I was difficult at my last job, and it’s standing in my way now

A reader writes:

I recently quit a job which I excelled at technically, but professionally I struggled. The best way to put it is that I was incompatible with my newly appointed manager. My frustration with that manager led to many inappropriate comments that I made in front of him and a couple of other senior leaders. To be clear, I never cursed at them or called them names or raised my voice, but I did make (multiple) comments about their ignorance of projects or lack of experience in this speciality. I’m sure you can tell that didn’t go over well.

Ultimately, my behavior got me put on a PIP by my manager. He explained that I was excellent at the job, but not mature enough to do well. This obviously greatly upset me, and I quit on the spot. I know what a PIP means and I wasn’t about to get fired. I had been at the company for about three years and have dozens of excellent professional references (at this company and others) from as high up as the C-suite to as low as individual contributing peers who I worked closely with. They can all honestly and passionately speak to my technical and soft skills very highly. However, this doesn’t seem to matter in my situation.

Overall, I excel at interviews. Within days after quitting I had over eight different interviews lined up. I made it to final rounds of five and got two offers already (still waiting to hear back from the other three). The offers were both contingent on passing employment and background checks. Well, I gave my references, have no criminal history and never lied on any part of my background or history (though I did not admit to my emotional issues with my previous management team). Needless to say, I was shocked when both offers got rescinded.

One company claimed it was due to a change in the role, and the other told me frankly that the “manager did some digging on my history and unfortunately doesn’t feel like I would be a culture fit.” I looked up the manager on LinkedIn and lo and behold, they are connected with my former manager. This has me worried as back-channel references are super common in my industry, and my industry is not very big overall. My manager appears to be very well connected with many of the companies I am interviewing with or hope to in the future.

I will admit that my behavior previously was very disrespectful and probably deserved the reprimand, but now I feel that I am not able to move past it and learn from this experience as my reputation in the industry seems to be damaged. I’m still fairly early in my career overall and am learning how to handle office politics. It’s been a big struggle for me, but I do get better with each passing year.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wait for the other three final stage companies that I’m in talks with before I officially decide that this manager is my blocker, but assuming he is, what do you recommend I do to get past this? Should I talk to him? As this is all fresh, I’m not sure I can do that now, but maybe in a few months? Either way, I need a job now and can’t afford to go more than two months without a paycheck (and I don’t qualify for unemployment as I quit). What do you recommend I do?

I suspect the reason you’re not able to “move past it and learn from the experience” is because … well, it sounds like you haven’t learned from the experience.

Look at all the distancing from your own behavior you’re doing in this letter:
* You write that you “probably” deserved the reprimand. (You definitely did.)
* You say you’re early in your career and still learning how to handle office politics, but also that you were sure you knew a PIP meant you were definitely getting fired (it doesn’t) and you quit on the spot rather than … what, stop making multiple comments to your boss’s face and in front of others about his “ignorance” and lack of experience?
* You seem surprised that people’s satisfaction with your skills is outweighed by you being hostile to your manager and difficult to work with.

I don’t think you’ve come to terms with what happened at your last job and the ways you were in the wrong. That’s a problem because it means you’re likely to repeat it at future jobs, where it will harm you again — and it also means interviewers are going to be put off by you not taking responsibility when you talk about it.

The way to handle this is to do some serious soul-searching, own your role in what happened, understand why your boss found your behavior unacceptable, and figure out how you would navigate it differently next time. Once you do that, you’ll have some standing to reach out to your old manager and try to mend the relationship — which you might be able to do if you take responsibility for your behavior and can say sincerely that you’ve learned from it. That still probably won’t repair the reference, but it’s likely to take some of the edge off of it.

From there, you probably need to be more up-front with interviewers about what happened. If they ask why you left your last job, that’s an opening to take some responsibility for what went wrong. (I am not going to suggest specific language because it has to stem from you genuinely grappling with what happened and truly coming to terms with it, but there’s some general advice on working this out here.)

It’s risky to do that since it might be disqualifying, but if interviewers are likely to hear about it anyway, you’re better off having some input into the narrative and showing you’ve learned from it. Otherwise, if they talk to your old manager, they’re going to figure it’s highly likely you’ll repeat the same behavior at the new job — and few people will willingly sign up for that, especially from someone early in their career. (They shouldn’t want to sign up for it from anyone, but being early in your career makes it especially unpalatable — both because it’ll seem extra out-of-touch from someone without much experience and because you don’t have a long track record of strong work as a counterweight.)

Of course, if you do that, there’s also a risk that they wouldn’t have talked to your old manager, and you’ll be offering up this unflattering info they otherwise wouldn’t have had. But owning your history and how you talk about it is a better risk than saying nothing and letting your manager’s account be the only thing they hear.

This still might not solve it. You might continue to lose out on jobs you want, and ultimately might need to compromise on what type of job you accept (possibly one outside this small field where you burned an early bridge). That’s just the way this works — people know you by your reputation, and in a small field how you treat others has real consequences for who’s willing to hire you. But your best chance of leaving it in the past is to face it head-on and come to terms with what your role really was.

{ 550 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    Gentle reminder, OP, that soft skills don’t apply just to people you like, they apply to everyone. I don’t have to like that guy in [other department] but I do still have to work with him, and spouting off about how ignorant and frustrating I find him isn’t the way to do that.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This. OP, you will work with many people throughout your (hopefully) long career that you’ll think are stupid and incompetent – you cannot tell them that, though. If your manager asks you to do something on a project and doesn’t have a holistic understanding of it and why what they asked you to do won’t work, then you can politely give them the information and suggest an alternative. That may not always work and there may be times where you have to just eat it and do what your manager asks anyway, but that’s life.

      1. Ann Cognito*

        Yes. When my now 13-year-old son was in 5th grade four years ago, they got a new school principal, who was pretty draconian, and who introduced tons of new rules like the kids needing to kneel when the bell rang for school starting/end of lunchtime etc, and just overall the very opposite of the prior principal. He really hated her and her rules, as they didn’t make sense to him (there were lots of others I’m not listing here).

        I told him it was his final year at this school, before switching for middle school, and in his head he could think what he wanted about her, that her rules were stupid etc., but he couldn’t quit, and he had to be respectful (I also told him that if she specifically targeted him, we would discuss it and take action at that time if necessary, but she didn’t). I talked to him about the fact that later in life, when he’s working, he will have people he works for and with that he thinks are stupid, but he won’t be able to quit on the spot, that he’ll need time to look for a new job, if that’s what he decides to do. He was happy to be told he could think what he wanted, and it helped him a lot. I’m glad he got to learn this at a young age. There are times that you’ve just got to think your thoughts, but not open your mouth.

          1. Dasein9*

            I too would like to know more about this kneeling, if Ann Cognito is willing to share.

            The advice to the child is solid and will do a lot for cultivating a sense of perspective and responsibility.

            1. Ann Cognito*

              She was an inexperienced Principal, following in the footsteps on a much more experienced, much loved predecessor, who had been there for years, and just had a great way about her. This was the complete opposite in every way possible (just like when you have an amazing manager, who leaves and is followed by a terrible one!).

              I heard that her reasoning was because the kids, especially the boys, didn’t immediately line up, or stay still once they had, when it was time to line up to go into class (because of the way the school is structured, they line-up outside the building, since all of the classrooms have a door out onto the school yard).

              Some parents definitely complained, and I know of two who pulled their kids from the school because of it.

              1. ABK*

                this doesn’t seem weird at all. In a few different elementary schools I went to, we either had to freeze when the bell rang or at another we had to sit down. When everyone was ready, the teacher blew a whistle and it was time to go inside/line up. It’s a way of calming the herd before transitioning to inside.

                1. short'n'stout*

                  Kneeling has quite a different vibe to freezing or sitting, though. More submissive. And it sounds like they would have been doing this outdoors, so it’s likely that the ground could have been rough, cold, or wet – who wants to kneel in that?!

              2. Little Stalens*

                “Some parents definitely complained, and I know of two who pulled their kids from the school because of it.”

                Those parents were right, and your advice (obedience above all) was wrong.

                1. SometimesALurker*

                  I don’t think the advice was obedience above all, though. The bits “I also told him that if she specifically targeted him, we would discuss it and take action at that time if necessary, but she didn’t” and in the hypothetical future part, “look for a new job, if that’s what he decides to do” suggest to me that both you and the person you’re responding to believe there are things that shouldn’t be obeyed, but you draw the line in a different place.

            1. mayfly*

              Could be a private/Catholic school? Or maybe it was having the kids take a knee to keep them from milling around and not listening?
              IDK, those are the only two semi-reasonable explanations I can come up with. But I really like that advice to the 5th grader.

            2. Ann Cognito*

              It’s a US school! She was very inexperienced. See above response to Dasein9.

          2. Stingless B*

            Elementary US teacher here. At our not-draconian school, the kids take a knee when the bell rings, and walk to class when yard supervisors blow a whistle. The idea is that everyone stops and takes a breathe to mentally pivot from recess to class time. Otherwise some a trying to squeeze in extra bball while others are running through the game. It cuts down on chaos.

            It’s a hard system to get started, but once on place, works really well.

            1. Youngin*

              I think I must be misunderstanding the “kneeling” portion, or something. Why kneel? Does it force them to calm down in a way sitting wouldn’t have?

              1. Stingless B*

                Oh, sitting is fine. The goal is to get them to stop moving and allow supervisors to easily scan the yard. It’s harder to argue that you didn’t hear the bell if 200 other kids have taken a knee. It’s not an uncommon policy.

              2. alienor*

                They did it at my daughter’s elementary school too, and I think it was just because it’s easier and faster to take a knee (it was one knee, not both) wherever you’re standing than it is to find a place to sit, get up again afterwards, etc. The idea was that the kids were acknowledging they’d heard the bell and were ready to go inside, sort of the way teachers will sometimes tell their class “raise your hand when you hear me/are ready to start.”

                1. allathian*

                  “Giving a knee” definitely sounds better than “kneeling”. The second has religious overtones that the first one doesn’t.

            2. MassMatt*

              Interesting that football players “taking a knee” during the national anthem before games were castigated as traitors and troublemakers, yet in this context it is trained and described as “taking a breath” and helping people “mentally pivot”.

              If kids get 30 minutes of recess they are naturally going to dislike being told to stay still, kneel down etc to be counted for a significant part of it.

              When I was a kid the bell rang at recess a teacher came out to tell us to come inside and we did. Yes we were probably rambunctious right after but that’s kids.

              This obsession with lining up, kneeling, sitting, being counted off etc seems more suited for criminals, not children.

              1. A Teacher*

                Teacher here. Let me be the first to say we hate having to count the kids just as much as they hate having to line up and be counted. That said, when kids are at school, we stand in loco parentis, which means we are legally responsible for them. In my district last year (fortunately not at my school) there were two kids who decided to leave recess and walk to one of their (empty) houses. The teachers on duty were fired, and if the parents had chosen to sue the district, they likely would have won.

                Now, during recess duty, we obviously monitor the kids, but we are 2 teachers for 80-90 kids in a large outside area (playground, concrete basketball court, and a huge field). When it’s my career on the line, you’d better believe I’m counting those kids no matter how much I hate it.

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                I’m not jazzed about the kneeling or sitting (in no small part because that’s how my kid’s clothes get filthy/holes cut in them), but my child’s school is older and cramped, and lining up to transition to other places in the school is also how they keep the traffic flowing and the noise level down at the elementary school level. Seeing the thundering hoards descend upon the school at morning arrival in clumps and gaggles gives me a great appreciation for the line-up system.

                Counting off is also the very easiest way to make sure you’ve got all the kids from your 30+-person class and that Billy’s not hiding at the top of the slide again. When I volunteered with my kid’s scout troop, we counted them off, too. No one wants to get to the next stop and realize you’ve got 19 kids instead of the 20 you came with. Maybe people better than me can instantly memorize the 20 faces/names for which they’re responsible, but my co-chaperone and I counted them repeatedly both in our head and with them counting it out loud (their bilingual peers taught them to count in Spanish and Dutch for count offs, too).

            3. Jan*

              If you write take a ” breathe” I assume you meant ” breath” I am glad my child is out of school!

        1. JohannaCabal*

          You’re a rare gem! In my community, said principal would have been skewered on social media and then face cameras from the local news station outside the school. Sad story: when I was a senior in high school, a new principal at a high school a county over tried to institute a stricter dress code and was ambushed by angry parents at a public forum about it. From what I heard, he also received death threats (he was a person of color in a majority white community too).

          I feel like parents need to let their children learn these lessons. Of all my bad managers, I can think of some teachers/principals who prepared me for them!

            1. Jamie*

              Me too. Unquestioned adherence to draconian measures from authority isn’t healthy for a society.

              1. Ann Cognito*

                I absolutely agree. My son and his friend went to the Principal to discuss the new rules with her, with well thought-out questions, but nothing changed.

                I actually spoke to him too about exactly what you say, that unquestioningly following a leader is how we end up with some of the situations we’ve ended-up with in the world. In the end though, the right response for us was him being allowed to have his thoughts about it all, but since no-one was in danger, and he spoke up with what he thought, it was a suck it up for a few months situation.

            2. Not all the time*

              Which is great, when the rules are actually unfair or unsafe, but when they’re just annoying or you don’t see the point? There are times to just put up with things and times to advocate. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                Many dress codes in public schools are ridiculous and a waste of time. Worth pushing back on.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  They’re also often enforced in ways that are sexist and/or racist, and when they’re changed suddenly can pose financial stress on families who can’t just run out and get a new wardrobe because they now only have one school-allowed shirt.

            3. Violet Rose*

              As a kid who was taught to defer to authority even when it started actively sabotaging my performance and mental health, I wholeheartedly agree!

          1. Eukomos*

            Death threats are of course totally inappropriate, but it’s not unreasonable for parents to push back on a dress code. A lot of school dress codes are ill-considered, unfairly enforced, and generally harmful. And if you’re having a public forum, you have to be prepared for members of the public who have something to say to you to show up.

        2. Karia*

          There are also times where it makes sense to push back against bizarre and demeaning rules. This was one of those times.

          1. Bonky*

            There’s such a thing as pragmatism. Sometimes the nuclear option isn’t appropriate – I’m guessing the parents here balanced the damage to their kid that might be caused by pulling them out of school in the final year, and the might that would be caused by leaving them there (while mitigating it as much as possible by having sensitive conversations about the conditions there), and made a judgment.

        3. Cactus*

          Yes! I think that sounds like excellent advice–think what you want, but be outwardly respectful. When I was a kid I was pressured to think of everyone as my “friend” even if they were continually terrible, and that had 0 good effects.

        4. Chris Hogg*

          Ann —

          “There are times that you’ve just got to think your thoughts, but not open your mouth.”

          Every couple of years I come across a proverb, saying, or piece of advice that is a “keeper” and this is certainly one of those.

          PS – Do you happen to be related to Inn Cognito from Cleveland, Ohio?

    2. Sue*

      And there is a line between confident and arrogant. Confidence is a positive and will help you immensely in life. Arrogance is not. It will hinder you in every aspect of life and is something many people need to check, not just once, but on an ongoing basis.
      I urge you to dig deep and think about how you want to be seen. Likeability does not in any way diminish your competence.

    3. Vina*

      Just because someone disagrees with you or doesn’t have your level of specific knowledge doesn’t make them ignorant overall. Businesses want people with different mindsets, skill sets, and approaches for a reason.

      There are very, very few areas where there is only one truth and only one way from start to finish. There are likely 100 adequate ways to do any one thing. Often, businesses will chose a method that is suboptimal for the specific process, but better for the business overall.

      I think LW has something else going on that’s causing her to be so absolutist and rigid in her thinking. She needs to get to the root of that or it will destroy her career and her personal life. I have no idea what’s going on, but some level of career coaching and personal therapy might help. Yes, it may well be that this is limited only to her work. But, if I were in her shoes, I’d want to be sure. We humans are really horrible at seeing ourselves for who and what we really are. It takes work. Some of us, unfortunately, have to learn in the trenches of adulthood.

      She needs to step back and realize that the problem is larger than this one person or this one job. There’s something else going on. I have no idea what. I doubt she does. She needs to work on that.

      1. Littorally*

        I agree with the therapy suggestion, not necessarily because I think the LW has anything diagnosable going on — there’s certainly not enough basis in the letter to make such a determination! — but because I think a therapist would be highly valuable in helping them find strategies to manage working with coworkers they dislike or don’t respect. Some people have this skill more innately than others, and it sounds like the LW needs to specifically practice it in a conscious way, and a therapist can be a great coach for that kind of thing.

        Because that’s gonna happen. At any job, unless you strike the coworker jackpot, there will be people you interact with that you don’t respect at all. I’ve had it in every office. And you gotta keep the professional face on and not let your feelings show.

        1. Vina*

          Therapy isn’t only for people with something “diagnosable.” It’s often a great idea for perfectly neurotypical adults who just need perspective.

          LW needs a perspective adjustment.

          1. Caliente*

            Yeah, I think we’re learning every day in every way- respect others whether you like them or not.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            This. It’s another form of getting help from an expert.

            The fact that I can’t crochet doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me, it just means I haven’t learned and don’t know enough to get started. I’m a lot better off getting lessons/consulting YouTube/whatever than trying to figure it out unassisted.

          3. VanLH*

            I am glad you said perspective adjustment and not needing an attitude adjustment session.

        2. allathian*

          Yeah, this. You don’t need to be mentally ill to see a therapist or dying to see a doctor.
          In every job I’ve had, I’ve had to deal with people I don’t particularly like or just find extremely annoying. I’m professional with them (until I fail at it, see below), but I don’t go out of my way to be nice to them. As in, I don’t engage with them socially. Just as there are some who won’t engage with me socially, but will work with me if necessary. Of course, it helps a bit that I’m from a direct culture. Social interaction is considered a nice thing to have by most people, but it’s not essential to getting things done.
          The toughest people to deal with for me are those I like on a personal level but can’t respect professionally. ExManager was one of those. She wanted to be friends with her reports (oh no) and as a consequence wasn’t a very effective manager. She’d also been working as a specialist for all of her career, until she became a manager of my team. When she had to make unpopular decisions, she took it very hard emotionally. One of our team had to go on a long-term medical leave, and because the report’s job was what she had been doing before her promotion, she took most of that on instead of delegating it among her other reports, because we had too much to do. So she was doing the job of two people for six months, and it took a toll on her. My job is pretty independent and I can do most of it without constant supervision, but when I need a manager’s input, I usually need it pretty quickly. It got tough trying to navigate getting what I needed from her and not stressing her out too much. It’s very hard to respect someone as a manager when you’ve had them crying on your shoulder because they’re at a point of breakdown. She would also do things like whine about how tough her job as a manager was, and what can a report say to that? Then I got overworked, she had too much on her plate, and both of us behaved very unprofessionally in the workplace. We were overworked but I questioned her right to eliminate a part of my job that I particularly enjoyed, claiming that she didn’t understand the requirements of my job because she’d never done it… In short, I screwed up pretty badly. In some places, I would have been fired for insubordination, but I didn’t even get put on a PIP. She practically ordered me to take advantage of our EAP, though. I’m so glad she did. We had a few sessions with our employment counselor to figure out what we needed to do so that it wouldn’t happen again. Thanks to reading AAM and my ongoing sessions with a therapist, I’ve learned that I personally can’t respect a manager as a manager if they overshare things about their private lives (I know far too much about my manager’s issues with her adult children) or if they complain about their work to me. I’m their report, not their counselor. I just couldn’t articulate it at the time, especially when my ExManager accused me of not respecting her role. Now my ExManager is spending a year working as a specialist in another organization. I’m really enjoying working with my current manager. She’s new to management as well, but she’s friendly, professional, very good at communicating her expectations and she doesn’t overshare. If I need something from her at short notice, I know she’ll get back to me as soon as she can and my request won’t be buried in her inbox for weeks while I wonder when I can ask her to look at it. Then we’ll take a look at things and adjust our process if at all possible so that the next time I won’t need her input on that particular matter. Of course, some things always need a manager’s input. In short, I can and do respect her as a manager. My ExManager is returning to us in the fall. When she left, she hinted that she’d be coming back as a specialist. Even if she’s coming back as a manager, I’ve learned so much during her absence and she only has a year or two to go until retirement, that I’m sure I can deal with her as my manager if she does return to that role. But I’m really hoping that we can keep our current manager, because she’s really good, and I suspect she might go elsewhere if she’s demoted back to a subject-matter specialist.

      2. NW Mossy*

        It’s particularly important to learn early that your manager often will not have as much/more technical expertise than you do, and that this is both normal and desirable in many cases. What they bring to the table is not their ability to do your job well – it’s their ability to do their own (very different) job well.

          1. BessMarvin*

            This, totally. I work on a business’ website and my boss knows very little about how websites are built, what is possible or… less possible, how much time things will take, etc. It’s not his job to know those things — he does the big-picture running of our part of the company. It’s MY role to know those things and to explain the relevant information he needs to make decisions. By the same token he knows a lot about areas of our company’s business that I have no knowledge of (nor do I particuarly want to — I enjoy my area of expertise and have no desire to have a corner office).

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Amen. My boss does happen to have better skills than I do in some areas, but I have better skills than he does in others (and in some respects I’m both better educated and smarter), but he’s also a *far* better manager of people than I will ever be. He’s great at the job; I would be . . . not the worst, but far less effective and a lot more miserable at it.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            Exactly this!
            I work in accounting. My (former) boss needed my help on several occasions to write a Vlookup formula and get a pivot table working to do some basic variance analysis. A manager in a finance department with slightly dodgy Excel skills? Not a confidence booster; but if you needed someone in your corner to deal with mentoring and tricky managerial issues, Janice is who you wanted.
            (There were myriad other reasons why I couldn’t wait to leave her department, but her management expertise wasn’t one of them)

        2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          And that’s a key element of leadership; the ability to recognize and acknowledge what you don’t know or can’t do and to find people who do have the necessary knowledge and skills. Leaders can’t possibly know and do absolutely everything, and no one should expect them to! That doesn’t make them incompetent and it certainly doesn’t mean that staff who have specific knowledge or skills should treat them (or anyone else!) with contempt.

          Perhaps we should rethink the term “soft skills” – it suggests that they’re somehow less challenging to learn and apply, require less intelligence and overall are less important than technical ones. They’re none of the above; they can make or break your career. LW, please take Alison’s reply to heart, take responsibility for your own behavior and take a fresh look at what you need to do from now on in order to move forward and really make this a one-time mistake – not the beginning of a pattern.

        3. Anne*

          ^^^ This. My supervisor could never do my job. However, he is very wise and knows what is best for our organization.

        4. Karia*

          Yep. There’s a digital company, Moz, who have two separate tracks, technical and people wrangling. It’s to recognise the different skill sets and avoid the common problem where an excellent individual contributor gets promoted into a people management role they’re both bad at and hate.

    4. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

      This. Also, it’s ok to have a manager that you just *can’t* work with, and it’s a legitimate reason for leaving a job. Some managers do suck! But being a jerk in response will only harm you in the end. Grit your teeth, be professional, and look for a new job.

    5. Chinook*

      I was taught that the difference is between respecting the person vs. respecting position. I have had many ti es when I have either worked woth or worked for individuals that I could not stand, but I was most successful at my job when I remembered to respect the position they held even if I thought the person was insufferable. They hold that position for a reason (good or not) and have information or skills I need, so it is up to me how to work with them to get it.

      1. Littorally*

        Agreed. At OldJob, one of my main trainers in a role I was promoted to was absolutely insufferable and made a lot of comments that revealed him to be a scumbag in his personal life. I had zero respect for him as an individual. But he was the guy who had the knowledge I needed to excel in my job, and I respected that — so I sucked it up, learned everything I could from him, and as soon as my training ended I enacted a policy of being absolutely professional and polite toward him but not an inch more than that. It’s what you have to do when you work with people.

      2. Elbereth*

        there’s another one too: respecting expertise, regardless of the person or the position. Something I learned in a company with a long history of employing army veterans.

      3. allathian*

        I’ve had the opposite problem. My ex manager was a wonderful human being, but she was so bad at her job that while I respected her as a human being, I couldn’t respect her as a manager. I posted a long post about that but it seems caught in moderation for some reason. I might repost some of it later if it doesn’t appear. She did a lot of things that bad managers do, like overshared about her private life, complained to her reports how tough her job was, and was so overworked that her reports ended up not telling her things we should have because we didn’t want to burden her further. In short, a recipe for disaster. But she’s a lovely person, and I could easily be her friend and a shoulder to cry on, if she’s not my manager.

        1. Karia*

          I briefly worked for someone like this. Lovely lovely person. But constantly over shared and seemed to think us being bffs was in my job description.

    6. Boomerang Girl*

      I agree 100%. My friend is brilliant but can’t hold on to a job longer than 1-2 years. I am convinced that it’s because she shows that she thinks are bosses are not that smart. In fairness, they have not been that competent. I have suggested to her that although it’s fine to vent to me as her friend, she has to find something she likes about her boss—because her contempt may be coming through, even though she doesn’t say anything bad to them.

    7. Lentils*

      YES. I work in an insular field. Years ago, I had a coworker who was very good at part of her job (the part that didn’t involve people). She was passionate. She cared so, so deeply about doing the right thing. But woe betide you if you disagreed with her. She campaigned to have our manager fired (and in her defense our manager wasn’t great, but not for the reasons she thought). She complained constantly, to and about people. When she applied and was rejected for an internal promotion, she went on a weeks long tear, railing against the successful candidate because in her mind, she was far better suited and had more degrees. FYI, that successful candidate is now at the top of her field.

      This former coworker CANNOT get long-term work. At all. She gets interviewed, sometimes she gets hired. Mostly contract gigs. If she smells a PIP, she’s out. At a recent-ish industry event, she spent part of it bashing her current employer and the other part trying to get rehired at my organization. It’s been a decade since I worked with her and she hasn’t seen steady employment or an increase in responsibilities since, though I know she has definite career aspirations. Like OP, she also feels that many would vouch for her soft skills and considers herself generally well-liked by her peers. And maybe there are a few who do like her! But because our industry is so tight, there are several dozen who have experienced her negativity and inability to understand grey areas. It’s to the point where people know *of* her without ever actually meeting her. OP, the actionable thing is, like many are saying, is break the cycle now. Reflect, understand where these feeling are coming from, and understand where you exist in your organization’s ecosystem. Listen more than you speak.

  2. TimeTravlR*

    You worked for me once, didn’t you? I had an employee much like you… she was fired from her previous job but I took a chance on her because of her expertise. I fired her too.
    It’s a shame… she really did know her stuff… but, as you seem to, she thought everyone else was an idiot.
    Hint: We’re not.

    1. Amanda*

      This is pretty harsh wording, but not actually unfair.

      OP, you messed up. It happens to everybody at some point, but understanding how you went wrong and truly owning it are vital parts of moving forward, and possibly salvaging your reputation. Think about it, you are early in your carreer, and already you’re commenting on your manager’s *ignorance*? Honestly, it feels like you don’t even have enough experience to make that kind of judgement.

      And try not toto justify it or rely on people higher than your manager as a counter reference, because this probably was such a red flag for everyone who heard you make such comments, I’d be surprised anyone else in that company would be willing to vouch for you. If you do get passed over for other jobs, try to remember it’s not your old manager being a block on your carreer, it’s your own behavior and work history. He’s just truthfully answering questions from his own contacts about a former employee, no being a massive bad guy.

