibly difficult to understand, and assumed that everyone else did too, making this an important consideration in hiring. The other part is that law firms hate nothing so much as bringing a new hire up to speed. The goal is that the new guy can walk in on Monday morning, sit down at his desk, and start working on the stack of files piled on it. The candidate who will doesn’t have to spend the first half hour is his new job learning the case management software will get the job over an otherwise stronger candidate. It is absolutely insane.

      1. zora*

        I feel the same way about companies that use any kind of relational database for contacts. Especially nonprofits and donor databases. They are all databases, if you know one, you can easily pick up another, as long as you understand how they work.

        You don’t really need “5 years of experince” in only one specific database if you’ve used others extensively.

    5. Dragoning*

      I wish I could explain this to my coworkers. They are forever telling me they can’t abide by requests because they can’t do something in Word, and it’s something very simple and easy in word, and I can explain to them how to do it in a sentence.

      They don’t even try.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        This is everyone with PowerPoint. I feel like PowerPoint is not that hard, then all I get from people is garbage in tiny fonts, images overlapping or running off the page, pixellated and stretched images, bizarre colors and completely mangled formatting. It’s in a template already. Learn to use a template!!!!

        1. Dragoning*

          I literally had someone tell me they couldn’t give me a URL without an underline because Word automatically puts it in there if you type an URL. And someone else tell me they couldn’t promise me a PDF of something they made in Word which HAS A SAVE AS PDF OPTION.

          Powerpoint is not that hard and reminds me of watching teachers type in a whole URL into google to go to Youtube and then leave the cursors on the screen.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            I had a professor who would type “Google” in the search bar (next to the URL bar), and then type “Gmail” as her search term, log into Gmail to find the document she had sent herself for class. A document which was sitting on the laptop she was using.

            I was amused.

            OTOH, Clarke’s Third Law applies to a lot of folks.

    6. Elizabeth West*


      This doesn’t work for me in Excel, because thanks to my stupid LD, I can only go so far. But it’s been invaluable for other things. For example, finding how to expand a field character limit in the Access database so I could enter more data at OldExjob. Or more recently, teaching myself to do stuff in GIMP for my book cover (and you should see the awesome bookmark I made as a marketing thingy).

      When you don’t know how to do something, being able to find the answers and apply them is a valuable skill.

  5. Antilles*

    The “Excel skills” comment is really interesting, because I’ve seen almost the same thing from the hiring side of the table – so many people list “proficiency with Excel” as a skill on their resume and with such a range of what that means that I basically skim right by that phrase without blinking.

    1. DarthVelma*

      Yup. I am an actual legit Excel expert – as in I’ve written and presented both Basic and Intermediate Excel training for a state agency I used to work for. And that’s what I actually put on my resume, that I wrote and presented the training, because I know when people read “Excel expert” they just roll their eyes. And I can’t blame them when I do the same thing myself. :-)

      1. CL Cox*

        Yes, I put specific things I hae done with programs, rather than just what I’m proficient in. The application usually asks, that’s the place for the box checking. The resume/cover letter is where I get specific.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I list it under skills without a qualifier, and then in my bullets for my last job I put some specific things I accomplished with VLOOKUP formulas or PivotTables as concrete examples of what they can expect from me.

    2. blackcat*

      Yeah, I mean, I’m the actual opposite of the LW. I can conditionally format whatever you want, however you want, but if you ask me for a pivot table, I’m going to beg you to let me switch to Python.

      1. emeemay*

        me, right now, furiously googling “what the hell is a pivot table”

        Conditional formatting and I are tight tho. Love me some google sheets with formatting!

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I recently learned that Google Sheets has Translate built in. I can’t see how I’d ever use that feature but maybe it will be useful to someone else!

          1. Goliath Corp.*

            Ooh that’s cool! I generally like Google Sheets more than Excel these days, but I find it frustrating that you can’t filter by cell colour. (I love me some colour coding.)

            1. MsSolo*

              I have just discovered Query in google sheets, and it’s revolutionised half of what I do. I really wish it was as easy to do in Excel (as far as i can tell i’d have to launch vba and write the code in there?). Equally, I really wish google sheets could handle datasets of the size we have to process.

        2. Goliath Corp.*

          Me too. Except I just googled pivot tables and omg, I’ve been doing this manually with cross-sheet formulas when I didn’t have to??

      2. Third or Nothing!*

        HA, I work with pivot tables ALL THE TIME. They’re how I prepare reports to send to my customers. And sometimes I use them to organize my data in a way that makes more sense. Freaking love pivot tables.

