leaving right after a huge bonus, rejected because I wasn’t relaxed enough, and more

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

1. Leaving right after my manager gives me a huge bonus from her own money

I’m curious about the optics of leaving my organization after receiving a large commission-based bonus. Long story short, about a year ago, my current boss told us that she would be sharing her bonus with those of us who work under her once she receives it this summer — to the tune of about $25,000 coming my way! For me, that is HUGE, almost half of my salary! This isn’t really a retention bonus, but more like recognition of the hard work we’ve put in over the past year or so in getting our office running more smoothly and retaining all of our clients throughout Covid.

But there’s one complicating factor. I have a really cool upcoming opportunity to move to a different organization in a role more aligned with my long-term career goals. I’m not yet 100% sold on this move for various reasons, but if I decide it will be a good move, what are the optics of getting this bonus and leaving right after? I cannot imagine leaving that amount of money on the table, and also can’t imagine the organization courting me will be able/willing to match it. But I worry about burning a bridge with my current boss, who has given me great support and opportunities in my current position. There’s a lot of personal relationship worries tied up in this too, so I’m hoping to get an impartial opinion on just the work aspect of it from you so I can better weigh the personal aspects separately.

This is tricky because it’s her personal money. In normal cases where a bonus comes from the company, you don’t need to feel any guilt about leaving soon after you receive it; that’s just how business goes sometimes (and if they wanted to avoid that, there are ways to structure the payout to minimize that). But when it’s an individual person’s own money, it’s natural to feel more uneasy about leaving right after you accept it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do it; if she’s presenting it as a thank-you, you should be able to take that at face value. And it doesn’t sound like she’s asked you to commit to staying for any particular period of time or that you’ve made any promises like that yourself, so that’s good. But I think it does require more consideration with your messaging when you resign — leaning heavily on “I have loved working for you / this fell in my lap and is too good to pass up” and “I’m ready to do whatever you need to make this transition easier.” (On that last part, I’d be inclined to go all out to help during your remaining weeks there and be willing to answer questions after you leave if requested, within reason.) And if you have any influence over the timing of the start date for the new job, the more time you can put into between the arrival of the bonus money and your resignation, the better.

2. Did I get rejected because I wasn’t relaxed enough for their office culture?

I recently went for a Zoom interview for a job. The interview went very well. They mentioned they would be bringing two candidates back for a second interview. The following day, I received an email inviting me for a second interview at their office, as an opportunity to meet the staff members and discuss the role more. The second interview was very informal and relaxed. There were no interview-type questions asked, but I was shown around the offices and met some of the other staff members. I left feeling very positive.

Later that day, one of the interviewers called me, informing me that I had been unsuccessful in securing the position. However, my feedback was good. She said my skillset was brilliant and on the competency test I did, the results were 54 out of 55. She mentioned that it is very rare to have a candidate who scores so high. However, due to the office environment being so relaxed, they felt the other candidate would be more suitable and I would suit a more corporate company.

I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t get the job because I wasn’t relaxed enough for the office environment. Am I right in thinking this?

Yes, it sounds like she’s saying they thought the other candidate was better matched with their informal, relaxed culture. That could mean anything from “we’re all very casual with each other and you had a more formal vibe that wouldn’t work for us and/or our clients” to “we fly by the seat of our pants and you seem like you want more structure, which just isn’t our way.”

3. Giving an award to someone who’s on a performance improvement plan

I’m curious what your thoughts are on recognizing great performance for someone who is on disciplinary action for other areas of their work.

We have an employee who is great with customers, but really struggles with time and task management throughout the day and is chronically late (he is currently on a performance improvement plan for this). We have an award for customer service that he would be very deserving of for that area of his performance, but in the past we’ve had employees who won service awards while also on discipline for other areas of performance express frustration and confusion that we are patting their back with one hand and bringing the hammer down with the other. This makes us hesitate to give this service award to that specific employee, but he also does give great service and it feels wrong not to recognize it.

Do you have to recognize it right now? In theory, yes, you should be able to reward someone for good work in Area A while addressing serious performance concerns in Area B, but in practice you do risk sending mixed messages about how they’re doing overall. In theory you should be able to just explain “A is great, B needs work” — but when someone is on a performance improvement plan, meaning they’re in danger of being fired at the end of it, it’s important to keep your messaging very, very clear and not risk watering it down — because it’s in the person’s best interests to have full clarity on how serious the situation is. (So many people are shocked when they get fired even if you have clearly said things like “If I don’t see XYZ improvements by June 1, I will need to let you go” that I’m hesitant to throw an award in there while you’re in that process. It’s easy to imagine someone thinking, “they said I needed to fix some things but then they gave me an award for my work so I assumed it wasn’t that bad.”)

But a good performance improvement plan shouldn’t be longer than a couple of months. If all goes well and they make the improvements that are needed, they’ll come off the plan and you can recognize their customer service work with an award then. (If anything, that timing might help positively reinforce how well they’re doing post-PIP.)

Meanwhile, though, you can certainly give them positive feedback for what they’re doing well without a formal award — and also look at whether there’s something from the stuff that’s going well that could be used to help them with the stuff that isn’t (like “the persistence you used to solve the client’s problem was great — can you bring that the same willingness to dig into what’s happening to solving things like X as well?”).

4. Asking other jobs to expedite their interview process when you have an offer

I just received a job offer for a solid position that pays well, “Job A.” Job A has given me two weeks to decide. The problem is that I’m also waiting to hear about three other jobs I recently applied for. Even though I think Job A could be a good fit, I’m more excited about the other jobs, which are more squarely in my interest area. But I’ve only just applied for these jobs in the past few days, after chatting with the hiring managers for each role at a hiring fair.

Based on my conversations at the fair, I think I’m a strong candidate for each of the three roles. All of these roles, including Job A, are part of a program for graduating grad students that offers about 300-400 jobs to a pool of about 500 pre-selected candidates. So, there’s a lot less competition for each role than there would be on the open job market. Still, I could be totally off base about my prospects — the reality is that I don’t even know yet if these other roles want to interview me. Is it valid to contact the hiring managers for these roles and ask about expediting the process, even though they haven’t interviewed me yet? If so, is there any language I should use so that I don’t come off as presumptuous?

Yes! Under normal circumstances, if you’d just submitted an application for a job but hadn’t had any contact with anyone there, it would be premature to contact them about a situation like this; with no indication they were interested in you, it would be too early (and kind of presumptuous) to suggest they speed anything up. But in this case, you’ve talked with each of the hiring managers and the jobs are part of a small program. Given that, I’d contact those other three hiring managers today (do it today! time is running out) and say, “We spoke at Event X and I was really interested in your Y role because of Z. But I’ve just had a job offer that I need to respond to by (date). If you think I might be a strong candidate for Y and there’s any possibility of interviewing with you within that timeline, I’d love to talk. If that timeline is too compressed for any decisions on your side, I of course understand.”

5. Can I ask HR for my title and salary history without raising any suspicions?

I have worked for the same company in a variety of roles for almost 13 years. For a variety of reasons, I’m seriously thinking it’s time to move on.

Our old HR system had functionality where you could get a history of your job titles and salary throughout your time with the company. The new system doesn’t have that and I haven’t been diligent in tracking those things for myself. If I reach out to HR to ask for that information, can I assume that they won’t inform my current manager? I don’t know how much difference this makes, but the company employs about 1,500 people and we are mostly working from home.

They may or may not; I wouldn’t assume anything. The safest thing is to come up with a cover story — you’re finally getting around to updating your LinkedIn or you’re putting together a resume for a volunteer position or so forth.

That’ll cover you for titles but not salaries … but you shouldn’t volunteer your salary history when applying for jobs anyway. If you end up needing it for some reason, are you able to reconstruct it from tax returns or old bank records? A lot of people don’t have perfect salary records though, so even if you’re generally in the ballpark you should be fine. (But boo to any employer still asking for salary info despite the growing recognition of how it perpetuates salary inequities among women and people of color.)

{ 305 comments… read them below }

  1. Miss 97%*

    OP 2: If I received the feedback , “We don’t really value competency here”, I would think I had dodged a bullet!

    1. Beth*

      That’s not how I’d read this. I’d read this as “We had two prospective employees who had the skills we needed, and we went with the one who we thought was a better culture fit, but we want to acknowledge that you were a strong candidate.”

      1. Joan Rivers*

        And you don’t know what they mean exactly. You might get hired and discover how much you don’t fit in. The one hired may know someone there. You can’t know and have to assume this was for the best. “When it’s right it’s right” has been my experience, it flows.

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        This can be BS. “Culture fit” can mean we’re more comfortable with this person because they are more like us, and not necessarily in a job-related way, but because we are the same race, age group, or other discriminatory factor. Tread carefully here.

        1. ele4phant*

          It can be.

          For this specific letter-writer, they were given more than a vague “you just weren’t the right culture fit for us”. Still could be a discriminatory BS, but for this particular letter, I don’t think we have enough to make a call what’s going on.

          It *is* totally legitimate to pass over a great candidate but one that seems like they would operate best in a more structured, hierarchal environment (what I would say is formal), compared to the one that seems like they’d fit better in a flatter, more flexible environment (what I would call relaxed), if that’s how your business works.

          1. too cultured*

            But I wonder if it would be fair to judge this based on an interview. In a job interview, people are usually more “formal” (dress nicer, etc.) than they would be on a regular day. But there is probably more context here. Perhaps questions of culture did come up in the interview.

    2. Vichyssuave*

      There’s a difference between not valuing competency and not thinking that doing well on a test is the strongest indicator for success at a job. We have skill tests for my position and you need to pass them, but the score is only one factor in hiring. We’re the exact opposite of #2’s potential employer however. If you don’t seem like you can hack it in a high stress environment (which we very much are), you could score the highest anyone ever has and you will never be hired.

      1. Willis*

        I agree with this, but wouldn’t necessarily equate formal with high stress and relaxed with low stress. Like Alison said, if they are a fly by the seat of their pants type of place, that could definitely be high stress! But it could also be places that handle similar volumes of work but just have different levels of formality when it comes to interacting with co-workers and clients. Or if OP seemed like someone that thrived in places with a lot structure and explicit policies and that’s not this place, it could be a pretty bad fit regardless of how much stress OP is capable of handling.

        1. Vichyssuave*

          Great points! I suppose I meant exact opposite in terms of relaxed being one of the very last words I’d use to describe my job. However that certainly doesn’t mean “relaxed” environments can’t be high stress!

        2. Jenna*

          Yes, and we really have no context for what this intervier meant by ‘too relaxed.’ It could mean anything from “seems like OP prefers a level of formality that would be off for our environment,” to “OP seems like they’d be phased by our workload,” to “we hold weekly optional-but-not-really happy hours where we discuss our dating lives at length and OP seems like they prefer different boundaries/ways to connect with coworkers.” I wish we had more information! But it sounds like everything went well with the interviews, so it may have just been that the other candidate cracked more jokes or something.