      Alison is right, you need to do some soul searching yesterday and start taking action now if you want to recover even a little of your reputation.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I definitely got a bit big for my britches in my early jobs. Not enough to cause problems with my coworkers or endanger my employment, but I recall some things I said out of insecurity that make me cringe. But I learned and quit doing that stuff. Work is a lot easier when you’re not looking to take somebody down a peg.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I was such a pain in the ass in my early years in the workforce, so I assume that all my pain-in-the-ass hires (not the majority of them, but I have some) are some sort of karmatic retribution and my former bosses are laughing somewhere and don’t know why.

          The longer I do this, the more I’ll take someone with 80% of the technical job requirements and 20% people skills v. someone with 99% of the technical skills and 1% of the people skills. Life is too short to spend most of my waking hours with assholes.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        “He’s just truthfully answering questions from his own contacts about a former employee, no being a massive bad guy.”

        In fact, he’d be being a worse ‘bad guy’ if he failed to give an honest, considered report to reference checkers in his field and allowed them to make a problematic hire without benefit of this important information about the candidate.

        And on a side note, how is it that so many people with problematic histories (especially temper / interpersonal issues) are able to interview so well, and so many people who would be excellent employees have mediocre interview skills? So many hiring horror stories start out with, “They interviewed really well, but then . . . ”

        For the OP, Alison has given you solid advice on how to handle interviews and and land your next job. And once that has happened, you really need to practice self-control over what you feel on the inside versus what you display outwardly. I managed someone who, when my boss (his grandboss) and I spoke with him about his emotional outbursts and snarky asides, had genuine questions about how to manage his emotions at work. He asked us what to do (instead of publicly venting) if he felt aggravated and overwhelmed at work. In the moment, we suggested that he could take a break and go for a walk or into a conference room and get hold of himself, leaving me, his manager, to take care of the faculty member standing in front of him. That was a temporary solution while he was on a PIP to try to assist him with reaching his own state of equilibrium. Ideally, we wanted him to manage his emotions and control any outward hostility, snark, or other shows of disrespect. Ultimately, it’s up to you to look into how to practice some form of self-management in this area. Other people can offer suggestions for temporary or in-the-moment fixes, but you will need to research and practice ways to permanently manage your outward responses going forward.

        1. Spearmint*

          “And on a side note, how is it that so many people with problematic histories (especially temper / interpersonal issues) are able to interview so well, and so many people who would be excellent employees have mediocre interview skills? So many hiring horror stories start out with, “They interviewed really well, but then . . .”

          My hot take on this is that interviewing is not actually a great way to assess candidates. Unfortunately, i’ts not clear what a better alternative would be.

          Interviewing is a relatively brief, performative social interaction, and for some people, it’s easy to game the system and turn up the charisma and flash in a 1 hour interaction, even if they don’t necessarily have great soft skills day to day. Sometimes I think people who are arrogant or otherwise difficult to work with often are also really good at first impressions/social confidence/superficial charm.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            I’ve heard a lot of complaints from other autistics about failing interviews because they didn’t make enough eye contact, and that immediately disqualified them regardless of any other points (in their favor or against it), so I’m in agreement with you.

            I, uh, also don’t have a better alternative, though.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Forehead trick has worked for me, although I haven’t had a non-academic interview yet so fingers crossed that it’ll still carry me through. I’ve heard a lot of scary things about interviewing while autistic, though. I’m trying not to be anxious about the thought, but, well…

                1. Cymru*

                  Practice with neurotypical people who have conducted interviews.
                  It’s especially helpful if they’re also blunt.
                  Look up questions that might come up and practice answers to them. I find it helpful to write down (or type up) the answers as I come up with them and repeat the things or variations on the things I wrote down so that I’m not rigidly memorizing (as we are wont to do) this makes the words flow more like a conversation than a rote exercise. It helps if you write down the answers like you are speaking and not like you’re writing, so say what you’re writing (or typing) out loud as you do it, if it sounds like you’re reading out of a textbook to your ears it will sound that way to their’s too.
                  Take a breath before answering the questions, an actual breath, in and out and in again to get enough air to answer the question. This does two things, 1) it settles your nerves and 2) it gives you a couple seconds to organize your thoughts before you say anything.
                  If you feel comfortable doing so, ask if they can have a copy of the questions printed out for you at the interview (I frame it as part of my accommodations but you can always just say you find it helps without explicitly saying “accommodation”). I find it helps to have the words in front of me so that I can make sure I understood the whole question and didn’t miss an important word or part. For academic interviews I know there’s often a presentation involved, and follow-up questions, you can always ask the person in charge to ask the panel to write their questions down during it and to give them to you during the question time (again only if you feel comfortable, otherwise again try to find common questions and write down and practice answers to them like above).
                  Thankfully with COVID the handshakes have gone pretty much away, and it’s easier to pretend you’re looking someone in the eye over camera.

                2. KoiFeeder*

                  I’d probably want that copy anyways, since my ears are not friends with my brain. The amount of times I’ve had to say things like “Okay, so I know you didn’t say pineapple opossum, so what did I mishear this time?” is… If I had a penny, I’d be making more than the powerball winnings.

              2. Prague*

                You can also warn people that you may not make direct eye contact because you are thinking very deeply about it.

                My pattern is a mix of writing down the question or notes on it, sweeping the panel with eye contact while in thinking pose (studying body language books can help tell you what cues to give), giving an answer without making direct eye contact (look sideways/behind, not down), then finishing with eye contact. It comes off as a strong finish and gives the impression you’ve made more eye contact overall than you actually did.

                It’s a this-then-that pattern that is less distracting. Given time and practice, you can increase the number of quick eye sweeps as you transition between key points.

            1. The Assistant*

              In a group interview, try to look at each person (wherever on the person, it doesn’t matter) while answering a question. Nobody will actually notice your lack of actual eye contact because you’re sweeping the room, but somehow it is perceived as engaging everyone.

              Hand gestures towards your interviewer also work. You have to practice this a bit, though.

              With video interviews, just look at the camera dot!

              1. KoiFeeder*

                *flashback to the time I got too excited while infodumping about carp and dislocated my wrist gesturing*

                1. Harper the Other One*

                  Oh, no! But this is totally something I can picture my daughter doing. She’s 9 and so passionate about the things she loves!

            2. char*

              Yes, I’ve had this issue myself. I’m easily tongue-tied and bad at speaking off the cuff. It can take me a while to figure out how to word things, which leads to a lot of awkward pauses. I’m anxious around people I don’t know. And I’m pretty much incapable of simultaneously processing language and looking at faces – I can look at you, or I can pay attention to you, but not both at the same time. So I tend to interview poorly.

              The thing is, those sorts of interactions, where I need to speak off-the-cuff to a stranger, make up maybe 0.01% of my job. But it’s 100% of what you see in an interview.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Ah, you’re like me, then. I can talk, or I can listen, or I can “properly” emote, or I can process someone’s face, but I can only do one! If I do all of them at once, everything falls apart.

            3. Lexi*

              Fun fact, most people *really* don’t like it if you maintain eye contact with them. Most NTs make eye contact very briefly in tiny amounts, but get upset if you’re not looking at them at that moment.

              The main thing I’ve learned is there’s a tiny eye flicker when they’re about to look at you, and if you can catch it and look at them for the microsecond that they actually want eye contact they get the connection they were looking for.
              This is also a great time to telegraph a relevant emotion to show how engaged you are.

              As far as I’ve gathered, this tends to happen at more intense conversational beats, so if you see one’s coming up you can be prepared. You can also initiate it yourself once you work out where the most impactful moments are.

              (tl;dr: NTs have no idea how conversations actually work and if you put some effort into learning them you can cheat real well)

              1. Koala dreams*

                Yes, that’s so confusing about the advice to keep eye contact. It’s not actually polite to stare at people! Illogical advice like that is so annoying. Interesting to hear about the eye flicker thing, I’m going to look for that now.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  I can’t make even brief eye contact. My wires are crossed and so it’s physically painful, like someone sticking a needle through my eye. Wincing at people when you look at them is not a pro social move.

                2. HA2*

                  Yeah, I remember reading this great article (that I wish I still had the link to) about what people ACTUALLY do with their eyes during a conversation. (Spoiler alert – it’s not “maintain eye contact”.)

                  It was something like – typically look at the speaker person’s mouth (to help understand what they’re saying), then a glance up towards eyes was effectively a way of “requesting permission to speak”, then if the other person meets your eyes and pauses it’s “passing the conch” and it’s your turn to speak, something like that. I don’t remember exactly.

                  It’s also all subconscious, so if you ask a NT person about this they will *absolutely* not be able to describe what they’re doing with their eyes in a conversation.

              2. Avasarala*

                Yes, good point about conversational beats! I think NTs (of which I am one) most make/notice eye contact when they are speaking and coming to the end of their thought/beat. This is when we signal turn-taking, or try to read the other person for agreement/their reaction, or shift our focus from what we are saying to trying to read the other person and listen to them. But actually I don’t make a lot of eye-contact when I’m speaking, moreso when I am listening to demonstrate listening and to respond to those beats.

                1. allathian*

                  I’m pretty NT myself, and I definitely try to catch the speaker’s eye when I’m listening in a small group or 1:1. When I’m speaking, not so much. The few times I’ve had to have big presentations at conferences in my career, I followed the advice of engaging the audience by looking at the exit signs in turn and someone I knew on the third or fourth row. Making presentations is not my strong suit and doing it wrings me dry, but I can deal with it if it’s once every five years!
                  I’m not sure if it would help, but having a notebook to jot quick notes in may help. It will at least give you a reason not to look at people all the time when you’re speaking.

          2. Littorally*

            It’s like that Churchill quote about democracy — interviewing is the worst possible way to go about hiring, except for all the others that have been tried.

          3. The Assistant*

            There really is something to this. I’m fantastic at interviews. I’ve never had a problem with them, and while I don’t always get offers, it’s usually because there’s a job fit mismatch recognized by both sides.

            I really don’t have soft skills at all. I work on them every day and I’m leaps better than I was in my first jobs! But man, this letter could have been written by me at 25.

            My interview persona and work persona are very different, and I consciously adopt the interview persona. My work persona is very down-to-business, all about the technical skills, all about solving problems. Interviews are more of a fact-finding mission, much easier to have casual conversation and charisma.

          4. Kelly*

            The people who have the performative interview personality can maintain it for the interview, but like you said can prove difficult to work with in the long term. They often can maintain that facade for those above them in their work hierarchy and people they don’t work with frequently.

            I work with one colleague who is on the surface very charming and super confident, and is arrogant and condescending to those whom she views as beneath her. She doesn’t take well to people who contradict her that she deems as below her in both intelligence, experience and education. I’m truly shocked that she has reputation as a team player, because in my experience she’s absolutely not a team player. I was the victim of a false accusation from her and was written up for something that was blatantly false. The HR person did acknowledge that my colleague did not go through the proper channels, but had to do something to appease her, ergo my writeup.

          5. Koalafied*

            Exactly – these workers have internalized the idea that they need to be pleasant and cooperative in an interview in order to get the job, but they have not come to the same conclusion about how they need to be at work once they get the job.

        2. Secret Identity*

          I think interview skills are overrated. There are some people who are just made for things like job interviews – they love it and they really do well at it. Whether or not they’re good employees really has no relation to their interviewing skills.
          Me, on the other hand, I’m pretty terrible at interviews. I get tongue-tied, I tend to make stupid jokes due to nervousness, and I’m pretty awkward. And, I can’t help the nervousness/anxiety. I can’t relax, I feel like I’m being interrogated and I just flat-out hate job interviews. But that’s not at all a good indicator of what kind of employee I am. I think of myself as an excellent employee who goes above and beyond and gets along well with coworkers. My reviews reflect that. My interviews? Not so much.

          1. Fikly*

            You’re harming yourself with this attitude. It’s like saying, I don’t like the game, so I won’t play it. Well, you need to if you want to get a job.

            While yes, almost everything some people will be naturally better at than others, doing well at an interview is indeed a skill that can be learned, as can the skill of managing your anxiety. You may not be able to prevent the anxiety, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn skills that mean you can cope with or prevent the anxiety from interfering with the interview.

            If you tell yourself you will fail before you try, you will fail. It’s like on those competition reality shows when there’s a challenge involving something the contestant is uncomfortable with or unskilled at. There tend to be two responses, those who say, well, this is not going to go well, and those who go, what a fun opportunity! The first group almost always go home, and the second not only tend to stay, but sometimes they even end up winning the challenege.

        3. valentine*

          he’d be being a worse ‘bad guy’ if he failed to give an honest, considered report to reference checkers in his field
          So would the other references, which I’m not sure OP has considered. Let’s say all the references super duper like and respect OP and don’t hold the attitude, rudeness, or quitting against them, and really can speak to other soft skills. What do they say if it comes to “Does OP play well with others? How does OP handle conflict, especially with someone senior to them?”

          OP, you’ve got to move your behavior bar significantly up from raised voice/swearing. That is the bar of an abusive “I’ll give you something to cry about” parent who points to allegedly worse things as being “real” abuse.

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          How did it go with that fella? Did he improve a bunch, or maybe a little but not enough and you had to let him go? Ever hear if he was able to pull it together later on?

          I’m just NoseyPants today.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            He got a job in another department while he was still on his PIP. I was worried that he would improve for the length of his PIP and then revert to his old ways, because he could always perform “good employee” when he had to, but he didn’t tend to stay in character long-term.

            The department he went to was one where I had previously worked for 8 years, and I still had strong relationships with the people he’d be working closely with, so I felt an especially strong obligation to give my honest assessment.

            The person who called to check his reference was someone who started right after I left, but I knew him from going to a couple of lunches and dinners out with my old team. He said that Wakeen was their top finalist and that he had interviewed very well and they were getting ready to hire him. I told him that he had interviewed very well with us, as well, but that he’d had problems in his interactions with faculty and staff. I told him that I’d had faculty tell me they didn’t feel respected at the front desk, and the sorts of things that Wakeen had said and done to cause that perception. He said he was still considering making the offer and asked me if I had advice on how to manage Wakeen if he decided to do so. I told him that Wakeen was really uncomfortable with ambiguity, despite that being a feature of the type of work that we do, and that I’d advise, as much as possible, to provide regularity and let him see his tasks coming from a long way off.

            He thanked me for my honest assessment, and he did end up hiring Wakeen. I ended up going to a new job where my boss was Wakeen’s boss’ domestic partner, and he told me that his partner had had kind of a soft spot for Wakeen as young gay man who maybe didn’t know not to take his sassy smack-talking from his social life to his work, and that he could mentor him and provide a stronger role model. It did work out somewhat, in that Wakeen had more of a wish to please his new supervisor. But I’ve heard that a lot of people there still think he’s a jackass because he hasn’t completely changed his old ways.

        5. biobotb*

          Regarding people with problematic histories interviewing well, if those problems stem from arrogance, that same arrogance will probably make it easier for them to sell themselves in an interview. It’s so much easier to sell yourself when you don’t really think you have any negative points!

        6. HA2*

          “And on a side note, how is it that so many people with problematic histories (especially temper / interpersonal issues) are able to interview so well, and so many people who would be excellent employees have mediocre interview skills? So many hiring horror stories start out with, “They interviewed really well, but then . . . ””

          Could be because of “selection bias”.

          People who are problematic AND have that come out in their interview just don’t end up getting very far in their careers, so you never see them. People who are great employees AND interview well tend to get hired quickly and then stay at their job for a while, so they don’t do much interviewing.

          That leaves the other two categories: People who are mediocre at interviewing have to do a lot of interviewing to get hired. So you see a lot of them doing the interview circuit, and many eventually turn out to be great employees. People who are problematic employees can’t keep a job after being hired, so you see them on the interview circuit too.

          It’s like the thing where a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with terrible decor is likely to have good food. Because restaurants that have bad food AND bad decor go out of business, so that means if a restaurant is in business AND has no ambiance it’s probably because the food is really good.

        7. Paulina*

          The discontinuity between interviewing well and then having problem behaviour once hired suggests that these individuals know what they’re supposed to do, enough to give the right responses, but haven’t internalized the truth of it enough to actually behave like that on a day-to-day basis. It’s as if the interview is just another test to ace and the material for it is just another set of things they know they’re supposed to say. It’s also possible that the interview is concentrating on technical material rather than interpersonal, especially for earlier-in-career jobs, but I’ve seen a lot of interviewees fake their way through that too and then be surprised that they’re actually expected to have their skills current that are both on their CV and asked about in the interview. They turn their best behaviour and answers on for an hour or so, but haven’t internalized it and can’t keep it up.

      3. TimeTravlR*

        Yes it was harsh. I think Today Me was still trying to save Old Employee from herself. She wasn’t some kid who maybe just needed to learn… she was close to my age and I’m old! It was something of a warning, I suppose, to OP… Don’t assume you’re always the smartest person in the room.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          And even if you ARE the smartest person in the room (or think you are), the last thing you want to do is telegraph that to others in the room in any way whatsoever. Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant; letting someone know you think you’re smarter than them is a surefire way to alienate people. If you really ARE that smart, let it be your own little secret, to be shared with no one! ;-p

      4. Emilia Bedelia*

        It sounds like the manager did in fact appreciate that OP was knowledgeable and good at the job, even! It’s possible that even if the manager is giving as nice a reference as possible (“excellent at the job, just needs a little more maturing” or “good technical skills, needs a little bit of work in soft skills” or something like that), the hiring manager is thinking “I need someone who is excellent at the soft skills, who I can train on the techy stuff… this isn’t going to work”. OP is probably dodging a bullet in that if they aren’t emotionally ready to face a similar work situation at the new company, they will end up right back where they started, with another burned bridge.

        My point here is that even if they get rejected from all the jobs, it’s not necessarily because the manager is deliberately blocking the OP. Even if the old manager gracefully declines to give a reference, that can also speak volumes about a candidate.

    2. JokeyJules*

      i have a coworker like that. thank goodness he never needs help on his projects because i dont think he would be able to get someone to help him willingly.

      OP, if the ONLY good thing someone can say about you as an employee is that you are good at solely the technical aspect of your job, that is a problem that will follow you.

    3. caps22*

      Hey now, you can’t speak for everyone. Maybe I *am* an idiot – did you ever think about that??? :)

    4. concerned*

      This is something I worry about for myself. I have of course never called anyone anything or said anything bad for them, but I’m often the only technical person in my field working with a lot of completely non-technical people who have worked in their respective field for a long time, and I’m the one trying to implement new technologies that they have not used before. I do not have a poker face, and I’m scared that sometimes they can see my frustration or think that I’m being overly insistent on something that is important tech-wise, but in their day to day work. So I feel like I”m constantly explaining to or teaching people several levels above me. No one has every said anything to me about it, and there are plenty of non-technical people who clearly like working with me, but its something I”m worried about.

      1. Caliente*

        You know here’s the way to combat that – how would you like to be treated when you have no idea about how to do something and you ask or have questions and someone decides you’re a jerk undeserving of respect because you have…questions. Seems ridiculous doesn’t it.

        1. concerned*

          That’s. . . . not how I treat people.

          It has taught me that if I don’t know how something works, I shouldn’t make assumptions or declarations about it, because I’ve seen how ridiculous people seem when they know it. I’m a big believer in listening to the people who are experts in each field.

        2. Fikly*

          Wow, projecting much?

          A person says sometimes I get frustrated, but I understand that that’s my experience, and them having a hard time learning this is in no way a bad reflection on them, and I’m concerned I’m making a bad impression, and your response is to lash out?

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I always make sure to let people I’m working with know I’m frustrated at the situation, not them. That helps a lot. Then if they see your look of frustration, they know it’s not because you are actually thinking poorly of them but just that the situation is grinding your gears!

        And also really focus on that situational sort of way because it helps a LOT.

        I used to have a lot shorter temper and patience as well. But I channel it differently and it helps a ton. I think “It’s not John’s fault that he doesn’t get how this works, it’s easy to me because it’s my expertise and my job to know these things.” This is literally why I pre-fill in paperwork for people whenever possible. Because I’m a certified paper pusher and most others are not.

        1. snoopythedog*

          Seconding this.

          I’ve even followed up after a tense conversation to apologize and let them know I’m frustrated at the situation and not them.

        2. booksbooksbooksmorebooks*

          Thirding! Honestly that follow up conversation and framing can sometimes really bring people onto your side – they’re learning something too, they’re also probably frustrated.

      3. booksbooksbooksmorebooks*

        I have such a complex about this. Add in being self-taught and usually the only woman in the room in a technical field (at least in past: now I’m leading, often, a team of women consulting in a male field). My poker face is laughable too, but I think a little frustration is ok if you’re not directing it at people. Personally I worry that I vary between using more couching language than I should and coming off way too strong. Speaking training, ongoing internal check ins, and lots of feedback has helped, but woof.

        It sounds like you’re trying and being kind about it, and if nothing else, the past decade has taught me that you can indeed kill ’em with kindness when you’re trying to establish expertise and lead technical changes. Good luck, concerned. The fact that you’re worried, in the room still, and obviously can respect being there with people levels above you is a great sign.

      4. Minocho*

        I was (and still can be) a little arrogant in my specialties. One of the mantras I use when I suspect I’m getting a little big for my own britches is “Everyone’s job looks easy from the outside.”

        It really helps me get out of nerdy arrogant technical mode into human being mode.

  3. Anonymous Poster*

    Unfortunately, personality matters a lot at most jobs. While technical expertise is fantastically important, if an employee is unable to work well with others, then it doesn’t really matter much. Denigrating your boss and coworkers is not acceptable, and I’m surprised your boss put up with it for so long.

    I had a coworker that I was training who often would question my technical expertise and not believe me on a system I was trying to teach them. It kept escalating, until the person’s manager had to discuss with them whether this role was appropriate or not. They were very bright, but simply refused to listen to others and would talk down to them. It doesn’t work in the professional world, even those folks that we admire for their technical expertise and had ‘difficult’ personalities didn’t, as a matter of course, act arrogantly to those around them.

    Please learn from this experience that you have to be more accepting of others’ capabilities and places, and that there’s a time and a place to ask after why they did what they did. You can even correct them! But try, if at all possible, to avoid doing it in public, and be polite about it.

    Based on how you describe yourself, I wouldn’t want to work with you either. You have to be part of a professional ‘team’ now, so recognize that your team members and you are in it together.

    1. annakarina1*

      Agreed. At my performance reviews, my review is just as much about my personality and ability to get along with others as it is about me being good at the basic technical aspects of my job. It also matters whenever I’ve worked at major work events and get positive feedback on my interaction with guests, and I didn’t realize that my colleagues were observing me or taking note of it.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      I don’t think it’s unfortunate, to be honest. Or that it’s about personality. People generally don’t want to be surrounded by people who are nasty to them. That’s just…humanity.

      And I’d argue that professionalism is even more important early in a career. It’s more valuable than technical skills because those technical skills are still fairly amorphous and aren’t focused, they become more so through your career.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I was just going to say this. It’s not unfortunate. Life is too short to work with jerks.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          There’s one coworker at my old job who’s a hardworking rockstar and if she applied to my current job and I had to work with her, I’d quit.

          She was sarcastic to the point of me having to fight full body cringe if she commented on something I’d done. I would 100% expend whatever social capital I have not to work with her again.

          1. Daffy Duck*

            Ohhh – I have one of those in my past also. I wouldn’t say I quit my old job because of her but she sure made it easy to jump ship when spouse got an offer across the country. She kissed up and kicked down, was often AWOL and would disappear and say she was with another department (when we compared notes she wasn’t). I would absolutely quit if she became my coworker again and I LOVE my current job.

        2. Fikly*

          I was listening to that new podcast by two of the actors from Scrubs, and they were commenting that the show’s writer/show runner had one big rule: no assholes. Anyone who was an asshole got fired. And they talked about how nice that made it to work there, and how they wish other shows followed that rule.

          1. Marni*

            I first heard about that no assholes rule from Wil Wheaton. John Rogers talks about it a lot too. I think a lot of showrunners profess it.

            I met the show runner from Scrubs once and he was a giant asshole to me and the people I was with, so YMMV.

      2. High School Teacher*

        Agreed. My second year in my career I had a new coworker who really just seemed to dislike all of us. If you asked her how her weekend was, she’d reply “please don’t ask me personal questions.” She would cut people out of conversations and make passive aggressive comments constantly. It was very odd! I eventually came to the realization that I actually do think we owe our coworkers kindness no matter how we might be feeling. There are social scripts we all follow to keep things running smoothly and I do think we owe niceties to our colleagues.

      3. Tupac Coachella*

        I have to agree-not unfortunate, and not about personality. In most workplaces, there is a legitimate business need to get along with others. Being approachable and easy to work with makes other people more comfortable sharing ideas (every now and then one of those “ignorant” folks actually does have some context or insight that improves the work, because that’s why they were hired), improves the flow of projects, speeds up decision making, and creates a respectful environment. One person who treats others poorly can bring down an entire project or function, and no amount of rockstar energy can replace the contributions of everyone else at your company. It’s part of the job for most roles to leverage others to do your work better, and you can’t do that if others don’t want to deal with you.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I once had a member of staff who was a technical genius, had even worked at CERN, knew everything about SQL forward and backwards.

      But, I still had to get rid of him. He was vocally homophobic and transphobic, called customers ‘idiots’ and showed up drunk on an increasingly regular basis. That was my first managerial experience with firing someone. I often wonder if I could have done better.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        If someone’s workplace norms are so skewed to think they’re entitled to turn up to work drunk repeatedly, I think that’s beyond the ken of 99.9% of managers.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          To be honest, I was more offended by the lack of any respect he was showing gay and trans members of staff. He also told me once that not having kids meant I wasn’t a real woman. Dude was a mess, but claimed it was his right to have his bigoted opinions.

          1. LDN Layabout*

            I agree those are definitely worse, but unfortunately holding/expressing those views still isn’t seen as a minus across the board as turning up drunk is (if that makes sense, looking at it from a workplace norms POV)

          2. Littorally*

            I mean, sure, it’s his right to have those opinions… not so much his right to express them. It’s a shame that the venn diagram of “people who think it’s their right to shove their opinions down everyone’s throats” and “unabashed bigots” has so much overlap.

            1. asterisk*

              I’m always reminded of that XKCD comic about hateful opinions–it’s your right to have them, even your right to express them, but you don’t have a right to not to have to face negative consequences if you do.


          3. Jean*

            It is his right to have them. It’s not his right or his privilege to share that crap in the workplace. You were 100% right to fire him just for the hatefulness alone, not to mention the fact that he was setting your company up to be sued for condoning a hostile workplace.

            1. James*

              Yeah–if you ever feel bad, remember that this person was a lawsuit waiting to happen. As a manager it’s your obligation to protect your company from such things. It’s also your obligation to protect the other workers. Being a genius doesn’t matter; in fact, it makes it worse. If he’s that smart he should know what the potential consequences are.

          4. Adele*

            It is his right to have his bigoted opinions. It is not his right to inflict them on his coworkers and clients. It is not his right to behave to coworkers and clients in a way the company deems disrespectful and against its interests. The people he meets outside of work can decide how they feel about his opinions and behavior and act accordingly. One can only hope someone will decide that is to punch him in the nose.

          5. Fikly*

            He’s definitely has a right to the opinions, but not the right to be free of the consequences of vocalizing them.

            But people like that don’t understand that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.

            1. Karia*

              This. I’m betting he still thinks he was unfairly treated by his supervisor and probably mutters into his beer about “PC gone mad”.

          6. Observer*

            Probably the only thing you could have done better was to fire him sooner.

            Snark aside, no supervisor can fix this. You can’t change his opinions, and you cannot change the sense of entitlement that says “I can say what I want and not expect any consequences.”

          7. Jules the 3rd*

            I have *tons* of opinions that I do not discuss at work… He can have all the opinions he wants, he just can’t express bigoted ones at work without consequences.

          8. Karia*

            I’m amazed at how many people like him, so keen on free speech, forget the bit where other people get to have opinions on what you say.