        Still haven’t figured out how to properly use VLOOKUP even though it would be so, so useful in my job. For the life of me I can’t figure out why my formulas always return an error even though I’m typing them in exactly like the example in the help section. Grr.

        1. DarthVelma*

          A couple of things that might be the problem – Are you making sure that the lookup field is in the first column of the table you’re linking to? Second, if the two tables are in the same document, are you making sure to put $ in the formula so that it uses the same range of rows every time when you copy and paste the formula?

          I cannot help myself. :-)

        2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

          VLOOKUP is both mah jam and the bane of my life. It’s sooo powerful BUT You’ve never seen a computer pitch a heeny until you’ve seen it try to load 75,000 lines with VLOOKUP in half the cells.

          Pivot tables are just mean

          1. Lying Over the Ocean*

            I love VLOOKUP right up until I don’t — just yesterday, I had a some VLOOKUPs embedded in an OR and an IF…it worked in every cell but one! I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong, and today I rebuilt my spreadsheet. Now it works!

          2. MsSolo*

            I’m on this site now because excel is having a very long, hard think about a 40,000 cell vlookup to match two datasets. It’s frustrating, because since we got new work laptops we just don’t have the processing power we really need any more, and we keep hitting walls when we say “isn’t the reporting software meant to be able to do this?” because apparently out monthly reports are too big for the reporting software (and our CRM is a hot mess behind the scenes).

            Where vlookup really comes into its own, imo, is in google sheets, when you can combine it with things like importrange to make some really specifically tailored summaries.

          1. SarahKay*

            Smarter, sexier, and (so I’m told) far, far kinder to your processing power than vlookup. That said, I do love me some vlookup for fast and dirty cross-checking.

        3. Colette*

          Some of the easy ways for vlookup to fail:
          – your types don’t match (i.e. trying to match something formatted as number with something formatted as text)
          – you’re trying to match something that is not the first column in your range
          – you’re not giving Excel the correct part of the workbook to look at (named ranges are your friend here)
          – your target values are not unique (vlookup finds the first match, but if you are expecting it to find a different value it will seem like it doesn’t work)

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            That first one is a big one for me! If I’m looking up by something like employee ID I need that to be formatted as text instead of a number and sometimes it pasted in as a number and I didn’t realize. It was a game-changer for me when I learned how to quickly change a long column of numbers so I’ll share that tip here for anyone who could benefit:

            in a blank column put =TEXT(cell,”000″) where “cell” is whichever cell you are converting. And those are zeros, not the letter o 3 times. Just make sure the number of zeros is equal to or less than the length of your IDs, or it will add zeros to make them longer (unless you want it to do that! I have used that on occasion as well). Then copy that formula down to capture the whole column, copy all the values, and paste values over the original column and watch the little green triangles appear. Now I can VLOOKUP to my hearts content.

            Someday I’ll learn index matching but I’ve yet to find an issue I can’t solve with VLOOKUP so I haven’t found a reason to.

            1. polkadotbird*

              Is there a reason you would use that method instead of highlighting the column and changing the cell formatting?

              1. Ursula*

                It doesn’t work right. When changing between text and numbers, it will tell you it’s changed it, but it doesn’t really do it until you click into the cell. So it would require clicking into every. single. cell. The error correction option that appears when you have numbers stored as text does in fact work to change them to numbers, but it only does it in the text to numbers direction.

          2. MsSolo*

            also, if you’re not using named ranges (I can rarely be arsed) make sure the range you’re looking at is $$. The number of vlookups I’ve done that work on the first few rows and then disappear into errors because I forgot to lock the table reference!

      3. Persephone Mulberry*

        Haha, came to make this exact comment. I can kinda sorta manipulate an existing pivot table without breaking it, but I still don’t entirely grok how to create them. But I can conditionally format stuff in my sleep.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I still remember vividly the guy I was interviewing with that just told me enthusiastically that he’d teach me to do pivot tables because I confirmed my rather rustic spreadsheet skill set. But that interview was all sorts of theatrical.

        1. Atlantian*

          I once enthusiastically professed my love for pivot table in an interview. One of the panelists said “hire her so I don’t have to do them anymore” and I got the job!

      5. KAG*

        How do you do pivot tables in Python? (Real question; I didn’t know this was possible (maybe pandas?))

    3. Narvo Flieboppen*

      Once upon a time I used to teach Excel classes at the local community college. I’ve mentioned this in interviews. I use pivot tables, vlookup, hlookup, conditional formatting, etc. on at least a weekly basis, if not daily. So, I can absolutely back it up.