        3. Goodoldboysinsweats*

          My guess is the relaxed company prefers mediocrity. Harsh, but having worked in these types of environments being excellent is not appreciated at all and is a threat to the status quo. Better a laid back guy everyone wants to have a beer with than a laid back, excellent employee.

          1. Watermelon*

            There may be a few places that prefer mediocrity, but there are more that prefer a balance of technical and interpersonal skills.

            I have coworkers who are excellent technically, and would do very well on a STEM-type competency test, yet they have few social skills and it is a problem. They feel that their technical skills are underappreciated and one left for this reason, without understanding that his insulting of clients because their decisions were based on more than his technical recommendation was one major reason that he wasn’t progressing.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Oh, I worked with that guy. Really knew his stuff in a technical environment but did not (and actually refused to) understand the other business factors that went into decision-making, and, of course, when the business leaders made different decisions than he did, they were all idiots who didn’t understand technology (as opposed to being people who had a full view of the situation and realized that the second from top-of-the-line system would work just fine and leave money in the budget for bonuses whereas the top-of-the-line was overkill and would eat the bonus pool and thus morale).

              The longer I work, the more I realize I will nearly always take someone who is very good with soft skills and perspective over someone who is great but a pain to work with and laser-focused on their area of strength.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                There are things that will improve with time and things that won’t. It’s easier to train for technical skills than for soft skills.

              2. serenity*

                This very much depends on the type of role, though, no?

                Laser-focused subject matter expertise or tech skills are absolute essentials in some roles, whereas more senior or managerial roles often require more soft skills. It’s tough to generalize.

                1. Lars the Real Girl*

                  It doesn’t have to be one or the other, though. It’s the “brilliant asshole” trope that tech industries were known for. Netflix famously refused to hire or keep anyone who acted like that. You can be laser focused and still not be a dick to people around you. Or be an absolute expert at what you do and understand that it’s not the end-all-be-all in how decisions are made.

          2. ThatGirl*

            I don’t think that’s fair. Some environments are just more casual than others. I’ve worked at companies where everything was tracked and organized and matrixed and others where things were more flexible and we sometimes had to change things up quickly. That didn’t mean the second kind of company expected mediocrity — quite the opposite, I think it’s a real skill to be able to shift gears quickly.

            1. londonedit*

              I also agree. I work in an industry where working cultures tend to be pretty relaxed – that doesn’t mean we’re doing poor work, in fact we’re doing excellent work, but most people will be wearing jeans in the office, systems might be a little shonky because we generally don’t have the money for all the bells and whistles, work tends to be quite collaborative with fairly flat hierarchies, and pay is generally quite low so there tends to be a culture of ‘do the work you can in the time you have; no one’s paying you for heroics here’. If I tried to get a job in an environment or an industry where everyone wears a suit, there’s a documented process for absolutely everything, you’re expected to defer to your boss on everything and you’re expected to be the last to leave and the first to arrive every day, then no, I probably wouldn’t come across as someone who would fit in!

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Not necessarily; they may have had bad experiences in the past with a hire who wasn’t a good fit for the culture, and now are realizing it’s something they want. Relaxed doesn’t necessarily = slackers.

          4. EmKay*

            Mediocrity is a strong word to choose for the very small context that we have in this case, surely?

            1. Anonymoose*

              In my experience the kind of people who think black and white like this are the exact kind of people you’re trying to avoid hiring with these kinds of tests. People who overreact like this and say things like ‘the company values mediocrity’ are people without the soft skills to succeed more often than not.

              1. EmKay*

                I view this in a more nuanced way, because I have experience with someone who speaks in “absolutes” like this. They’re a family member, and they’re on the spectrum.

                (my intent here is not to armchair diagnose, please don’t misunderstand me lol)

          5. ele4phant*

            I don’t think that at all.

            Again, we don’t entirely know what that means, but in my mind (and in my company) someone that is described as “too formal” is someone that is going to be rigid about hierarchy and structure. Which, is great in some environments. But not in ours. We have a fairly fast moving, high pressure environment where you need to juggle multiple jobs and clients and things are always changing. We need people who are relaxed (that’s how I would describe our culture), and that can roll with the punches, maybe step into something that isn’t part of their roll when we’re crunched too move things along, and that won’t have a fit about needing to be super flexible. Focus that prefer more formal structure flail in our environment.

            Also, our clients are really relaxed and causal, so someone that comes across as very about the business is just going to be…off-putting. Again, not a bad way to manage clients in the abstract, but it just doesn’t work for the clients we serve.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, this. Competence tests usually test for the bare minimum required. Selecting for cultural fit, though, while it can be a good thing, it can also be a bad thing, if it ends up producing teams that lack diversity, because the vast majority of people, if given the choice, will feel more comfortable and relaxed “among their own kind”. What counts as “their own kind” varies a lot between different people, some eliminate anyone from their in-crowd who looks different without even thinking about it, for example, while others have a very diverse friend group they’re comfortable with and close to.

        A relaxed atmosphere could mean something like needing to be able to tolerate Nerf wars in the open office, nicknames that are assigned to you, like call signs in some branches of the military, that are based on a personal characteristic that is usually perceived as negative like Fatso, Grouchy, Stinky, or something even worse… I don’t think any company’s done the latter, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened in a bro-y startup.

      3. Sparkles McFadden*

        Competency tests are there to weed out people. They’re not to decide the actual person to hire.

        1. CRM*

          This is a good way of looking at it. When we hire someone, passing the competency test only indicates that a candidate has the bare-minimum skillset required for the position. There are usually other factors that we take into consideration, and a candidate who does really well on the test isn’t necessarily a shoe-in for the role.

      4. PT*

        To me “relaxed” vs. “formal” says “Our workplace is a hot mess and you seem like someone who’d be annoyed by that,” mainly because that’s been my experience. Someone who’s formal is someone who, say, understands the busy season comes once a year and prepares for it with staffing, scheduling, budgeting, and purchasing. Someone who is relaxed goes OH CRAP BUSY SEASON STARTS NEXT WEEK and then spends busy season running around with their hair on fire, setting all of their staff’s hair on fire to get everyone to scramble to make up the gap because it’s BUSY SEASON and WE’RE SHORT EVERYTHING AHHH.

        When busy season starts the same week, every year, and is not a surprise in the slightest.

        1. Sondheim Geek*

          You’re conflating “relaxed” and “flaky” which are not synonymous. Relaxed could mean it’s a place where all employees (down to interns) are encouraged to bring ideas to the table during discussions. It could mean a place where I can reach out directly to my grandboss without needing to go through my boss. It could mean a place where there aren’t strict rules for a persons work because the best course of action will be dependent upon specific circumstances and decided on a case-by-case basis (so you can’t just mechanically follow the rules, you have to apply critical thinking). It could mean the position deals with VIPs/high-level donors/celebrities and they need someone who will be relaxed around them rather than feeling stiff.

        2. PollyQ*

          You might just as well define “formal” as rigid and over-concerned with rules, bureaucracy, and hierarchy. What you’re describing sounds like the difference between organized & disorganized.

    3. MK*

      Or they value it plenty, but prefer that it comes with culture fit. The choise probably wasn’t between a competent person who doesn’t fit with the culture and an incompetent one that does.

    4. A.N. O'Nyme*

      How many letters have we had about people in jobs that on paper is a perfect fit but who are not a fit for company culture? Because that’s exactly what this is.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Yes. I once had an interview was told afterwards that “You were a good candidate, but we thought the other person would fit in better with the existing team.”

      2. NYWeasel*

        Exactly! We had two candidates, both completely competent and skilled. Candidate A made some mildly joking comments at the expense of his future coworkers, while Candidate B was asking questions to learn more about our team. Nothing A said was terrible or inappropriate, but it was things that would likely rub people the wrong way, so it was evident that B was the better cultural fit.

        In this case, I don’t mean to imply that OP said or did anything as clearly tangible as A did. In most of the hiring situations I’ve been involved in, we usually end up with 2-3 awesome choices, and you just have to go with very minute differences. I would just take this sort of feedback as you were doing everything right and you just didn’t click quite as well as the other candidate. Which means that you’re on the right track and just need to find the right office for you. Good luck!

        1. NYWeasel*

          I’d like to add that when I interview, I now try to make a point to share enough of my personality as a way to self-select out of places that are too stuffy or rigid for me to feel comfortable. I’ve spent enough years adjusting my behavior to places where I was a terrible cultural fit that I never want to do it again!

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Me too. I like to add discreet accessories to my otherwise conservative interview outfit, like a funky piece of jewelry or similar. Most of the time people don’t even notice, but if they do and it elicits a positive response, it’s a connection (nerds will always find each other, lol*). If someone would judge me for wearing a ring that looks like an owl or the tiny Captain America shield dangling from my purse zipper, I probably don’t want to work with them anyway.

            *Case in point: I was wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt in a random hotel and an entire family got on the elevator with me and collectively shrieked at the sight of my shirt, “OMG, ANOTHER WHOVIAN!”

            1. TardyTardis*

              I feel a certain obligation to clap hooray for this!

              (a bit later in the day, of course, given my screen name)

        2. EPLawyer*

          Exactly right as to you have to go with minute differences. There was 1 job and they were down to 2 candidates. They had to choose SOMEONE. In this case, they went with the other person. It happens. That’s the nature of hiring — and job searching. It doesn’t mean there is any WRONG with the LW or their style. it just means … LW didn’t get this job.

          At some point in time, the hiring company will have to choose between LW and someone else and LW will get the job. Doesn’t mean the other person has anything wrong. Just means they didn’t get the job.

          Never try to read the tea leaves when it comes to hiring decisions. Just … move on.

      3. Metadata minion*

        And so long as the other person was solid on their technical skills, that’s the sort of thing that’s much easier to train than cultural fit. And for that matter, something that most people *want* to get better at, whereas it’s weirder to ask someone “hey, do you think you could change a significant part of your personality within 6 months if hired?”

        1. Freya*

          This. When my (now-retired) dad was picking who should join his niche but valuable department at a rather large company, he always preferred people who could ask questions (and listen) over people who already knew the answers. Being a niche area, you *couldn’t* learn all the things outside of that department, so if you didn’t want to ask questions and learn, you would be useless to the department. He’d take average graduates over perfect GPAs if they demonstrated that trait and the other candidate didn’t. He figured he could teach the info, but not the attitude, and he was right :-)

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          This is my thinking too. I get it that the term “cultural fit” gets a bad rap in that, some dysfunctional companies use it to mean “we are looking for a white male/specific age group/single/married/someone who’s okay with going out for drinks every day after work/etc and you aren’t it.” But I think it really isn’t the case here and the interviewers really meant the work style. E.g, I know that I personally will never be comfortable with coming into work every day to five new assignments, each with a 5-hour estimate, each a Priority 1, and all of them with a due date of tomorrow. Or to an assignment saying “here’s a database table, make a UI for a client based on it, it’s due at the end of this week” without any further specifics. Or, on the other end of the spectrum “here’s an assignment with confusing and logically inconsistent business requirements, it’s due at the end of the week, you are not allowed to talk to the business other than through the one designated person that wrote the confusing requirements – send them your questions and they’ll bring you back their answers at some point eventually.” (All real things that happened to me in my years of work – I was able to work through all of them, but it would’ve been very stressful to me to have to work in those settings consistently going forward.) Technical skills, you can (and should, as it’s a part of your job in the long term) gain. But becoming someone you’re not is not a feasible goal, and honestly, no workplace is worth running yourself into the ground trying to do it.