          9. Code Monkey, the SQL*


            Yeah, he certainly has a right to his opinions, but he doesn’t get to express hostility to clients and coworkers without consequences.

            To put it another way – I have a co-worker with whom I work weekly. He has a political flag hanging in his wfh office that makes me cringe. But he expresses 0 of those political opinions on our calls, and he’s certainly allowed to hang up a flag in his own home. We talk about work. Period.

    4. WantonSeedStitch*

      I’d venture to say that this isn’t even about personality, it’s about knowing what appropriate workplace behavior is. Even an arrogant person should know it’s not OK to treat people with contempt in the workplace.

    5. Sandi*


      The OP mentioned that they can get references about their soft skills from many people, as if that should offset their bad soft skills with others. Companies don’t want to hire someone who is nice to 95% of people yet acknowledges they are a jerk with 5%, especially when that includes their manager. Would the OP want to manage themselves or someone with those personality traits? Someone with mediocre technical skills can take training or find other ways to improve, but soft skills cannot be taught as easily (or at all in some cases).

      I am also of the opinion that someone who behaves badly with only a small number of people is making a decision with that group. For example, there was someone at work who was bullying their employees and their manager wasn’t sure how to address it initially because it seemed so localized and they were really nice to everyone else. I pointed out that this meant the bully knew how and when to control their behaviour, so their attacks on subordinates was very likely well calculated. As a result the manager was faster to address their behaviour, and in a strange parallel to the OP that person decided to address the problem by avoiding it and finding a job elsewhere. We have also had coworkers who were socially inept, and could be a bit brash, yet they behaved that way around everyone and were open to criticism so their soft skills weren’t ideal yet they were overall good people.

      I was once told that one of the best skills to learn is how to tell a senior manager that they are wrong, in a way that they will listen and agree. I support the evidence-based decision making crowd with analytics, and sometimes the results show that someone senior is wrong with their assumptions, and we need to get creative in how to explain this. The OP might do well to learn that disagreement is best expressed constructively, otherwise the other person stops listening and nothing will change.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        Oh yes, about the folks whose soft skills aren’t great, but genuinely aren’t intentionally demeaning. Those are harder situations, but like you’ve mentioned, they really want to improve! In my former technical field, this was very common. I feel for these folks, but it means a lot that once it’s pointed out to them that their behavior wouldn’t work, they’d try to course correct. It didn’t always work, but they really were putting in the effort.

        It’s so tricky figuring out how to tell a higher up they’re wrong in a way where it will be received correctly! But for sure, one thing I’ve learned is whenever possible, try to do it in private and head stuff off where possible. For example, in the middle of a sales presentation, you don’t want bad pricing information out, but you wouldn’t want to interrupt a senior manager that’s presenting. That’s a case where a practice run helps, and a quick, “Oh I think I misheard, did you say $xxx?” comes off okay. You’re completely right about how important it is to constructively express disagreement. It’s absolutely key.

        1. A Silver Spork*

          I had a boss sit me down once and bluntly tell me that, while my technical skills were amazing, my soft skills, were, uh. Nonexistent. And that being a decent part of the team was an important part of working in our industry.

          I nodded along and told her I would work on improving myself. And I did! I mean, at first I spent my lunch break crying, but then I talked to my therapist and found some self-help books and stuff. I’m not going to say I’m a fantastic social butterfly now, but I can at least make it through an eight hour day and be nice to my coworkers.

          But I had to be *willing* to put the effort in, because soft skills are skills that you need to train, just like how writing good reports and managing a department’s finances and coding are skills no one’s born with.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this. Soft skills are skills that can be learned, just like technical skills are. It often dismays me how some people are so dismissive and think that either you have a good soft skill set or you don’t. Like any other skill, some people have more natural aptitude for soft skills than others, but basic soft skills can be learned by anyone who’s willing to learn. This doesn’t mean that an extreme introvert should be expected to be the life of the party, but at the very least answering a greeting when they pass someone in the corridor should be possible.
            They’re probably harder to teach to others than purely technical skills, though.

          2. Lily*

            Hi, thanks for this, if you don’t mind would you share a few titles which helped please?

        2. Bee*

          Yes, making a genuine effort goes a long way! In contrast, the OP’s reaction looks a lot like, “we asked them to be nicer to people and they quit rather than try,” and that’s undoubtedly a huge part of what’s making the new employers balk.

      2. Sandangel*

        It also assumes that these positive references don’t know or care that OP gets along with them, but is rude to others. You think they’re not gonna notice?

        “Yeah, OP’s chill with me, but then complained for 20 minutes about Jane in X’s Department. Weird”

        1. AuroraLight37*

          I have been in the position where I was asked about someone’s behavior in a similar situation, and truthfully said, “Well, I get along OK with Olenna, but I’ve seen her be a complete jerk to Catelyn, Cersai, and Sansa.” So yeah, it’s an issue.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        If we know for a fact someone is lagging behind on a key point, we can find ways to bring them along with us. Sometimes is easy to spot where they are missing a critical piece of information. Other times we can make a simple visual to help promote what we advise or recommend.
        It’s good to be able to explain things from more than one vantage point. Some people learn how something works by taking it apart. Others have to put it together in order to see how the thing works.

        I got a boss to agree to something on a trial basis. “I promise I will cancel it, without debate, if you decide at the end of three months you do not like it.” (The thing was not something that she would be able to cancel herself.) At the end of three months she wanted to keep this thing. It was years later that *I* was the one who said to cancel it because of Reasons A, B and C. She agreed to that also because the thing had changed so much that it was not workable anymore. So sometimes we can wade into a new idea or process by offering a trial time or a test run. It’s also good to understand that most good ideas are temporary anyway. A good idea today can become a bad idea tomorrow because stuff changes.

        I do think that two things can help a person keep a job. One thing is to have some ability to explain things to others in a manner where they can follow along. Yes, tailor your answer to the specific person listening. And the other thing is have some willingness and skill to troubleshoot problems.

        1. allathian*

          And the third key thing to remember is that because someone doesn’t have your specific skill set, it doesn’t make them stupid or worthy of dismissive treatment. In short, don’t be a jerk.
          There’s a reason why the most intelligent people are rarely the most successful, it’s that they get tired of explaining stuff to people of average intelligence and that arrogance shows. It also makes people less willing to work for them. The most successful people in the world are usually successful because they are smart enough to hire people who are even smarter than they are, and confident enough not to feel intimidated by others calling a spade a spade when necessary.

    6. cheeky*

      I think it’s fortunate that personality matters- we don’t want to work with a-holes who can’t get along with others.

    7. nnn*

      Added to all this, I’ve found that technical expertise is easier to learn, easier to develop in employees, and easier to correct when mistakes are made, whereas the interpersonal aspects (being easy to work with, etc.) are harder to learn, harder to develop in employees, and harder to correct when mistakes are made.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. I suspect that interpersonal aspects are only possible to correct when the employee recognizes that there’s a need to do something differently. People get more defensive about interpersonal skills, because they may falsely conflate them with temperament and personality. Nobody wants to be told that they “have the wrong personality”.

    8. lazy intellectual*

      Yep. In fact, most employers would rather have a slightly less capable employee who is easy to work with than a genius who is a total jerk.

  4. Trout 'Waver*

    I do want to point out that there are places that use PIPs solely as a mechanism to fire people or encourage them to resign.

    1. Mt*

      Some, not all. Esp if they have a strong employee. In my first job out of college, i had a manager i hated and had the same type situation. I was put on a pip, took 6 months worked through it and came out stronger than ever.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I was put on one once (it was called probation and not pip, but same thing). I ended up working at that place for 4 more years before I left it for my next job. By the time I left, no one (including the HR rep who gave me my exit interview) had any recollection of my ever having been on a pip. (I brought it up in my exit interview that I still didn’t know why I’d been on a pip, and the HR rep was “wait, you have?”) The manager that had put me on it, under confusing circumstances, was demoted and then terminated a year after my pip saga. There appeared to be office politics involved. The experience did teach me a lot about navigating office politics. I did hear it through the grapevine that he’d meant to let me go in the end. I changed my work behavior to being very very careful, documenting everything, not assuming that everyone on my team was my friend with my best interests in mind, and apparently that helped me get off the pip, and my manager to use me as an example of how he was able to turn a problem employee around. (Not that it helped him.) I have heard of companies where a pip is something they feel they have to go through before they are allowed to fire a person, like they’d meant to from the start. But that did not turn out to be the case with me.

        1. Door Guy*

          My last job had a metrics scorecard and anyone who scored below a certain point total over the course of a quarter was put on a pip. It was most definitely not used as a tool to get rid of them, and many who received one went on to be great techs. It was laid out simply that if at the end of the following 3 month period you were still below the threshold then you would be terminated. We only had a single employee in my 5 years get let go this way, and he was on his way out either way.

          Doesn’t mean that we didn’t have employees who thought they were impending termination notices and immediately start job hunting, though.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Agreed. A PIP doesn’t automatically mean termination, one needs to understand the company history around their use. Some employers absolutely use PIPs to say ‘this is your first, last, and final warning’, and others use them to coach and retain the employee.

        About half the people I know who were on PIPs were eventually terminated or quit, but the other half stayed with their employer.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m confused by OP’s phrase: “I wasn’t about to get fired.”
      Does OP mean “I was darned if I’d stick around long enough to let them fire me” like Alison answered?
      Or does it mean “I understand it didn’t mean I was going to get fired” like I thought?

          1. A*

            Yup! Especially given that they go out of their way to mention they are not financially secure and do not qualify for unemployment. Ya don’t say?

      1. ThatGirl*

        I thought the latter at first too, but Alison obviously read it the first way. Given the rest of the letter, I think it’s likely Alison’s reading is correct.

      2. mlk*

        I read it as, ‘I was put on a PIP as a warning, but I was too valuable an employee to actually get fired.’

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          They said “I wasn’t about to get fired… so I quit on the spot” (essentially). This seems like a variant of ‘you can’t fire me because I quit’ — possibly out of arrogance as other people mentioned above, but possibly based on thinking/believing/observing (depending on context) that the PIP will result in being fired and so it would be a better “look” to quit rather than be fired.

    3. Retro*

      This is a good point, but I’d still arguing that seeing the PIP through would’ve improved OP’s chances of being hired elsewhere. It’s still possible that future employers would still call up OP’s manager, but most hiring managers are cognizant enough not to call OP’s current manager and give away that OP is job searching. At the very least, OP could’ve stayed employed for a while before finding a new job. And the company may be more willing to facilitate some type of reference in order to help OP move on in some semi-amicable way. OP’s temper tantrum quit burned a bridge and eliminated any goodwill that was available to him from his company and manager.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Yes – If you quit as soon as you are put on a PIP it looks like you can’t acknowledge that you are wrong or take criticism well at all. It looks like when things get hard you stop trying.

        1. Amanda*

          It also looks like OP still thinks they were right, and didn’t deserve the PIP. And that’s even worse of a red flag, considering how badly OP behaved.

        2. Annony*

          In this case, I don’t think it just looks that way. The OP doesn’t think that they were wrong (or at least not very wrong) and didn’t want to change their behavior. So even though a PIP doesn’t always mean you will be fired, it does mean that you will be fired if you don’t change your behavior.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        This. The culture fit/bad behavior stuff may have been overlooked by OP’s former manager if OP had taken the feedback offered via the PIP and actually worked on herself. But I truly think it was the quitting on the spot with no notice that sealed OP’s fate with this manager. It reinforced the idea that OP has a horrible attitude, doesn’t accept correction, and is highly impulsive, qualities not remotely appealing in anyone, but especially in an early career employee. Companies will skip right over OP and hire other new(er) grads that can get along with others and take direction, even if they’re less technically skilled, because you can teach the latter, but you can’t teach soft skills and emotional intelligence to someone who doesn’t appear to be interested in either through their actions.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is the rare letter where the most helpful advice involves a time machine. It seems a lot of luck is going to be needed for OP to move into a similar job nearby, bypassing the bad reviews from people who most recently worked with OP. It could happen, but luck (new employer not checking backdoor references, or perhaps any references) is not a thing the OP can control.

          1. CoffeeLover*

            True. But I wouldn’t completely discount the luck. I’m sure OP can stumble on a hiring manager who doesn’t do the kind of digging these ones did.

            I wonder though if one of the references is tipping off the hiring managers to a problem. If you get two stellar references, you’re less likely to dig around for more info (unless you’re relatively close with the old manager and/or this is a VERY small circle of people). The reference could be saying something they think is minor but that sets off red flags. And if these people are from the same company where you acted unprofessionally, I’m sure it wouldn’t take a lot for something to slip out relating to your past behaviour. You could try talking to your references to see what they’re saying, but – if you can – i would recommend trying a new set of references before throwing in the towel. In addition to the recommended soul searching of course because it’s not cool to behave the way you did.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I’m not sure you could call it luck. It would rather smack of incompetent hiring to me, and goodness knows what other oddballs such a company might have hired. Having worked in a company like that, with a very low bar for hiring and all sorts of weirdoes working there, I can assure you it doesn’t shine on your CV. I had to basically change career entirely after that.

      3. Actual Vampire*

        Plus, if OP had seen the PIP through, they would have a better story to tell interviewers: “I was told I had a bad attitude, I actively worked to improve my attitude for 3 months, my boss recognized my progress, but I understand it will be better for me to start over somewhere new.”
        Right now the only story OP can tell interviewers is: “I was told I had a bad attitude. I quit. But I pinky-promise I will have a good attitude as soon as I start working for you.”
        I wonder if OP can find some temp work to re-establish their reputation before they go looking for full-time jobs. It is probably less stressful for an employer to hire a temp with a potential attitude problem than a full-time employee.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Or maybe:
          “I was told I had a bad attitude and I quit. Since I had suddenly had more available time, I wrote a workplace advice columnist. I decided to let her advice sink in. I realize what I have to do differently now. I can’t tell you I am 100% changed. But I can tell you that I read this advice columnist daily to teach myself to be a better employee.”

      4. beanie gee*

        Yep, the references may be commenting more on the quitting than the actual behavior. Quitting on the spot in the face of a PIP says “I’d rather quit than change my behavior.”

        Even if the intent was “I’d rather quit than be fired,” from the company’s perspective quitting says you either won’t or can’t change.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yep, OP tried to make it better, but ended up making it worse :(

          1. ENFP in Texas*

            And ironically if they had gone through the PIP and still been fired, the OP likely would have been eligible for unemployment.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Neither the former manager nor the hiring manager can tell how LW would have spent the PIP period. Would she have taken the criticism constructively and made good faith efforts to change? Would she have overcome the difficulties to become the department’s rock star? Nobody knows (including LW).

          This also overlaps with livestream woman from the recent update – even if you think your manager is wrong and stupid, you do have to do what they say and suck it up (to a certain extent, allowing for safety/regulatory breaches on the one hand and 360 feedback on the other). LW could have been totally right about everything she criticized the manager for, and still been wrong to criticize. Early career is a great time to learn how to feedback constructively and work within workplace hierarchies.

          Also, I wonder what LW considers “soft skills” if discretion, humility and grace aren’t important. When I hear “soft skills” I think first and foremost of interpersonal skills.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            (clarification: livestream woman wasn’t right about her management; she was utterly convinced of her rightness, though, and proceeded accordingly, which cost her both her job and any goodwill she might have built up)

        3. Sparrow*

          Yes, and quitting on the spot suggests a fairly emotional reaction to criticism, which I would see as a red flag if I were a hiring manager. If the employee is operating with a reasonably cool (read: professional) head, they’d likely see the benefit of buying themselves a couple of weeks or a month to do some reputation damage control and start a job search, even if they’re doing it with the plan of quitting before the end of the PIP and getting a fresh start elsewhere.

          If OP can do some serious reflection (ideally with a therapist, because outside accountability is probably a good idea here) and go back to Old Manager to acknowledge and genuinely apologize for handling things poorly *in addition to* recognizing the problems with their prior behavior, that may help with some of the bitter taste OP has likely left them with. It won’t fix the situation, as Alison said, but genuine contrition and personal growth would surely help.

          1. MassMatt*

            I was going to point out the OP saying “I know what a PIP means and I wasn’t about to get fired.” means no, you do NOT know what a PIP means, at least not in a functional organization.

            In my experience people react to PIPs in many ways—some learn and do better, or even go on to excel, some are in denial, some try to improve but the job is not a good fit, and some react very badly. The only one I know (and yes, I know, anecdotes are not data) who quit on the spot turned out later to have been far worse than thought—as in embezzling and threatening people.

            OP I hope you learn from what Alison and commenters here have said. You (YOU) have damaged your career prospects and only real work to improve yourself and learn from your mistakes is likely to salvage it.

      5. KayDeeAye*

        Yes, exactly. It’s true that this could have been Official Step #1 in the process of being fired, but even if that were so, the OP should – at the very least – have taken a little time and evaluated what was really going on rather than quitting “on the spot.” There are times when quitting on the spot is justified, of course, but…it doesn’t sound as though that’s the case here. The OP clearly just lost his/her temper and made a grand gesture. However, what this grand gesture did was demonstrate to the OP’s superiors exactly what they already thought, which is that the OP has a temper, has problems with maturity and also has difficulty dealing with his superiors!

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes, exactly. Quitting on the spot is an extreme reaction. It can be justified, but only when such an extreme statement of protest is warranted – and you certainly never expect a reference from a place where you walked out. That’s the kind of thing I expect when there’s serious discrimination, safety hazards, being asked to do things that are illegal/unethical, etc. Not because you think the boss is annoying.

          The only time I’ve personally quit on the spot was when I was put on an assembly line right next to a guy who’d been violent towards me in the past. In retrospect I could have talked to the supervisor first and asked to switch teams… but I was only 20 and it was literally my first day on the job. I figured it was easier to just leave it off my resume than work around Nasty Neil for minimum wage.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          OP assumed the boss was going to fire them. So there’s that preemptive strike going on there.

          OP, why did you automatically assume they would fire you?

          If you encounter this situation again, will you quit on the spot again?

      6. Archaeopteryx*

        Exactly, besides the tunnel-vision arrogance of calling their manager ignorant and assuming that technical expertise could make up for lack of basic workplace manners, they also come across as very shortsighted and impulsive because of the quitting.

        Not only did they not even try to work through the PIP, which, even if they then failed, would have shown a willingness to improve, they also quit on the spot instead of even giving two weeks notice. Now they seem surprised at how long job searching takes (a couple months is on the shallow end of normal), and don’t seem to have considered their savings cushion when making the decision to ragequit. The impulsiveness of quitting works against them much more than if they had tried their best and still have to be let go.

        1. Windchime*

          Quitting on the spot with no notice would be enough to put off a lot of prospective managers without the PIP even being part of the conversation. I am pretty sure that my current manager would tell a prospective manager about that if she were called for a reference.

      7. Beth Jacobs*

        They’d also be employed for at least part of their job search. That seems worth it.

    4. ThatGirl*

      There are.

      I was put on a PIP a long time ago. I actually didn’t quite understand the seriousness of it at the time. I knew it meant I had to do better, and I did – I turned things around and had a really good review that year.

      The part I didn’t understand, though, was that all the goodwill I might have previously had, all the social currency, was essentially gone. So the next time I screwed up in an major way (and to be fair, it was quite the screw up), they decided enough was enough.

      And I was mad, for sure. I still think I was thrown under the bus to a degree; they needed a scapegoat and I was it. But 13 years later I understand the management POV a lot better — I’d become something of a liability. In the end I was better off, but I definitely had to work to accept my part in it, and know how to explain not just what happened but that I had LEARNED from it and what concrete steps I’d taken to do better.

      1. annakarina1*

        Way back in my career, like over a decade ago, I was put on a PIP without realizing the actual name of it. I wasn’t good at my job, and had to follow a professional development plan of doing computer programs at work and giving a daily email update to my boss of the duties I performed. It was annoying, but I really wanted to keep my job, and worked hard to improve and mature more. It worked, as I became a better employee and gained my boss’ respect, so I learned how to wise up and not act childish or immature.

      2. leapingLemur*

        Everyone screws up sometimes. If you get along with people and treat them decently and work hard, you’re much more likely to be forgiven the screw up. Life’s like that.

      3. cncx*

        that’s really similar to my PIP story-i had done my part, but was thrown under the bus too and there was more than that going on with me and with management. And it was at a company where PIPs were definitely precursors to firing.

        I think both things can be true- the PIP can be malicious or constructive dismissal AND the employee has some stuff to learn, maybe not what the PIP is about or maybe so, and also about office politics or the optics from management. It took me a long time to accept my part in it because of the politics around it and the rotten company culture. It wasn’t arrogance but rather having to piece through all the other toxic things going on there to understand my role and the optics involved.

        Unlike OP though i started looking, i worked my PIP and gave notice the day after it expired because i had found a new job. Even there i didn’t quit on the spot as much as i wanted to.

    5. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I’ve worked places where PIPs were backwards-engineered. They’ve decided to fire you, now they just have to catch you doing a few things to justify it. It ends up being confusing to the person being fired, because the big picture reason for the termination isn’t indicated in the supporting evidence at all.

      1. MayLou*

        This is how my probation review worked at my last job. They decided they weren’t going to keep me on, and started collecting evidence to support that, but they were things that weren’t unreasonable for someone who was still training to need to learn. One of the things cited was that I cried in the office once (during the lunch break, while the office was closed to the public, in front of only one member of staff from a different team). Another was that I was one minute late once. It was a bad fit for me and I have learned a lot about identifying places where I will thrive rather than struggle, but a different management approach could have worked wonders.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          The fact that you “cried in the office once” was used in a PIP? That’s just bizarre. People cry, FFS. It’s not a failure, it’s part of being human. Any workplace who used that against me in a PIP is a workplace is signalling with a red flag that it expects people to not be human, and it’s time to bail.

      2. Windchime*

        Yep, this is how it went in my previous job. The PIP that I was put on was basically, “Do better.” The examples given were fictional and confusing and non-specific. It was basically just paperwork so they could eventually fire me. I hit the job market and gave notice within about 3 weeks.

    6. plums*

      One of my former workplaces used PIPs as a method to not correct behavior, but manage people out. In my case, I noticed (and had documented) a sudden change in my manager’s behavior toward me, and low and behold, 3 months after that change, I was issued a PIP. The things in the PIP were behaviors I had previously been praised on, and had documentation to back up that fact. I was devastated.

      I did a bit of my own research, and put all the comments into chronological order, and could clearly see the story: everything was fine (behaviors, performance, output, etc) and things very suddenly became adversarial without any cause I could identify. I was getting reprimanded by email for things I hadn’t even been told were issues previously. For example, when asking for feedback on my teapot design, I’d previously send fairly informal emails to my manager with high-level requests (Does this make sense to you? How do you feel about the spout-to-handle ratio?). Suddenly, that was not okay, and I needed to be following a very specific format (Name specifically what you want feedback on! Spout-to-handle ratios aren’t specific enough!) which I found out about while being chastised for not following the “new” format. That sort of thing.

      All of that, combined with some anxiety and PTSD from a different former employer, culminated in me resigning a few days after I was placed on the PIP. I knew what a PIP meant in this organization, and based on my observations and things I had documented, I would not succeed in fulfilling the conditions of the PIP. I took it for what it meant there, which was a “we’re going to fire you in three months” notification. A few days later, I was reprimanded for something silly (truly silly, but I’m being intentionally vague here). After a lot of soul-searching, I resigned without anything lined up. When asked about it later in interviews, I said that I’d resigned because of family medical issues (also true – being unemployed provided me time to care for an ailing family member), and that when it was time to come back to work, I was more interested in something new and a new environment.

      I got a new job, and then another one, and am well past that. I fully recognize that PIPs CAN be good – but man, for me, they were given in bad faith and with ulterior motives.

      1. Death By Procedure*

        Same. I was bullied and harassed first then put on a PIP. I beat the PIP, because I am good at what I do and I am not an arsehole. My customers on site loved me. Outside of clear instructions they legally needed to use to cover their butts on a PIP I realized I could not be successful on that job.

        In one of my greater political moves I discovered that the only other woman on our team (surprise, surprise) was telling everyone anything I told her. I used that to my advantage and feed her crap about being close to getting multiple jobs so I could get my tenure up a bit before jumping ship. It worked like a charm they left me alone for months while I took my time to find a much better position on all counts.

        Finally the current job made me redundant on a Thursday and made the next day my last. This meant I received three months pay and I did not have to work the four week notice period. On the Friday I received a call to come in for a final stage interview with company X I happily told them I could come in Monday, this is during my exit interview with HR. When I had my exit interview with boss he asked ” What are you going to do next? Take some time off?…” and a bunch of demeaning suggestions. I smiled, and calmly said “Oh no, I have a final stage interview with company X on Monday “. The look on his face was priceless! His bubble was burst! He routinely would make negative comments about company X and generally act like he knew everything about that industry. Company X are very successful, in an excellent location and it’s highly competitive to get a position there. One week later I started at company X.

        In hindsight they hired me for my skillset and then lost the project. There was an economic downturn so they couldn’t really keep me on. If they had made me redundant first and told me the reasons I would have respected them.

        While I’m certain there exist a job where PIP’s are used correctly I’ve never worked somewhere where a PIP was given in good faith. Instead, I have seen them used time and time again to justify getting rid of someone different.

    7. SLAS*

      I did once quit in a PIP situation – my manager was very clear in private that she’d had word that layoffs were coming and felt it would benefit her to put me in a position of being the obvious person to cut. I stuck out several weeks of the PIP until it was clear that she had no intention of my succeeding at it, so I quit and gave a very honest exit interview. She was the first to be laid off when the RIF started the next week.

        1. Death By Procedure*

          Oh I should have mentioned above, that’s exactly what happened to the boss that put me on a pip, then made me redundant. He was laid off and had to work out his four weeks.

    8. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve been on two. One focused on improvement during a lag, and I came out of it with a good note from my manager. When they laid me off, they assured me it had nothing to do with that (it was a shakeup after the parent company hired a new VP, and I wasn’t the only victim).

      The other was definitely looking for reasons to let me go (deservedly, IMHO). But honestly, no matter how I handled it, I couldn’t have functioned in that job after they changed it. The best I can do is acknowledge that I should have handled the change differently and I’ve since put in work to do better in that area (with examples).

      The OP could say something like this, but if I were a hiring manager, I’d want a more definitive answer as to what they’ve done to improve those skills.

    9. Fikly*

      If they’re using them to encourage the person to resign, if you don’t resign, you still have your job.

    10. Observer*

      Even if the OP’s former workplace did that. quitting on the spot to avoid being fired was a stupid move and doesn’t speak to their maturity.

      They should have started looking for a job – it is FAR more likely that they would have gotten better references in that case.

    11. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      We all know that there are bad companies and bad managers after reading this blog, but a PIP should be used as a last resort. So I do agree that it can be seen as a mechanism to fire people/force them to resign, because ideally you would have spoken to the person about issues they need to fix and nothing is improving. It’s a way to say “you need to fix A, B and C by X time or you will be terminated”. If used properly, it’s not unreasonable way of doing things. But instead of OP taking it as a wake up call that things needed to change, they quit without even attempting to make improvements.

    12. Curmudgeon in California*


      Every place I’ve worked that had a PIP process used it as the final “paper” for firing, regardless of whether the person accomplished the PIP goals. Often, the PIP goals are set to be impossible. They are set up as a sandbag, often because they require cooperation from others who have no reason or desire to do so.

      This came from watching the process done to others, as well as myself.

      If I end up with a PIP, it means “find a new job, asap.” Because that is how it’s been everywhere I’ve worked, even if it wasn’t me on the PIP.

      So I agree with “PIP = quit”, but not the way they did it. Flouncing is counterproductive.

