updates: the incompetent temp, the person who lacked ambition, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Talking about my future goals when I lack ambition (#3 at the link, first update here)

I thought I’d write in with one final update! I am now leaving my current job and will be returning to my home country in August. I used your advice to craft my resume and cover letter and really explain how my particular skills and experience fit with each role and each school. I was only able to visit my home country for a week but I was able to schedule an interview on each day.

Several interviewers mentioned how strong my cover letter had been and how they got a real sense of my personality and unique professional interests from it. Again, this was entirely down to your advice! I also thought a lot about my interview technique as I know that I have a tendency to panic when I’m put on the spot. I made sure to think very carefully about my specific achievements in my current job, used lots of examples and made sure that I answered the interviewers’ questions clearly and directly. I interviewed for four jobs that week and ended up receiving enthusiastic offers from all of them! The job that I ended up accepting was absolutely incredible – I had such a good impression of the school (and used your advice regarding asking good questions and finding out about the culture of the workplace) and it was clear that my style of teaching and overall educational outlook really suited the school and the department that I would be working with. I was anticipating having to take a salary cut due to teaching wages in my home country being lower than where I currently work but I actually got a small increase compared to what I’m earning now – and with shorter working hours! I didn’t negotiate my salary any further but the school made it clear that they had started me on a relatively high salary as they had been so impressed with my interview and experience – something that I would not have been able to do without your blog! I’m still not sure if I have ‘ambition’ in the sense of wanting to move any higher up in the organisation or take on additional responsibilities, which is what I initially wrote to you about, but I have realised that I am ambitious in terms of the standards I hold myself to in the job that I have and how much I want to continue developing my skills and experience.

The last few weeks have been incredibly stressful, with both my country of residence and my home country being put on lockdown due to the virus. I am teaching all my lessons online at the moment and really missing having a routine and seeing my students in person. I’m hoping that by August, the schools in my home country will be open again so that I can get back to ‘real life’ work, but knowing that I have a job lined up for when I get back has taken at least some of the pressure off me at the moment. I really couldn’t have done any of this without your advice, both your response to my initial letter and everything that I have learned from reading your blog in general. Being new to the workplace after university, your blog really helped me to feel like a professional adult, not a college student who had wandered into the office by mistake! Thank you again!

2. How do incompetent people get work?

I have found a job, applied for casual but ended up getting a full time permanent position. Still on probation but my manager and supervisor is very pleased with me, especially how I’ll be staying long term for some stability. They have even been very accommodating with some personal leave I need to take soon due to some scheduled surgery, only stating I’d have to take it unpaid because I haven’t accumulated enough leave.

Thanks very much for your advice, it wasn’t in retail I was looking or saw the incompetent people, many of them I did see while being interviewed, like reception staff. Of course I said nothing though to them at the time.

I do look forward to a number of years working in this workplace.

3. Our board president sucks, but we’re stuck with her until the next election (#3 at the link)

Things have gotten both better and worse. Better, because the VP won the next round of elections, and it’s much better working under her. Worse, because the team is so burnt out from the last time that they’re less engaged than previously.

Where it gets interesting, though, is that the old president actually stole money that should have been used on a political campaign, so there’s a whole investigation going on into that. The current president might have more info than I do, but it’s been over a year and we haven’t gotten our money back. I suspect the police may get involved at some stage. What a nightmare.

4. Our weird and incompetent temp keeps getting rehired

First of all, thank you and your awesome commenters for the great advice. Shortly after the letter was published, I spoke to my team lead about my concerns with the intention of bringing it up to my manager at our next meeting. Like you suggested, I left out the weirdness and personality quirks, focusing only on her work and its impact on us. It turns out I was a couple days too late, and he’d just had a conversation with her about re-training and finding efficiency solutions. Since it was being handled, I didn’t feel the need to speak to the manager about it after all.

A few weeks later, we were having a group lunch (no talk of male fluids – thank goodness!) and she announced she was leaving at the end of her contract in a few weeks. She later told me she didn’t get the 1-year temp-to-perm position due to failing a language proficiency test, but was offered another 3-month renewal to her temp contract. She felt like she was being strung along, and decided to amicably part ways with nothing else lined up. Personally, I would have accepted the renewal of the contract while I looked for a different job, but I understand she was pretty frustrated by that point. We all had lunch on her final day, and that was the last I saw of Incompotemp.