          1. JustaTech*

            And work style could also be a case of “how regulated are you?”.
            When you work in a highly regulated industry (pharma, for example) you have to be comfortable working within some pretty strict guidelines (what do you mean I have to date and initial every page? What do you mean I can’t adjust my experiment on the fly?).

            If you’re going to chafe at that every day, then it’s not the right part of the industry for you and you’d be better off in research, where things are more flexible.
            Neither one is inherently good or bad, they’re just different.

      4. MissBaudelaire*

        This was the feeling I got from it. Didn’t mean OP was a bad candidate, just meant they weren’t the right fit at that time for that particular role. I’ve interviewed for places and even though I had the skills they wanted, I knew that I would never ever like working there because of the way they operated. It wasn’t a slam on the company, it just meant that it wasn’t for me, either.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      The company isn’t saying anything about competency. They’re saying OP isn’t as good of a cultural fit as the candidate they hired. Culture fit is important, both from the employer’s side and the employee’s side. When someone isn’t a good fit for the culture, it tends to make things more difficult on both sides.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep, this.
        OP, I think one piece you are missing here is that this company had a tough time deciding between the two of you. They thought long and hard before deciding. I suspect they actually fretted over this. When a company starts going on cultural fit that means that everything else is probably equal in their minds. (It just makes sense to figure out of the person can actually do the job before thinking about other things.) To me, it sounds like they found a couple small things and decided on the other person. It sounds like it was a very close call.

        I am sure the person doing the hiring is sitting there thinking, “I made my best guess.” And they are very much aware how much of hiring is actually guessing.

        1. TWW*

          It’s equally plausible that the culture mismatch was so obvious to the hiring team that it left no question who the more desirable candidate was.

          As long as were speculating, possibly this role may have been one where technical skills were important, but they also wanted someone who came across as a “people person.”

    6. Roscoe*

      Without knowing the details of the job, competancy may be A factor, but not the deciding factor. If OP scored 54 and someone else scored 50, but was a better fit in other ways, it makes total sense.

    7. Cat Tree*

      But how do you know that the other candidate didn’t score just as high on the competency test?

      For the vast majority of jobs, there are more candidates interviewed than open positions. This is especially true during a slow economy. The simple truth is that employers often have to choose between two or more qualified candidates. It’s frustrating and completely normal to evaluate every aspect to wonder where you went wrong. But very often, there’s nothing that the non-selected candidate did wrong. The feedback in this letter sounds like the employer is saying this person is very qualified and didn’t do anything wrong, just that they had to make a choice and had to find some reason to differentiate between the two of them. Think of it more like a tiebreaker and less like a message that they don’t value competency.

    8. Lucy Day*

      It doesn’t have to mean this at all! One of my best friends is someone I met as a colleague at a former job. She is one of the most component, knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. She was also a poor cultural fit for our old workplace. She had come from very corporate environments and lived for process and structure – 2 things that read to other employees as “formal.” She clashed with so many colleagues who preferred the company’s fly by the seat of your pants way of doing things, trying to get them to complete forms and checklists she designed to make workflow more structured. Despite being brought in to establish a new program, she was never able to get buy in from upper management who preferred a more relaxed (and slightly chaotic) way of doing business and didn’t like her approach. At a certain point it became clear it wasn’t a fit. If the office had screened for both culture AND competency, the role would have been more effective since people started getting frustrated and working around her. They would’ve avoided putting my friend in a position where her competency and expertise wasn’t appreciated. She ended up moving on to a company that values structure and clear-cut process. She is far happier now!

      We don’t really know what formal or casual means exactly in the OP’s letter, but I share this story as one example of what it could mean. OP may not have thrived at the company that passed on her, and hopefully she finds a job where her work style is a better fit.

      1. Allonge*

        This, exactly. The unhappiest I have been at my job (going on 10 years, now 6th manager) was when I had a new manager who did not believe in planning and was an Ideas!Person. She ended up leaving after a year as she clashed with our fairly rigid systems. I would definitely want to avoid working for an org where the culture is on her end of the spectrum!

    9. FYI*

      I think most people are somewhat formal ON AN INTERVIEW. It strikes me as unfair to expect candidates to demonstrate how relaxed they are under those circumstances.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I was thinking the same thing! It’s like company manners – that’s not how you are in daily life.

        But I do think we don’t have quite enough information to know what made them think the OP would prefer a more structured environment.

      2. James*

        This is true, but you can still gather a lot of information. The questions a person asks, the aspects they focus on, how they react to things they see in the office–these tell you a lot. If you’ve been through this process a few times you can pick up on these things (though how well you do is subject to much debate).

        1. Sondheim Geek*

          Yep, this was what I was thinking. I doubt they expected OP to show up in a hoodie, shorts, and flip flops, but it’s possible there are aspects of the job that seemed to give the OP pause in either their reaction to seeing them or in the questions they asked about them (i.e. open floor plan office when OP is more accustomed to people having offices, seeing other people dressed more casually, seeing desks littered with bobbleheads, etc.). As someone said above, they have to make a choice based on something, and when the candidates are both otherwise equally stellar that something might be something that is incredibly minute.

      3. Cat Tree*

        There was one open position and two top candidates. Somebody had to end up without an offer. That’s frustrating but not unfair. The employer had to find a way to choose between the two, and they gave this feedback to make the point that OP didn’t do anything explicitly wrong. Sometimes you have two candidates who do everything right, but you *still* have to make a decision between them. There’s nothing unfair about that. I’m not sure what you really expect from the employer here? If they had chosen differently then we’d have some other person writing in and wondering why they didn’t get the offer.

        1. FYI*

          I’d expect the employer to say exactly that — “two stellar candidates, we’re going in this direction, sorry.” That’s not hard, is it? The LW is now trying to read weird tea leaves about what “not relaxed” means. It’s just not useful or necessary feedback. It doesn’t change the outcome, and it leaves LW thinking — WTF? How do I fix THAT?

          1. Myrin*

            It’s not about “fixing” anything, though – OP doesn’t have to “fix” her personality/demeanour/expressions and will most likely be the perfect fit for another job at another company; there is no right or wrong here.

            1. Jennifer*

              Yes, it’s similar to dating. If you don’t click with someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with you. You just weren’t a good match for that person but you could be a great one for someone else. Nobody needs to fix anything.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Yep, this is a great analogy. In my online dating days, it was so frustrating when I tried to explain it to someone I’d had one or several dates with that we’d clash and be miserable as a couple, and the person would make it all about “rejection” and get offended. It is not a value judgement. You are choosing a person (or a workplace) for at least the next few years of your life. I’m here trying to help you not get yourself into a situation where you’d end up being unhappy (or, for a workplace, also, not productive).

                1. Jennifer*

                  Yes! That happened back in my single days too. I knew it wasn’t going to work, so why waste anyone’s time in a miserable relationship that’s going to end in disaster?

          2. Allonge*

            Eh, but if they don’t say anything specific, then that is the issue (WHY then?). There is no way to reject people and have them universally happy.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes. People ask for feedback when they’re rejected and then nitpick the hell out of it when they get it. Then they wonder why they don’t get feedback. Come on, y’all.

          3. Sondheim Geek*

            It sounds like that’s what the employer said, though. They praised OP for their abilities, but said they were going in another direction.

      4. Metadata minion*

        Yeah, I wish I knew more about what exactly they meant by “formal”. If it’s just the LW pretty reasonably erred on the formal side in dress and speech because it’s an interview, that’s annoying. But it might be something more like that from their answers, it seemed like the LW would fit better in a larger and/or more structured company with a more formal hierarchy and specific job duties, and they’re more of an everyone-does-everything, flat hierarchy sort of office.

      5. Natalie*

        But they aren’t saying the OP was too formal – they’re saying that *in comparison* with the other candidate. The other candidate was also interviewing, so the background level of interview formality is already being taken into account.

        1. Natalie*

          In other words, Steph Curry (6’3”) is shorter than Lebron James (6’9”). But they’re both still tall.

      6. Washi*

        But the other candidate was also there on an interview, so I don’t think it’s unfair to compare the impression they gave. We also have very little information about why the OP was rejected! There’s a lot of things that relaxed could mean, and as Alison said, it could have had nothing to do with the OP’s mannerisms and more about how they expressed their working style (preferring structure, etc.) Or maybe the other candidate just had more experience in that type of environment.

        Unless this feedback is directly contrary to how the OP thinks of themselves, I don’t think this means anything bad, it just didn’t work out this time but if they have such great technical skills, most likely somewhere WILL be the right fit!

      7. Snow globe*

        You are assuming that they determined OP’s formality from behavior/appearance during the interview, but it could have been their answers to questions, “tell me about a time when you…”

    10. anon for this*

      Yeah, I have absolutely no respect for a company that would reject a candidate for not being casual enough. I know where that leads, from experience.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Really? How about a company that says “we serve a population that’s more comfortable when we use first names, dress casually, and generally take a relaxed approach and we’ve found that gets us better results” — and a candidate who makes it clear that’s not her way? How about a company that doesn’t have strong hierarchy and expects people to take an entreneurial approach and a candidate who says clearly that she works best with slow, formal decision-making processes and with a clear structure? Or a manager who clearly won’t fit the style of the team she’s managing, when that team is successful with a relaxed style and won’t respond well to a boss who imposes lots of new, unnecessary structure?

        There are a ton of legitimate ways this could play out.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Wasn’t there a letter recently about a manager who decided her (not public or client facing) team would dress more formally than the rest of the office, and it was causing all sorts of problems? Casual vs formal isn’t always shorthand for “we are discriminating against you because we want clones working here only.”

    11. Observer*

      If I received the feedback , “We don’t really value competency here”, I would think I had dodged a bullet!

      If I knew that someone had interpreted what the OP was told this way, I would KNOW that I dodged a bullet.

      There is nothing whatsoever in what the OP was told to indicate that the other candidate is not skilled and competent. And fit IS important. We see this all the time. The “brilliant Jerk” is just the most obvious kind of problem you can run into. There are many other ways a culture mismatch can contribute to measurable productivity problems.