    13. IV*

      But even if a PIP at a particular company is just “FYI we’re going to fire you in x more weeks” that’s x more weeks to job hunt. You get those interviews while you’re still employed (so they don’t contact your current manager) and you get to spin a story like “It’s become clear to me and the company that it just isn’t a good fit so I’ve been looking for something more technical / more agile / with more training opportunities” — whatever.

      The lack of strategic thinking here just floors me.

      1. Death By Procedure*

        I don’t agree with the method but some places are so miserable that the toxicity absolutely ramps up the minute the PIP arrives. In many cases you are better off quitting because you will be set up to fail and bury your reputation with folks that would have given you a good reference. Fighting the impossible PIP will take all your energy and time so you are unable to job hunt. I know it’s hard to believe but all it takes is one toxic manager to absolutely screw someone who would normally be fine. I’ve been there.

    14. Pennalynn Lott*

      I worked at two companies where PIPs were definitely used as a way of signalling that you had 30 days to find another job. At the first one, I was the highest performing sales person for my territory, had won the Rookie of the Year Award and sent to Hawaii for a vacation with the C-suite and other top performers. Then my manager quit and I got moved under a guy who hates women. Someone who had never once hired a woman and who had fired (via PIPs) every woman who he ever inherited.

      Within two weeks of me reporting to him, he put me on a PIP for not making enough cold calls. Not my co-worker (a man) who hadn’t met a single quota since he started, whose call volume was less than mine, and who’d been there 2 years longer than I had. I asked HR if the manager could do that and they just shrugged. I called my old boss at his new company and he said, “Awesome, put your two weeks in and come work for me again.”

      The second company was similar.

      1. allathian*

        What astounds me is that in these days it’s still possible to do that. You’d think that any reasonable company would fire a manager who refused to work with women, ethnic minorities, etc. It’s in the company’s best interests to retain the best workers after all. Or at least, it should be.

        1. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

          To adapt a quote from my former math teacher:
          “The road goes on and the party never ends (at the Good Ol’ Boys Club).”

  5. Diahann Carroll*

    But owning your history and how you talk about it is a better risk than saying nothing and letting your manager’s account be the only thing they hear.

    This. You can offer context for an interviewer that your former manager may not have for why you behaved the way you did. If you say nothing, however, all they’ll hear is that you’re disrespectful and insubordinate, which will end up pushing you out of your field entirely if it’s not one where that kind of behavior is tolerated.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      As someone who occasionally serves on interview panels, I completely agree. It shows a lot of maturity and self-awareness to be able to say “I messed up at my last job. But it made me think long and hard about my behavior, and I’m working hard to do things differently now.” I’d be much more willing to hire that person than a person who never mentioned any problems in an interview but popped some red flags during reference checks.

      1. MassMatt*

        I once hired someone who mentioned a problem at a previous employer that got them fired, owned up to it, and talked about what they learned/how they worked not to repeat the mistake since (and they were a GREAT employee!) Yes it’s a hard thing to talk about, but far better they hear it from you and how you dealt with it than you never mention it and they discover it checking your references.

        At that point the employer figures they’ve already heard your side and you didn’t address it so they are unlikely to come back to you.

    2. MK*

      I really don’t think there is any field where this behaviour is tolerated. You might find specific (usually toxic) work environments where it won’t get you fired, but basic politeness is a pretty universal requirement.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      At a former company I had an interpersonal ‘incident’ (altercation) with a manager, which I was officially reprimanded for. This was in the UK where we generally have a formal process that goes like this: steps up from a verbal warning through to a written warning, a final written warning and then dismissal — and depending on the severity of the “offence” can start from any stage that is proportionate. These warnings are an official part of your record, not just an “off-the-record telling off” from a boss.

      I received a level of reprimand that was technically proportionate to the ‘incident’, but (in my view, even now with many more years’ experience and much more maturity) too harsh given extenuating circumstances that I think were not fully taken into account.

      Anyway, for a few years I was so ashamed of this reprimand that in some ways I overcompensated for what had caused it, being overly accommodating and conflict-averse, going along with unreasonable requests, etc out of fear that I would be reprimanded again, and that this would somehow end up on my “permanent record” and I’d be unable to find a job anywhere else once they found out about this.

      I worked for that company for a number of years subsequently with no more ‘incidents’ and was even promoted to managing others! (Where I discovered that I don’t have much aptitude for management and don’t want to do it!)

      It was only after a long while, that I was able to see this episode as “in the past” and to be able to frame it as a learning experience, even an opportunity, and now I actively mention this when it’s relevant, particularly the part about how I learned about controlling your emotions (“responding” rather than “reacting” is the best way I’ve seen it be put) around troublesome situations, learning your own limits and how to articulate them (proximate cause of the ‘incident’ was burnout over a period of time and then a “last straw” occurrence, but of course there was more context such as why the burnout was able to happen and so on), having to work with “difficult people”/”challenging situations”, etc.

      I’ve found that with this narrative people are generally receptive and surprised that I had ever been reprimanded for a verbal spat with a manager (not because I’m “meek and mild” by any means, but because I’m now quite direct and assertive, so it seems surprising that I could have had an “outburst” like that!) … 15 (has it been that long!) years later I see it was a beneficial experience, in its own way.

      OP, if you don’t accept and “own” responsibility for your part in that incident and what you’ve learned from it (and in some ways it’s valid that you don’t), I think the next best step is to approach the manager and humbly try to “build bridges”.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I wrote a much longer comment but the internet seems to have swallowed it (I’ve been having problems with Teams and stuff all day) but essentially what I wrote was that I was in a comparable situation many years ago, was reprimanded for an incident with a manager which in retrospect was fair in some ways but unfair in others. I struggled with it for a while but ultimately saw it was a learning opportunity, and even something I could talk about positively (i.e. “how i’ve grown from the experience” etc) in interviews and so on.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Oh sorry — it’s appeared now. I think I should reboot my router, and reboot 2020 while we’re at it.

  6. Batgirl*

    OP, I’m kind of hung up on the word ‘incompatibility’. It suggests that all relationships can be foretold and if your manager had been more like you, there would have been no problem. This is just not true. No two people are so similar that they can get along without ever hitting a difference. When that difference happens, you need to navigate it with basic respect (that goes for peers and subordinates too) and you don’t quit the minute you’re asked to fine tune your people skills. Ironically for someone who is probably skilled in every way but one, this manager could have been the ideal mentor for that skill.

    1. designbot*

      I agree, and my experiences is that people use that sort of language when they don’t want to describe the specifics of what’s going on. My boss and I have what my office terms “personality differences” to describe some rather large disagreements in how leadership should look. It’s become the umbrella term for one person not showing up to meetings, tanking their employee’s annual review out of negligence, overloading a team member and not offering any tangible help. Those are not personality differences, they are not issues of work style, they are issues of substance that bear addressing. *ahem* coming back from my tangent there, I suspect “incompatability” is slushy language of a similar sort, that lets people turn a blind eye to whatever was really going on.

      1. Annony*

        I don’t know. I think it can sometimes be accurate but mostly when talking about communication and work styles. Some styles are incompatible and while you can manage to work though it to some extent, you will never be happy working for a manager with the opposite style as you do. If you are happiest with a lot of structure you probably won’t thrive with a manager who is a go with the flow type. I do agree that in this case “incompatible” does seem like the wrong word.

        1. Cassidy*

          “Go with the flow” is code for those who shift their responsibilities to their employees and duck and cover when there’s anything to manage. It’s the difference in someone who is willing to manage and otherwise do their job, and someone just there to collect a paycheck.

          Whatever happened to accountability, and when was it deemed so terrible?

        2. Alianora*

          I agree, it’s more of a yellow flag word to me – sometimes “incompatible” is covering up some serious problems, sometimes it’s an accurate description of the way two people communicate.

          1. Quill*

            Incompatible describes the difference between my weekend activities and my triathlete coworker’s. When it comes to “can’t do the job” it’s kind of a cop out…

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        Out of curiosity, how would you describe those things in a job interview? Fortunately my lousy boss quit before I did, but I have wondered how I would describe my reason for leaving if I had been the one to quit. Like you say, it wasn’t really “personality differences…” except in the sense that Bad Boss had an abrasive, defensive attitude and a number of unprofessional behaviors that alienated everyone in the agency.

        I wouldn’t tell an interviewer I left a job because the manager was irritating as hell, impossible to communicate with, never assigned me any work, and got explosively angry when the specialists she managed gave reasonable feedback on her plans. But “personality differences” is also very vague, and might be interpreted as reflecting badly on the interviewee (as in this letter).

        1. Fikly*

          There wasn’t room for me to advance within the company, and so I’m looking for opportunities elsewhere.

          Nicely vague, doesn’t badmouth anyone, entirely plausible and reasonable.

          1. Quill*

            That’s what I say every time someone brings up the Pig Lab From Hell.

            I’m looking for the opportunity to not have my PTSD triggered by shouting every two days.

          2. AuroraLight37*

            “I’m looking to expand my professional horizons,” or some variation is usually safe.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I read OPs “incompatible” as essentially a synonym for “personality clash”. I’m curious if you think the same about “personality clash” situations?

      I’m very aware that we don’t all get on all the time and we have to navigate differences of opinion/philosophy (as it may be) tactfully and diplomatically! I think I’m fairly skilled by now at navigating those, and I can get on with all kinds of “difficult people” fairly well, but even so: there are some people whereby no matter how accommodating I try to be, or how much I address it… it’s such a fundamental difference in outlook that I just can’t work long-term with that person.

      I don’t think the OP “rage-quit” (my words, not yours) upon being asked to improve their interpersonal skills, but rather (for whatever reason – justified or not, unclear from their description of their work environment) determined that being put on a PIP would inevitably result in being fired, so left on their own terms (and arguably with their own mental narrative) instead.

      1. Batgirl*

        Perhaps I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t get to have personality clashes at work; I work with difficult kids who clash with everyone, so I’m expected to just deal as a professional. To me, a personality clash or incompatibility is something internal, not an explanation for behaviour. It’s like when my students fail every class where they dislike the teacher. You don’t have to truly like everyone simply to get by!
        As adults, if we decide we just can’t work with someone, we look elsewhere and leave with all important bridges intact.
        I don’t think the OP rage-quit either. I just think they are a little bit fatalistic about what are actually solvable interpersonal problems. Of course it could be a company who uses PIPs insincerely, but a pattern of believing that interpersonal problems can’t be resolved would explain an overreaction. Think how terrifying it is to hear your boss is going to disregard your skills because they dislike your personality, if you believe you can’t change that impression.

        1. Helvetica*

          I don’t think the OP rage-quit either. I just think they are a little bit fatalistic about what are actually solvable interpersonal problems.

          This. Oh, so much this.

          I can forgive OP for thinking interpersonal problems are unsolvable– because a lot of people in the working world treat lack of “culture fit”– just another name for interpersonal problems– as unsolvable!

          I don’t have OP’s experience, but I have had my supervisor come up to me at work, after mild corrective feedback or even no feedback at all, and tell me it wasn’t working out, that it wasn’t a good fit. And just like that, I was gone. No chance for redemption, no making amends– “not being a good fit” was, apparently, a more fireable offense than blatantly violating company policy.
          And it did feel out-of-left-field… like I did nothing to inspire such a response. I was never sure what, exactly, my offending behavior or personality trait was. Even afterwards, as I waded through the jungle of self-blame trying to find out what my part in it was, I couldn’t really understand it.

          A pattern of believing that interpersonal problems can’t be resolved would explain an overreaction. Think how terrifying it is to hear your boss is going to disregard your skills because they dislike your personality, if you believe you can’t change that impression.

          This, on the other hand, has been exactly my experience. And it did mess with not only be ability to take feedback, but my sense of ownership of my problems– it’s made me feel like I have to be performative when taking responsibility, I can’t just internally process it and go on with my day. I have to visibly self-blame, or no one will believe I’m owning my problems; or I have to wholeheartedly agree that my critics are right and I’m wrong, or people will believe I can’t take criticism.

          The most hurtful thing I heard after this, and similar, experiences was “don’t let them get to you”. Excuse me? They acted too quickly for me to not let them get to me.

          1. Lost, in disrepair*

            Hi Helvetica,

            I’m wondering how you ended up explaining this in future interviews. I just had the same thing happen to me and I don’t know how to explain it. All feedback received was positive and in the last few weeks when my manager started treating me like the anti-christ I asked if there was anything I should do differently and told “you are doing great”.

      2. Helvetica*

        Sometimes, a PIP really does mean it’s the first step toward getting fired. It’s not supposed to be.

        And being asked to improve your interpersonal skills can, depending on context, feel like a trap. Because what is the true test of having improved them? When other people’s responses to you become more positive. Other people don’t owe you a favorable reaction– but without a favorable reaction, how are you supposed to know your soft skills have actually improved?
        The OP probably thought “first impression’s shot, no chance now”– and, ironically, she probably thought that reacting quickly to “writing on the wall” demonstrated good ability to read a room. For years, I thought I was cheating at empathy if I couldn’t guess people’s emotions correctly from their body language without asking questions.

    3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      “Incompatibility” can be a legitimate, honest thing in romantic relationships or personal friendships–very different attitudes towards time/scheduling, or whether to have children… but in a job context, you already know that you’re there to wrangle llamas, not to whitewash the fence.

      1. Helvetica*

        This is why I hate hiring for “culture fit”, and blame it for the unemployment and underemployment rates.

      2. m*

        I mean… I once had a boss who had this anxious way about him that made me, as another person with anxiety, deeply unsettled. He and I worked together for two years before I quit for a better-paying gig, and one-on-ones were literally never comfortable/easy, despite us both being professional about the situation

        It is possible to be “incompatible” in a work context, I think, it’s just that you can’t let that get in the way of your job.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah, that sounds like incompatibility. You didn’t necessarily have flaming arguments or hurl insults or even hate each other, but neither could reassure the other. But it apparently didn’t stop you from getting another job elsewhere, you didn’t burn your bridges.

      3. Karia*

        It can be things like a micro manager managing an independent worker, or a person who picks at details managing a person with anxiety. Or an aggressive person managing someone with PTSD.

  7. Retro*

    OP, I truly believe that there are definitely cases where personality clashes can cause conflict in the workplace. However, if both sides are professional about it, those conflicts should not be appearing in front of upper management and should not affect whether you treat someone respectfully in the workplace.

    It seems like you don’t understand the impact of what you did:
    -Making jabs at your boss in front of upper management made your conflict with your manager more visible than it should’ve been and demonstrated that you’re unable remain professional and be respectful towards the people you work with.
    -Quitting on the spot after being place on a PIP indicates that you’re unable to take critical feedback and improve upon it. The PIP was an indicator that your manager and organization wanted to retain you and valued you for your work. Instead you responded with a rage quit/tantrum and quit without 2 weeks notice. Future employers do not want to hire someone who might quit at the drop of a hat from critical feedback.
    -You’re attributing your inability to get job offers from a bad reference. When in fact, your inability to get a job offer is from your bad behavior. You’re not getting offers for employment because employers believe you are not employable based on your past behavior.

    The fact of the matter is that soft skills, teamwork, and the ability to treat your coworkers with respect are greatly outweighed by technical skills. When being evaluated for a job, employers are considering whether you can do the job (technically) and whether they’d like to work with you (interpersonally). You are falling short in that last category unless you are willing to be vulnerable and let employers know that you are working to improve on that front.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      “You’re attributing your inability to get job offers from a bad reference. When in fact, your inability to get a job offer is from your bad behavior.”


      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Agreed, and very well put by Retro. It is unlikely that the references are inaccurate.

        Depending on the job market and the employer, that kind of reference isn’t automatically going to stop LW from getting a job, if she is assessing her other skills as others do. But when she does get a new job (whatever it is) she needs to make a superlative effort to create a positive impression so she will in future have that positive reference to counter the older negative one – or so as not to need to use it. “I used to do xyz but I have grown and changed and now do abc” is good and does not cause you to lose face.

      2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

        100% spot on. And OP is saying they can’t get an opportunity to learn from their mistakes because the job offers were rescinded — no. OP squandered a learning opportunity by quitting instead of following the PIP. That is lesson they should be learning now; their arrogant attitude is doing them no favors.

    2. Mama Bear*

      And even if you loathe your manager with the heat of 1000 suns, a burnt bridge is hard to walk on later, as OP is seeing. If I were put on a PIP that I thought was just a slow way to get fired, I’d work on the PIP while I also actively sought another job. Giving 2 weeks’ notice is better than rage quitting. OP may need to dig up advice on how to address being fired in an interview and see if those tips apply.

    3. Heidi*

      Agree to all of this. There seems to be a real mismatch in the OP’s perception of just how bad this behavior was. The OP’s accounting of events conveys a career-killing level of toxic behavior. Why should any manager have to put up with an employee who repeatedly tells them how ignorant they are? I hope the OP really does get to the point that they can manage their frustrations differently, but I can’t blame an employer for not wanting to take a chance on someone who’s already gone so far beyond the bounds of professional decency.

  8. CatCat*

    I’m not sure how broad your job search is right now, but if you can’t go more than 2 months without a paycheck, you should be casting a wider net in your job search right now including jobs outside your industry and other jobs that may be less desirable to you. Unfortunately, with your current reputation, you may not get to be picky. Reputation takes time to repair. You’ll need to build an impeccable track record of working well with others to get over this.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      In the future, if you can’t go two months without a paycheck, don’t quit on the spot. Time on a PIP (one month? two months? three months?), even if you are going to be fired, give you time to job search and plan for the future. Also, being fired, while emotionally hard, carries a financial benefit. Unless you are the victim of toxicity that is ruining your mental or physical health, it’s usually better to remain.

      Quitting on the spot may emotionally feel good, but is rarely the right solution. From what your post, it was clearly not the right solution for you. Please learn from this.

      1. Retro*

        IMO OP’s quitting on the spot was very consistent with OP’s inability to hold their tongue when making comments about their manager in front of others. The satisfaction of “sticking it to them” outweighed the greater consequences and shows a lack of maturity in OP.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Excellent point, Retro. This is not just about quitting. It’s about building the skill to take a step back, review options, and then move forward. Emotional impulsivity is usually a huge negative in the working world.

          1. Clisby*

            Absolutely. In the personal world, too, of course. One of the best pieces of advice my mother gave me was that you don’t have to say everything that comes to mind. She said, “Sometimes, when you’re angry, you say things you can never take back.” At the time, she was talking about personal life, but it applies to professional life too.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          It also very likely colored the opinions of the people that OP is confident would give her good references in spite of what happened. If I knew that OP was presented a PIP and decided to quit on the spot rather than (a) make an actual effort to improve or (b) acknowledge this job wasn’t a good fit and work on a transition plan, it wouldn’t matter how good they were at technical aspects of the job.

        3. Starbuck*

          It’s also a huge red flag for ‘unable to take critical feedback and unwilling to do work to improve themselves’ and would absolutely be a disqualifier for me, especially if they didn’t even attempt to address that in an interview.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        And really, this should be if you can’t last on savings more like five or six months, don’t quit on the spot. Job searching for anything more specific then entry-level customer service takes a long time, and you can definitely add on some extra time to allow for people hearing about your bad reputation.

    2. Observer*

      I suspect that this is one of the reasons why the OP is having such a hard time finding a new job. I’m betting that potential employers are hearing “OP was put on a PIP for unprofessional and immature behavior and quit on the spot” and thinking “Whoa! OP clearly is not good about thinking through consequences. Definitely very immature and impulsive.”

      Who needs to bring that on?

  9. Mathou*

    Best of luck, OP.

    I get you. I am like you. Quite early in my career, with a temper and some issues with authority when I feel it is undeserved or wrong.
    I have definitely burnt bridges in my first job. I quit the industry (by choice), unlike you, but I know that being impulsive and quick-to-anger is not the best way to be at work. Especially for a woman. I suspect that for me, the feedback I have always got about my agressivity is both gendered and true.

    It is difficult to overcome it, but not impossible. I try to counterbalance it by being reliable, motivated, strategic in my suggestions etc… You need to build more capital. It has worked, but sometimes, I get angry when I am not taken seriously, or when someone is extra irritating. It is good to learn what triggers you, then you are better equiped to recognise when you are angry and should not, for instance, answer that email, or continue the conversation.

    1. Just Another Techie*

      I was you, and the OP, early in my career. I am also a woman, in a male dominated field, and it took a long time – like a decade – before I could reliably figure out what feedback was gendered/sexist bullshit and what was pointing at real problems in my teamwork and collaboration. I strongly second the recommendation to learn what triggers you and build your toolkit for not responding while angry or provoked.

      I will also say, from the perspective of having a great deal more experience, sometimes the thing a junior person thinks is really dumb. . . is not actually dumb. You can have the most brilliant technical mind I’ve ever seen, but there are realities about the market, the vendors, the budget, etc that you can really only learn from experience. And those of us who ain’t on our first rodeo might actually know what we’re doing. Which is not to say bad managers don’t exist, but often junior engineers can’t distinguish between “bad manager” and “manager has more context than I do”.

      1. Mathou*

        How do you reliably figure out which feedback is gendered and which is true ? It is a real struggle for me.
        It makes dealing with impulsivity that much harder, because although I absolutely want to be better at soft skills and I don’t want to be difficult… I also don’t wish to cater to the idea I can’t be assertive.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          There’s a lot of components to it.

          – Look at the behavior of senior women who have been successful. How is their behavior similar to the behavior of successful men in the department? How is it different? Do they need to behave in markedly different ways from the men (obviously there will always be different standards men and women are held to, but *how* different are they)? That’s an indicator that the whole environment has some sexist undertones.

          – Really honestly examine my own feelings. The behavior I am being reprimanded for — was I genuinely honestly trying to advance the best solution for my team? Or was I feeling angry or defensive and digging in my heels because of my own psychological need to be right?

          – What do I know about the person giving feedback? Do they have good relationships with the other women in the department? If the other women in the department, especially the senior women, have good relationships with the person, it’s probably more likely that my behavior was the problem, rather than sexism. OTOH, if they are part of a chummy ol’ boys network and don’t collaborate well with any of the women in the department, the feedback is probably tainted by sexism.

          1. AnotherLibrarian*

            Yes, these are good guidelines. Also, is this feedback I’ve heard before from multiple managers over my professional life. For example, I am bad at saying ‘no’ to projects. So, I often ask myself, does this feedback connect to things I already know to be true about me, as a human.

        2. Nesprin*

          More to the point, my bosses believe that every bit of feedback they’ve given me is true, yet, I have enough experience as a subject matter expert to know that most of their feedback is gender/style based.

          Still doesn’t help me get through days when my bosses are say that I’m difficult to work with (despite building new contacts within my company and with the broader community, accelerating ongoing projects and getting great feedback from the people I work with, not for).

        3. dealing with dragons*

          for me (a female programmer) I judge the comments vs how the person usually acts. If outside of the situation they are not generally any type of -ist, I’ll trust what they’re saying. However if they’re someone who makes jokes that hinge around being a girl then I take it with a grain of salt. I also try to have trusted people of any gender that I can go to and ask “hey am I being dumb or what is this?”. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes a little of both. I just got pulled out of a project for “personality clashes” but that was due to my manager realizing it was a no-win situation for me and political suicide to keep pushing.

          1. BookishMiss*

            I also have trusted people I can go to for reality checks when i need them. Talking about it with them is definitely helpful. Highly recommend.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              +1000000 for reality checks.

              Sometimes someone just irks me, and I don’t know whether it’s a “me problem” or a “them problem”. The time where it’s a “them problem”, it’s because the person is sexist, ageist, whatever-ist or just a jerk.

              Of course, in my current environment, we have to “go along to get along”, which gives bullies and jerks who are considered gurus way too much power to make people miserable (and push badly thought out technical solutions.) But that’s academia for you.

              It’s also very subtly sexist – people considered “male” can say and do things that are considered forbidden for people designated “female”. It’s all pushed with the idea that it’s “professionalism”, but it’s really a very gendered double standard of behavior. It drives me nuts as an AFAB NB. I get restricted to the female standards of behavior (read people pleaser, quiet, non-confrontational, no swearing, not allowed to show irritation, not supposed to say no, blah, blah, blah) in spite of the fact that I don’t consider myself to be female. Every time I get it shoved in my face I think about changing my name to “George” to get the point across. /rant

        4. OrigCassandra*

          Reading research on gendered feedback and other gendered behavior in the workplace has been helpful for me. I tended to underidentify rather than overidentify workplace sexism. The “… wait, it’s not just me that’s happened to? that’s a PATTERN?!” lightbulb has definitely gone on a few times for me in response to such reading.

          Harvard Business Review is one place to find research-based but understandable pieces on this.

          1. Cedrus Libani*

            I suspect that having grown up with a visible disability was actually super-helpful as I got started in a male-dominated field. I was so used to people taking one look at me and then radically underestimating what I could do, something I viewed as an understandable mistake and not worth taking personally, that I was pretty much oblivious to people underestimating me because I’m a woman. Took a while (and yes, reading articles like these) before that lightbulb went on.

        5. Fikly*

          Is it vague?
          Are they telling you to express a different emotion?
          Are they telling you to chaneg your expression?
          Can you imagine one of your male coworkers ever being given this feedback?

          In general, if they cannot give you concrete examples of what the problem is. “You come off as controlling” versus “When you told your coworker Bob to do the weekly pot report, he found it controlling because I’m the one who should designate that task.” Or, similarly, if they cannot give you concrete examples of how to improve.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I go on high alert when someone wants me to change my “tone” or “attitude”. When people tell me what I should feel? I frequently tune them out. While a job can command my behavior, they don’t get to command my thoughts or feelings. I’ve had enough gaslighting and emotional manipulation to last me an entire lifetime, thank you.

            When I get feedback in those areas, nine times out of ten it’s because I don’t use female voice. Yet when confronted, they deny it. They will require wording that they wouldn’t be caught dead using, but that they expect to hear from women. It’s infuriating.

      2. Retro*

        I think it’s good to challenge the status quo of the “dumb” thing that is being done if you feel there’s a better solution. But it’s important to arm yourself with the context and ask lots of questions beforehand. I am a relatively junior woman in a male-dominated technical field. When I just started out, I asked a lot of why questions. Why do we do this in a certain way? Is there a reason why we do 2 simliar tasks differently? Etc, etc, etc. I’m sure it was to some degree annoying, but I felt that it did earned the respect of my team because it showed that I was thinking critically and trying to understand their processes. If I brought up a change, it was more well received because the team knew that I would receive the feedback as to why the change couldn’t be implemented well and that I wasn’t bringing up the change to indicate to anyone that they were being dumb.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          This is a good point! And fresh eyes can absolutely see solutions that aren’t obvious to people who have been stuck dealing with a bad process for years. There’s definitely some learned helplessness around some of the CAD tooling in my industry. I never ever mind explaining processes and how they came to be. But it really does have to come with everything else you described: genuine curiosity, openness to learning that there might be a good reason for the way things are, etc etc. You sound like the kind of junior engineer I love to work with!

        2. Amy Sly*

          Yeah, when I was a kid, my mom would get on my case because I was sure I knew a better way of doing everything. That bullheadedness got me into so much trouble and misery.

          The change I made as I matured was to realize I might not be privy to all the information that went into setting up the process. So now I ask questions, learn from the people with experience, and test my ideas against real world conditions before announcing “I know a better way to do this!”

        3. I can only speak Japanese*

          Unless you work somewhere that shuts down “why” questions with a “stop questioning your superiors!”

      3. Colette*

        Yes, the best technical solution is often not the best solution for the company – things like available technology, support costs, timelines, in-house expertise, and company standards matter.