      The last place that required an Excel skills test, however, bounced me for ‘cheating’ the test. Part of the test was to provide a formula which would show first day of the month based on a date field and in the next column, display the last day of the same month. So, if the sample showed 1/15/20, the formulae I provided should return 1/1/20 and 1/31/20 respectively. So, I used the DATE function, with embedded YEAR & MONTH functions to pull the first of the month. And the EOMONTH function (always pulls last day of the month based on the input date) for the end of month.

      Apparently, this piece of the test was actually intended to test one’s ability to construct complex nested if statements, like using an if to determine that if the month is February and the year is divisible by 4, then it would be a leap year and the last day is the 29th. Could I create the formula this way? Yep. Am I going to do that in a skills test where I, foolishly, thought they cared about correct answers in a timely fashion? Nope.

      So, not only do people have a wide range of what they think encapsulates an ‘Excel expert’ they also have bizarre ideas about how to test for the skill set.

      1. DarthVelma*

        I would hire you in a heartbeat. Anyone who can either outthink my test examples or come up with a faster way to do the thing…hired.

        And seriously, if they wanted nested IF statements, they should have said so. Sheesh.

        1. Narvo Flieboppen*

          I know, right? Tell me what you want to see, and I will gladly demonstrate it. I’ve used severely nested IF statements when I absolutely had to brute force a result and didn’t have time to research a specific way to do it easier, assuming such a method existed. But something like start or end of a month? Yeah, I’ve had plenty of time to learn quick & efficient ways to do that.

          My only problem with Excel now is that I cannot find classes to teach me what I don’t know. Like, the company invested several thousand dollars to train my team on ‘advanced’ Excel techniques. Not only did it cover things we already knew, but we taught the trainer some new tricks of which she was unaware. Yeah, y’all are jelly of our mad Excel skillz. As you should be.

      2. Elenna*

        Ooooh, I just learned about EOMONTH recently and it’s great. And seriously, you dodged a bullet with that company. Imagine what they would be like if you found ways to improve whatever processes they’re currently using!

      3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        I had something like this with Word once. Apparently using keyboard shortcuts instead of clicking on the menu was an error. So I got dinged for using ctrl+e to open the edit menu or ctrl+b to make some text bold. Apparently clicking on the menu or the bold button was the only right answer.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Yes, I got errors when I did my skills test (way back when) in Word and Excel because of this as well. You had to go to the menu and select the appropriate menu item.
          But I had been using advanced Word and Excel, and had set up all sorts of keyboard shortcuts beyond the standard, so I was automatically trying to use those short cuts to get to the right menu/options (say, ctrl+m for paragraph in Word). But once it started giving me the errors, I slowed down and did it the long way, and still got excellent scores.

        2. Salsa Your Face*

          That sounds like torture. When I was training at one former job, they literally took the mouse away from me for a few days to make sure that I learned all the keyboard shortcuts I would need. I was frustrated for a minute, but now I’m grateful when I can make my cursor fly around a Word doc like magic.

        3. TrixM*

          Ironically, that kind of garbage is a feature of Microsoft technical exams. They generally throw in some question about finding some kind of tool or menu item, and what they want is “click this, click that” kind of stuff.

          Quite frequently, I have no idea where to find something in a menu, because I’ve been doing Windows support for over 20 years, and I use some kind of keystroke. e.g. WIN-R, type “calc” to launch the calculator. Part of the reason for doing that is because these key combinations and short commands keep working even when MSFT change menu layouts in different operating system versions, from Windows 2000 onwards

          1. Antilles*

            That’s actually part of the reason I worked to learn a lot of the default key combinations, because they practically never change between versions or even between software! If you’re trying to cut and paste text, it’s gone from a menu to ribbons to minimized ribbons just within Word – but the same Ctrl+X, Ctrl+V combination works just as well in the new and improved Office Online as it did way back in the ancient days of the early 90’s when “mouse support” was still new enough to be touted as a ‘feature’.
            And not just in Word but also other Office products, internet browsers, file folders/Explorer, Google Docs, NotePad, high-end text editors, etc, etc, etc.

        4. TardyTardis*

          Good heavens, control i is my life (my heroes have a lot of thoughts, which in standard format these days go into italics). I can be a mouse potato when I need to be, but keyboard shortcuts are the bomb.

      4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Generally speaking – if you know more about a particular topic than your (to be) boss does – you can sometimes work your way out of being hired.

        Most intelligent managers want things done the MOST EFFICIENT way – not the most complex way. Unfortunately – in the IS/IT world, we often face a problem = OVERTHINKING. And sometimes, that overthinking leads to unnecessary alarm and panic.