      To take an extreme example of where too much formality can be a problem – There was a well known case of an airplane that crashed, due to pilot error. The pilot was NOT incompetent, nor was his second in command. But the organization was highly, highly hierarchical, and the copilot did not feel like he could “contradict” his superior when he saw the pilot take a wrong setting.

      Now, that’s obviously extreme and I’m not for one moment suggesting that the OP is like that at all. But it does help illustrate the problem. Of course in a functional environment it doesn’t get this ossified. And there are absolute benefits to structure and hierarchy. But these are tradeoffs, and each company has its own set of tradeoffs. Smart companies tried to minimize the negatives, but the also hire to accommodate the way they operate.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Agreed – I’m leery of “culture misfit” because it so often perpetuates discrimination, but in this case it sounds like it may have been based on something substantive. What you know is important, but it’s not the sum total of competency. How well you can perform the job – including managing a team! – is also what the employer is assessing, and if the structure of the work doesn’t seem to match OP’s style, that’s a legitimate concern.

        Also, this is a perfect illustration of why employers generally shouldn’t give feedback to candidates. It sucks to be rejected and not know why, but getting the “why” can be even worse when it doesn’t feel valid to you, or makes you obsess over what you could have done differently.

        1. AnonCO*

          Whether you get an answer as to why you were rejected or not, you still don’t get the work experience. You’re still wondering “what’s wrong with my personality? What is I don’t fit in anywhere?”
          And especially, wondering what the point is in getting an education and new skills if everything is going to come down to culture fit.
          You’re either in danger of having your skills atrophy due to not getting to put them into real-world practice… or you get the distinct impression that your not getting chosen for that company makes the company happier and better, so you’d be a net negative.

          Sorry, but despite all the advice to not take it personally when “not selected for fit reasons” happened to me, it DOES feel personal. It feels, at the very least, like I’ve mis-lived my life I such a way I didn’t get those traits they were looking for, and like the only remedy is going back in time and redoing my life so I can become a better fit.

          1. Natalie*

            There is a lot of catastrophizing going on in this comment?

            It’s one job. Not being selected for one job doesn’t mean you don’t fit in anywhere, or will never be employed so your skills atrophy or that you’ve mislived your life(!). It doesn’t even mean you wouldn’t have fit in perfectly fine and been a net positive *at that particular job*. It just means that the other candidate had a slight edge. Someone said elsewhere in the comments, every job you’ve ever gotten, there was another person or two who went through all the same process, were probably similarly qualified, and at the end of the day *you* had the slight edge.

            When you’re job searching, you’re not being assessed for your inherent qualifies somehow. You’re being assessed against whatever other people are in the pool at the same time, and they’re being assessed against you.

          2. Legal Beagle*

            My point was that employers *shouldn’t* be telling candidates they were not selected due to fit, because it leads to exactly this kind of spiraling that is not helpful to the candidate. I’ve been there and it sucks! But like Natalie said below, it does sound like you’re taking a job rejection extremely personally – it’s not a judgment of your life choices or the death knell of your career.

          3. Roscoe*

            Mis-lived your life? What? Like, its one company. Everyone doesn’t fit in at every company. I’m a pretty outgoing person who generally can get along and “fit in” in a lot of places. But I can assure you, I probably wouldn’t be great at a super stuffy accounting firm. That doesn’t mean its about “me” its about the compatibility of me AND the company. Both can be fine on their own, but they don’t work together very well.

            Like it seems you are looking at this as a indictment of you as a person, when it is FAR from that. I can tell you I’ve been to interviews and realized pretty quickly it wasn’t the type of place I’d be happy. That doesn’t mean I think the manager was a bad person or that the employees sucked. It means that I just don’t think its going to be the best fit.

  2. jman4l*

    OP1-Just curious…How were taxes withheld out of the “bonus” you received from your boss? You could have some serious tax liability if this was done under the table.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I removed a long reply thread of misinformation. In the U.S., the IRS is clear that this would be considered taxable wages. It’s a bonus coming from a manager and thus treated as wages from an employer, not a personal gift.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        I’m so curious what Alison’s advice would be to the boss in this letter! It seems odd and problematic for a boss to distribute her bonus to her direct reports. (And LW’s letter illustrates one of the problems – making employees feel indebted and beholden to the boss.) But I’ve never worked in a job with a commission/bonus structure so maybe this is more common than I think?

    2. OP1 Here*

      Hi I’m OP 1! I have not received the bonus yet – it’s coming in a couple of months – so I’m not actually sure if she’ll request that our company feed it directly through our payroll or if she’ll receive it that way and then write us checks. But in any case, I’m fully prepared for it to have taxes taken out in some kind of way. So I know it won’t be the full $25K (unless she was saying she’d gross it up), but it’s still a significant boost to my existing salary!

    3. nona*

      IRS isn’t going to look at money from an employer/boss to an employee as a gift. They are going to look at it as wages and want their cut. This exchange of money is happening because of the job and is therefore taxed as income.

      So…gift tax implications are moot.

      1. And they all rolled over*

        THIS. This is money being paid for work. It is wages. LW still has to pay taxes on it. It’s unfortunate that LW’s boss probably can’t deduct it, but it doesn’t change LW’s tax situation.

    4. The Starsong Princess*

      I doubt that the money is really her personal money that would be taxable this way. In my company, people who receive the big bonuses can keep all the money for themselves or designate that a percentage be given to their support staff divided as they chose. 10% is customary. For some support staff of big producers, it’s more than their annual salary. The company handles the distributions and tax implications like any other compensation. Generally, the support staff so bonused are very loyal to the top producers as they would never make that much elsewhere. But the bonus is for the previous year, not a retention bonus so OP is free to do what is best for their career.

      1. Snow globe*

        You bring up another important point for the OP. Given the large amounts (if the entire team is given a similar bonus as the OP is getting), it seems likely that this is a scenario where the company may expect or encourage the managers to share some of “their” bonus with their team. If so, the OP wouldn’t need to think of this as the boss giving them a personal gift; this may be how bonuses work in this company. Just to emphasize that OP doesn’t need to feel to guilty about taking the money then quitting.

  3. Vichyssuave*

    #5 – Are there any internal openings that might be plausible for you to be interested in? This was how I easily got a list of my various qualifications and certifications from my employer (I since have started keeping my own record) when I was debating moving on. I just mentioned I might want to throw my hat in the ring for X position and wanted to make sure I had everything up to date for my resume and cover letter.

  4. Rich*

    OP1, In some industries, this sort of commission sharing is somewhat common — maybe not the norm, but not exceptional, either. Particularly in the tech industry, commission sharing from an account manager to their team is the norm in some companies. In those cases, it is, essentially, a retention bonus. It’s just coming from a different – but still expected – part of the organization.

    It’s possible your boss is being extremely personally generous. If that’s the case, Alison’s advice is spot on. But it’s also possible your boss is following the compensation norms of your company or industry. If you’re unsure, asking a coworker you trust, “Hey, this is awesome! I’ve never had such a bonus from a manager before. Is Jane just super generous, or is this how things normally flow down to folks in our roles?”, could tell you a lot about how to treat this. That doesn’t mean you need to be cavalier about it if it’s a normal practice, but it may carry less personal weight than you think.

    1. Dan*

      How is the distribution and taxation handled? Is the manager writing a personal check and this is all under the table, or does the check come from the company and it’s the manager’s discretion how it’s doled out? (And consequently, taxes are withheld?)

    2. Julia*

      If bosses get bonuses several times the salaries of their employees, I would hope that to be the case, otherwise the entire compensation structure at OP’s company seems very skewed.

    3. Ash*

      It’s kind of shocking to me though that the OP apparently makes $50k per year but her direct supervisor gets a bonus apparently many times more than her salary.

      1. And they all rolled over*

        This stuck out to me as well. I know it’s normal for a manager to get paid more than their subordinate, but an order of magnitude more?!?

      2. Rich*

        One of the things that the message glossed over a bit was that it was the boss’s commission. For non-commission-based employees, a commission looks a lot like a bonus, and is often talked about as a bonus. It’s not, and it’s a frequent source of confusion.

        For commission-based employees, part of their income is at risk if they don’t hit performance (almost always sales) targets. Some or all of their pay is calculated as a percentage of what they sell. For me, it’s 30% of my pay (based on hitting 100% of my goal). For some people, it’s 100% of their income. I earn, say, 0.5% of every dollar of stuff sold, and I’m expected to sell, say, $5million of stuff in a year. So I “make” $83k/year, but that assumes that I hit exactly 100% of my sales goals, which contributes $25k of that 83k.

        Part of what happens is the payout percentage changes as you hit different goals — I get X% of sales up to 100% of my goal, and, say, 3X% of all sales after that. So, if my quota is to sell $1million of stuff, I might get paid $10k for the first million, but $70k if I sell $3million (rather than $30k). Getting to 300% of quota is a shockingly good, and very rare, result. But in some jobs it is possible.

        If the boss’s pay is largely commission-based, and she had a great year, her pay could easily be 2-5 times her normal annual income. That’s not a bonus because she did well, it’s a pre-calculated payout based on performance.

        If she sold 10% of her goal for the year, her annual income might well be 10% of normal.

        Part of why payouts to super-successful sales people are so large is because so much — or all — of their “regular” income is at risk if they don’t reach their targets. It’s not a bonus. It’s performance-based pay, where performance is measured in “dollars of stuff sold”.

      3. Natalie*

        In these cases it’s almost always more of a commission than a bonus (and OP specifies that downthread).

      4. Dashed*

        That disparity is common in many industries. When I worked retail management for a major retailer, my grandboss made more than me or my boss together. Her annual “regular” bonus was the equivalent of our combined income. Similarly, when we overachieved on sales goals or other metrics, she got a bonus and we got nothing. Oh wait, at Christmas, she would buy treats from the Dollar Store.

  5. Liz*

    Culture fit matters. I took a job at a much more formal and buttoned-up place than I was used to and I wanted to crawl out of my skin every day. When we got sent home for COVID it was a relief.

    1. Dan*

      Yup. I had an interview for an analytic role at a local bank when I was getting out of grad school. The unsolicited interview feedback I got was, “Candidate was too informal during the interview, because of [clearly articulated reasons X and Y].”

      Too casual for the bank, got it! (If they wanted somebody that stiff and formal, well, better to look elsewhere.)

      I then went and interviewed at a place where the work itself was much more aligned with my background, skillset and interests. I didn’t really change much about my interview “personality”, and got a good offer from them. All in all, it was a pretty good five years until business took a dive and layoffs were handed out.

      Same thing at my current job… I let a little bit of my personality come out through the interview, because quite frankly, if we’re all going to have to deal with each other for the next X years, I want to be on the level with what we all expect.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        If an employer accurately recognises that you wouldn’t fit in at their workplace, that’s really a gift (and could be a bullet dodged). It might not feel like it in the moment, mind you.