  10. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, you need to accept that you don’t get to pick your references. You also don’t get to tell you former boss to not speak to your potential employers or control their messaging (assuming it is factually accurate). You also cannot tell people who know each other to not communicate. You could have done so if you had negotiated a termination agreement, but you lost that opportunity when you quit.

    Alison is right: you need to own the story going forward because you gave up any opportunity to do so by your previous actions.

    1. Artemesia*

      I wonder what others think about calling the old manager and indicating that you realize that you were wrong and really learned a lesson about (fill in your outrageous behaviors) and are trying to move forward having learned this lesson. You are committed to not behaving like that on the next job. Perhaps discuss the rec he can give. Might that perhaps soften the bad rec i.e. ‘he technically competent, but was a pain to work with but I think has seen the error of his ways’ or even just comment on the technical.

      Has anyone tried this? Does it seem like it would make things better or worse.

      1. AVP*

        I think it’s possible, and I’ve been on the receiving end of something like hat from a person I had to let go (although the situation was very different and I probably would’ve given her a halfway decent reference anyway).

        But I think this really goes back to what Alison said above – OP has to truly believe what they’re saying to the manager and show some true personal growth. If they’re reading a script, or just going through the motions because they want a better reference, that will really show. OP would need to genuinely point to steps that they’ve taken to work on themselves, lessons learned, etc. It’s going to seem a little grovelly but the ball is in the former manager’s court here.

        And you only get one chance at that conversation, so don’t have it before you’re ready. If the OP comes across as antagonistic or still in their former headspace, show is over.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes! That’s what I was suggesting in the post when I suggested that reaching out to the manager could take the edge off the reference. But it has to be after sincere soul searching or the manager will probably be able to hear that it’s just self-interest.

        2. AnotherLibrarian*

          Many years ago, I had a student assistant who was a disaster. Her work had been exemplary up to the point where it has fallen apart. I had to fire her. I felt awful doing it and she got really upset when she was let go and said some… bad things. Several years later, she reached out to me and apologized. She owned what she did and explained that she had been, at the time, going through some really bad personal stuff. She asked me if I would write her a letter of reference, because she was applying for graduate school in my field. I declined that, because I didn’t think I could write an honest letter, but I encouraged her to use me as a reference. My point is that apologies can work, but you have to be sincere. Last I heard, she was doing well in her hometown and I wish her nothing but the best. Thank goodness none of us are forever held to who we were when we were 20.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            “Thank goodness none of us are forever held to who we were when we were 20.”

            There’s not a month goes by that I don’t think something like this about myself.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        I don’t see how it can do any harm, so long as the OP is able to convey genuine contrition. Only the OP can decide if that’s possible, though. I mean, there isn’t very much genuine contrition in this letter, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any in the OP’s heart.

      3. iHeardItBothWays*

        if I were the boss it wouldn’t matter to me. words are easy to say. I would want to see for myself that he learned the error of his ways.

  11. Miss Muffet*

    I have found that people in very task-oriented jobs often struggle with the “how” aspect of their work, thinking that the fact that they can get the “things” done is all that matters. But we live and work in community, and those soft skills really do matter, and need to be viewed as equally important as the “what” aspects.

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      I had a boss who explicitly said “part of what we pay you for is to smile at customers and be pleasant in your interactions.”

  12. Purt's Peas*

    I wonder if one way to think about this is, leveling up your soft skills. You mention you have good soft skills, but here’s a metaphor: say you’re a programmer and you think you’ve been putting out good work for ages, you’ve never had any problems…and then you find out that the person who was supposed to test your work has been doing cursory testing and there are dozens of edge cases breaking your software in the field.

    I think this is a similar situation in this way: it seems you get along with people at work when they agree with you and have a good opinion of you already, but the getting-along breaks down when someone (your management team) disagrees with you or instructs you to do something you disagree with. Your soft skills don’t stretch to mild, commonplace conflict.

    It’s ok to disagree with people and it’s ok to think that your management team has less knowledge of your specialty than you do–that’s part of being a subject-matter expert, when you get there! But the soft skills come into it because you need to get along with people and handle conflict in a collegial way.

    Your soft skills aren’t there yet; you train those up by thinking about your behavior, soliciting real feedback, practicing conversations, modulating your emotional responses in the moment, and making real apologies & amends if you mess up.

    1. Lena Clare*

      Yes I thought that too.
      If OP was slagging off management, their soft skills are not great.
      You need to be able to work with people you don’t get along with!

    2. Works in IT*

      As someone who does, on occasion, doubt a few coworkers’ critical thinking skills (user was insisting their account was locked out even though they had reset the password multiple times. The answer was the account they were resetting wasn’t the user’s account…) I agree. Never let someone know you question their intelligence, even when you’re seriously questioning their intelligence, because if nothing else, being able to calmly report the situation to your boss, or your boss’s boss, and give them a calm, not frustrated sounding explanation of exactly why this situation is bad, can go a long way towards getting people to agree with you that the ignorance is a problem.

      If you typically sound stressed or frustrated with everything and everyone, people are going to start dismissing your concerns as oh, so and so has a problem with everyone, rather than things that should be addressed. And, managers don’t need to be knowledgeable about everything, so long as they aren’t pushing something that is outright wrong. It may be annoying to have to take the time to explain something to your manager, but there are things you do not understand, yourself. No one is omniscient.

      1. leapingLemur*

        “Never let someone know you question their intelligence, even when you’re seriously questioning their intelligence” This!

        Letting someone know this is completely unhelpful. It gets them angry, which will make them harder to work with. They also won’t want to work with you, help you, etc. If you’re wrong, you’ll really look bad. And if you’re wrong later in front of that person, you know what they’ll think. Give people grace – you’re going to need some too.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Your soft skills don’t stretch to mild, commonplace conflict.
      Ironically, the PIP was the chance to demonstrate that OP could improve their soft skills. And take constructive criticism and change their behavior in response to feedback. Instantly quitting demonstrated the opposite.

      And, there are places where quitting is the right move. I love a good justified rage quit story, whether instant action-reaction or slow-cooked revenge or wisely getting out of the nest of murder hornets. It just sounds like it wasn’t the right move here.

      I wish I could advise OP on how to demonstrate an ability to improve your soft skills when your recent actions don’t indicate that, but… it’s a lot easier if you have a job, and so for example can take an apology tour. (Often a good idea as people’s impressions are already set and they may not register new behavior as a genuine new leaf.)

      1. BRR*

        Re the PIP, I was thinking if the manager wrote the letter and said they had put an employee on a PIP for soft skills and the employee quit on the spot, we’d all say “it looks like you made the right move.”

        And for advising the LW, it’s hard because there’s really no self-accountability in the letter. They somehow walk the line of clearly framing what they did was wrong, they know what they did was wrong and don’t try and hide it, but also write off their actions.

    4. Helvetica*

      Those are some, good, actionable steps to take to improve your soft skills. Thank you!
      Too often (including by some right in this very thread) soft skills are presented as something you can’t train for– or, more likely, that it isn’t worth it to train someone when you have a multitude of other candidates who have ready-made soft skills.
      And this point of view is widely encouraged! It’s made me anxious about everything that hasn’t resulted in obvious, glowing career success in my life. For instance, I am highly insecure about not having worked as a manager– I’m afraid that will show future employers I lack leadership. But I also worry, since employers want to know my personality, about how much they will dig into my personal life– because your personal life is where you learn most interpersonal skills.
      I am not married (I don’t want to be), I have no children (I don’t want them), I never played team sports, and a lot of people at my college found me socially awkward. I also have no Facebook (never want it!) or Instagram (maybe, if I take enough pictures).
      Those could be, in the eyes of an employer, disadvantages. Why? Because all of those are potential “soft skill practice zones”. They’re evidence of likeability– which an employer may not believe I have without those things in my life.
      Should I have ignored my preferences, and done all of the above in the interests of building an “interpersonal CV”? What if being a parent would have turned out to be the only opportunity I would get to develop leadership skills– and I’ve forgone it?
      The effect of all of that has been to make me very sensitive to rejection– because I can’t prove I have good soft skills without being accepted by others. The rejection becomes proof, in my mind, that others still experience me less positively than they experience others.

      The downside of employers prioritizing soft skills is that your private life becomes fair game– because your private life shapes your personality. Even knowing how vital soft skills are, I can’t get beyond employer creep into everyone’s private life.

      1. allathian*

        Why does not having worked as a manager make you feel like you lack leadership? Do you want to get into management at some point in your career?
        TBH, I think that the soft skills you need at work are best developed at work. In your private life, if you don’t get along with someone, you can always stop interacting with them. This includes toxic family members, although that’s easier to do in some cultures than in others.
        Enough children have been and continue to be abused by parents who really should not have been parents. We’re lucky enough to live in a world where it is okay and possible to remain child-free. Few skills you learn as a parent are directly transferable to the working world. Most people who don’t have children are no better or no worse employees than parents are.

      2. Allonge*

        This may be too late for you to see, but: any company that evaluates soft skills based on marital status (does a divorce add points or deduct?), having social media or kids, just plain IS BAD about recruitment. And possibly other things. Definitely don’t live your life differently to make a better CV!

        Also: soft skills are prioritised by companies not because they cannot be grown, but becasuse they are a lot more difficult to teach in an organised manner than most texhnical skills. It’s not that companies think you cannot get better at friendliness or whatever, they just don’t know how to make it happen. Whereas for programming, filing, any hard knowledge, they can get an expert to explain to you. Most likely an expert already in house.

  13. Olive*

    At my company we got a new manager last year, who had little experience with the technical aspect of our jobs. He changed some policies, shook things up, which upset a lot of us. What it took me several months to realize, was that he didn’t need to know every skilled thing we did- he was there to lead big-picture, what’s best for his employees and company.
    Your higher ups don’t have to have all the specialized knowledge that you do in order to be your boss or lead your team. Let go of that childish “nobody understands me because I know more than they do” mindset or you’ll never progress anywhere.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      oh man, i had an employee like this once, who thought that I should be able to do, as manager, everything they did. They were also my most problematic employee overall, and also had this huge hangup about doing the things right but having the worst teamwork skills. They do seem to go together a lot. I suppose it’s an overall immaturity about how business works.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yep. I have technical skills. My manager has managing skills. An idea of and skill in some of what I do is needed. Being able to do my job is not.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Having worked under a manager who did not understand my job, there is a fine line. A manager may not need to be able to do everything that their employees do, but they do need to understand what their employees are doing and, more importantly, the amount of time their duties take.

        I’ve talked about this before on AAM posts, but I was fired from a job because they tripled my workload and my manager refused to acknowledge that it wasn’t physically possible for me to do everything I was responsible for, even when I worked 10-20 hours of overtime a week. After I was fired, they had to hire two people to replace me.

        1. Cassidy*

          I wonder why they fired you. If they deemed two people necessary, I wonder why they didn’t keep you and simply hire an additional person.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Sounds like they didn’t believe that the workload required two people until there were no people doing it, and they couldn’t hire a single person who would agree to take on the whole workload.

            I suspect this is more common than staffing up appropriately in the first place, or at least more common than it should be.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              This is exactly what happened. We were a team of four. One gave notice and I was fired and they had to hire four people to replace the two of us. It was a mess from what I heard.

            2. Dawbs*

              I once tried to wave a flag when I was leaving a job at a manufacturing plant–I was hired for office work and had a pretty unique skill set for the position and had the ability to multi-task (data-enter while keeping half an eye on the door). So I’d taken over a lot of receptionist duties so the admin/receptionist could do stuff (she was amazing). And I got trained on some parts of the factory floor-I needed cash, so I jumped at weekend overtime.

              Of course, when I left, they needed a receptionist (because admin couldn’t do all of her newly acquired duties AND the receptionist job) and a data person (they had trouble finding 1 person who did both somehow?) and it hadn’t occurred to anyone that I was 1/5 of the overtime hours for one department in the factory (so 1 part time position there)
              I came back to work over a break and there were 3 people replacing me.
              I was kinda proud of myself over it :)

        2. Amy Sly*

          One of my undergrad universities had a “Engineering Management” degree. You had to take the same first two years of engineering that the engineering students had to take before you moved on to management classes. Even if you couldn’t build a bridge or design a computer, you had enough background with the underlying concepts so that the engineers weren’t making the Charlie Brown adult “whah whah” noises when they told you what they were doing.

        3. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

          This. A manager doesn’t have to be able to perform every single job duty of their reports, but they do need to understand what their reports do all day. I had a manager who couldn’t be bothered to understand what our department did (he obviously had other problems) and he was totally useless to report to, since he couldn’t help me address problems, improve our programs, or even monitor the work at a high level.

  14. MuseumChick*

    OP, one of the hardest lessons I think many people have to learn as an adult is how to interact with people you do not like. It’s a tough skill to learn but absolutely vital. As a manager, I need people on my team who can handle personality conflicts maturely (and hold myself accountable to that same standard). Take a really hard look at your behavior with this manager with no sugar coating or defenses. If the roles were reversed and you were a manager having someone treat you that way, what would you tell people who called and asked about that person? As someone interviewing that person what would you need to hear from them to know they had learned from their mistakes?

    1. LDN Layabout*

      I’d add ‘and people who have less skills than you (think you) do’.

      I once had to show a coworker how to access a browser once. Step by step guide them through finding it on their desktop and how to enter in an internet address. The people around me were incredulous listening to my side of the conversation.

      On the other hand, this person is a registered healthcare professional. She has skills I cannot dream of having. The same is true of a lot of my coworkers. So when I feel myself getting frustrated when someone asks me something very basic, I try to remember that if we all had the same skills, my organisation would crash and burn very quickly…

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        This is a really good way to think about it. I manage people who have skills I absolutely do not have. I have skills they do not have. I often remind myself of this. We all bring different things to the workplace.

      2. Anon for this*

        This. My manager has skills that I would be thrilled if, one day, I could manage to do half of what he can do.

        He also has a terrible short term memory. Absolutely terrible, to the point that sometimes I have to answer the same question about the status of the tasks I have been assigned three times in one day. But, I don’t get frustrated with him, because his forgetfulness is manageable as long as we write things down, and what he is good at outweighs the very real problems.

      3. Door Guy*

        Last week I had one of the owners up from the main office, and we were using my computer and it was just painful. I have an ergonomic keyboard and mouse and had to dig out the old standard ones for him, he got confused because I run with several tabs open and not just the one I need at that specific moment and kept closing things.

        I was helping train him on the new estimator that corporate unveiled, but after that he spent the rest of the day training me on all the other aspects of my job that I would need to know.

      4. DarnTheMan*

        I had to train one of my former directors on PowerPoint – she was a massive bigwig in the industry with years of experience, who just had never really had to do anything with PowerPoint up until that point. And to her credit, she really did try to learn from my training but sometimes she’d forget things and I’d have to go over them with her again.

        What the OP also seemed to miss is the way doing these sometimes seemingly brainless tasks can earn you a lot of social capital with the bosses. I know there were certain projects I got invited to work on, specifically because my director had seen firsthand how I could handle training someone on something without getting annoyed or acting like they were dumb.

    2. BRR*

      It’s such an important skill to have. I learned it with someone who was ideal to learn it with. We both knew we didn’t like each other, but nobody would ever know. And that includes myself! She was always pleasant to me in a way that seemed genuine. I think we both just knew what it was and that somehow made it work.

      At my last job, there was someone who was a jerk to practically everyone because she thought she was better than everyone. She had an attitude from the start and it only grew worse over time. She was a brown noser to our manager though and that got her a lot. Finally I had enough of her attitude and I said to my manager that I was sick of how she was interacting with me. I think he was ignoring that it was an issue but after I brought it up he was faced with how her attitude was a liability. People didn’t want to work with her and he saw her treat the CEO poorly (because coworker thought the CEO was an idiot).

      Anyways where I’m going with this is for most jobs, it’s part of your job to get along with your coworkers. It’s extra important to get along with your manager.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. But it’s a part of a good manager’s skill set to realize that just working well with the manager is not enough, employees need to be able to get along with coworkers and subordinates as well.

    3. MassMatt*

      “one of the hardest lessons I think many people have to learn as an adult is how to interact with people you do not like. It’s a tough skill to learn but absolutely vital.“

      This. Ideally in a work context no one you work with you dislike for personal reasons should have any idea. It is hard to do, but that’s the ideal.

      The things that have helped me try to do this are 1) realizing that often what we dislike in Others are bad traits in ourselves 2) Just about everyone has some kind of positive, try to find out what that is 3) venting to someone trustworthy completely outside of work and 4) for the truly nutty/terrible people, look at it as a weird anthropology experiment (thanks Alison for wording it this way, I’d been doing it for years without a name for it).

  15. Black Horse Dancing*

    Ouch, OP. Alison is spot on. I’m shocked you weren’t written up or fired immediately. Your previous company should have outlined disciplinary procedures. Since you mention a prior manager, did you get along with them? Was it just the new manager? Was the PIP the first warning because that is wrong. You may need to take a lower role an go from there.

  16. Mazzy*

    Am I really the first comment? Sorry! I think a lot of people in any chat room will pile on about you criticizing leadership so I won’t do that. The thing is, there are many constructive ways to do it. Make a note of what they say that is wrong and deal with it after the meeting. Or send them data that shows where they’re misguided and say “you might not be aware of this trend.” Or point it out in a “oh, you may not know what’s different about this project” friendly tone of voice. Then if they strike you down, let some time pass, and come back to it later. Usually, if someone isn’t open to feedback, it helps to let some time pass.

    I also think you need to think about what outcome you want. Yes, it feels good to be write in the moment, but then people will not like you, or won’t bring you into projects because they’re afraid you’ll criticize them. You’ll have a quick win but hurt yourself long term. Better to move slower and think about how you want to issue your feedback. At the time, waiting a few days seems like a really long time, but in retrospect, it doesn’t matter.

    Also, you mention being earlier in your career. I am 41 and still feel really young and inexperienced in certain groups of people. At the same time, I’ve had my head bitten off by someone in their 20s a couple of times because I didn’t know a, b, c. Not only did it feel horrible and make for an awkward moment in the office, they completely didn’t respect that I’m good at M, N, O, P. So it basically shut down any back and forth we had since them. They had tunnel vision about a,b,c being the most important things. I’ve been doing it longer by virtue of age and not brilliance (something than seemed to bother my younger colleague) and know that lofty goal can be accomplished without a,b,c at all, so don’t get why they’re so adamant it’s so important. So put another way, people can tell when you’re trying to take them down a peg, and it’s also worth noting that you might not have all of the info you need to finish the project.

    Maybe you should have tried some malicious compliance and do exactly what your boss says and see how it works? Also, maybe it’s worth looking for work in adjacent industries?

    1. Helvetica*

      So put another way, people can tell when you’re trying to take them down a peg

      In my experience, people try to take others down a peg when they’re afraid they will be taken down themselves. Like they will have opportunities taken away from them if they don’t “win” against their coworkers, or if they admit knowledge gaps.

  17. Genny*

    LW, as you’re reflecting on what happened at your old job, consider whether your boss really was “ignorant” or whether she just had a different vision or way of doing things. You may have encountered a boss who legitimately was incompetent. However, given that she’s both well-connected in the field and her unofficial references seem to hold a lot of weight, this may have been a case of you being relatively new to the workforce and not having a full picture of how things work. Part of learning from this experience isn’t just figuring out what you could’ve done differently, but also examining whether your assumptions and initial judgments were accurate.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      So much this. I found it odd that OP was so confident the manager didn’t know anything when OP said she was early career – you don’t really know anything at that point, either.

      1. Agent Diane*

        Also, OP, make a note to do a quick check on a new manager in future. If you’d done that when the new manager arrived you might have realised the bridge you were about to burn. as it is, you’re now on the wrong side of the river from where you want to be with Very few ways of getting back.

        I would love an update in a couple of months.

    2. James*

      This doesn’t just apply to work relationships, either. My wife and I used to argue all the time because she grew up doing things one way, I grew up doing them differently. She’d ask me to do something and insist I was doing it wrong (of course I would never stoop to such behavior!) when in fact it was just different. Dishes were the worst; she insisted on using the dishwasher for everything, while I grew up AS the dishwasher of the family.

      Anyway, just food for thought during soul-searching. Look outside of work and see if the same trends are applicable. If you see them in personal and professional relationships, odds are it’ not them, it’s you. It’s a trick I’ve used a number of times to ferret out weaknesses I need to work on.

      1. allathian*

        How did you work that out?
        As long as you didn’t insist she wash dishes by hand, what was the problem? Some people find washing dishes by hand relaxing, and in my book that’s the only reason to do it if there’s a dishwasher available. Growing up, we never had a dishwasher at home. Once I moved out, as long as I was single I lived without. But since moving in with my husband, we’ve always had a dishwasher and I won’t wash any dishes by hand unless I absolutely have to…

    3. Observer*

      That’s a really good point. If your former boss is that well known and respected, perhaps it’s because they actually know their stuff. Which means that even if they really don’t know so much about your specialty, they know enough that you shouldn’t just blow them off, even internally.

  18. AndersonDarling*

    There are a lot of employees that don’t understand that their actions will follow them. This is so important to accept early in your career because you have no idea where your current co-workers will end up, and you may end up being interviewed by them in the future. That Administrative Assistant may be a Director in 10 years and they will remember how you threw tantrums and were disrespectful back in the day.
    I live in a big city and have changed fields many times, and it amazes me how often I cross paths with past co-workers. Thank goodness that when I was immature and adjusting to the working world, I was still respectful to my co-workers.

    1. leapingLemur*

      Also, people’s job change. I worked at the same place for a long time, and sometimes people would start out as new people and later end up being my boss or the boss’s boss. I was glad I’d always been welcoming.

  19. Akcipitrokulo*

    Yeah – unfortunately while lots of people would like a brilliant expert, they would *much* prefer someone reasonably competant that plays well with others. It is a key part of performing well.

    Owning your mistakes in interview is probably best – don’t make excuses, explain what you’ve learned and why you realise your behaviour was not acceptable, and what steps you have taken to ensure it will not be a future issue.

    I messed up – I realise how immature/mistaken I was – here is why I won’t mess up again.

  20. Almost former PhD student*

    OP, I have a lot of sympathy for you as someone who has also said things I later wished I hadn’t early in my career. I wish you could go back in time and accept that PIP! While you may not have been able to totally rehabilitate yourself in the eyes of your boss, you might have been able to show him that you’re working on changing (which might have positively impacted the references you’re getting now). I feel for you – I have worked for people who just didn’t understand my work or the things they were asking me to do and it was very frustrating! Especially as someone who is early in your career, it’s so easy to get heated and not think about the damage you might be doing yourself in the eyes of the people who work with you (and that’s not just your boss – other people certainly notice who is making inappropriate/disrespectful comments to their boss).

    That being said, I hope you are able to do the sort of soul searching that Alison suggests and think about the sort of relationships with your bosses you’d like to have in the future. Further, you can think about how you should interact with them in order to get the reactions you want from them – if you are concerned that your boss isn’t up-to-date on your projects (which happens and can be frustrating), you can write up the current status/timeline or refer them to prior documentation. If you’re irritated by their lack of experience in the area, especially if they’re new, perhaps you can point them toward some reading they can do to catch up or offer to chat with them about what you think are the important things to know in the area. Remember that what you want isn’t to show that you are more knowledgeable than they are – it’s to get them up to speed enough to work together effectively. There are many polite/respectful but also direct ways of disagreeing with someone when you think they don’t have as much knowledge in an area as you do, and working on finding those can be both helpful to your career and to your peace of mind.

  21. Anonymous Poster*

    I actually have some empathy for the OP here.
    1. In one extreme interpretation of this, where we take OP’s point of view: OP did good work for 3 years, and a new manager, with less technical expertise, arrives – possibly with other managerial deficiencies. The OP & manager butt heads, with both parties unable to deescalate. So, one bad relationship with shared blame between OP & the manager, and now OP is banned from their career path for the rest of their life? Obviously that doesn’t seem fair.
    2. Let’s take the other extreme view: let’s assume OP is delusional in their account of things and reality is closer to: OP was always rude to those around them and the new manager was gracious and tolerant and willing to help them with a PIP to grow their soft skills. But, in an irrational fit of anger, OP quits and moves on. Apparently OP does have some technical training because they were able to get several interviews quickly and make it to reference checks. And yet the outcome is the same: the advice from Alison is “You might continue to lose out on jobs you want, and ultimately might need to compromise on what type of job you accept (possibly one outside this small field where you burned an early bridge)” – that’s still an unfair outcome! That’s a disproportionate response!

    Unfortunately, Alison is probably correct about the reality of the situation (as she usually). My point here is that OP deserves a bit more empathy. Even in the worst-case scenario, the rules of the game are unfair. They showed several years of competence and success and now their entire life is going to be altered by one manager. It’s just a job – it shouldn’t be life-altering to that degree.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      You are absolutely correct. Unfortunately, second chances can be few and far between

      1. leapingLemur*

        The OP said “I did make (multiple) comments about their ignorance of projects or lack of experience in this speciality.” and “many inappropriate comments that I made in front of him and a couple of other senior leaders.”

        Yes this shouldn’t ruin the person’s entire life, but I can understand why no one wants to hire the OP right now. Even if you have an incompetent manager, this is not the way to deal with it.

    2. MsSolo*

      I think I’d tweak scenario 1 slightly, given that the OP acknowledges they criticised their manager and higher ups for ignorance to their faces. My ultra-generous take is that it was a toxic workplace, where behaviour like this was modelled by other employees, and OP had no reason to believe the new manager would take issue with it compared with others (or would take issue with it solely from them). OP knew from experience that a PIP is always a prelude to being fired there, and had reason to believe sticking it out for the sake of job hunting would be worse for their career (or their health) than leaving immediately. OP now has a vindictive ex-manager who is giving them a bad reference which is substantially true – they were rude, and they quit rather than go through a PIP – which makes getting work harder.

      This is, of course, Advice Column fanfic. I think the OP has been fairly open about where they went wrong and the action they took, without suggesting it was normal for their workplace; they are just surprised by the consequences. They thought their hard skills would be of higher value than their soft skills, and the industry is showing them it’s the other way around. Maybe it’s the wrong industry for the OP.

      Certainly, if it was a toxic workplace, OP needs to be very careful about taking any soft skills they learnt there to another job, same industry or otherwise. They especially need to rethink how they give and receive feedback and learn techniques for making sure they do it appropriately for the culture of their workplace. Quitting on receiving a PIP looks very bad to a functional workplace, even if it might have been the right choice in a dysfunctional one.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think you have to be really at a high level of your work for hard skills to trump soft skills, at least across multiple jobs and companies. It’s easier to train a smart, capable person in LINUX than in how to be pleasant.

        1. Tau*

          And I think this is something a lot of people don’t realise. I’m a software developer, and it seems many people who don’t work in tech have this image of it as a haven for the socially maladjusted geniuses. Which… maybe some places? But everywhere I’ve worked has put a premium on soft skills and made it clear that the No Asshole Rule applies – it doesn’t matter how amazing your technical skills are, if you can’t play nicely with the other employees you’re out.

          1. Cedrus Libani*

            Tech is a haven for people who are better at thinking about facts than about people. That’s not the same thing as being an asshole. (It’s also not the same thing as autism, though many people with autism are conspicuously fact-brained.)

            It’s the 21st century. Most projects in tech are way too big for one person to do alone. You need a team, and you will succeed or fail based on the performance of your team. If you’re incapable of playing nicely with others, you’re not very useful.

      2. Smithy*

        I did work somewhere where my boss/the Executive Director when mad did tell/encourage me to just yell back at her. It was her style and she didn’t like situations where she was yelling and I wasn’t.

        While I never adopted yelling, and I also know that it didn’t leave a long term negative impression (I was requested to return multiple times after I left) – that workplace 100% left me with some seriously negative soft skills for working with and responding to management that took a while to unlearn.