        I had to fix COBOL and SAS programs over the years that others had written; quite often, they’d write pages and pages of code to perform a calculation that could be done in a lot fewer statements , and/or built-in functions. I once was called upon to debug a busted program that had a 13-deep nesting process – what the programmer was trying to do was assign seven values based on conditions. I couldn’t debug that mess, but I rewrote it in an hour in straight code.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      If you apply this comment to typing skills, then it’s spot on. I’ve had to take numerous typing tests for jobs where I did little to no actual typing.

      Unfortunately, when it comes to Excel, I don’t have the luxury of skimming over it. I have to read the rest of the job ad very carefully, to see if I can determine why it wants me to have Excel proficiency. Is it just for data entry or pulling a recurring report from a pre-established spreadsheet? Probably fine. Would I have to compile numbers and construct the sheet myself? Then I probably won’t even apply. If I do, I then have to come up with interview questions that suss out the real purpose of the proficiency ask without sounding like I either can’t use it at all or don’t want to.

      1. Dragoning*

        I get this a lot for typing speed. I’m not taking dictation, so why does it matter? (And I do have a pretty high wpm, but…why?)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Or minutes. I can’t type THAT fast, nor can I write legibly. FFS, it’s 2020. Record the meeting and let someone transcribe it later when they have time to do it without racing to keep up.

  6. LawLady*

    #3 – So glad it worked out! Their phrasing really was vague, given the wide range of Excel functionalities.

    When I was in consulting, I was on a data analysis team and my excel skills were pretty mediocre. Now that I’m a lawyer, people at the firm are in awe of my excel prowess (i.e. I can make pivot tables and use jlookup). Depending on the industry and role, “advanced” excel can mean anything!

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


      I’m really strong on Excel for non-numerical stuff – manipulating lists, mail merge, conditional formatting etc.

      In terms of general office/admin stuff – I’m an expert. But real data analysis or numerical work, I’m nothing.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        ME TOO #dyscalculia

        I can USE the thing; I just can’t write anything but the most basic formulas.

    2. Please Don't*

      My daughter has experienced this in grad school. Most of her knowledge was gained in high school and doesn’t consider her skills better than average.

  7. WellRed*

    I re-read the original letter for #2, where it stated what a great guy Ned was. Turns out, not so much.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Some people are great until you have to actually ask them to be a reasonable adult who respects people don’t always want to be where you envision them *sigh* That’s when the true colors come out.

      1. LunaMei*

        That was the case for me and my last boss. I thought he was awesome (and he was definitely an improvement over the previous one, for all his flaws), until I wanted to advance my career. Suddenly I had fallen into the black hole that is “You’re Too Valuable Where You Are” and I realized he was not so great.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          My only toxic boss fooled me. We had a great relationship, it was fantastic…then he felt personally victimized by me for some “stuff” and “reasons”, nope, the beast appeared. Only to find out that others knew that beast lived inside him and was too scared to mention it [don’t blame them in the slightest!].

          For me, I can jump back from someone who shows themselves for a fraud. Others aren’t so lucky. I trust no-one, until I do trust them but trust is precarious.

    2. RC Rascal*

      Charismatic does not equal great.

      Charisma is a chosen behavior. It is not a character trait. How often we confuse them!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I’m not sure what you mean by “chosen behavior.” Can someone choose to act in a charismatic way? This strikes me as unlikely. I suppose someone can be trained to act more charismaticly than comes naturally, though it sounds exhausting. I’m not sure many could keep it up for too long.

        (In the alternative, charisma is an innate property, measured by a number from 3 to 18, determined during initial setup by 3D6.)

        1. RC Rascal*

          Charisma is a chosen way to act by those with anti social tendencies. I’ve seen them turn it on & off. Those who have never see. It turned off think the person is “ a great guy”.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Oddly enough, in the real world, charisma in the D&D sense is an incredibly useful trait. There are people with terrible numbers in the other traits, who do well in life on charisma along (though wisdom helps them avoid eventually dying broke). It says something about D&D that charisma is a perfectly plausible dump stat: mostly, I think, that game play is too tied to the player, regardless of the character’s numbers. A wise character will still do foolish things if that is the player. Other players will follow the charismatic player, not the charismatic character. And while you can have a train of NPCs following the charismatic PC around, the game is still all about player interactions.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah I really disagree that charisma is a chosen trait. Sure, charismatic people can choose to be dicks. Those two things are not in contradiction. But there are lots of perfectly nice people in the world who could not for the life of them *choose* to be charismatic.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            It’s more that sociopaths are very, very good at being charismatic, but only do it when it gets them something. Not *everyone* is good at being charismatic. But some people are, and that still doesn’t mean they are necessarily nice people.