Although she’s been gone for a while now, I still find a few amusing Incompotemp nuggets here and there. Recently, I was updating an animal crackers process document and saw her name in the version control page. This section lists out big version changes, such as “Final Draft”, “2019 Visual Identity Update”, and whatnot. Among the versions sits this beautiful gem: “Version 3 – Modification performed on Animal Paw Size section on page 9, section ‘Beans to fur ratio’, second bullet – added a comma.”

Incompotemp is gone, but not forgotten.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Merci Dee*

    LW #1 —

    Congrats on getting a new job in your home country that aligns so closely with your teaching and educational philosophy! You sound really excited to start the new position!

    Please don’t feel that you lack ambition because you aren’t looking for promotions or extra responsibilities. You are not a slacker for being happy in your position and being the best you can be at it! Being promoted to management can be a wonderful thing, but some people feel they have more to offer as individual contributors and want to avoid the extra stress and demands on their time that come with managing other employees. And that’s absolutely okay! The important thing is that you feel excited about the position that you have, you’re putting time and effort into improving your skills, and you feel like you’re making a difference with the work you have.

    I wish so much success and happiness for you in your new job! :)

  2. Kimmy Schmidt*

    “I am ambitious in terms of the standards I hold myself to in the job that I have and how much I want to continue developing my skills and experience.”

    I love this line of thinking OP1, and I think more and more people are adopting this definition of ambitious.

    1. NeonDreams*

      I agree. The way OP wrote it was perfect. As Alison said, there’s nothing wrong with contributing as an individual and being happy with that. I can’t see myself as a manager or supervisor. Too much stress.

      1. allathian*

        I’m the same.
        “I am ambitious in terms of the standards I hold myself to in the job that I have and how much I want to continue developing my skills and experience.”
        This really resonates with me, to the point I get chills up my spine just reading it.

  3. Fikly*

    So happy for #1.

    And it’s so important for so many people to realize that ambitious in your career can mean so many things! Good for you for figuring out what it means for you.

  4. TimeTravlR*

    Incompotemp LW: Be glad she was a temp. I have a perm person working in our group that is like that. Can’t find their way around SharePoint even though we’ve been using it for years.. He CONSTANTLY downloads things to work on and then re-uploads rather than working in the SP document so I lose the version history.

    1. Rainy*

      I have a coworker who, after we went remote and started using remote solutions for every part of our job, got super mad and said “All these changes at once are too much for some people! Can’t we put off learning Zoom and Teams until we’ve adjusted to working remotely?”

      I mean, if you can come up with some way of doing that, definitely pitch it, but until then…

    2. AnotherAlison*

      There’s always one. It doesn’t matter if it’s a highly skilled department filled with senior people. One always slips through the screening process. I think with higher level people, even if the interview seems off, no one believes they could have done their previous job if they weren’t somewhat talented. Repeat that 5x and suddenly they have great jobs with never having performed well.

    3. Anonymous Tech Writer*

      Open comment, insert side rant:
      I do wish Microsoft SharePoint would support commenting on PDFs without download/upload. Reviewer: “I can’t edit the Word document you asked me to review.” Me: “It’s a PDF.” Reviewer: “Oh. Just email it to me then so I can save it to my hard drive.” Me: {MIC DROP}.
      /End rant.

      1. Toothless*

        Hi there, I work with SharePoint at Microsoft (I don’t make the product, but I make stuff for it and my PM works with the product group PMs) and there’s a site for collecting feedback like this: sharepoint.uservoice.com. Customer feedback gets used a lot when trying to decide on new features and prioritize things, so it’s definitely worth leaving a comment or suggestion about it for us :)

      2. Eirene*

        Have you tried using the Adobe Cloud for comments? The only drawbacks are that you can’t move or unshare the PDFs or the comments will be lost, but you can download local copies to preserve them. We’ve found that to be a lot less aggravating than trying to do stuff with PDFs via SharePoint.

    4. The temp*

      I actually feel bad for the temp.

      Their documenting small items almost makes it seem like they had previously worked for a micromanager who expected them to document small issues.