        As a result, I also had a boss where I think I did pretty badly burn a bridge. All I can say is that while I’d never ask him to be a reference, I did acknowledge being in the wrong and worked to improve. So should someone in the future reach out and ask him about me….at this point I think he’d say it’s been years and perhaps just comment on my “greenness” when I worked for him.

        1. Gloucesterina*

          Your former boss specifically coached you to communicate at work by yelling??


          1. Eliza*

            I can believe it. Working with tech startups in a media-related field, I’ve met quite a few people who see politeness as inherently fake and feel that they can only trust someone who’s willing to be rude to their face.

    3. LDN Layabout*

      The problem is, even your extreme POV from the OP omits that they admit to straight up questioning their manager’s competency, both to their face and to other senior people. That’s not two people butting heads, that’s someone throwing a grenade and being surprised they got hit with shrapnel.

      Their life isn’t being altered by one manager. This person didn’t try to trick or push OP out. They praised their technical skills but pointed out the reason for the PIP was due to their soft skills. Which the OP just compounded by quitting on the spot. Their life is being altered because they couldn’t behave professionally in the workplace.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        THIS. There’s empathy and then there’s coddling, which OP doesn’t need.

      2. BRR*

        Exactly. Even with the most generous reading of the letter, would you want to manage this person?

    4. Colette*

      I disagree. The OP has a reputation that, by her own account, is well deserved. She was repeatedly rude to her managers, and when her manager told her to cut it out, she quit.

      Now she has a reputation as someone who is insubordinate and condescending, and who cannot take feedback.

      She can grow and move past this, and I hope she does – but there’s nothing unfair about losing out on opportunities she’d like because she burned her bridges.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m a bit reminded of the rock-star letter, especially in the first scenario. Yes, if someone influential can block you through their network, that’s going to be a problem. You will have to find opportunities where that blockage doesn’t matter–for rock star OP, they needed to get an internship at a different company, because it would not happen at rock star’s company. For OP, they need to hit a situation where their skills are in high demand even with the pandemic job losses and the hiring manager doesn’t have a connection to their old boss. I’m sure these exist, but they’re harder to find, especially close to the OP’s old location and role. “Search wide, take what you can get, use this job to accrue future references about your great soft skills” is probably the best one can do.

      1. MassMatt*

        Was this the hilarious “no one will I be their idea man!” letter?

        I’m having a Friends flashback: Rachel’s hot but bitchy sister tries to be a “baby stylist”.

        “How’s that going?”

        “Not great. It’s like people don’t want to be told their babies are UGLY!”

        “Hmm, imagine that”…

    6. Amanda*

      I have some empathy to OP too, in that she’s young and still beginning her carreer and didn’t realise her reputation stays with her even after she’s done with a particular job. She messed up, and most of us mess something up at various points, so it shouldn’t be the end of the world.

      That said, OP messed up massively. Bad mouthing your boss to his face, and to other higher ups is so egregious, it makes a bad impression even in peers, and people talk. Even if the old manager was totally incompetent, OP’s behavior was still very unprofessional, and two wrongs don’t make a right reputation-wise.

      So OP does need to own up to her mistake, understand that her behavior is her responsibility, and take some action to salvage her reputation. It won’t be quick, and it may mean she’ll have to settle for lower positions/salaries, or another industry, at least for a while. But it should be doable if she really makes an effort to improve.

      1. nonprofit nancy*

        I wonder if OP can focus on an individual-contributor element of their field. It might be an easier sell in interviews, like when people step away from management after struggling with that.

    7. LuckyPurpleSocks*

      I don’t think it means the OP is “banned from their career path for the rest of their life”, nor is it due to one manager. Their manager didn’t make the rude comments, the OP did (and in front of/to senior leaders as well). The manager didn’t fire them (they said the OP was excellent at their job!), the OP quit. The OP is responsible for their unprofessional actions and is facing the consequences, as many of us have in our career (I know I did early on in mine *wince*). The OP can also take steps to rebuild their reputation in the field and work on their professionalism, which includes giving and receiving constructive criticism, controlling your temper, and taking ownership of your mistakes. It’s not easy, but it’s not the end of the world or their career.

    8. Butterfly Counter*

      I think I’m going to have to disagree with you that the outcome to POV2 is unfair. People are not entitled to specific jobs, even if they have desirable skills. If a person has demonstrated, in spectacular fashion, that they don’t work well with people they don’t like, an employer (realizing that not everyone is going to like everyone they work with) gets to decide to chose another person to hire.

      It would be unfair if the losing out on jobs they wanted and/or changing the type of job they accept if it was due to something out of OP’s control (race, gender, etc.). But the fact was that this outcome was within the OP’s control in calling her manager ignorant in front of others and refusing to change, so she is just experiencing the (probably fair) consequences of her behavior.

    9. nonprofit nancy*

      I’m sure OP was in the wrong, but I admit my soft heart goes out to them. We are so beholden to our jobs and staying on the good side of management, and if OP really does have in demand skills this must feel even more unfair.

    10. Anonymous Person*

      Having lived through Scenario #1 I can say that I have sympathy for the OP. Unfortunately this can happen fairly often in the working world and it is not fair to the under-employee. In my case the manager’s lack of expertise resulted in a huge waste of company money amid something of a kickback situation.

      My best advice to the OP is this: Find another job before you leave in a huff.

      People mainly leave bad managers, not bad companies. Cultivate the good references you do have that will speak to your skills. Not every place will check in with that manager or know that manager.

    11. Observer*

      Eh, a straightforward reading of what the OP says, without reading any extra problems into it, is bad enough.

      1. The OP made extremely disrespectful comments to their manager in front of upper management, MULTIPLE times!

      2. The OP seems to assume that their boss doesn’t have a clue, even while acknowledging that the boss is well known and respected, while they are relatively new in their career. That’s not a good look even if the manager is less than perfect.

      3. The OP quit on the spot rather work through the PIP or even start job searching immediately.

      4. The OP totally refuses to consider that their behavior was inappropriate truly inappropriate, and defends it based on seriously ridiculous grounds.

      All of this is bad enough that we don’t need to add anything on to it. But, to claim that the results are disproportionate? N. Not at all. The OP’s behavior means that they are going to be hard to work with unless they makes some significant changes. It’s not disproportionate for someone who is difficult to work with to have fewer choices in what jobs they are offered.

    12. J.B.*

      I had a really incompetent manager who didn’t show up for work. I never insulted her the way the op did, and only eventually went to big boss because I was young and naive (and focused on the not showing up/ not signing off on stuff). That move could have seriously impacted my career if I hadn’t managed to move into a different group and build my reputation with more people.

  22. Big Red*

    dang, dude. This is as nicely as I can put it – I wouldn’t hire you. What did you think was going to happen?

    1. Courageous cat*

      Yeah. People are awfully kind having sympathy and giving “gentle reminders” here. This is a very… bratty attitude to carry in one’s professional life, and I don’t think it has anything to do with being young as some are suggesting (we’ve all been young in a job before). The reason why you don’t be rude to be people at work is precisely for this purpose: you’re shooting your own self in the foot. It sounds like you’re not accepting that these are consequences you earned and that you should see this as an opportunity to become more humble and earnest, not to double down on the immaturity.

      I wouldn’t hire you either.

  23. stampysmom*

    Have you thought about taking some anger management classes? I’m not suggesting you have anger issues but you would learn about how to stop and reflect before responding which would be helpful when dealing with people who you don’t see eye to eye with. I’m sure most people could use that kind of “training” at various points in their lives.

  24. Mayflower*

    A small bit of practical advice for you OP, in case you continue to hit those bumps in the road: you can always go freelance. In my personal experience as a software engineer, the bar for 1099 is slightly higher on technical skills but significantly lower on soft skills. (Recruiters are typically how you get 1099 jobs).

    1. Sled dog mama*

      I have had the same experience in a different field with freelance and short term. Excellent technical skills will often get you in the door and in my field assignments are of short enough duration that as long as the technical stuff is done nobody cares much how difficult you are. Now if you can combine this with a new attitude, in a year or 18 months you would have several more current references who could speak to your improved attitude.
      Be aware that the difficult personalities do better as freelancers can be problematic too, I shy away from the idea of hiring one frequently because the only time I’ve been yelled at or cursed at in the work place was by a freelancer. Long story but the short of it is he asked me a question that was none of his business in the middle of a presentation that zero relevance to the question and when I pointed out that this really wasn’t the appropriate forum for the question or relevant at all to the presentation he yelled that this was male bovine excrement and when he asked a question he expected a direct answer.

  25. new kid*

    My advice would be to keep in mind as try to work through this that it’s your behavior that was the issue. Maybe your manager really was an idiot, you don’t necessarily have to (internally) think otherwise in order to change how you react in the future. Other commenters are suggesting (rightfully) that you may not have had all the context that your manager had and that thinking you’re smarter/better than everyone around you probably isn’t going to do you any favors, but that can be a pretty ingrained mindset that might be hard to change overnight. So in the meantime, I would honestly say, go ahead and keep thinking you’re smarter than everyone else – but know that a genuinely smart person learns to play the game to win even if they think the rules are stupid.

    Sincerely, an INTJ gal who thinks the majority of the social interaction I have most days is beyond dumb but has learned to fake it really really well.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      know that a genuinely smart person learns to play the game to win even if they think the rules are stupid.

      This is the truest thing written here today.

  26. staceyizme*

    Ouch! This one stings and it’s not going away. Your best bet might be to reach out to your old manager and see if you can arrange a get-together where you can offer a REAL apology and negotiate what the company will say about you. Honestly, it will help if you can get some assistance in the form of doing some personal work (coach or therapist). You’ve got to see WHY you’ve gotten to this place and reckon with the fallout in order to move forward. (If you don’t do the personal work in some form, this is likely to crop up again.) With respect to your future, would you be able to set up shop on your own and would you have any interest in doing so? That might be the quickest workaround for “managers think that my tech skills rock but my attitude kind of sucks”. Hope this works out for you. (IS there any possibility that you could retract your “I quit” and do the PIP? Even if you separate thereafter, you could demonstrate some progress. It’s not a likely idea, but maybe all ideas are worth considering here.

  27. EventPlannerGal*

    I’m interested that OP still believes that others will speak highly of their soft skills. Unless we’re using the term differently, it’s my understanding that “soft skills” includes things like the ability to work well with others, taking criticism, social and emotional intelligence, general people skills, and it doesn’t sound like the OP has excelled in practice at any of those things – in fact they have failed at them in quite a dramatic way.

    So I think the OP should bear in mind that if you are found to be overstating your abilities in one area, it also throws doubt on your claimed abilities in other areas too. If you have told these interviewers that you have amazing soft and technical skills and they find out that actually your soft skills are proven to be pretty bad, are they going to fully believe what you say about your technical skills either? Your problem is not just about convincing people you can work with them without insulting them, but also developing a realistic understanding of your abilities so that you don’t oversell yourself and show yourself up like this.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      YES. I saw “they’ll speak very highly of my soft skills” in the middle of an essay of examples showing the OP doesn’t seem to display the soft skills god gave a goldfish and winced.

      1. nonprofit nancy*

        I do also believe OP could be good at some types of soft skills but not this situation. It’s not a monolith.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          That’s true! There are many different types of soft skills, but combined with the overall self-awareness issue and distancing that Alison points out, I really feel like OP would benefit from considering whether that self-assessment is accurate.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          OP may have good soft skills when communicating with people who agree with her.

        3. The New Wanderer*

          True, but the specific examples the LW provided (openly disrespected their own manager on multiple occasions, and when called on it, quit rather than modify their behavior) would probably outweigh the remaining soft skills they have demonstrated.

          LW either doesn’t understand the scope of what soft skills cover, or believes that one or two positive references should overrule an honest negative one, or doesn’t realize that any other reference who observed or were informed of the bad behavior isn’t going to excuse it like, “well they were always nice to me.”

        4. Helvetica*

          It does feel like the need to be good at soft skills is itself a monolith. For all people talk about people matters having shades of gray, it seems like having soft skills is binary, it must be 100%. Who can be 100% good at something?

      2. Alianora*

        I wonder if the OP is considering things like writing and organization soft skills, but doesn’t think of maintaining interpersonal relationships as a skill at all.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          That may be what’s happening, and if it’s the case I really think they’re doing themself a disservice. I realise I am biased in that my role is heavily client-facing and people skills are a big part of it, but I truly believe that there are very few white-collar jobs where long-term career success does not involve people skills. Whether it’s about getting your pet project in front of the right people or working collaboratively or just explaining why you should survive the next round of layoffs, it is a really valuable skill to be able to get along with people, even ones who you think are stupid or ignorant or annoying. It is not necessarily something that comes naturally to everyone but I think it is important to work on in the same way that you would work on any other workplace skill.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Unless you’re working in a very solitary job (lighthouse keeper?) your job will bring you into contact with other humans, whether suppliers or coworkers or clients. Almost everybody benefits professionally from being able to be pleasant to the humans they encounter at work, even when those humans are rude, wrong, or otherwise undeserving of charm.

            In a very early job I got the feedback that I wasn’t personable on the phone, and was unreliable at passing on messages. Using the phone was absolutely bottom of the list of my responsibilities, and difficult because of bad hearing, but I took the feedback to heart, got a notebook to go by the phone, and FAKED IT. Making nice on the phone is still an effort, but I have learned to do it anyway, and that skill has been useful since.

            I’m really glad I got that feedback and took the time and care to act on it, even it did sting at the time.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Yes, precisely – I think it’s true of almost all jobs, really, and only specified white-collar as that’s what’s almost always under discussion here. But they are valuable in almost any job, and even more so in eg the service and hospitality industry.

          2. felty*

            I would even go so far as to say that “soft skills” like listening, speaking tactfully, being able to maintain good relationships with people within and outside your team, are more important and will get you further than your technical skills. These are what people remember about you. Speaking from my own experience, taking the time to grow those soft skills has allowed me to be successful in a field that I didn’t have any particular technical knowledge in.

    2. Batgirl*

      The OP interviews well, so is probably very personable in the right situations. But good soft skills? No…. that I would describe as being able to handle conflict calmly.

  28. AnotherSarah*

    OP, this sticks out at me: “…I was incompatible with my newly appointed manager. My frustration with that manager led to many inappropriate comments…”

    You seem to ascribe your behavior to forces outside your control. Incompatibilities happen! They lead to other things happening! But the reality here is that your behavior in those situations was not up to standards–not just in that workplace, but anywhere. This isn’t about “personality” or something fixed, it’s about mentality and actions that you can change, with work. You chose to quit rather than do that work. And now you seem to be talking about the past like it was a fait accompli.

    Your former manager can only speak to what they saw of you at work, and how it impacted the company’s aims. They’re not trying to tank your career but they do have a professional obligation to others in the field (whether they know them personally or not, really) to be honest about what they saw.

    And you seem surprised that people in your workplace valued “soft skills.” These skills are part of the job, though, even though they might not be on the job description.

    1. MsSolo*

      Yes, there’s a bit of an absence of active language here! You don’t use passive language in a cover letter for a reason.

      You’re not a passenger in your own life, and it’s very hard to achieve anything with it if you do think that way. Even if the OP thinks “what does it matter how I phrased it?”* how we position ourselves in the sentences we craft in our own minds affects how we remember events and perceive our own behaviour. OP’s language pings back and forth when it comes to describing actions they’re proud of, and actions they’re not.

      I’d suggest reading Captain Awkward’s response to the guy who apparently had a marriage and child and affair happen to him (from his own framing), for techniques to tackle your own subconscious on this issue: https://captainawkward.com/2020/02/24/1253-beloved-you-are-not-torn-you-are-in-denial-about-your-choices/

      *Which, honestly, wouldn’t entirely surprise me with OP’s approach to soft skills.

      1. Littorally*

        I love that letter. It’s such a good dissection of the abdication of responsibility for your actions.

    2. Courageous cat*

      Agreed. There’s not a bit of an absence, there is a glaring hole. “it led to” is not the way to own up to one’s own choices.

    1. A Silver Spork*

      Yep! A few years ago I was on the hiring side of a story like this. We were interviewing a dude with glowing references and stellar resume for an early-career job when someone on the team realized “hey, I know some folks in the lab across from where he works now” and scheduled a call.

      Overwhelmingly, the back channel references all said that the dude didn’t work well on a team and got explosively frustrated when things went wrong, which would have been the death knell no matter what, but especially so in a department where we had to cooperate all the time because things kept blowing up with our projects. We probed the official references about it some more and they confirmed what we’d found out.

      Dude’s resume went in the “hell no” pile after that.

  29. theop*

    Thanks Allison and to the other commenters. I am the OP. I thought I would respond to some of the feedback. It was very eye opening and much appreciated. I did not realize until Allison pointed it out that my language describing the situation made it seem that I was in doubt that I had done wrong. I can see how it was read that way. I wanted to clarify that I knew immediately that I misbehaved and have no plans to repeat the behavior in the future but wanted advice on how to salvage the job search issue in the meantime. I truly wrote this letter in shame not angst. The PIP was also only for two weeks and my company has a reputation for using PIPS to exit employees. I will make sure to better manage my reactions in the future. I like the suggestion someone made about doing some freelance work for the time being. As a programmer that might be the easiest way to get past this for now. Thank you all for the comments.

    1. Skeptical Squirrel*

      Good luck!

      We all make mistakes that make us cringe when looking back. I am no exception. However, learning from mistakes is what separates those who succeed and those who do not.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP, I’m glad you are reading these comments. It shows you are ready to move forward.

      The bit of advice I really ask you to heed is to not react in the moment. Pauses are amazing for dealing with all sorts of problems, especially interpersonal relations. They can help you review options and avoid making things worse.

    3. LDN Layabout*

      Good luck OP. Hopefully temp or contracting work will tide you over/help you build up your rep if these jobs don’t work out.

      It’s always good to see people who write more difficult letters come back and be open to feedback.

    4. Purt's Peas*

      This comment is really gracious, and it’s a good way to start talking about this. I think that one of Alison’s points was, even if you understand this mistake, it’s really tempting to talk about it in a way that lets you distance yourself and save face, as you were doing in the letter–that’s very natural and it’s ok! It’s just that when interviewing you’ll want to look like you’ve taken your lumps and you’ve learned from a mistake, like you are in this comment, rather than saving face.

      Freelancing isn’t a bad idea, especially when you need some bridge work while job searching, and hopefully it’ll let you start the hard work of rebuilding a reputation. Best of luck.

      1. MsSolo*

        Yes, this! The letter doesn’t come across as OP feeling ashamed, because of their word choices and sentence structure. Maybe try rewriting it in the active tense, and dig into the specifics – write down examples of specifics requests that upset you and the actual words you used to rebuff them. Own your actions so that next time something similar arises (because you will always encounter people above you with good ideas that Just Won’t Work) you’re in control of your reactions.

    5. revueller*

      thanks for writing in, OP. i hope you got the tactical advice you needed to continue your job search. you will definitely be able to move past this.

    6. Bella*

      beyond what everyone has said, do you have a co-worker you can use as a reference instead of a manager (maybe someone who had a bit of oversight on your work)? Or if this is a new manager, do you have an old manager you can use instead?

      It’s not going to work all the time but it could be the temporary solution you need, since I personally would find calling up my ex-boss to apologize and clearly try and get a good reference be extremely awkward and unlikely to be successful in changing anything.

      1. theop*

        Yes. I have about 7 people who reached out to me after leaving to say they’d recommend me. Some of them are senior management.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh hell, you’re in programing. I clinched, now it all makes so much sense. I’ve seen this happen to more people than I’d care to admit.

    8. Akcipitrokulo*

      Good luck with freelancing!

      This might sound out-there, but bear with me :) it occurs from the original situation and this letter that you might not automatically recognise issues with how your phrases are coming across, and it might be worthwhile brushing up on those skills specifically – maybe creative writing courses? Or similar that look at nuances in language?

      There is a big positive by the way! You are at the *beginning* of your career. (And you’ve realised you messed up and are looking in right place to start fixing it.)

      In a few years, this will be well behind you. You will get back from this.

      Check out www (dot) askamanager (dot) org/2013/01/what-was-your-most-cringe-worthy-career-mistake (dot) html

    9. Drew*

      OP, you’re taking a bit of a beating here and your response really shows that you can recognize your errors and work to move past them. It’s an impressive comment you can take some pride in. I hope you’re able to look back on this in a few years as an unfortunate and rocky start to a career that you love — even if it’s not the one you thought you were in love with then!

    10. Djuna*

      I know these comments have to be hard to read, so on the off chance you’re still looking, here’s a little bit of input from me (who was a little like you early in my career) on how to help avoid situations like this in future:
      1. Listen. Listen well. Too often when we’ve made an internal judgement on someone, we don’t hear what they’re saying to us, or we jump to the wrong conclusion. Not hearing what they’re saying (often because you’re thinking about what to say next) can mean you miss out on context or not hear that you’re being told “Yes this sucks and seems illogical but it’s what we’re going with.”

      2. If you’re getting irritated, try really hard to take a mental step back and ask yourself why. Often our hackles go up when there’s a grain of truth we’d rather not look at in what’s being said. This can be hard to do in the moment, so if needs be zip it until you can unpack why you reacted the way you did.

      3. Once you’ve honestly discovered where the mental burrs were, and what the things you didn’t hear in the moment meant, you’re in a great place to (a) reach out to your former manager and apologize for the way you left in a meaningful way and (b) compose a way to talk about this without rancor (extremely important) in an interview.

      4. In your next job (and there will be one!), remember you don’t have to reply to an email, or an IM, or comment in a meeting in the moment. If someone is truly being a dolt, you won’t be the only one to notice it, and you really don’t have to be the one to point it out (especially if they’re senior). Asking a clarifying question or two can work wonders here, as long as your tone is even and curious.

      It may also help to do some reading here on political capital at work, how you earn it and how you burn it. It’ll help reframe things for you on why relationships are so important at work.

      And don’t lose heart, doing this kind of personal work is hard but it pays off, not least in the number of apologies you won’t have to make in future.

    11. Qwerty*

      Your best bet is to be honest that you need mentoring in soft skills. You may need to apply for roles that are more junior than what your technical level is since those are the one more likely to have a mentor for you and be willing to take the risk. The attitude that you showed is unfortunately very common in tech, but fortunately you are early enough in your career that it won’t set you back too much.

      There’s a lot of red flags in your letter, so it would be helpful for you to really focus on those – not out of shame, but to learn how to soften your language. Things like terming denigrating your boss as “office politics” are going to make it look like you haven’t learned.

      Also, change your expectations about what your manager “should” know. Having the smartest person as the manager of a tech team generally is not an efficient way of running the team. That person is in charge for other reasons and running a team is very different from being an individual contributor. Part of being a strong tech person is being able to communicate effectively with non-technical people, which may include your manager.

    12. BRR*

      Thank you for replying and clarifying a few details. These comments could not have been easy to read and I think replying in this manner shows some good traits that weren’t captured in your letter. Unfortunately with how you told the story in your letter, it made it difficult to get advice for your actual question because there seemed to be a larger and more pressing issue to your job hunt.

      I’d encourage you to look at Alison’s advice on how to talk about a firing in a job interview because I think the approach will be the same. Frame the situation honestly, don’t overly minimize it, accept ownership, don’t make excuses, and express what you’ve learned and how you’ve worked on it. (I know that last part is a little tough because you essentially need a new job to show that you’ve worked on it).

    13. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Good on you, LW.

      I think a lot of good coders are surprised to discover that there is less coding in the world of work than they expected, and far more meetings, presentations, pitches, negotiations, etc. I think universities that don’t expose their budding developers to a little business studies and project management are doing them a disservice.

    14. Batgirl*

      Very gracious comment which makes me look forward to a potential update. If you want to pay some bills in the short term you might try a customer service job just as something concrete to point to your old boss as working on those skills. I think you’ll come off well regardless though.

  30. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP, I’m a firm believer that everyone gets one major screwup in their career. But it’s how you deal with it that is the important bit.

    I once knocked out thirty thousand desktops with an untested change. Now, had I just upped and quit on the spot I’d probably have never got another IT job again.

    Instead, I admitted I’d personally messed up. No excuses, no ‘but I was overworked’. And I fixed the issue. I got a comment in my performance review later that yes, that was a major problem, but I handled it, and made sure it never happened again.

    The issue here with yourself is that there’s no ‘I messed up. It’s my fault. No excuses. I need to improve and never act like that again’. You need to take that first step. It may not ever fix things, but it’s vitally important to try and to look like you learnt.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I think this is a great testimony about how your reaction – not necessarily your action – can save whatever disaster you make. Sometimes you have to move on from BIG MISTAKE but Alison offers some great advice on how, once accepted, it can be a win in the future.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I also worked with a guy who managed to crash every server in one datacentre, taking the company offline for nearly a day. Another person making a major mistake (root level IT access can be dangerous) and another one who remained hired because he owned up, pulled a frankly miracle in getting things back online, and voluntarily relinquished his administrator rights until he’d been on a series of refresher courses.

        But, we also had one coworker (this was IT HQ, high level stuff) who knocked out the mainframe by accident and just never showed up to work again. No note, no letter, just vanished.

    2. Amy Sly*

      Maxim for Maximally Effective Mercenaries, #70:
      Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Though this one would be another good one to internalize regarding managers:
        #63: The brass knows how to do it by knowing who can do it.

      2. James*

        I was thinking of “Your name is in the mouth of others. Make sure it has teeth.” In a business context, that means: make sure others know you can get things done. That means, among other things, playing well with others.

  31. Bob*

    This is a classic case of reaping what you sow.
    You burned your bridges and are facing the consequences of it.

    I have no advice for you beyond what Alison already stated. Though i would consider not ever contacting anyone at your previous employment, they won’t want to hear from you.

  32. anonanna*

    This thread is full of so much amazing advice! I’d like to know- what advice do you all have from preventing this kind of personality from developing in the first place? I’m a year out from college (2019 grad) and have been working for six years, but I recognize that I’m still young professionally and age-wise. I see the tendency inside myself to bristle at criticism and deflect blame, and though I’m able to manage it outwardly/in communication with my coworkers and superiors, I want to be proactive in managing those instincts. Basically, I guess I’m asking how to stay self-aware and not become an office jerk :)

    1. LDN Layabout*

      If you can manage it in the moment, you’re more than halfway there.

      I’d suggest when these things happen, take some time to be angry (alone), then try to look at the situation objectively, put yourself in your coworkers/superior’s positions. You might still find that you think you’re right. That’s not a bad thing. But if you find yourself thinking that a lot, it’s either time for more introspection or a job search.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oooh, I’d love to use this as a Thursday “ask the readers”! I’ll close it to further comments here and plan to run it this Thursday at 11 am ET.

    3. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I think you’ve already got step 1, which is noticing it and looking for strategies to improve.

      Other ideas (mix and match which work best for you):
      1. Be aware how you sound in writing. If responding to an email makes you angry, reread and edit later.
      2. Write out your frustration in a letter or email to no one. And then toss/burn/delete. It’s cathartic without being damaging. Just be sure no one could ever accidentally read these!
      3. Observe, all the time. Even in social exchanges or quick meetings. What is your office culture like? Who do you respect professionally? How do they act?
      4. Take time off and use it to totally disconnect from work.
      5. Figure out if there’s anything that sets off your eye-roll face. For me, when That Annoying Guy is talking in meetings, if I make eye contact with anyone else, I smirk. When he speaks, I suddenly become very invested in my notepad or keeping my face squarely ahead.

  33. Cordoba*

    There’s an (IMO unfortunate) trend in lots of popular media of “protagonist who is an absolute jackass to everybody they work or interact with, but is *so brilliant* in their field that they get away with it”.