        3. EinJungerLudendorff*

          I think I get what Rascal means:
          Being charismatic or nice is often seen as part of someone’s core being, of who they are as a person. Something that is closely tied to their nature.

          When in reality, it is just behaviour that people choose to do. Like being polite. They may or may not be good at it, but all it tells you about them is that this person decided to behave “nice” right now.

          They may do so for good or bad reasons, but you cant really say much about them as a person just based on that.

      2. Tempestuous Teapot*

        Thank you for articulating this so well! Having the same issue with my new boss, soon to be ex-boss (got a promotion and am leaving).

    3. Heidi*

      It’s easy to be great when things are going well. It wasn’t until OP wanted to leave that Ned had to choose how he was going to manage a stressor, and manipulation was the first thing he found when he reached into his emotional toolbox. Not cool, Ned.

  8. Smithy*

    For #1, I think that letter is a great example of why the blurring of personal/professional in covering something is complicated.

    If I’m scheduled to attend something for work, and then either a personal situation arises where I can’t attend or a competing work priority demands the switch – then all of this falls under the category of the “cost of doing business”. I’m not saying that this should never be acceptable or approved – but I do think that for events such as this make having a policy good practice.

    1. CJ*

      I really don’t think this is that type of situation, because the company never agreed to pay the costs in the first place, even if the employee has been able to attend

    2. Observer*

      Having a policy in place is good practice. But, really, even if the thing that makes it impossible for the person to is personal, it’s still a cost of doing business.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        It is if it’s a business trip. If I can’t go to a professional conference because of a personal life thing, my employer would cover any costs that wouldn’t be recovered, and the travel agent would deal with the plane tickets. If I’m going on personal vacation I would pay the costs, and it would be my headache dealing with cancelled plane tickets.

        The case in the OP was a mix of the two – professional conference but personal costs, in which case the employee would be on the hook if they had to back out. But the registration was through the business, so the OP is the one who has to go through the process of getting a refund.

  9. SusanIvanova*

    How do managers not realize that “Even though you hate it, I like you in this job so much, I’m going to block your internal transfers” just means the person will start looking for a job *outside* the company?

      1. Narvo Flieboppen*

        I vote for combo.

        At a former employer, the GM was so convinced that I would never leave, he openly stated it when rejecting the case I had pitched for a pay raise. Also, the usual claim of ‘no money in the budget’ for a raise of less than $10,000 to retain me. The next week, I had to cut several hundred thousand dollars in bonus checks for the GM and other upper management. Because there was enough money in the budget for those, duh!

        2 months later, I was giving my notice and out the door. Did I mention I was their only full time IT staffer, which was part of my justification for a raise to match the going market rate for the role?

        I believe that GM no longer has a nose, because he had to spite his face. Repeatedly.

        1. Observer*

          Wait, this guy pulled the “no budget” it on the person cutting the checks? And TOLD you “Nope, no raise because you won’t leave anyway”?

          What an idiot! I can imagine that the look on his face when you gave notice was priceless. What did he do when you gave notice?

        2. Important Moi*

          Narvo, please offer more details, if you have any.

          Did they fire the guy? Did the work suffer after you left? Did they call you for help after you left? Did you tell the GM why you left?

          1. Narvo Flieboppen*

            Responding to both Observer & Important Moi, but one post to cover it all.

            The GM was just fine with me leaving, believing that IT was simply ‘wasted money’ and not a place where you should invest and that we just weren’t ‘trying hard enough’ when saying equipment had to be replaced vs. fixing it. There were also a lot of complaints in the organization where people were just out of touch with reality. As an example: one staffer complained that I was a misogynist who was purposely undermining her because of my slow response time when she opened a help desk ticket. The slow response time? 15 minutes from ticket logged to me showing up in person to provide deskside support. There was really no way to win in that kind of environment.

            I stayed in touch with a few folks there. The company lost an entire server (severely outdated equipment, but no one wanted to pay money to replace it) which took multiple days onsite for an IT contractor to rebuild it. This server handled almost all of their revenue streams, so they had to switch to manual processes for the day-to-day in a hospitality environment. Then reprocess all of the work once the server was back up. The contractor was a friend of mine, but a few months later decided not to re-up this contract due to ‘abusive client responses’.