        1. Cos*

          I think this is so true. I suspect that my current employer and I both could sense during interviews that I wasn’t a great cultural fit, but we both ignored it, them because I was a really strong candidate from a technical perspective and they had struggled to find someone with my skillset, and me because they were offering much more money than I’d ever made in my life. Now I’m in the role, I’ve been deeply unhappy the entire time, and I suspect they’ve had plenty of second thoughts as well. I wish one of us would have been willing to acknowledge from the start that the fit just wasn’t right.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I’m sorry you’re unhappy there – that must really suck.

            It’s important to recognise that sometimes a bad fit may still be the best option (if you desperately needed the money, if it was the only vacancy you were remotely suited to, if they couldn’t find another technically qualified candidate of any personality type, etc). Being able to reject a bad fit is kind of a luxury option.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Happened to my older son when he was interviewing for jobs after college. He sent out tons of resumes, did a few phone screens, but was not getting anywhere. He and I work in the same field and he is objectively really really good at what he does. Finally it dawned on me and I said “Every employer in our area is a bank, a hospital, or an insurance company. You are not getting calls back because you aren’t a fit for a bank, a hospital, or an insurance company, which is true – you’d be miserable there. Try applying out of state.” next we knew, he had Silicon Valley companies fighting over him and flying him out. He graduated in late 2013 and his entire career since then has been based on the connections he’d made in his first CA job – because that’s the kind of job he is a good fit for. Not a bank. Even though his technical skills are more than enough for work in a bank.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I was reading a little too . . . casually, and thought you’d written that your son was not ‘fit for a bank, hospital, or an insurance company.’ And I thought, Way harsh, Tai!
          And then re-read it, with what you actually wrote, and was relieved.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Hahaha, no, he’d do a good job there I suppose, if he absolutely had to. But they have a specific, very formal and organized, culture that he does not do well in.

    2. Not sure of what to call myself*

      It works both ways. Too formal a person can really throw off a team that works well together.

      Years ago I was working in a shared service centre for an international company. The work was stressful but the large team worked well. Then a new HR person was brought in and within a couple of months shook everything up and caused a staff exodus. She could understand that exceptions needed to be available in some circumstances. She was so inflexible and unpleasant that it ruined the office atmosphere. Within months the teams were decimated. Once one person left and fed back that there were better options out there, there was an exodus.

      1. clogerati*

        This happened at my company with a new HR person! I first realized how bad of a fit she was after she rolled out new rules and guidelines and when I asked clarifying questions, that I knew my staff would ask me, she got increasingly argumentative and acted as if I was challenging her authority (it eventually devolved into her insinuating I was an alcoholic after I asked for clarification regarding gifts from our clients). She behaved inappropriately, but it was partially because of frustration on her part because she wasn’t used to working in an office that was as collaborative and less hierarchical than ours.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      Same here. I took a job at a previous bank and the culture was just too rigid for me, though I didn’t realize that while interviewing. I’m definitely on the more casual, laid back, joking side. I had a tough time and hated it. I left within 10 months. Although there were many reasons I left that job, bad culture fit was a big one.

    4. Lacey*

      Same! I didn’t think it would bother me, but it was so distracting to have to worry about the formal culture all the time. Now I work for a super casual place. We’re doing quality work, but it’s so relaxed that I can care more about the work and less about the culture and that’s perfect for me.

    5. JohannaCabal*

      I actually worked at a place for three months where from Day 1 it was obvious I was not a good “cultural fit.” Pure torture for both me and the company during that time. Later, I found out through the grapevine that their first two choices who were better suited for the firm had declined, despite the bad recession. In hindsight, the hiring team should have continued looking for someone better suited to the role and the company.

      Honestly, I still regret taking the role. That said, I had been laid off two months earlier and was on unemployment, so I may have had to take the job. I hope that firm has learned to better vet prospective staff for cultural fit!

      1. Dashed*

        I realized I was a bad fit at a job a few weeks after taking it. The boss told me at that time that he was disappointed in me because I was “friendly, but professional.” He wanted a very informal culture in which all staff were personal friends with “deep” connections. I basically had to become BFFs with everyone immediately or be let go. I really needed the job and allowed myself to be railroaded. 20 years later, I still regret taking that job. It turned into a total nightmare due to the mixing of personal and professional.

        Never again. Friendly but professional is all am employer is going to get from me.

    6. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, and on the other end, my org has hired a C-suite person that oversees our department that just doesn’t match our established culture at all and it’s causing misery and havoc. She is, I’m guessing, much more conservative, business formal, hierarchal, and corporate; we are an academic institution in Southern California, with an informal, cooperative, liberal culture. If the OP was hiring for a managerial position, the company was doing the right thing for their current employees not to drop a mismatch on them.

    7. JustaTech*

      And it can even be more complicated than that.

      The human culture at my office is casual and informal (jeans, joking, chatting with people in other groups, that kind of thing).

      We’re in a highly regulated industry, which means that there are large parts of our work where there is very little flexibility. There is one format for reports. There is one way to run an assay. You must date and initial every time you cross out a mistake.
      On the production side there is no room for making changes. Even on the development side changes are all very structured (for very good reasons). Not everyone deals well with this, so it’s important for us to screen for that.

  6. Smitten By Juneau*

    #5 – you should be able to get salary history from the last several years from your copies of your tax returns.

    1. Natalie*

      I would look for pay stubs first, personally – pre-tax deductions generally won’t be on your W2 or tax return, so the “salary” you’re going to see could be significantly lower than what you are actually paid. Your final pay stub of every year should show the gross YTD.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Pre-tax deductions are indeed onW2s, there are boxes for different categories.

    2. pbnj*

      Social security also has your pay history online. Although not sure if this would help if OP makes more than the social security max.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Note that SS wages will NOT match your pay stub, certain pre-tax deductions are not included in SS. Found this out the hard way as I prepare for retirement, that my SS wages were less than my gross earnings.

    3. calonkat*

      And I wouldn’t worry over much about asking for the information. I have a terrible memory (medical reasons in my past) and started a spreadsheet to keep track of this information mainly because it comes up in family conversations! “Oh, don’t you remember, we took that trip after you got that promotion, when was that so we can date the photo!” Me: ummmm, let me pull my spreadsheet. Or when you meet people and they remember you in a different role and you want to put that into a timeline (so did you meet them last year or 5 years ago?)

  7. Dan*


    In general, these things are kind of tough. It can be assumed that candidates are on their best behavior during the interview, so it would be nice to get a signal that a little bit of informality is welcomed. Because we weren’t in the room with you, there’s no way for us to tell on the “outside” what the vibe was and if there were clues that you could/should have picked up on.

    I’m a pretty relaxed person (I’ve gotten tanked on interviews because of it, I’ve been told so directly) and I tend to work at places where the culture is pretty relaxed. TBH, I’d have a really hard time tanking a candidate for being *too formal* (or too stiff or whatever). The only thing that comes to mind would be a candidate who was overly academic, liked to use big words, or something along those lines. And then, what I would be screening for is somebody who is too pompous/full of themselves or has poor communication skills. If someone is using big works/academic jargon/something I don’t understand, they’ll get a chance to dumb it down/rephrase. If they don’t, I’m left wondering how well I can work with someone who I can’t communicate very well with. (I work in a field where we hire people with really diverse backgrounds. Some of these hires are PhDs with varied specialized skillsets, but those doing the hiring aren’t fluent in the topic at an academic level. Being able to “explain complex technical material to a non technical audience” is very much is a thing.)

    But if those reasons are in play, I wouldn’t use broad language like “too stiff, not a good culture fit”, I’d use something more specific.

    1. MK*

      Here is the issue though: we have no reason to think the OP was “tanked” for being too formal. What I got from the feedback was that they had a comparable candidate that they thought a better fit for their relaxed culture, so they went with them. If OP was considerably better qualified, they may well have hired her and let her deal with the culture as best she could, but given the option to avoid hiring someone who wouldn’t be comfortable there, they took it.

      I think in these situations people tend to assume an either/or mentality (see the above comment about the company not valueing competency). We are told “you were very competent, but the other candidate was a better culture fit” and hear “the other candidate wasn’t as competent, but a better culture fit” instead of “you were both equally competent, but they were a better fit”.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’m imagining the other candidate getting into a 30min conversation about barbeque, video games, llama grooming, or some other hobby that the rest of the team were really into. Sometimes people get hired because there’s an instant “click” when they meet the team. Fit is absolutely important, but it never feels good to be told that someone else was a better fit. “Better fit” makes me feel like I was picked last in gym class, even though I know it is a legitimate factor in hiring.

        1. Roscoe*

          I feel like that really takes away from the other persons skill (and makes the hiring team look superficial). Like maybe everyone who met them just felt like they’d be easier to work with. Some people have the ability to naturally put others at ease and feel warm toward them. I like to think I have that ability (people have said so). That doesn’t mean all I can talk about is pointless idle chit chat.

          I think why what you say rubs me the wrong way is I once had a hiring manager say something like that before rejecting me. She said “You are clearly personable and likable, and that is how you’ve gotten by up to this point”. Totally disregarding all of my accomplishments and making my likability seem more like a crutch than anything else.

          1. Firecat*

            I’m sure that must have sucked to hear – but honestly likability is very often a crutch in my experience.

            People are just more likely to cover your shortfalls, promote you above your skill level, and tolerate your mistakes when you are highly charasmatic. I’ve seen this in every company and all levels I’ve worked at. Heck sometimes I’ve seen that the newly promoted likeable guy doesn’t even realize they are making mistakes because everyone around him is happily fixing it before its noticable. If we look to Alison’s letters – how many are about bosses or employees who are bad at their job but so nice/awesome that no one wants to tell them they are struggling?

            1. Allonge*

              I think this is just the other side of the ‘brilliant jerk’ coin – someone may be a one in a million expert in teapot design, but if they cannot work well with others, they will not be overall well regarded. As Alison wrote many times, part of the job just about anywhere is being a pleasant person to work with. And yes, some strengths compensate for some weaknesses, that is how it works for everyone.

            2. Jennifer*

              I don’t think likability is mostly a crutch at all and it sucks that that hiring manager assumed that about Roscoe without knowing him. Is it really that rare to like someone who is also good at their job? I can’t relate to that at all.

    2. Colette*

      I’ve spent most of my career in high tech. Someone who wore a suit to work would be out of step with the culture, for example. Wearing one to an interview would be fine, but if they mentioned that they prefered to wear a suit daily, talked about how they wanted rigid procedures to follow, or implied that there was one right way to do something, they might get told they weren’t a good fit in a more relaxed environment.

      1. Dan*

        So here’s the thing (because I work in tech too): Some of what you describe is very germane to the core job functions, and *shouldn’t* be brushed off as “fit” issues. (The suit thing comes closest to “fit”, but I don’t know that I’d tank a candidate for that alone… IMHO quirky people are par for the course in the sector I work in, so I’d give someone a pass for a quirk, such as the preference to wear a suit, if I didn’t pick up on signals of more fundamental issues.