    Think Tony Stark, Dr. House, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, etc. It was really evident in the Ken Miles character in Ford v Ferrari.

    I genuinely think this has contributed to people thinking that this is how work (and human interaction generally) actually operates. It is not. We’re social primates and will generally choose to work with somebody who is competent and friendly over a brilliant jackass.

    If my math checks out, even if you are so brilliant that you’re legitimately in the 99.99th percentile there are statistically 750,000 people on earth who are just as smart as you. So be nice.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      I’m also thinking of the opposite :) White Collar… Neal messes up *so much* and generally gets away with it because of exceptional soft skills and the good relationships he’s developed.

      (OK a bit extreme and we are talking conman level soft skills ;) but…)

    2. A Silver Spork*

      I think these sorts of personalities have been around longer than popular shows like that. My father has been pulling these sorts of stunts since the 80’s in the USSR. Getting fired every two years, like clockwork, has not gotten through to him. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I definitely know dudes who watched stuff like South Park and took it as validation that their Way of Jerkitude is Good and Right.

    3. m*

      The funny thing is, this has trained people, especially tech people, to believe that assholes are automatically some sort of genius

  34. Robin Ellacott*

    OP, as you think about what happened it might help to think of managers and colleagues as legitimately not needing to know every skill or detail you do. It doesn’t make them useless or need to mean you’re “incompatible.” Workplaces usually want people with complementary skills, who will share their expertise pleasantly, so if you know something your manager doesn’t… that’s normal and a good chance for you to be helpful to the team, not an indication they are failing.

    Managers in particular just don’t usually have a macro level picture of everything – they can’t. They rely on the people working with each detail to share what information they lack, and do so in a collaborative spirit. The more senior my role, the less I am able to do all my team’s jobs or know all they know. That’s why I need the team – not just to DO the detailed work but to UNDERSTAND it, and help me understand it if needed. Staff members who are helpful with this are very valuable.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      Not always, but often when someone on my team *but in a different area* comes to me with a change my gut reaction is often “no, I can’t do that” but then when I stop and think about it maybe I can. That person is not the expert but sometimes that actually helps the process and still get the desired outcome! If every time I just said “NO because I am the expert” some of my best implementations would have never happened.

  35. anon today*

    I’m in a fairly small industry with a very influential boss. We had an employee that screwed us over to the extreme and had multiple chances before he was finally let go about 5 years ago. When it comes to doing the job, he is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, but he hasn’t worked in our industry since he got fired from here. I have no proof, but I am convinced my boss has something to do with it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This does happen, especially in small industries and small towns.

      I haven’t seen anyone truly blacklisted because there’s always someone desperate enough to try someone out somewhere but I’ve seen people have to basically start over and earn trust all over again.

    2. Dan*

      I learned after my first job that the world is small, and if you torch the place on the way out, you’re probably f’d for the foreseeable future.

      I did not learn that lesson the hard way, in fact quite the opposite. When I was laid off from that job (decision made above my bosses’ heads) I couldn’t go *anywhere* in my field with out my bosses knowing people. In fact, my current job was pretty much handed to me for that reason. My current employer is basically tops in my field, so that layoff was a blessing in disguise.

      Funny side note is that one of the people who was junior to me at that job is my boss at my current job. I’m glad I was nice to him back then :D

  36. anon for today*

    I nearly got fired for screaming (yes, screaming) at a coworker in a high-stress situation. Afterward, I still felt like I was in the right. However, over time, I realized that while my frustration may have been in the right, my behavior was not. On a purely self-interested level, I lost the chance to really fix the problem I was frustrated with because my actions colored my words to that coworker from then on. On an ethical level, I hurt someone with my words and made my workplace a worse environment for everyone.

    Your manager’s poor decisions may be a fact, but the way you overcome them is a choice. And these potential employers are evaluating the choices you made, not your manager’s.

    You may have to swallow your pride before you really get at the crux of your anger and frustration. It will feel embarrassing, you might still feel like you did nothing wrong, and you still need to do it. The point is to express to your future employers that not only can you do the job, but you can also work well with other people, including those you disagree with. (This is also part of doing the job). It will feel awful when the treatment you get is unfair and unprofessional and you can’t retaliate on their level, but it’s not about being a doormat. You simply need to know how to handle these kinds of situations in a professional way, and your future employers need to know that you know that.

    Wishing you the best of luck, OP. You’ll figure it out, and you won’t be out of a job forever.

  37. boop the first*

    This is some seriously passive language in this letter. You literally wrote that you are SO AWESOME at everything, and that your manager was frustrating, which somehow “led” to you being a dingus as if you have no idea how that happened, that you felt forced to quit, as if that wasn’t your decision, and that other people directly asking for the truth is somehow preventing you from learning anything and moving on.

    Everything is always everyone else’s fault. As long as you believe that, there’s no advice in the world that will help you.

    If you think I misinterpreted the letter and you don’t feel this way at all, please hear us that this is the version of you that you are presenting to the world, and you are the only one who can change that. If you want people to know the true you, you’ll have to ditch the lie.

  38. Corporate Drone*

    Isn’t interesting how incompetent employees that have weak technical skills rarely ever get blackballed from future opportunities, yet the moment you bruise a manager’s ego that’s it for you. Even employees who don’t go out of their way to point out management deficiencies can find themselves on the receiving end of unflattering performance reviews and bad references should your manager happen to dislike you for whatever arbitrary reason. It’s also interesting how our work culture is structured around “building relationships” (i.e. schmoozing) just to get ahead when most of us don’t have the luxury to get to choose where and how we earn a living. We’re expected to spend the better part of our day with strangers for whom we wouldn’t give a second thought if it weren’t for the simple fact that we NEED to earn a paycheck to survive. Yes, everyone should be treated with basic decency at the very least, let’s not make our circumstances worse. Yet we shouldn’t pretend everyone is held to this standard. Anecdotally, there is a higher number of abusive managers than there are subordinates and even rude subordinates can get away with such behavior if the manager is on their side. Given these conditions, I’d rather deal with a coworker who lacked finesse but at least had the technical expertise. As it were, in most workplaces you’d be hard pressed to find either.

    1. Anonymous Person*

      Some managers do not like it to be pointed out that they are wrong by a subordinate, even if that subordinate has different or exceptional skills beyond the manager (and a lot of managers are put in charge of departments when they have no skills in that area). Also, lower-level employees RARELY get to give references about their managers, which means that bad managers keep rising until they hit their level of incompetence.

      And I agree this “schmoozing” system is also unfairly biased against Introverts who hate the very thought.

      1. Colette*

        This is one of those situations where how you point out the manager is wrong is more important than whether they are wrong – and where it’s important to realize that there are many shades of grey between wrong and right. For example, technology A would make doing X really easy, but the manager says you need to use technology B. Is the manager wrong, or is she just aware of (budget/licensing/priority) things you don’t know? If you start with the assumption that the manager is incompetent, you may not find out that the project is getting slashed so that X isn’t required, or that the priority is getting Y done, which is easier in technology A, or that you won’t be able to purchase A in time, or that the corporate standard is A. If you ask questions and point out issues with the approach, you’ll often get a reasonable explanation or discussion.

    2. matcha123*

      I hate smoozing, but I can’t think of any scenario where repeatedly talking back and getting aggressive with my manager or coworkers would be a good idea.

      (Barring some really inexcusable actions on their part.)

      1. Corporate Drone*

        Being aggressive generally is not a good idea, no. For whatever reason this kind of behavior is tolerated in a select few coworkers and in more than a few managers. OP just happens to not be part of that inner circle, hence the PIP and the poor references. While everyone is reminding them that they need to keep their head down and show some humility, someone needs to point out there is very much a “rules for thee but not for me” mentality that’s pervasive in the corporate world. Telling young people who lack power that they need to be quiet and take it might help them in their individual professional lives. In doing so, we continue to uphold an exploitative system because “that’s the way it is.”

        1. Colette*

          No one is saying the OP should be quiet and take it. People should speak up when necessary – but they should do it in a way that respects others, and that recognizes that there might be factors they don’t know (because there likely are.)

          1. Corporate Drone*

            To a number of managers, speaking up is never necessary. To some, being questioned at all in any manner is a sign of disrespect.

            1. Colette*

              That has never been my experience, and I’m often the one that speaks up. If it’s your usual experience, I’d suggest working on how you frame things, or looking at how you choose your jobs.

              1. Corporate Drone*

                I’ve witnessed this to be the case for multiple colleagues across different industries. I think you’re missing the point, though. People do not always get into positions of power based on merit and managerial competence. The power can really get to people. Glad you haven’t ever had to experience this, but your situation is quite unique.

                1. Colette*

                  I don’t think it is.

                  I’ve certainly had managers who were less than ideal, or who I wouldn’t want to work for again. I’m not saying every manager is great. I am saying that it’s OK to disagree with a manager.

                  The key is that you need to frame it as either giving them context they didn’t have (“hey, I know you mentioned that we were going to start doing X. Right now we do Y, which allows us to get Z information early in the process. Doing X will mean we get Z info later, which will cause ABC. I wanted to bring it up in case that didn’t come up during your discussions”) or ask questions (“I’m just wondering why we’re moving to X. Were there problems with our old approach?”) Both of those approaches can be quite effective.

                2. James*

                  I agree with Colette. I’ve worked with one or two managers who considered being questioned a sign of disrespect, but the vast majority–95% or more–have been open to questions and criticism. Most believe that even if you’re wrong, if you’re speaking up there’s a reason. Often that reason is “James doesn’t know enough about this, we need to train him better”. And sometimes their hands are tied–they have to do X because the higher-ups told them they have to do X. I hate it when that happens, but that’s part of the job.

                  As a manager I’ve also gone out of my way to encourage people to speak up (and have a few friends always ready to knock me down a peg or two if I get too full of myself). It doesn’t do me any good to continue on a course that will cause the company, my staff, or myself problems down the road.

                  Tone matters, of course. If someone came to me and said “You flipping moron, how can you possibly do X, Y, and Z and still have a job?!” I’d tell them to go home. If, however, they came to me and said “I’ve seen X, Y, and Z cause problems A, B, C, D, and E; how are we addressing those?” it shows that the person is thinking about not just the physical tasks at hand, but the wider implications and actively trying to prevent problems–all very good qualities to any sane manager.

                3. LizM*

                  I agree with Colette.

                  I’ve worked for good managers and bad managers. The good managers were open to feedback, but you still had to think about how you delivered it. They still didn’t like being challenged publicly (no one does, in my experience), so it did take some time to think about how to frame it. I had colleagues who understood this, and other colleagues who felt that was “smoozing” and refused to participate. Unsurprisingly, they were not as successful.

                  We tend to seperate soft skills and technical skills, but in my experience, they’re pretty closely linked – very rarely is technical work done in a vacuum. You need to be able to incorporate feedback and build buy-in for your technical work to be successful in most places.

                  As a manager, there is a big difference in hearing, “I see where you’re going, but have you thought about how that’s going to impact the llama groomers’ workflow?” or “Are we going to adjust the output requirements for the llama groomers, or is there another way to adjust for the added time this new task will take?” and (publicly, in a meeting) saying “That won’t ever work, the llama groomers already have enough on their plate!” or “Anyone who knows anything about llama grooming would be able to see why that’s a terrible idea!”

                  I’ve witnessed both, and you can guess which one resulted in actual changes to the manager’s plans.

      2. Anonymous Person*

        I can. What if you are being accused of something you absolutely, positively didn’t do? And you know for certainty the manager is lying about it, and lying on purpose? And the environment was full of lots of gaslighting and you’d just reached your end.

        1. Colette*

          Still not a good idea. Calm denial will get you farther than anger, as will finding a new job.

    3. Colette*

      Relationships often go farther than technical skills. A brilliant person no one will work with is useless to the company; a mediocre person people like is far more valuable.

      If you are condescending or rude to your coworkers, they’re not going to go above and beyond for you in a crunch; if they like you and you help them, they will often be able to make things happen.

      And if you’re rude enough that other people quit, you’re a liability.

      Life is about building relationships; work is just one facet of life.

      But I would disagree that a manager disliking you because you badmouthed them and higher management to their face is an arbitrary reason.

      1. Corporate Drone*

        Yes, my entire comment is about how relationships are deemed to be more important than having technical skills, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a mediocre yet well-liked employee is more valuable than a competent individual with personality issues. I have coworkers whom I like on a personal level, but would avoid getting assigned to the same project because I know they struggle with meeting deadlines. In fact, the mediocre yet likable folks tend to get bounced around from project to project because at the end of the day deliverables need to get completed, yet nobody has the heart to place these people on a PIP.

        “But I would disagree that a manager disliking you because you badmouthed them and higher management to their face is an arbitrary reason.” Right, which is why these were two separate statements.

    4. NW Mossy*

      From the manager’s side of things, there’s a good reason for what you see: how well the two groups (on average) respond to feedback.

      In my experience, weakness in soft skills (being pleasant, extending respect to others, etc.) is strongly correlated with being resistant to feedback. Having the two together creates an amplifying effect – not only is the person not doing when they need to do interpersonally, they’re also not hearing that a change is needed and putting forth the effort to make that change. It basically puts a harsh choice in front of the manager: accept that the current weak skills are as good as they will ever be, or part ways and bring on someone who can deliver on both results and behaviors.

      Weak technical skills can also be correlated with resistance to feedback, but they don’t go hand-in-hand as often. When the skills are absent due to a lack of experience/training and the person takes feedback well, filling the gap is straightforward and you tend to see progress quickly. Basically, this scenario doesn’t have the doom loop of one negative behavior reinforcing another.

      1. Qwerty*

        It is also a lot easier to give constructive feedback on technical skills. The topics are less likely to be emotionally charged and there’s either a right vs wrong way or at least “this is our process even if others may also work”.

        With the softer skills, it is more nuanced. Unless someone is doing something egregious, it can be hard to explain what you mean in an effective way that sticks. And the conversations are uncomfortable to have, so people put them off until they are really bothered by someone.

      2. Lissa*

        There’s also the problem that because there’s such a trope of the “genius who has bad soft skills”, it is *really* easy for people to begin to see themself like that. They get criticized and instead of really looking at it they immediately go to “well, this person just resents my brilliance.” It’s not that nobody is ever truly the “difficult person but really really great at their job”, of course those people exist. But I have known far too many people who are just plain “difficult person” and believe they are also “really great at their job” in part because any evidence they might need improvement is dismissed in their mind as the other person’s problem with their personality.

    5. Uranus Wars*

      I think this is a valid conversation to be had, but I don’t think it applies in this case. OP describes behavior beyond “bruising the managers ego”. She didn’t steal his PBJ from the office fridge or leave his contribution out of a presentation. She repeatedly badmouthed he and higher ups in the company and walked out on the spot when she was put on a PIP.

      In my experience, a PIP is a formal coaching plan when employees don’t take feedback well and don’t improve without expectations being laid out in more than a recap email. I’ve seen more people come back from them than not.

  39. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You are falling into a trap where you “buy in” to your own hype.

    You’re early in your career but you think you’re so great that you can’t see why acting poorly towards someone who is well networked within your small industry completely backfired in your face. You were rude to someone who knows people, that’s a huge rookie mistake.

    I have seen people check unlisted references over the years, it’s very much a thing. That’s why, even though I know my one jackhole manager was actually hated by many in the community, I kept my mouth shut to him so not to stir waves I cannot then control.

    Early career success can be fleeting, you have to understand that. You can’t let it go to your head. Excellent performance reviews are the reviews about what you were doing in that moment. They don’t give you license to then go off the rails, you then undo all the good stuff before because people see first what’s in front of their face and not your history leading up to it.

    You’re going to have management that sucks or just isn’t to your liking throughout your life. Now is when you learn that you have to always take the high road and keep your attitude in check in order not to torch your unseen bridges so prematurely.

    1. Dan*

      My current employer is a bit of a heavyweight in my field. When my last job hit the skids, there were layoffs and voluntary attrition to the max. (I think the company lost like 2/3 of its staff over time.) My last job, at its peak, was about 1/4 the size of my current division.

      My division at my current employer picked up a bunch of us, to the extent that when subsequent former colleagues applied, management straight up said that in order for a former colleague to be hired, at least one of us had to vouch for them. This was independent of formal references, named references, referrals, or any of that. If they weren’t known to one of us by either direct work experience or reputation, they wouldn’t take the risk. I know of a few people who got a pass for that reason, and I’m pretty sure the rejected applicants never had any clue why.

    2. tangerineRose*

      It’s generally a good idea to avoid being rude to people, even if they aren’t well connected. Maybe wait for them to be rude first?

      If someone’s rude to someone they consider below them (for no obvious reason other than they can get away with it), I’m going to be judging that rude person quite a bit.

      Also, you never know what’s going to happen – someone who had no power 5 years ago might eventually become your boss.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s the age old lesson many have had to learn the hardway.

        From the people who are rude to receptionists because they believe them to be “below” them, only to have the receptionist being a well respected, beloved contributor to the office. To going somewhere later and finding out that person you were a jerk to is now the hiring manager at that location. The high school bully getting blacklisted when their victim is now the rockstar employee at the company they want to work at!

        Much better to bite your tongue and mind your manners.

    3. m*

      Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have the confidence of a mediocre white boy :)

      Spot on, with that assessment

  40. Maltha Cook*

    I would strongly recommend, if there is any way you can possibly afford it, a few sessions of counseling. There are more than a few tele-therapy options these days. I am not trained to point to your exact issue, but anger management and/or impulsivity are ones that spring to mind. I’m not talking a major commitment, but a few sessions might allow for more self-awareness in the moment.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I like this. Back when I was first made disabled I became a very angry and bitter worker, seriously lashing out at the world for how it had wronged me. My then manager took me aside and gently suggested some form of therapy because my anger and disrespect was getting out of hand.

      It helped.

  41. Dan*


    I work with people who carry a reputation as being “really good” but also are really big pains in the arse. I’m a bit of a subject matter expert in my field, and the truth is, the people who are reputed to be really good and a pain in arse are… not as good as they or many other people really think.

    I’ve had to quietly explain to select people that for certain individuals to be as good as their abrasiveness suggests, I’d expect to see X, Y, and Z. You can get away with that for a long time, but when you screw up, people are going to be waiting for the chance to stick it to you, and when they do, you’re not going to like it.

    The flip side is, nobody’s perfect, and we all know it. Oddly, the people who are easy to get along but are technically deficient stick around far more longer than they probably should.

    If you’re good at what you do and easy to work (the holy grail, TBH) you will have people coming out of the woodwork to get you to work with them.

    1. tangerineRose*

      For a number of fields, being “really good” means that you have to keep learning. Someone who is a jerk to others is going to miss out on contributions from other people that may help them learn, which will probably degrade the jerk’s abilities over time.

  42. matcha123*

    OP sounds like someone I know who is in her late-30s now. This person is smart, but for some reason they feel the need to belittle those around them soon after starting a new job. No one communicates as well as she does. No one works as hard as she does. No one is as smart as she is. Her bosses are incompetent. She is the one holding everything together…

    I don’t know if this rings true for the OP or not, but there are going to be plenty of people who don’t appear as smart as you, who think and react differently, who aren’t interested in engaging in lively ‘debates’, and more. You can’t just talk back and yell at people you think are ‘dumber’ than you are. This isn’t elementary school. No one is giving you points for that crap. No one is going to think you’re cool.

    I don’t know if OP is female like the person I know, but (and I say this as a woman), not every bit of criticism or advice from an older male is connected to him putting you down or him belittling your intelligence.
    I wouldn’t want to hire or work with someone who might be brilliant on paper, but brings a bad attitude to the office. The fact is that there is always going to be someone out there that’s younger, smarter, and can do your job faster.

    1. Yeah_I know*

      I knew someone like this, but she was in her 50s when I worked with her.

      She was very personable at first, we all liked her. But the moment someone disagreed with her they were a moron. Didn’t matter if was her child’s doctor or one of us. It was miserable and we were never as happy as the day after she stormed out.

  43. When will they ever learn?*

    “I’m still fairly early in my career overall and am learning how to handle office politics.” Not being an asshole is not “playing politics”
    Name calling. Rudeness. Lack of kindness. Quitting your job when a supervisor offers a way to improve within your position. All display a lack of maturity.
    Are there people who behave this way and get away with it. Yes. Am I appreciative of your manager holding you to civil behavior. Yes.

    1. Actual Vampire*

      Yes… I think it’s important for OP to understand that what they are describing really is not a lack of soft skills or a lack of business acumen but actually something more personal. Most bosses expect young hires to have gaps in their business skills and are ready to mentor and train them. But being rude and hostile isn’t a “mentor and train” situation in a lot of boss’s minds. Your boss isn’t your parent; it’s not their job to patiently teach you how to be nice to people.

  44. Uranus Wars*

    A lot of people are commenting on the personality conflict and resolution with self, so I’m not going to add more (because I agree with it all and haven’t nothing of value to add).

    OP – did you ever stop to think that maybe the 2 companies that didn’t hire you were also concerned about your quitting on the spot when you were put on a PIP. As a hiring manager, I can understand personality conflict but would you quit on me the minute things got hard? If I had to talk to you about a company method or asked you to do something I wasn’t an expert in and you refused would you quit when I asked you “why?” To me THAT is an even bigger issue.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This a really a great point that got missed.

      I know that feeling of wanting to quit on the spot, I have only done it once and it was a bridge I delighted in torching. Very part-time, very small scale and really, not in the industry I’m regularly participating in.

      But that kind of “Blaze of Glory” sticks in minds, more than even crappy comments and attitude. “They just threw their hands in the air and exited upon disciplinary action.”

      When placed on a PIP, there’s a way to exit if you feel it’s necessary or the PIP is guidance to the door. You have to stay chill and not let anyone see you sweat.

      The glorious thing with that is that it catches them by surprise when you do quit but they can’t even be mad about it. When I quit after getting a formal reprimand for [lots of BS], I rode the rollercoaster of the meeting. Signed the paperwork, said that we’d find a way to remedy this and that I took it very serious, etc. Then I went out, found a new job and gave my 2 weeks notice.

      At very least you would have been in a better boat had you said “I think that I should give you my resignation at this time, I am happy to stay on for the next two weeks to get everything wrapped up for us.” and again, just holding in the rage and the attitude, even if it’s very much justified.

      1. Observer*

        At very least you would have been in a better boat had you said “I think that I should give you my resignation at this time, I am happy to stay on for the next two weeks to get everything wrapped up for us.” and again, just holding in the rage and the attitude, even if it’s very much justified.

        Totally this.

        Keep in mind, OP. If you were working on projects, etc. and quit on the spot, you left a lot of other people hanging. The way you exit makes a HUGE difference in how you are perceived. And, there is a very good chance that a lot of the people who you think would give you high marks for your “soft skills” would be rethinking that, or adding a comment about lack of reliability or dependability. Not something most bosses are going to want.

      2. The Supreme Troll*

        This is more of a response to Observer, in that I absolutely agree with everything that she is stating. The people that the OP got along with well (taking the OP’s word at this) would probably be singing a whole different tune if they were the ones affected by OP quitting on the spot. There is a very good chance that their interactions with the OP were more at a distance than being very closely dependent.

  45. WiscoDisco*

    This makes me think of the Mythbusters television show. The two main cast members, Jamie and Adam, intensely disliked each other, but they could work together and made 14 seasons of the show. They have each discussed in interviews that they didn’t enjoy each other’s company, but respected and appreciated each other for their work ethic and dedication to the ideals of the show. They stated they’ve never shared a meal and they didn’t invite each other to their weddings.
    I can’t imagine working under those conditions but I’m very impressed at their elegance in navigating their interpersonal differences.

    1. PartialToPort*

      Yes, one of the things I liked about that show. The hosts were usually civil and even displayed some friendly camaraderie/banter at times, but the show didn’t go to any great lengths to hide that they otherwise would’ve had little use for one another.

      It’s like the ending of Chicago, when Velma suggests she and Roxie perform as a double act:

      Roxie: Forget it. It’ll never work.
      Velma: Why not?
      Roxie: Because I hate you!
      Velma: There’s only one business in the world where that’s no problem at all.

  46. Observer*

    They can all honestly and passionately speak to my technical and soft skills very highly.


    My frustration with that manager led to many inappropriate comments that I made in front of him and a couple of other senior leaders. To be clear, I never cursed at them or called them names or raised my voice, but I did make (multiple) comments about their ignorance of projects or lack of experience in this speciality

    These are mutually exclusive. Sure, you got a long well with people who you liked, but letting your frustration lead you to multiple occasions of inappropriate behavior is a very significant lack of soft skills. So is failure to recognize that “never cursed at them or called them names or raised my voice,” is not an indicator of the appropriateness of your behavior. Cursing or yelling at a manager is bad enough that in many workplaces that would be grounds for firing on the spot. Not doing something that could get you fired with no warning is a very low bar to clear.

  47. Tina Belcher*

    I worked with someone like this. She was really good at her job but constantly referred to people as stupid and was completely unprofessional. The worst part was our manager received numerous complaints and while he did write her up once, he had no intentions of firing. She’s still working there and my former teammate told me no one else on the team speaks to her.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s the thing, you can be a total pompous asshat but you’ve got to have the leadership on your side for it.

      In this case, the OP was going for their manager and other leaders. That’s how you get yourself into the deepest muckiest muck.

      The second way is to step on the wrong toes. It reminds me of that story we had about the Former High School Bully who was blacklisted from a company because her victim was their best employee, the best employee said “Hell no” to working with her given the personal conflicts of yesteryear.

      But in your case, they had the liking of management [ew] so it doesn’t matter too much that she’s a jerk because the manager trades off “jerks okay if they preform to my liking, not a jerk to me, etc.”

      I’ve seen some highly functional jerks get away with it too because they were friendly with the right person. Key is, you have to have a high enough ranking opinion of you to get to skate like that or your former colleague ;(

      1. tangerineRose*

        Also, if management changes, the functional jerk may get a rude awakening.

    2. ferty*

      I currently work with somebody like this and it’s totally embarrassing to know she’s representing my team. There are times she comes back from meetings with our partners and announces, “So-and-so has NO idea what they’re talking about,” or “I think they’re very misinformed” and will insert herself into another team’s operations where her “knowledge” is neither warranted nor asked for.

  48. Yeah_I know*

    I have a bit of sympathy for OP. I’ve been the frustrated employee who wasn’t hiding it well and I’m just thankful I kept it under control enough to have good references and get out.

    At the next job I was really happy and didn’t have the same attitude issues, but I was also able to look back and see that even though I was really good at my job description – I wasn’t a great employee. I think the other problems at that place actually masked how poor of an employee I had become. At another company they probably wouldn’t have put up with me or given me as good a reference. I’m glad I got a chance to move on and leave those behaviors behind!

  49. fuzzymittens1*

    I just wanted to say thank you to the OP for writing in and Allison for answering this letter. I’m not the OP, but the replies here have really affected me. I’m someone in a difficult, technical job, and after years of stress and feeling overloaded, I’ve become This Person. I’ve kind of known it for some time, but I think I’ve been supressing it a bit–it’s easier to think I’m angry because of my manager or the company or person x. There are some issues with my manager and the company in terms of unreasonable workload and understaffing, but, I’m now realizing I’m not dealing with this well or professionally.

    Ironically, early in my career, I had a reputation for the opposite. I remember very mildly complaining about something once, and my manager jumped to action. My coworker said something to our manager like, “I said the same thing–why didn’t you do something then?” and my manager replied, “Because fuzzymittens never complains about anything.” And I didn’t–fresh out of college, I was just quiet and tried to please, and I had fun at work.