            From what I’ve learned in the intervening years, the other major local IT company refused to take them on, so they now have all of their IT contracted through a company the next county over with a 4 – 8 business hour response time for support. And they profess to be perfectly happy with it, much better than when they had onsite support providing near immediate response times. So sure, why not? I do happen to know, through my industry contacts, that the new service costs $120 per hour. Or roughly 600% of the hourly rate I requested. To stay budget even with my 40 hours of coverage, they can only afford 7 hours per week of the new company.

            The company is still operating, but most of the people I knew have left. The place has a huge reputation, locally, for being very dysfunctional. People who aren’t equally dysfunctional tend to self-select right out. The owner is very wealthy and really has no idea how to run a business, but can afford to run it at a loss just to be able to brag about owning a business, so there’s little impetus for change. The owner also has a really bad reputation with working class folks, but believes the opposite is true because the only people who stay long term are weaselly smokestacks looking to schmooze/grift.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s because they aren’t thinking on that kind of level. Lots of people assume that everyone is going to be there, regardless of how you treat them or shoot their dreams down, etc. Everyone has a blindspot in some way like that.

      Heck, the man who wrote me up for some really weird stuff and then threatened my job if I didn’t shape up to his ideas immediately was absolutely floored when I resigned shortly after. He hadn’t ever thought of the fact I’d leave if he decided to pull that cord. You can threaten my job security and think I’m going to turtle inside myself and just roll the heck right under my desk to stay bunkered down under your heavy hand? LOL bye.

      On the flip side some people DO worry about saying no and the consequences. So this is why some allow everyone to walk all over them and do what they want. “I don’t want them to leave!” [Only to find out that others in turn leave because they like structure and such!]

      1. Important Moi*

        Yes, to all of this.

        Many people are thought of as furniture, especially long term employees, until GASP! they actually leave.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          OMG the furniture comparison is perfect.

          Also it’s kind of like those people who “break up” with you in fits of rage and then are like “Wait, no we didn’t really break up, why are you packing your stuff??” B-R-O. Never tell me to “get out” or give me an ultimatum, I self preserve when you seemingly detach. “Well it’s just me now, now switch gears into that mode.” not “Oh wait, let’s grind gears and stutter about this.”

        2. Dragoning*

          My boss told me yesterday upper management in the department has been discussing its future and I am in their vision and I’m like, bro, you have me on a contract. If you want to keep me, you best pay me like you want to keep me.

      2. Sandangel*

        My family has a great story about this. My maternal grandmother worked in a factory during WW2, and when her male superiors were drafted, she took on the responsibility, but without the title or pay. When she got tired of it and signed up herself, her boss told her “You can’t leave, we need you here.” Her response was “If you need me, you should have paid me better.”

    2. Observer*

      What the others said.

      Also, a lot of these types think that they / the company is SO great that you would never think to leave. Or they assume that you don’t have any other options.

      1. Dragoning*

        I think they forget other people are…people…and have agency. They’re not NPCs waiting around and doing what you tell them. They’re not playactors. They’re really people with their own lives who can make their own choices.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, I think this is also true. People are not inert pawns on a chessboard and it’s worth keeping that in mind.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          People are really bad at remembering that, while they are the stars of their OWN movie, they are NOT the stars of anyone else’s movie.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      It can also sometimes be a case of tunnel vision so extreme that they have no clue how to consider how to make things work without person X and Y doing what they’ve always done (experienced it once before as person X). In a way I felt sorry for that manager because their view of the world was so narrow that whenever something changed they basically had a meltdown.

      It didn’t stop my leaving – but it gave me a different perspective on why that person did a lot of what they did, and helped me work out strategies to get what I needed from them more efficiently.

  10. Lily in NYC*

    Related to the excel question – do you think it’s ok to say something tangible like Excel when you are asked about a weakness in an interview (I don’t mean if the job ad specifically asked for that skill, I just mean as a general weakness)? Or is that question meant to be more about a trait like punctuality or people skills?

    1. Well Then*

      I think this is fine as long as the job involves using Excel. It seems like a good way to do the “weakness + how I address it” combination – saying that you’re not an Excel whiz so you seek out x and y resources when you need to do a function that isn’t familiar, or something along those lines. If the interviewer is targeting people skills specifically, they can ask that as a follow-up question. In my experience, the people skills questions tend to be more direct and not asked as the weakness question; more like, “How do you handle conflict at work?” so it’s always good to have those answers prepared in your mind! I’ve never not been asked what my weakness is, which I think is a dumb question, but I know my answer at this point.