        I work in R&D, and in my sector, the companies who do R&D are not allowed to bid on the implementation contracts. My last boss used to refer to “spec sheet developers”, and would screen for it during interviews. Why? We wrote the spec sheet, and most of what we did was proof of concept work. So if the developer needed a clearly written spec (that didn’t exist) that clearly wouldn’t work. OTOH, said developer would find the companies who did the implementation (with our spec) much more satisfying.

        I guess to me, “fit” has a connotation to it, in that it can be used to describe circumstances when nobody wants to say things that would get them into legal trouble. For things that are truly core to the job, I wouldn’t brush them off as “fit”, I’d identify them for what they are. Developers who need a spec sheet and people who think that there is One True Way will not perform well at the job I do. As I’m sure you know, in R&D there are a large number of ways to approach a problem, and if one is not open to different perspectives, one will not function well in that role, even if one is a generally competent programmer.

        Side note: In college, I co-oped at a company who worked on the implementation side of my field. I was miserable, since the spec had already been written, and there wasn’t a lot of intellectual creativity. It was all process process process. When they wanted to extend my co-op, I was like hell no, I’m miserable. After school, I ended up finding work on the R&D side, and I am so, so much happier. (Co-op lasted 9 months, my R&D career is going on 12 years, and I have no plans to quit.)

        1. Observer*

          I guess to me, “fit” has a connotation to it, in that it can be used to describe circumstances when nobody wants to say things that would get them into legal trouble. For things that are truly core to the job, I wouldn’t brush them off as “fit”, I’d identify them for what they are.

          The thing is that these are not the only two options.

          Just as an example, is someone the type of person who likes / needs very clearly defined roles where each person does THIS thing, and THIS thing ONLY, or can they deal with some external duties? It’s not core to the job of developer, but if their approach to this matter is out of sync with the employer it can make a huge difference to productivity.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right. There have been dozens of examples in this comment section alone of times when this description was legit and reasonable. It makes no sense to insist on clinging to one and only one understanding of it.

        2. Snow globe*

          I get what you are saying but (1) the company didn’t use the word “fit”, that’s what commenters have been saying, and (2)when a company is giving feedback to a rejected candidate (which most don’t do) they aren’t necessarily going to give detailed explanations of everything that went into the reasoning. They said the OP seemed too formal, which may have been their demeanor or may have been based on their answers to interview questions. The interviewer knows the culture best, so it’s best to assume that OP probably wouldn’t have fit well with that culture.

  8. Dan*


    TBH, when I look at this holistically, I think your company is really screwed up. I get that bonuses are a thing, when I look at the total dollar amounts, dang. Your under-the-table bonus is half your paycheck? And for the sake of conversation, if there were six people on your team, your manager would be getting a bonus equivalent to the salaries of three staff members? I’m generalizing here a bit, I know, but that kind of dynamic can’t end up well in the long run, unless the norm is that your manager shares the bonus.

    1. Willis*

      Agree that this is a weird dynamic. OP said it was a commission-based bonus, so maybe it’s the norm at that company for managers to divide commissions with their staff, and the check would actually be coming from the company vs a personal check from the manager. But if it really is an under-the-table thing, that does seem really messed up. What happens when one manager give their staff a $25k bonus each while another manager keeps it for themselves? Seems like it could lead to significant pay disparity between similarly-qualified staff.

      1. Forrest*

        Yes to both of you! I’m also mind-blown at the idea of a salary structure where your direct boss makes so much more than you that she can DIVIDE a BONUS between multiple people–presumably at least 2-3 people?– and it’s more than half your salary. So you’re on $50k, and your boss is getting bonuses of at least $100k on top of her own salary? Daaaaaaamn. Is that really a thing that happens? My bosses usually make about $10–15k more than me, if that!

        1. doreen*

          It can happen – many years ago a friend of mine worked for a brokerage as an assistant. The brokers earned commissions and the two she worked for gave her a huge bonus each year – something like 100% of her salary between the two of them. That sort of spread in pay probably applies to almost any commissioned job – someone working as an administrative assistant in a real estate office doesn’t have their pay go up or down based on the agent’s commissions but the agent might earn $500K one year to the assistant’s $40K

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            I was just going to say that I wonder if this isnt real estate. That sort of commission type bonuses can be pretty normal.

            1. WindmillArms*

              I thought real estate too! My brother is a realtor and his salary compared to his commissions is shocking. It’s just how that industry works I guess.

          2. OP1 Here*

            Spot on – we’re an insurance/benefits broker, so all the money is made in commissions. I’m not in sales, so I get a regular salary, but my boss is our sales principal so she’s paid on commissions. I have no idea what her regular take-home is so I can’t speak to the actual ratio, but I can say that I’m paid well for my area and live comfortably. This bonus would just be some really good icing to put toward a down payment on a house someday….

          3. Forrest*

            oh yeah, that makes sense. I was thinking of jobs where the manager is doing a similar type of work to the staff but at a higher level, or where . But if you’ve got one person in a heavily commission-based job with a high level of risk, or a very specialist role like a lawyer or doctor, supported by a team of people, I can totally see it.

    2. BRR*

      The more I think about it the more puzzled and mad I get. I’m having a hard time coming up with a plausible scenario where the lw isn’t being screwed over.

      I’m also giving a little side eye to announcing this almost a year ago and paying it out this summer but I’m not going to obsess over it because I know bonus structures can be like that.

    3. Cat Tree*

      There’s also something really off about the boss doing it with her own personal money. I guess it could sort of be viewed as the company giving a bonus to the department and the boss deciding how to distribute it (which is still odd because she gets a piece of it and makes that decision for herself.) But it sounds like she’s doing this as a personal favor and that just doesn’t mix well with a professional relationship.

      1. OP1 Here*

        Boss is kind of like that, which on the one hand our personal relationship got me this job (and thus out of hospitality, yay!), but on the other, I’m constantly aware of keeping things business while at work and have stepped back from our personal relationship. I do believe it’s her showing appreciation for us keeping her book of business running smoothly (it’s just 2 of us below her), especially since it’s directly correlated to the bonus she is receiving, but also she wants to “share the wealth” so to speak because she cares about us as people outside of work. I have no idea if this is common at our company (that is, other field offices around the country) or if this is just my boss’s way of doing things, though.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        A friend of mine did this with the team that he managed. OldJob was very regulated and strict to who gets what % of their pay as bonus, so my friend as a manager got a disproportionally higher percentage than his team. He thought it wasn’t fair, and voluntarily gave them each a part of his. Great guy who I’d vouch for and very professional.

  9. WS*

    LW #3 – we had an employee who was absolutely fantastic with customers (often elderly and/or stressed and/or sick) but otherwise had some issues – constant lateness in a coverage-based position, taking days off at extremely short notice but refusing to cover for people who had covered for her, rude to younger staff members. Just as we were drawing up a performance plan, she won an area-wide award (customer-nominated) for customer service! That made things awkward, but we eventually talked to her about how great she was with the customers and that she needed to pay that degree of attention to time and co-workers as well. The treatment of other co-workers and sudden absences did get better, but the lateness never really did and eventually she decided to move into another field where she is doing really well.

  10. John Smith*

    #3 I’ve had the reverse of this. Getting awards, commendations etc then being put on a disciplinary (later rejected for being grossly unfair). When I used the awards etc in my defence, I was told “you were only doing your job” (thank you boss for defeating your own argument!). Those awards and certificates got binned straight after. I think of you are going to give an award, it will be tarnished if the awardee is on a PIP. I totally agree with Alison. Provide support, praise etc for now and give the award later. If nothing else, it will seem more sincere.

  11. Taco Cat*


    In the future to the avoid this, I highly recommend updating your resume every year, or at least jotting down general tasks and titles plus years with that title / role.

    Nothing worse than finding a great job and having the daunting task of trying to remember 5+ years worth or work.

  12. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP2: I lost out on a job I’d otherwise gold starred my interviews for because I ‘didn’t fit in with corporate culture’. On reflection, I probably didn’t. I’m happier in a suit at work than casual clothing and my experience had all been with big monopolies so I didn’t really understand how a small commercial outfit worked as well as the person who did get the job.

    Also my sense of humour probably wouldn’t have worked there.

    Getting a job can be a little like getting a romantic partner: it’s not just skills that matter and if you get rejected it’s NOT an indicator of how good or bad a person you are.

  13. LizM*

    #4 is this for a federal fellowship? I ask because I think the timing and numbers line up with the one I’m thinking of.

    If it is the one I’m thinking of, it’s worth seeking out alumni of that program, the hiring for it is unlike anything in the real world and it gets really competitive among hiring managers. Having a gut check is really important.

    If it’s the program I think it is, most managers know they’re on a tight timeline and would not be offended if a candidate followed up with a question about timelines because they have another offer.

    1. Emby*

      I also thought of that, and agree completely. As an alumni of a federal fellowship for recently grad students, I was faced with a similar issue–some places I had interviewed with, others I had only spoken informally with the person doing the hiring at the hiring fair but not interviewed yet. I emailed them all with basically Alison’s script, and while none of them moved up their hiring schedules, they appreciated me reaching out and giving them a chance to respond. I’ve also found that in these situations, a lot of times the person doing the hiring has an idea of who they want (especially out of such a small group), so letting them know that you are unavailable is quite helpful to them. Also, if this is your program, or you program has a rotation aspect, it can be great to include that you would love to stay in touch about possibly doing a rotation with them.

  14. JMR4*

    #1- is it definitely her money? That she has paid tax on through payroll?
    I wonder if she has a bonus pot that she has to share amongst her team? That is quite a normal way to do things.

    1. Blue Eagle*

      This is the more likely scenario. The boss has instructed the company to reallocate a portion of her bonus to her employees. It is unlikely that the boss is giving the employees a personal check for that amount of money. (It would mean that #1 she would have already paid payroll taxes on the money and #2 she would have to pay gift tax on amounts over $13,000)
      On the other hand, if she is reallocating the money from what she would receive, it basically IS coming out of her pocket, just through the salary mechanism of the company.

      1. OP1 Here*

        Yep, I’m honestly not sure yet how it will come to me, but I assumed it would be through payroll. Boss is the sales principal for our field office (insurance industry), so she gets a big commission bonus from corporate HQ every year, and I had assumed it was her discretion to share some with us (her account managers) or keep it. I’m still on the newer end here, so I’m not sure how the sales folks at the other field offices do it. I also know my boss has been in this industry for a long time and has a well established book of business that bring in a good amount of commission, so she’s not in a place where she needs to rely on that bonus as her salary.