      As for not remembering things like file locations, it’s so easy to do. Temps work on just portions of others work. You don’t usually get to see the big picture. So you may laugh at them getting the teapot/flower/design/budget mixed up with finance/budget/teapot/flower file location but if you don’t work with the files directly, they are easy to get mixed up.

      It’s tough being a temp. You get almost no training, no mentoring and are simply fired the next day for any perceived issues. So give temps a break – it’s not an easy job.

    5. Former Employee*

      I relate to this entirely! At my last job, my boss made an excel doc and asked me to upload it to google docs for the team to update throughout the day. After I did this for him, I became his help person for this because he could not figure out how to use google docs for the life of him which was odd given that he was very skilled at using excel in general to make pivot tables and other advanced formulas. He insisted that I download the document at the end of each week and send it to him, so he could make changes. I would then have to re-upload the new version each Monday. This caused confusion amongst other imcompetent coworkers b/c they would start editing the old doc before I could delete it and would work on that one instead of the new one. I tried to explain to my boss that it would be easier if I just downloaded a back-up copy for him at the end of each week and then he made edits online, so they would save right away and avoid this confusion of changing files each week…he didn’t get it. He hated details and told me I was giving him too much detail and to stop even when I’d explain this to him in the simplest possible terms. We ended up moving the file to sharepoint to keep the file from getting messed up so often which caused more people to get confused. Even after sending very clear step by step instructions how to access the doc correctly, I would still end up having to waste hours some days helping people with this because they either ignored the directions and messed it up or just didn’t bother to read them. If boss would have just made his changes to the doc directly online, most of this could have been avoided. smh…some people.

  5. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP2, I’d like to point out that you only get a quick impression of a seemingly “incompetent receptionist” when you’re walking in. Sometimes that’s an untrained person assigned help when the regular receptionist had a family medical emergency. Sometimes that’s a person assigned to the job from another department (against their will and they’re job-hunting because of it). In one infamous letter I can’t now locate, it was a senior manager who simply happened to be a female standing near the front desk when a male interviewee walked in.

    1. Admin Kathy 2.0*

      Thank you for this. That letter really prickled my own insecurity. It feels very unpleasant that someone coming in for an interview could decide in 5 minutes that I’m incompetent and unworthy of holding a job, when he doesn’t see the 30 things going on behind the scenes. I don’t think OP2 would really feel the same way about a position he saw as being ‘more important’.

      Also, the original letter rings very much of “why do girls always go for jerks and nice guys like me can’t get a date” and that is just nope.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        Also, the original letter rings very much of “why do girls always go for jerks and nice guys like me can’t get a date” and that is just nope.

        I definitely get this vibe as well from this LW.

        1. Rainy*

          Same. The opinions people who have never worked customer service jobs like retail and food have about retail and food service workers always stun me–like the OP who was mad that another employee asked when their cashier was getting off work and called it “gossiping”.

    2. Alianora*

      Right? Also, even if they are the regular receptionist and they did make a mistake, one bad day doesn’t mean they should be written off as incompetent. I am sure the LW has made mistakes in the past that they wouldn’t want to be wholly judged by.

      1. Alianora*

        Oh and also (sorry, this letter just got me a little fired up), people in administrative roles are often put in positions where they have to be the bad guy, or take the blame for someone else’s mistakes. It isn’t always the receptionist’s job to cater to the whims of anyone who walks in.

        I’m not a receptionist anymore, but when I was I had to act as gatekeeper. I would receive calls from people demanding to talk to the director immediately, for instance, and it was up to me to tell them no, she’s not available, but can I take a message? And then if the director didn’t call them back right away (or at all), the caller would think it was my fault and that I didn’t pass along the message, or put them through the first time.

        Or say that my boss asks me to schedule a call for her. I propose some times to the other people. Then my boss tells me separately, “Oops, I forgot, I have an appointment that I didn’t put on my calendar.” So I email the other people again and say, “I apologize, these times no longer work.” Guess what? Some people are going to assume it was me being careless, because I’m the one apologizing and I’m the one who has to deal with the mix-up. And I’m not going to tell them that my boss was the one who forgot something, because part of my job is to make her look good.

        1. Blueberry*

          All of this, so much. I do not miss reception at all, and one of the things I miss least is how people assume that receptionists are stupid and take anything they can as “proof” of incompetence.