    2. Elizabeth Proctor*

      It’ll be a hollow answer if you’re applying for a job as, I dunno, a book editor (assuming they don’t need to have much in the way of excel skills).

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Understood. I wouldn’t mention it in that instance, but there’s a very decent chance any job I applied for would require it. Which would be a dealbreaker for me; I’m really not that bad at it but I hate using it.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      Only if it’s pertinent to the position. We don’t ask that question (well, when I’m running the search we don’t) because it’s so hard to answer well, and we get all sorts of not-useful responses. If you answered “Excel” for “what’s a weakness you have” when interviewing for one of our jobs? I’d be, um, okaaaaay, not required for this position in any way, explain to me why this is pertinent. If you couldn’t elaborate in a useful way, I’m going to think you really don’t understand what you need to do for this position / didn’t look at the position description.

      Now if you said, “Current Employer just implemented Industry Standard Llama Wrangling software in January, so I’m still getting up to speed on it; I see in the position description it’s required. Blah blah blah [how quickly you think you could get up to speed, question about training opportunities for learning Industry Standard Llama Wrangling software, observations on how it has already helped you do X and Y and you are excited to learn more]. Then that would raise you in my estimation, because I’m looking for people who like learning, who recognize their own weaknesses and are interested in addressing them, etc.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Right; I thought that was obvious. I wouldn’t be using it as an example if I didn’t think there was a good chance it would be a requirement. I’m a high level EA so there’s often an excel component in my type of work. But I hate it and would never accept a job where it was a large part of my duties.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      I think that if you’re going to use that for your “weakness”, you should name the specific Excel skill, rather than just naming the software. Because the software is just a tool for doing different tasks. It’d be like saying you’re bad at using a broom when what you mean is you’re bad at wiping spider webs off of light fixtures.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Thanks, that’s a good point. I use it all the time as a tracker, but when it comes to formatting cells and macros it’s not my up of tea.

  11. Heidi*

    For LW1, the original post said, “This employee has said they are willing to pay their own way to attend.” However, now we’re hearing, “They had been hoping the company would be able to cover more of the costs…” I wonder what that was all about. In any case, I’m glad there is a plan in place for the future.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think they misplayed their hand more than anything.

      Think of it like when you’re at dinner with friends and you play the “It’s on me!” ‘No no no no, I’ll get it.” game. They banked on “I’ll pay!” “No that’s not necessary!” and got shook by the response of the compromise of “We can do some of this but you will indeed be responsible.”

      Some people do that kind of prepared planning that someone is going to shoot their attempt to pay down and then are like “oh damn…you took me at face value, well that is unfortunate…”

      1. Casper Lives*

        This read makes sense to me. They were hoping the company would cave. When company didn’t, they scrambled to get company to pay. It didn’t work.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I wonder if what happened is that the employee was saying they’d pay with the hope of once company realized how serious employee was about going that company would then pay for employee to go (or at least pay in part for employee to go).

      But it is nice that now there is a procedure in place for a person who wants to go to an extra conference.

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      Yeah that caught my eye too. Specifically the fact that they basically asked to not go to other conferences in order to have more $ to go to the fun location. I thought that was ballsy.

      I’m glad the OP held firm on that and it seems to have all worked out, but I can’t help but wonder about the context of the request to reallocate $$ from the less desirable conferences. It really read as “I know it’s not my turn but this is what I’d rather do,” and I’d be probing into who they thought could replace them/generally if they were eschewing undesirable work and/or dumping it on others.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think an evaluation of those other conferences that employee wanted to skip should be included from a what value would they bring standpoint.

        The requests to try and get job to pay for conference after saying “I’ll pay my own way” especially when taken to the “take money from other conferences” extreme is a case of misreading the situation/their personal capital at this job. It could also just be a case like The Man says above of “misplaying/overplaying” their hand.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          It sounds like OP has already evaluated the other conferences and feels confident they need someone to attend them.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Not disagreeing at all. It sounded from the original post that the organization presents at several of these conferences, so yes you need to go. However, it never hurts to make sure that everybody understands why they’re going to the conferences that are being selected. That could be part of the going over all things to do with these conferences (which ones, who goes, what is the selection process for picking who is going, etc) and evaluating how much they are getting from the conferences.

    4. AcademiaNut*

      I think that the employee really did want to go to the conference at the cool location instead of conferences at boring locations, and was trying to manipulate things so that they could get the company to arrange it, without realizing that they weren’t being particularly deft about it. Or that two employees going to Conference X is not the same as one employee going to Conference X and one person to Conference Y.