  15. caps22*

    #5 – I’d just say I’m doing an audit of my finances or financial history or some such. I agree that you should never need to provide a salary history to a potential new employer, but it’s not a bad idea to get a sense of your own financial history for future planning purposes generally.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. Re-fis are booming right now due to low interest rates. I just did one myself and had to pull a bunch of salary information, some of which I had to HR for because we changed payroll vendors last year and I couldn’t log in anymore.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        That’s a great idea, mortgage applications always ask for so much information. It wouldn’t be unheard of that they asked for documentation of your complete salary history, it would be a great cover.

      3. Yvette*

        Just came to say the same thing. A lender might also be interested in your career path because it would demonstrate an upward trajectory.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      When I asked for this information at my last employer, I didn’t give an explanation to HR. I just treated it as a regular request to another department. (My manager knew I was looking for a new job, & HR knew that some incredibly unpopular decisions about job classifications had been made. So nobody was asking any questions about these kinds of requests.)

      1. TWW*

        Right? Just ask for what you need. At a company with 1500 employees, the HR staffer answering your request does not care why you need the info.

  16. Speaks to Dragonflies*

    OP2, yes, this has to feel crappy. It seems all the interview advice ( at least for me.Your situation may be different) I’ve been given has been to be formal, wear a suit and tie, don’t talk too much… Pretty much the opposite of casual. And yet you get rejected for being too formal and not relaxed enough. You have my commiseration. But this may be a blessing in disguise. The office culture may have been too formal for your tastes. Heck, they could be running things all loosy goosy to the point of insanity. The feedback you were given showed you have the skills and know how and are impressive. Maybe it would help on the next interview to try and gauge how formal the interviewers are with one another and emulate that, dialing it back by half or so as not to seem toobfamiliar. Good luck on your next interview. Hope all goes well for you.

    1. Roscoe*

      I’m a pretty relaxed person, but always wear a suit and let my personality come through. Just because you are dressed formally and acting professional, doesn’t mean you are stiff and stuffy. Not saying OP was, but its not a binary thing where you have to only be one or the other.

    2. BRR*

      I think it’s important to remember interviews are not just about trying to offer what the employer is looking for but seeing if there’s a mutual match. If it’s within your ideal working environment, I agree to take a note from your interviews. I don’t think there’s enough information from the letter though to know though if lw likes a relaxed office and if the office would have been a good match. It’s definitely possible the hiring manager made a mistake in judging the LW’s personality from an interview since people usually are on their best behavior

    3. Cat Tree*

      I don’t think she was “rejected” though. There was one open position and two top candidates. Somebody had to end up disappointed even if they both did everything right. Viewing this situation as a rejection is unproductive and just breeds resentment.

      This type of feedback was probably intended to reassure OP that she’s overall a good candidate and didn’t do something specifically wrong. It’s a good message to get! But the employer had to make a decision and this is how it landed. If it had been the other way around, then the other qualified candidate would be the one writing in. It’s much healthier to view this as a tiebreaker than a rejection.

    4. Anon for this*

      It sounds like you’ve been given bad interview advice. Wearing a suit and tie is extremely industry dependent, and for many interviews, I think it should be more of a back and forth than just the interviewee listening to the interviewer talk.

    5. ele4phant*

      “I’ve been given has been to be formal, wear a suit and tie, don’t talk too much…”

      I work in a “causal” organization (and by that I mean, relatively flat structure, we require people to be flexible about their roles/be relaxed and willing to pivot, and yeah, we have a pretty relaxed dress code (in the before times, my regular work outfit would be dark jeans and a nicer blouse, if I’m seeing clients I might throw on a blazer).”

      I’ll overlook if an interviewee comes in wearing a suit because you may not know the lay of the land, but…don’t talk too much?!?! Where on earth did that advice come from.

      We are bringing you in to get a sense of who you are and whether or not you would thrive in the position we are hiring for. YOU MUST TALK. You must show interest. That is how we assess you.

      I mean, don’t monologue at hiring managers the whole time, it should be a conversation, but what terrible, terrible advice.

  17. Xavier Desmond*

    I’m surprised to find some comments criticising the employer for OP2. It seems to me they gave the OP honest and genuine feedback about why they went with another candidate.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I don’t think anybody is blaming either the employer or the OP: it’s just a case of different styles.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        I’m definitely not implying the OP is to blame, as you say it’s just different styles, but the first comment on here is saying the the employer doesn’t value competency.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          I, too, was surprised by responses pretty much saying that the company must be a bunch of lazy sots who don’t value excellence. Things are never really that binary. The company wanted to give positive feedback but had to add *something* to explain why the other candidate was chosen, and “relaxed” was the best culture fit description they could come up with.

          Also, competency tests are designed to weed out people who cannot perform basic duties of the job. The highest score doesn’t mean that’s the person who will be the best fit for the job.

          1. Jennifer*

            Agreed. Just because the OP did better on a test it doesn’t mean that the other candidate is mediocre or under qualified. The score was just one factor in their hiring.

            I have worked with people who were obviously very intelligent and competent but also came off as rude and didn’t work well with others. Not saying this is the OP at all. Just pointing out a test score is not the end all be all.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, it’s bizarre, and I think probably indicative of an inherent hostility some commenters have to employers/interviewers, where they are primed to see things as more adversarial than they are. (Frustrates the crap out of me, frankly, because I’ve apparently failed in what I’ve tried to do here if regular readers are that far off in their understanding of how this stuff works.)

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              (Frustrates the crap out of me, frankly, because I’ve apparently failed in what I’ve tried to do here if regular readers are that far off in their understanding of how this stuff works.)

              Just out of curiosity, how often are you on the other side of the table, Alison?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Meaning how often am I the job seeker? It’s been years. I think I have a pretty good grounding in the frustrations of job seekers from being one of the few people in the country who reads literally hundreds of letters from frustrated job seekers every week, which is why I’m able to speak to those frustrations too (which I do on the reg). And yeah, I realize that some commenters’ reaction to this letter is impacted by their own experiences (with crappy employers/interviewers and with employers who use “culture fit” as a cover for all sorts of sins, including discrimination), but I think it’s misleading them here to an incredible extent. And that’s bad for them.

                My goal with this site is for readers to understand how managers think and what’s going on on the other side of processes that may be confusing or opaque to them, so they can get better outcomes for themselves; that’s where my expertise is and that’s my whole point.

                1. EmKay*

                  We appreciate you as a resource very much! :)

                  I suspect the ‘negative’ comments were made by people with a certain baggage re: crappy workplaces/managers blaming lack of culture fit for non-culture-fit-related issues.

                  I’ve been wrong before, though! :)

                2. Mynona*

                  I’ve been reading the site long enough to know that some terms trigger outsized responses in the comments, and “culture fit” is one. Some commenters can only see it as a euphemism for the good old boys club–like, there’s zero tolerance for the idea that a company would hire for anything other than quantifiable experience. It may be the term has acquired too much of a negative connotation and we need to find a more neutral term. Idk…

            2. meyer lemon*

              I think it’s really hard to brush off the idea that job interviews can feel like a popularity contest a lot of the time. As someone who is very competent and always gets rave reviews for my work but struggles to make a good first impression socially, I can’t help but notice how much of a difference charisma can make in an interview. Even though logically I realize that good employers are conducting a thorough and thoughtful evaluation, it’s hard not to interpret nebulous personality-oriented feedback through this lens.

              Also, not to impugn hiring managers’ judgment, but I think it is very hard to turn off the impulse to prefer someone you “click” with socially and find charismatic. It’s so baked into social interaction.

              1. Jennifer*

                But I don’t think it’s such a terrible thing to want to work with someone that you click with and that you know will click well with the team. I don’t think that’s a high school popularity contest. FWIW, there are teams where everyone is introverted and prefers to keep themselves and communicate over email or instant message. Someone who is super extroverted and likes to spend a lot of time chit-chatting instead of getting to the point probably wouldn’t be a good fit there. There are letters here like that all the time from people annoyed by their coworker that never shuts up. This doesn’t just favor the “popular kids.” Being a shy nerd will give you in edge in some places too. It seems like people are projecting high school drama onto this situation when that’s not really what it is.

            3. April 19th*

              Alison, I think you’re doing a really good job in making things less adversarial in general, but I think this hell mouth of a year has people more angry/defensive. In the past, responses to these types of letters have been more “yeah, that just happens sometimes” and less “well they’re just incompetent at hiring”.

              1. EmKay*

                Excellent point. In North America especially, everyone is struggling at various levels right now.

          3. SentientAmoeba*

            Another consideration. I once applied for a job that gave a competency test and your score was expected to be in a range based on the position you were applying for. So for an entry level job your score should be say 50-70/100, for middle management 65-85 and for a senior role, 80-100 (I’m making up numbers for comparison). I had applied for an entry level role and I scored in the low 80’s. They opted not to move forward with my candidacy because I scored too high. To them, it meant I knew too much to be happy with an entry level role, despite having ZERO experience in the field (banking) and at the time, only an associates degree and mostly retail experience. I was hurt for a bit, but now I realize I dodged a bullet if they put so much stock in a single test.
            For OP, it might be a variation of this. They scored so high that the company felt they would be unhappy doing work at the job level and therefore more intense in looking for more, higher level work. Just a thought.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I read it as somewhere between “the coin came up heads” and “it’s not you (applicant), it’s us (employer).” Cold comfort either way, though.

  18. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

    OP2 It’s possible the reason they gave was what they genuinely believed but it doesn’t mean it’s an objective truth about you or they were reaching for a reason to describe a vague preference.

    You were obviously a strong candidate -sometimes dwelling on reasons can be helpful if you’re getting early stage rejections but later stages sometimes it just the way things go and it doesn’t say anything definitive about you.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      This. Top two is good. It’s a sign that things will work out well and soon.

    2. Reba*

      Yes, they had two good candidates and one job. They had to come up with a reason to not choose one of them!

  19. Annnon*

    #5: Often, buying a house requires salary and employment history (loan approval, finance checks, etc.) Sometimes renting as well, or co-signing a loan for someone else. That could be a reason you give HR if you need to say something.

  20. Chilipepper*

    For #2, could the “relaxed culture” mean more of a bro culture or we are faaamily or something else that seems unprofessional in AAM land?

    OP 2, are there cues about the culture that you identify if you look back at your experience there? I look back on my own interviews and often don’t think there were many cues about these things.

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      It could, but I don’t get that impression here.

      I once worked for a company with about 6 satellite offices. My location was staffed with younger people my age who were very informal and had close out-of-office relationships. I eventually hated working there because it was very clique. Everyone praised my skill set, but I never felt comfortable there. I later covered a vacation for another office where the environment was polite but not the boundary-crossing hell my office was. My coworkers told me no one liked going there because they were old and quiet. Spoiler alert: I LOVED IT!

      The vacation shift became a permanent job and Iwas able to transfer the next week (the stars aligned). The work was the same, but the more formal environment was just better for me personally. One place wasn’t better or worse, it was just better or worse for me. That is what it appears to be for OP.