          1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

            It’s for very similar reasons I never, ever volunteered to work the host stand when I worked in the restaurant industry and was very nice to the hosts. Being “the gatekeeper” is so hard, with the logistics of it all perhaps being the easiest part and managing people’s expectations and taking the brunt of their frustrations being the most of it.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          All of this. It’s not the admin work; it’s the people. They’re the reason I’m trying so hard to get out of admin work, but I can’t tell an employer “People suck and I just want to work by myself where I don’t have to talk to anyone.”

          I am gutted at the prospect of having to do this job again just because I need a job. Ugh. Every time I apply to a receptionist job I die a little. Unfortunately, doing a public-facing job now means I could potentially die for real!

  6. =^-^=*

    Just gotta say that I love the animal crackers analogy. I went back and read the original letter too and it’s nicely done :)

    1. Phony Genius*

      On #4, that very specific change log reminds me of an employee who used to use very long (over 40 character) file names for her WordPerfect documents (yes, that long ago). And she kept each document in a separate Windows folder with the same name as the file. Think names like “John Smith Travel Voucher Approval May 7 1999 – Revision 3.wpd.” When she lost a file and asked IT to help her, they couldn’t get her to understand that her system was so inefficient, there was no way to find anything.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A former manager insisted everyone use long “explanatory” filenames. And then nested them within folders several layers deep. Long enough that IT kept reminding us the automated backup system had a 240-character limit for folder path + filename. And yes, we had to rebuild some materials from printout because of that.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Re the separate folders: not quite that bad, but when I first started at Exjob, the shared drive had main folders for proposals, contracts and reports, and each one had subfolders by client. Like this:

        Proposals (main folder)
        Gilead LLC (subfolder)
        Gilead LLC proposals (sub-sub folder)
        Proposal [date]

        Contracts (main folder)
        Gilead LLC (subfolder)
        Gilead LLC contracts (sub-sub folder)
        Contract [date]

        Reports (main folder)
        Gilead LLC (subfolder)
        Gilead LLC reports (sub-subfolder)
        Report [date]

        It was basically three versions of the entire drive. I got rid of all the main folders and made new ones by company, with the subs inside the company one and older documents stored by date. It was sooooooooo much easier to find stuff.

  7. Jam Today*

    I have to hold a warm place in my heart for anyone who sneaks a reference to toebeans into a paper.

    1. caps22*

      I came here only to say ‘beans to fur ratio’ will now be my generic technical example going forward.

  8. TootsNYC*

    I am ambitious in terms of the standards I hold myself to in the job that I have and how much I want to continue developing my skills and experience.

    This reminded me so much of George Washington’s defense of Alexander Hamilton, when Hamilton was accused of being too ambitious:

    “By some, Hamilton is considered an ambitious man and therefore dangerous. That he’s ambitious, I’ll readily grant you, but his ambition is an admirable one—the kind which prompts a man to excel at everything he attempts.”

    I have realized that this is the sort of ambition I have. I want to be proud of the work I do; I want others to think I do good work; and I want to work for an organization that does its absolute best.

  9. Peter*

    Not related, but I do wonder whether 2 years on Alison still feels that people could wear a sheet mask whilst working from home (story 2 on the first professional classroom teacher question). I know that I wish I didn’t have to be video-call ready at all times (and I’d be interested in a follow-up from that questioner).

  10. Miriam*

    OMG yes on finding nuggets from incompetent temps for years to come.

    Many years ago we had one of those people. Honestly, we worried that she was showing early signs of dementia, and I still think about her and hope she’s okay. (She had worked with a co-worker a few years previous to that and was good at her job, so something big changed in those few years.)

    For months and years after we would still find her mistakes. And knew to keep an eye out if there was anything that came up that we knew she had worked on. Luckily, our positions were organized such that we were able to start delegating easier, more foolproof work to her. Minimizing mistakes that would be more impactful.

  11. StillLaughing*

    “Among the versions sits this beautiful gem: “Version 3 – Modification performed on Animal Paw Size section on page 9, section ‘Beans to fur ratio’, second bullet – added a comma.”

    “Incompotemp is gone, but not forgotten.”

    Thank you, thank you. Just the laugh I needed today.

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