      I did wonder a bit about motivation in the original post. It’s generally cheaper to book a straight up vacation in a cool location than to pay for your own conference to get there. Conference fees can be quite expensive, conference hotels tend to be on the pricey side, and you’ve got less flexibility in travel dates. The main advantage would be not having to use extra PTO for the trip.

      1. Carlie*

        Me too. I was side-eyeing that employee through the whole letter assuming it was the free PTO in a fun location they were after. I never even thought they would also try to pull a “you said yes so you might as well pay for it too” scam. And then to back out AFTER the company caved in on part and paid the registration fee… if I were the OP, I’d make sure that employee was off the travel list entirely for next year or two, boring locations or not.

  12. Scout Finch*

    #2 Word to Ned – and now you are short a llama tamer AND a llama groomer – and have shown the entire organization your management shortsightedness.

  13. Leela*

    “High excel skills” were the bane of my existence as a recruiter. EVERYONE wanted it, no one actually knew what they needed, and candidates had no idea how to tell if they were for exactly the reason you describe…high level at what? What about someone who knows macros inside and out but never has to make a pivot table (but that’s what the company needed)? What about someone who can do all kinds of really good data visualization but hasn’t used macros much? How are these stacking against a company’s needs?

    Almost all of these rules turned out to only need Excel for the most basic of tasks (can you make a spreadsheet? Can you look at someone else’s spreadsheet and find that info) but they thought that “high level” would get them better candidates but it mainly just caused confusion on both sides. It reminded me a lot of trying to staff really entry level, minimum wage positions that were insistent candidates needed a college degree. They didn’t.

  14. Casper Lives*

    #1 reminds me of a reddit thread: when did an organization or workplace have to make a rule because of something you did?

  15. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

    The Excel thing reminds me of a legit job ad I saw for a new small business. The owner wanted high level abilities in #MajorTechnicalSkill1 and #UnrelatedMajorTechnicalSkill2 that she couldn’t do herself, but then also said because it’s a new business she couldn’t pay much. The job ad stated they made up for it by being “awesome.” Also this new hire (with a doctorate) was supposed to pitch in with all aspects of the business including janitorial work. Not even kidding. Apparently she wouldn’t ask you to do anything she wouldn’t do. It got passed around as absolutely hilarious and insane.
    Makes me wonder if people hiring actually know what they want and if it’s realistic in the least.

  16. Bookworm*

    #2: I am sorry it didn’t work out but I am glad you ended up where you needed to be. Thanks for the update. :)

  17. TrixM*

    Just to address something else re #3 – I don’t know if it’s a feature of US jobs, or if it’s just tech jobs in places I’ve lived, but quite often employers will throw in a range of skills they are looking for without any expectation that someone will meet all of them. The more the merrier, of course, but as long as you have the “core capabilities”, that’s fundamentally what they care about, if you come across well otherwise.

    Of course, trying to figure out what they want in terms of core capabilities can be challenging, but that’s something to scope out at the interview.

    It’s something I want to emphasise with women in particular, and women in tech in even more particular. Quite often we suffer from imposter syndrome, but I’ve found that in this trade there is a lot of b*llsh*t that goes on in terms of people selling their skills or describing what they want.

    So if you feel comfortable that you have a reasonable level of skill in 50% of a job spec (unless it looks *extremely* specialised or requires a professional qualification), definitely go for it in terms of applying for the job. I absolutely guarantee that it’s exactly the basis that the guys applying for the same jobs are working off.

    If they mention an industry certification like an MCSE or CCNA (and it’s not a certified profession), if you have 5+ years of good experience, it’s often likely they won’t strictly require it for the role. Same goes for an IT-related degree (and perhaps others). Obviously it helps if you can wave a piece of paper around, but I earned my relevant piece of paper in 1998, and I’ve not had an employer express any concern about my not renewing these qualifications at 5-yearly intervals. Some places – especially outsourcing companies – are a bit more picky, because they hire out “certified staff” at a premium. But there’s no harm trying and seeing how far you get.

    Also, don’t undersell yourself at the interview! Unless you’re operating in rarefied levels, being competent in most of the required skills, presentable (per industry standards, not wearing a skirt and heels all the time, unless you want to), and reasonably personable are really excellent qualities to start with.

    If you give too many caveats about this and that, they will lower their initial offer to you – another reason we get underpaid. Whether they think you perhaps aren’t that skilled in whatever, or (even worse) they think you lack confidence. Be honest if they ask if you can do X or Y and you can’t or only have slight experience – but if you can do something directly comparable and learn fast, then make the comparison. If you’re unsure whether something is absolutely core to the role, then asking is fine.

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