    Fast forward 20 years and now I’m this anger ball. Anyway, thanks again–this has opened my eyes to something I haven’t want to see. I feel like a giant a$$ and for good reason.

    1. anon for this*

      Deepest sympathies. I could have written this a couple years ago. For what it’s worth, therapy helped me enormously. I’d invested a lot of my self-worth in my work, and my perfectionist tendencies wound me up into a giant ball of stress, especially since I worked with some very “interesting” people at a small business.

      I ended up changing jobs into a role that’s less front line. It’s still stressful, but I can control a higher percent of my destiny and I’ve learned to let go of the things I can’t control.

    2. Observer*

      Would working on an exit plan help? Even if you know that it’s going to have to be a long term plan, it can often be very freeing to know that you are taking actions that will eventually mean that you are in a better place.

      And, congratulations on seeing the problem. That’s the first step in getting it under control.

    3. Snarl Trolley*

      Genuinely, I’m so pleased you’re realizing this – I’ve been here before, too, that horrible sinking realization of something mirroring what you see in yourself, and not for a good reason, and I know it’s a terrible feeling in the moment. But it brings about AMAZING change once you do recognize what needs changing, and there’s SUCH a joy and freedom in working on something concrete like this and healing yourself. (Counseling/therapy helped so. frickin. much. for me, fwiw.) All the best to you on your journey forward. You got this!

  50. Not A Manager*

    “Should I talk to him? As this is all fresh, I’m not sure I can do that now, but maybe in a few months? Either way, I need a job now and can’t afford to go more than two months without a paycheck.”

    Hi, OP. I agree with everyone’s advice not to speak to your manager until you have a more realistic sense of what actually happened at that job, and your role in it. But also, just a reminder that the fact that you need a job isn’t a reason for anyone else to help you get one. :( I know that’s harsh, but it’s also true.

    If your metric for speaking to your manager is “how badly do I need a new job,” I’m afraid you will come across as insincere at best, and entitled at worst. Your urgency to get a new job could spur you to doing some real soul-searching, and that in turn could help you understand how to approach your old manager. But otherwise you can’t really reach out to your old manager from the position of “you are standing in the way of something I need” – even if it’s true.

  51. Dramamethis*

    Oh dear. You are definitely learning a valuable lesson right now.
    I’m sorry it’s affecting your future prospects.

    In addition to the things everyone has already said, quitting in the spot has labeled you as a hothead who can’t maturely take feedback.

    A PIP is uncomfortable and embarrassing but it’s an opportunity to improve and learn, not a death sentence. They didn’t have to do it.

    They gave you that and it was asking you to choose to improve. You chose not to.

    1. James*

      I originally thought that, but the OP stated that the company had a history of using PIPs as a warning that the employee was out the door. I’ve seen other companies do that too, so I’m willing to buy it. If that’s the case, I may have left too–if you know it’s coming, it’s sometimes better to leave on your own terms, if only for your sanity.

      1. Observer*

        Sure, leave on your own terms. But if quitting on the spot is the only way to “quit on your own terms”, then you have a problem. The OP could have taken the warning and started looking for a job.

        1. James*

          I agree that there are better ways to handle it. I’d have sat quietly, then got my resume to as many companies as I could that night. But taking the OP at their word, the PIP wasn’t an opportunity to improve, it was the company’s way of firing you without actually firing you. That does change the dynamics of the meeting. It’s not an opportunity to improve and grow, it’s openly hostile.

          1. Elbereth*

            I totally believe the OP interpreted the PIP that way. But it’s also quite possible that the OP didn’t quite get all the nuances involved.

          2. Observer*

            I’ll accept that the OP knows their workplace better than we do. But, still quitting *on the spot* was the wrong way to handle it.

            If nothing else, they would have had a chance to get unemployment insurance.

    2. felty*

      Totally agree. Having the chance of a PIP means that the manager is communicating how serious they are about giving the OP a chance to learn, and how much they value the skills they have. Because they could easily have terminated the OP. I don’t think enough people appreciate how important listening to feedback is.

    3. Courageous cat*

      Agree. It’s also less likely that anyone is going to want to help you simply due to how badly you need a job, when you’re the one that quit. Would probably be different or at least garner a little sympathy if you stuck it out and still got fired.

      There’s always temp agencies in the meantime.

  52. CurrentlyBill*

    There are many times I’ve had to remind myself, “This must have been the right, logical decision to come out of some meeting was not part of.”

    It helps ease my frustration with perceived stupidity.

  53. animaniactoo*

    OP, you may have good soft skills in some circumstances. But not as much as you think you do.

    Here’s the point where you are – without realizing it – demonstrating your own lack of experience and skills in that area.

    Because it MAY be true that your manager lacked knowledge of projects, and skilled experience in some areas. But there is a way to bring that up in a way that – at the least – appears to support your manager, rather than undermining them.

    If you don’t know when you can call a spade and a spade and not a garden digging tool that bears more discussion/checking into later/etc. then you have a soft skills problem. Which means that the other managers you’re giving as references may be very diplomatic, but not able to speak to your soft skills in a way that you’re expecting them to. Your reputation issue may extend far beyond the manager that you think is blocking you. And it looks – from what you’ve written here – that it may be an accurate one.

  54. Jennifer*

    Hey OP – I was you in my twenties. I found another job pretty quickly by using a staffing agency and getting temporary assignments. I proved myself and was eventually offered a permanent role.

    A lot of places don’t check references, so it might be worth it to not mention it if they ask why you left your last job and offer something more generic. Definitely don’t lie! But you don’t have to volunteer unflattering information.

  55. LizM*

    In addition to a ton of good advice here, it may also be worth looking at the attitude that comes across in interviews.

    Being a kind person, being a team player, and not being insubordinate, is not “office politics.” It’s an essential skill for many managers. A good interviewer can often tell the difference between someone who is saying the right things because they think that’s what the interview wants to hear and needs to check of the “show that I have soft skills” box, and someone who is actually a good team player and nice to work with. The way OP frames her letter, I suspect she falls in to the former, and hearing this story from a reference would confirm any suspicion of that I had coming out of an interview.

  56. Leela*

    Hi OP,

    I used to work in hiring and want to share some perspective I hope you will find useful.

    We hired a lot of top-tier programmers at a previous job, and declined to proceed with many who ace an interview due to references, but specifically references when it comes to PIPs.

    We interviewed loads and loads of people who had been on PIPs, it wasn’t a black mark against hiring at all. How they talk about it was, however. People who acted like there was no fault of their own that they were put on a PIP (unless they can tell us the information that makes it true, which we will question in the references stage) are huge red flags. People who quit their jobs when they get put on PIPs are huge red flags. Hearing anything like the kinds of comments you say you made, out loud, are huge red flags.

    It can be very hard to oust people who are good at their jobs, but are terrible to work with. The company often won’t back you in it because good people are looked at as irreplaceable for output, but the company always overlooks the tanking morale and brain drain of people leaving because they don’t want to work with someone like that. People in hiring are on extreme lookout for anyone that’s going to be both difficult and hard to get rid of. To up and quit when being put on a PIP is going to make interviewers think that you refuse to be managed or hear that you’re wrong. That’s not always true! But they have to treat it like it’s true because if it is, the knock-on effects are DEVASTATING to a business.

    To hear people who can talk about something like that and show that they’ve grown pushes you ahead. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get chosen over someone who doesn’t have that history to talk about. But if you ace interviews in general, I’d try as much as possible to reframe this as YOUR dropping the ball and what you’ve learned from it, and in such a way that it comes off as genuine.


    I saw your follow up post. I’m a programmer too and one thing that comes up where I work (a city of around 500k people) is how small the IT community is and how everybody knows everybody. I think you may be doing yourself a disservice assuming it was your manager providing the negative feedback. What if it was a peer? Would that change things?

    I think when people respond to posts here they are thinking “I worked with that person before.” I have definitely have and it has been my experience that the attitude problem was also a blind spot. The attitude problem is cultivated in college and it becomes so ingrained it is hard to see it as a problem.

    I think you received a lot of good advice on how to proceed. I think it might be beneficial to really dig deep and figure out if this is a bigger problem than just not getting along with one or two management folks.

    Best wishes going forward. I think you are learning a hard lesson, but you really do seem to be on the right path to straightening this out.

  58. felty*

    OP, just because you have the perception that somebody is ignorant, does not mean they are so. They may have different knowledge than you, or you are unaware of what they know, or they haven’t told you the whole story, or you didn’t understand what they did share with you. And frankly as your managers and superiors, they do not have any requirement to share everything with you beyond what you need to know to do your job. Instead of making assumptions, maybe it would be better if next time you just listened. Also, openly criticizing people to their face will get you nowhere – it’s irrelevant whether or not you’re right. Understanding the importance of tact and how to share your concerns will serve you far more than whatever your skills/expertise might be.

    1. Tom*

      Can we however admit that some people don’t know things or are dumb? They don’t have different knowledge nor seret insights … we have manager like that in nearby team. People get positions because they have right friends, their wifes/husbands have right friend or because they can be charming. People who are narcissists and incapable.

      Just like there are rude incapable workers, there are incapable or rude managers. The middle management is not some kind of fountain of greatness.

      1. Leela*

        I agree that some people just aren’t good managers, or just don’t know things, but as felty said, having worked in HR and having to step into these issues over and over, it’s very often that person A doesn’t see what person B has to worry about/take into account, so they just assume that *obviously* person B has made a stupid decision.

        That might be the case, it might not, but we do need to leave room to think that someone, especially a manager who has access to information someone below them won’t necessarily have, isn’t just being ignorant and it is enormously professionally damaging to proceed that way. A person who is interviewing OP and knows this has no way of knowing whether said manager really was incompetent or if said manager made all the right calls but the person calling them ignorant didn’t have all the data

        1. felty*

          That’s a really good way of putting it. I think it’s important to know and acknowledge that sometimes people (including managers) might not be well prepared or have all the skills required. You just have to work around it, nobody is perfect.

      2. Observer*

        Sure. Some people are dumb and / or incompetent. But here we have some good reason to think that the OP is not correct. For one thing, their judgement about how to relate to the supervisor is seriously flawed. Also, their judgement about how they are perceived is flawed, it seems to me – if the higher ups all thought they were THAT great, they would have been protected. Equally important, according to the OP their former boss is known are respected in the field, enough that people are apparently asking his opinion of the OP. That doesn’t generally happen if the supervisor is that stupid.

      3. biobotb*

        Of course some people are dumb, but assuming this isn’t a great starting point. There are many times when it would be easy to assume this, but totally wrong. It would be better to start from a more humble place, assuming that you don’t have all the knowledge, and work from there.

  59. YoungTen*

    All of this sounds so new and I think you need to step back. Maybe take a job outside your industry. Many times we can still get a job using our skills but in a different setting. Unfortunately, this is a set back created by you so you need to own it. Most manages will want you to do things that may seem dumb to you but that’s life. sometimes managers don’t know what they are talking about but if that’s the case, their lack of knowledge will become apparent. in many cases, companies welcome feedback from their employees since it builds collaboration. But that only happens when there is respect all around

  60. JayCray*

    I’d like to second Alison’s statement that a PIP doesn’t automatically mean you’re getting fired. I was placed on a PIP several years ago for some ongoing irresponsible behavior that could have easily gotten me fired. It was absolutely mortifying to be called out on it and then put on a PIP, but it was deserved and now 3ish years later, all is well and I’ve been able to repair my reputation and my working relationship with my manager by owning my mistakes and sticking with the caveats laid out in my PIP.

    OP, obviously I don’t know your specific workplace and maybe your proposed PIP was indeed the next step toward firing you. But that definitely was not the case for me.

  61. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Devil’s advocate question: if a manager is completely incompetent and demonstrates this repeatedly in public for all to see, why can’t they be called out for that and why can’t attention be called to how they are damaging the organization with their ineptness? I’ve lost count of all the horrible managers I’ve worked for in the past, who were bullies or didn’t have a clue how to do their job or were slackers who got away with doing nothing all the time. Why is it ok for employees to get called out for incompetence but not bosses?

      1. Anon123*

        Yes, but how does their own manager know of the incompetence of their direct report manager? An employee can’t give honest feedback without repercussions and the production of the employees are what makes the manager look good on paper. If an employee let’s HR or their managers boss know that they aren’t doing their job well, the employee, NOT the manager, will get flagged as “one to watch”. In my experience, it’s only after years and years of complaints against a manager that a company may decide to take action. I think the only way to get past this in a situation like LW is to bite your tongue and find another job.

        1. Colette*

          If the issue is harassment, then the employees have to complain; if it’s just that they’re not doing their job (or not doing it well), it’s up to their manager to evaluate, just like every other employee. Some companies have surveys to help flush things out; some do exit interviews or detect trends of employees leaving.

          1. tom*

            Usually, the most typical issue is behavior short of harassment – that would not be possible again peer or boss.

            Usually, it is blaming negative consequences of own bad decisions on other people. Lying about who done what, taking credits for other peoples work. Various retaliation against people who express disagreement that would be normal in team that is lead by someone with bit more ethics. By retaliation I mean slights, task assignment, implied insults (but right there on the line with what).

            > if it’s just that they’re not doing their job (or not doing it well), it’s up to their manager to evaluate

            Yeah and it would be very nice if the management managers actually did that, but they typically don’t have processes in place to even be able to do that.

            And when people working under these managers actually work around the manager and keep things going despite what manager does, there is absolutely no way for upper management to find out – and they just dont seem to care.

            When programmer or tested does not do job and everyone else works around him, that person will be fired eventually. That is not case with middle management. Instead, everyone else is blamed for consequences of managers bad work.

    1. James*

      They certainly should be called out. However, tone matters. Context matters. You need to call them out in such a way that you don’t give them an opening to make you look like the bad guy. An inept manager is going to have a certain amount of skill deflecting criticism and blame–otherwise they’d be fired. So you need to account for that. You need to be professional, and you need to make the complaint to the proper person. That’s….not what the OP did.

      (If someone IS the kind of manager that would accept you going up to them and saying “Dude, stop being a flaming moron! Why would you ever think this is okay?!” they’re probably also not that inept or hostile to criticism, at least from you.)

    2. Colette*

      As their employee, you don’t see the whole picture of what they do (or what they are supposed to do) and are not in a position to call them out. Their manager can manage them, just like any performance problem, but as their employee, it’s literally not your job.

      And as their employee, you wouldn’t know their performance was being addressed unless/until they leave.

      A manager’s job is different from their employee’s job, and it’s easy to think things like “oh, they’re leaving early again” without noticing that they spend 3 hours at home working, or to judge them for spending half an hour chatting without realizing it’s their only break all day. Which is why it’s up to their manager to manage them.

    3. biobotb*

      Not sure which devil you’re trying to advocate for, but I don’t recall any comments saying bosses can’t be called out for incompetence. Unless you think the only way to do that is to be incredibly rude to the boss in front of others, it doesn’t really relate to the OP’s circumstances. There are plenty of ways to diplomatically push back against managers you disagree with. That’s a big part of soft skills — being respectful and professional to people you don’t agree with, not just getting along with people you agree with.

      1. LGC*

        Yeah. I’ll be serious for a moment here, but the issue isn’t so much that LW corrected their boss, it’s that they openly and continually showed contempt towards someone they worked with.

        And honestly, you shouldn’t be calling people “incompetent” anyway at work. (There might be some situations where you would but I’m at a loss for what they’d be.

    4. LGC*

      Devil’s advocate question: if a manager is completely incompetent and demonstrates this repeatedly in public for all to see, why can’t they be called out for that and why can’t attention be called to how they are damaging the organization with their ineptness?

      Because if you do that they’ll write social media posts that give Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg heartburn?

  62. LGC*

    I like how the headline understates the letter.

    But anyway, there was one line that jumped out at me and I’m not sure if it’s gotten a lot of attention (it didn’t in the initial letter, but I haven’t fully read the comments yet):

    My manager appears to be very well connected with many of the companies I am interviewing with or hope to in the future.

    I don’t know if I would assume that. More to the point, even if he was well connected…according to your letter, you quit without notice instead of accepting official disciplinary proceedings. That’s your right, of course, but I can definitely see this being on file with HR and you being flagged as ineligible for rehire (despite how well you did your job.) On the scale of 1 to “livestreaming your performance review” on the scale of dumb things to do with official work meetings, that’s…up there, to be honest.

    If I had to guess, the first two offers called your former employer and found out you ragequit in the middle of a PIP meeting. And I’d be prepared for the others to make that same discovery as well.

    1. Anon123*

      That’s always possible. Does HR give information like an employee was offered a PIP and then quit with less than 2 weeks notice? Ive always been told HR only verifies title, dates of employment and possibly if they are eligible for rehire. I would be surprised if they went into detail about behavioral issues on the record unless it was something illegal that lead to a termination. I feel like this information is only revealed in informal backdoor references.

      1. LGC*

        I don’t think HR would normally say what circumstances LW left under, you’re right about that. (Like, this was extremely reckless, but not like stealing or something else directly harmful.) I can definitely see it being internally documented as “LW ragequit,” LW being flagged as ineligible for rehire, and the flag getting shared in references.

        1. LGC*

          And…I just realized I contradicted myself! (This is what I get when my phone crashes three times in writing the comment and I forget what I wrote in the last version I posted. Not like I could have just gone back and read it…)

          Okay, so yeah, you did call that point out correctly. But thinking it through a bit more…I think either option would look really bad. You’re right that eligibility would have been the more routine question, and even that might have looked bad. LW could have also been “badmouthed” (although is it badmouthing when it’s the truth?).

      2. Littorally*

        It entirely depends on the company and the individual. Some companies institute a policy that HR will only verify employment dates, but that’s certainly not all companies, and it’s also very frequent that HR people can stick to the letter of the rule while making a more subjective opinion clear. Plus, that doesn’t take into account any off-the-record chats that people have based on personal relationships.

        1. Mt*

          My industry is a large but tight nit group. My new company reached out to a customer of my former company for a reference when i was interviewing. They were not a reference that i had listed.

      3. Leela*

        This completely depends on the company, having been HR at several. Some companies will only verify job titles, why they’re not there anymore, and salary. Some won’t even acknowledge that.

        Some will have a full conversation and if they’re asked “has this person ever been on a PIP before” are forced to tell the truth, lie, or give a demurring answer that will obviously mean “yes” or “red flag”. Often the best way to go there is to just disclose the truth.

        Some companies will tell all like they’re having a gossip party and that’s what the company wants them to do. It varies greatly.

  63. Johanna*

    This OP reminds me of a lot of people I’ve known. I wish some tech people could get over the idea that they are so special and smarter than those around them. You’ve had years of specialized education and training, so yeah, you know more about that domain than others that don’t have that. That’s why they hired you. You weren’t born with this knowledge. I bet you are “ignorant” of many other subjects.

  64. andy*

    Yeah. I get you, it feels unfair that managers don’t have to know what they are doing and have very little accountability.

    But that is something that is quite normal and if you can’t work with people who don’t understand what they lead, you are going to have hard time in most workplaces.

  65. Kettricken Farseer*

    I really bristle when I hear things like, “My manager is incompetent/idiotic because she doesn’t know my job!” No, I don’t know all the ins and outs of your job – that’s why I hired you. I’m paid to manage people and keep the team successful, I’m not here to write code. It’s this idea that exists out there that a good manager can do her employees’ jobs and if she can’t, she’s an idiot.

    1. Leela*

      Also, sometimes managers have to implement things that make someone’s job worse, because NOT doing that thing has far greater consequences, and employees always act like it was either malicious or a total oversight on their managers’ part. Sometimes it is! Sometimes it’s not though, and from the HR side where you have to deal with PIPs and complaints about managers, I can tell you that a lot of “my manager is an idiot” turns out to be “my manager made the best possible call of like, six terrible calls where one of those calls had to be made, and I applied to nuance at all to my judgement of their behavior. FIRE THEM FOR IT!”

  66. Des*

    Alison’s response is excellent.

    OP, making *multiple* inappropriate comments about your manager in front of other senior leaders and quitting on the spot when told this is not working are going to give most employers pause. What work have you done since then to figure out how you would navigate this situation differently in the future, when you inevitably disagree with someone at work again?

  67. Sharikacat*

    This feels like “House syndrome,” the belief that it’s okay to be a raging a$$hole so long as you are excellent at your job. It gave workplace jerks everywhere an excuse to continue being jerks because surely they were so much better at their job than everyone else and that place would fall apart without their expertise to guide the way!

  68. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I agree entirely with Alison that OP needs to mature and learn tact and diplomacy – it’s not just for diplomats, OP!
    I’d add in a little humility too, because at this early stage in his career, this person likely does not realise why what his boss is suggesting is not as stupid as he thinks.
    Quitting on the spot, well that’s not something we do here in Europe, so my only experience of it is in American films, but it doesn’t exactly reek of “all things considered”. I expect though, that OP is quite right that the PIP would have led to a firing, in that OP doesn’t seem to have acknowledged being in the wrong or that his behaviour needs to change, so it’s not likely that he’d use the PIP to reflect on how better to behave.
    Also next time, look your boss up on LinkedIn before quitting! Mind you, even if her profile doesn’t have a glow of eminence, people will still talk to her to get an idea of how you worked with her, so it still pays to keep in her good books.

  69. Ptarmigan*

    Another aspect of this stands out to me, possibly because of my own history. Early in my career, I had a boss I really liked and respected, and one day, out of the blue (from my perspective), he was fired. We were all really upset about it. We got a string of new bosses who all seemed incompetent to me. I was never fired over my attitude, but I definitely had an attitude!

    Since then, I’ve learned to focus on my own work and getting things done, and not worry so much about who is my boss or the rest of management. Can your boss make your life a living hell? Sure, but most don’t. Most are just trying to look good to their bosses. Just do your best to keep doing your job well, which includes getting along with your boss.

  70. Lily*

    Can I suggest you check with the former employer’s HR department to see if they have a policy with regard to giving references? Quite a number of companies have policies that prohibit giving commentary/references, and only confirm employment, and require managers to adhere to the policy when contacted by other employers. If your former employer has such a policy, you could consider contacting your old manager, and say, “I just want to check whether you’ve heard from _____. I had an offer of employment and it was rescinded, and I would like to know if you gave them a negative reference? Can I discuss this with you?” If they acknowledge giving the reference, you can point them to the HR policy that they’ve violated. If they deny it, at least this might have a chilling effect on any future requests for feedback about you, if you get another offer.

    1. Observer*

      You’ve got to be kidding! It doesn’t matter what the policy is. If the OP actually calls the old boss and tells them that the company’s official policy forbids giving bad references they will not only have burned the bridge to the ground, they will insure that the former manager WILL tell people about how bad of an employee they were. Maybe it won’t be “official”, but it won’t help. And if former manager tells others in the company about it, it’s quite probable that the people who are now saying that they would be a positive reference for them will rethink this.

      The OP got fired for behaving poorly to their boss. Trying to threaten the that boss is NOT a good way to get them to not give a poor reference.

    2. DarnTheMan*

      Seconding Observer – OP already burned a bridge with their previous company, trying to threaten their former managers with any HR policy (which as an aside, would seem like a very weird policy unless the company was worried about retaliatory lawsuits on the part of OP, on the chance they did get a bad reference) would be the equivalent of going back and nuking the bridge from orbit.

      1. Lily*

        The last couple of places I worked at all had this HR policy, precisely because of the fear of lawsuits, as you mentioned, DarnTheMan. If the OP’s previous supervisor has some savvy, they might also want to avoid a potential personal lawsuit, which is unfortunately a thing that can happen when one gives a bad reference.

        The OP is certainly free to ignore my advice, but I’m a person who likes to take the bull by the horns and this is how I would approach the problem. Asking the old supervisor directly and disclosing the two rescinded offers will also maybe give the supervisor a chance to reflect whether they really want to prevent someone from earning a livelihood.

        1. Lily*

          Also I wouldn’t classify pointing out to someone that they violated a policy, if true, as a threat of any kind.

          1. Observer*

            That’s an incredibly disingenuous thing to say, when you ARE actually pointing out to them that they and their company should worry about getting sued.

            The trope of “nice store you got there. Be a shame if anything would happen” is a trope for a reason. You don’s have to SAY that “I’ll do >whatever<" for it to be a threat. Anyone who says that with a straight face has a REALLY good poker face, or needs some really good social skills coaching.

            1. Lily*

              This is nothing like, “nice store you got there. Be a shame if anything would happen.”

              This is more like, “Did you vandalize my store and damage my ability to earn a living? Do you know that’s unlawful? Please don’t do it again.”

              How do you not see the difference?

              1. Observer*

                Saying that you are not threatening them does not make it so. Telling a former boss that “you are not allowed to do that” with the implication of “and if you do, I’m going to get you fired, and maybe sue you and the company” is a threat, no matter what justification you (think) you have.

                Do that, and you’ll have nuked the bridge AND torched your reputation.

          2. April4th*

            You don’t get to police the policies of a place you no longer work at.

            You’re displaying the same behavior that got OP into this situation. I suggest you read the comments and see the advice given on deescalating this instead of creating a bigger problem. Perhaps the advice will be just as useful in your own life

            1. Lily*

              Wow, you’re pretty condescending. I have been at my current job for over 10 years, through various bosses that have all given me outstanding reviews, through several M&As and restructures which have resulted in promotions. I love my work and do it well to the appreciation of my coworkers, who threw me a surprise party with cake and ice cream the same day my last promotion was announced just before the stay-at-home order. I am very happy with my career and well compensated. My strategies work for me. If you disagree, that is fine, but wagging a metaphorical finger at me and accusing me of some “behavior” that you disapprove of, is just rude.

              The OP knows they were wrong in their past job. They admit it in their post. The only reason we know this is because the OP came out and stated it. I don’t think the OP deserves to have everybody pile on them with more castigation. They asked for help. I was trying to give practical advice, which I think is more helpful than name calling, thank you.

              The OP was rude and insubordinate. They didn’t lie or steal or do crappy work. They acknowledged their mistake. This one bad work relationship should not deprive them of the chance of having another job in which they can move on, having learned from the experience.

              1. Observer*

                No, you were giving them TERRIBLE advice. The OP was wildly minimizing their fault, although it seems that they are trying to take the feedback they have gotten on board. That part is REALLY important.

                The very last thing the OP should do is to threaten the former boss that if they do something or other, the the OP will get them fires / sue the company / sue Former boss. Because that will just confirm to Former Boss – and everyone who knows Former Boss, that OP is someone who is NOT mature and does NOT take responsibility for their behavior. Instead they react in very negative ways against others.

                Allison’s advice is the only way the OP is going to be able to move forward. Calling the boss will not only not help them, it will most definitely harm them by proving how correct the firing was.

        2. April4th*

          Also, the supervisor is not preventing anyone from earning a livelihood! A natural consequence of being difficult to work with and quitting without notice is that it is harder to find work. Actions have consequences.

        3. Observer*

          It’s nice that you like to take the bull by the horns. That doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. In fact, it’s often are really, really bad idea.

          It really doesn’t matter what the HR policy is. If the manager is having some quiet conversations with people they know, there is nothing that the OP is going to be able to do about it. The threat – and let’s be real that is EXACTLY what it is no matter how you try to dress it up – is toothless and the manager knows it.

          Also, people can sue for anything, but that cuts two ways. People have been sued for not providing relevant information when asked, too. So a savvy manager is going to weigh the risks and could easily decide that the risk of not being honest with a valued contact is far greater than the risk of being sued by someone who can’t win. Keep in mind that you can sue, but winning is a whole different ball game. And to win, someone needs to prove that they were given a poor reference AND that the reference was untrue. “The OP was put on a PIP for making multiple disrespectful comments to their boss in public, and quit on the spot” is not something the OP is going to be able to disprove in court. And no lawyer is taking that one on contingency.

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