    2. JustaTech*

      “Relaxed” culture could also be the difference between “we have lots of procedures in place” and “we don’t have a lot of set procedures”. And that can range anywhere from “brand-new start-up in a minimally-regulated industry where there aren’t many standards” to “the most tightly regulated part of a very tightly regulated industry”.

      I like having some structure about how I do/present/report my work, so I wouldn’t be comfortable in a company where some people write memos and other people write slide decks.

      The personality/work traits that make someone amazing in a Quality department are very different from what makes someone amazing at research or development. Neither is bad, they’re just different.

  21. Pocket Mouse*

    #5 – I think in this circumstance, you can tell HR the reason you’re *asking for* your records, rather than the purpose you want to use them for. A simple ‘Sorry to have to ask, but this info seems to not be available in the new system yet’ should be fine—and may give the impression you’ve been accessing the info all along and recently came across a hiccup in your usual methods.

    If HR didn’t care about your reasons for wanting or needing the info with the old system, I don’t see why they’d care now. (I hope that if enough people ask, though, they’d care about making it available on demand again so staff time isn’t used on fulfilling these requests!)

    1. Generic Name*

      Oooh, good point. Sometime I’ll spend a lot of time coming up with an explanation or justification for why I want something but then I’ll realize I can simply say, “Hey coworker, could you please send me the Llama File” and no one will bat an eyelash if it’s something I should have access to.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, perfect response. “Will this feature be added? If not, can I get a copy of my history since I won’t be able to go back and get it at a later date?”

  22. JohannaCabal*

    #3 everything Alison said and more.

    Interestingly, a similar situation occurred at a previous job. Department A had an under-performing staff member on a PIP. At that time, staff members could nominate other staff members for awards for going above and beyond. The staff member in Department A was doing some work for Department B.

    Well, one of Department B’s managers nominated said staff member for the award. And they received it at the next staff meeting, to the chagrin of their manager in Department A who (rightfully) felt undermined. Naturally, this caused a lot of drama. The Department A manager actually felt this was an intentional move by the Department B manager (it may not have been…PIPs tended to be hush hush even among managers). This resulted in bad relations between the departments for awhile.

    1. shirleywurley*

      This sort of thing always makes me think two things.

      First, clearly, the PIP in question is not actually deserved or necessary and it is the result of either an incompetent manager and/or a personality clash, not because the employee actually needs such severe intervention.

      Second, if there is an actual problem with the employee’s performance, it is likely due to the incompetence or nastiness of the manager/s in question, or perhaps a toxic working environment. Therefore, the obvious fix for the “problem” is to move the employee to another team while a thorough investigation is conducted.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        It was an interesting work environment. And the staff member in question later wound up succeeding in Department C. Of course, at the time, the firm only shelled out for a part-time HR person who was only there for for two days a week from 10-3. The HR person was also more of a benefits specialist too.

        1. shirleywurley*

          True. But a PIP is meant to be an absolute last resort, when other methods of communicating with an employee haven’t worked.

          This is due to the fact that PIPs are meant to be the last-chance-corral, so to speak, before someone is laid off, and cause serious stress and distress to employees put on them. (Which, of course, tends to damage most people’s performance, not assist in improving it.)

          So, before a PIP is implemented, has the employee been spoken to? Been given a written list of job duties, so that they are well informed as to what the duties and expectations of the job actually are? Been given training? The opportunity to ask questions and improve?

          Moreover, the parts of the job where they are not performing well: is something going on that is impacting their performance? Perhaps an illness, a serious problem at home, or is a co-worker causing a problem? Have they lost an important support in the workplace which allowed them to do their job before? (All these questions are particularly important if something which never used to be a problem has become one.)

          Even more importantly, is this the job that they were actually hired (or promoted) to do? Or are the problem areas tasks that have been dumped on them when someone else left, or otherwise been moved over to them for whatever reason?

          If the employee is excellent in certain areas of the job, but not others, are you able to reformat their role? For example, if they’re really good at customer-facing duties, but not database work, can you reduce the database work and let them focus on the all-important customer? There may also be another employee who is in the opposite situation who would love to take on the database work and get rid of their customer service work.

          As a manager, I have never actually had to use a PIP, because one or a few of the above has worked. In more than 20 years in the workforce, I have seen a lot of PIPs sprung on undeserving workers who suffered badly because of it, and all because their manager was incompetent, lazy, a bully, or power-hungry. I have seen a grand total of one PIP that was actually needed, and it only worked because the manager in question used it effectively and gently to help the employee improve and learn, and the end results were actually really excellent: happy employee, happy management.

          1. Ripley Jones*

            Late to the party but this stuck out to me:

            “We have an award for customer service that he would be very deserving of for that area of his performance, but in the past we’ve had employees who won service awards while also on discipline for other areas of performance express frustration and confusion that we are patting their back with one hand and bringing the hammer down with the other.”

            How often do you have people in this position? If there is a pattern here one might wonder if there is a mismatch in job duties or if there is a need for training in your hiring practices or something…

      2. Esmeralda*

        Or maybe it’s, Third: Employee was helpful/good working with the other dept part of the time, but actually not that good doing their main job (or some key component of their main job).

        Someone outside the employee’s dept likely does not have the big picture — they only see that little bit where the employee interacts with them.

        In the OP’s letter, the employee is good at customer service, but is poor in other important areas. We’ve had employees like that: staff who the students LOVE because they are warm, caring, go above and beyond, who win awards from outside entities for their above-and-beyondness wrt students — but have been fired because they didn’t do other parts of their job (maintaining required records of interactions with the students — I don’t mean missed one or two, I mean NEVER filing a report which, if you then have to work with that student or talk to the dean about the student, is a substantial Problem with a capital P; not following through on team projects and leaving colleagues scrambling to get student favorite’s work done: not following required procedures; and so on).

  23. AndersonDarling*

    #3 Another reason to be cautious when giving awards while on a PIP: I was in a role a long time ago where my manager didn’t like me and I was put on an impossible PIP to usher me out the door while being harrassed and all other nastiness. At the same time, I was involved in a major organizational project and was given an award for my contributions. Well, I eventually quit and the day came where I was contesting my unemployment. I stated that I was forced to quit, and the company said that I was underperforming. All I had to do was tell the Unemployment Rep that I had received an award for my performance. I received the award in the last month I was at the company, while I was on the PIP, and the award came from the CEO. And it didn’t help their case that the award was gaudily presented in an expensive golden embellished frame. You would have thought that I cured cancer based on the presentation value!
    I received my unemployment.

    1. BRR*

      Wait, are you saying don’t give an award so the company can contest the employee’s unemployment claim? Because baring being terminated for cause, the employee should be able to claim unemployment (pending applicable laws of course).

      1. Antilles*

        In fact, if the company would want to wait on the award simply to dodge a legitimate unemployment claim…well, that would be a pretty noticeable sign about the type of company that OP#3 is working for.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        I’m just saying that there are bigger issues at play outside of the department.
        If I was the employee in the original story, it would motivate me to receive the award and I’d know that my manager really wanted me to succeed. If I was on the fence between giving up and making it through the PIP, it would move me toward the staying and working through my challenges.

    2. shirleywurley*

      Your story is exactly why I tend to think that PIPs (and their various international counterparts) are, for the most part, total codswallop, designed purely to try and performance appraise someone out the door via negative feedback.

      Seriously, I’ve worked in management for a long time and I have seen a grand total of one PIP which was actually required and fit for purpose.

      A frighteningly high number of these PIPs have been based on exaggeration (or outright lies) about the employee. But even if you were to take the “complaints” about the employee and accept them as the total truth, all bar a tiny handful of these PIPs were actually worthy of such a severe step. I find it quite chilling, actually.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Back when I was on the awful PIP, there was another employee that somehow managed to complete their PIP and stay. It was even worse for them after they made it through the PIP and HR came up with a worse PIP shortly after.
        I just wish HR would admit they want the employee gone and give them a few months salary. It would have spared me lots of suffering if they took that route.
        But have have seen well used PIPs to help struggling employees. Sometimes a manager isn’t communicating their expectations clearly and sometimes it’s the employee that isn’t hearing the expectations correctly. Having everything written down with clear goals can be helpful if everyone is working together.

      2. Quinalla*

        Yikes, that’s unfortunate! I’ve been lucky that PIPs I’ve been involved with at my company (I stepped up to an acting managerial role for about a year while they did a search – I did NOT want that job permanently because it is a bad fit for what I’m good at, though not opposed to management) were all genuine and also upper management was willing to fire people when they just needed to be fired and not drag it out with an unnecessary PIP. Anyway, that sounds frustrating for sure and a big waste of everyone’s time!

      3. TWW*

        If I were ever put on a PIP, I would go home and start job hunting. In my experience a PIP is a not-subtle hint that you’re expected to resign within the next several weeks.

    3. JSPA*

      See, I see this as a reason to give the award. Equally, if the person is let go, a recent award is something they can put on a resume.

      I’d use it as a way to say, “knowing you’re so excellent in this one important way makes me want to double down on insisting that you fix your other problems, so that we can keep you. So I’m asking again: is there is anything you need from us that might help you diagnose or troubleshoot the root cause or the triggers for your serious, possibly job-ending attendance and scheduling issues?”

  24. Lifelong student*

    If you want salary history, in the US you can obtain your social security record very easily by setting up an account on the Social Security web-site. There is a report that includes all your social security and medicare covered earnings for each person. I have a copy of mine which goes way, way back to my first earnings! Sources are not given so if you had multiple jobs in any one year it is not going to break that out.

    1. Natalie*

      Anything deducted pre-tax won’t be included in that, namely health insurance and retirement savings. If your job provides benefits, your social security earnings are thousands to tens of thousands lower than your annual salary.

      1. Natalie*

        Oops, getting my retirement benefits confused. Employee deferrals would be reported to SSA but not employer match.

        1. Natalie*

          Sure, but the LW seems to be able to get something more exact, by asking their payroll department.

  25. Christine*

    #3-Giving an award while they are on PIP. That’s an extremely mixed message. If you end up having to terminate the employee that may leave you open to wrongful dismissal accusations. Make sure your PIP paperwork is airtight and don’t muddy the situation with mixed messages.

    1. XF1013*

      The award also sends mixed messages to everyone else on staff if that person is fired. The post-termination rumor mill is bad enough, and people already worry about whether they’ll be treated fairly after seeing a co-worker fired. There’s no need to fuel that controversy.

  26. Roscoe*

    I think people often take the “culture fit” thing a bit too personally. Its not an indictment about the type of person you are, nor is it a value judgement. Its just saying we think this other person would fit in better.

    Most people do some version of this on their own. When people start a new job and make their “work friends”, they are choosing the people who they feel more comfortable with. That doesn’t mean they think the others are necessarily bad people, just that for whatever reason, they think the others fit better with their personality.

    But as someone who works much better in relaxed environments, I can tell you, I’ve left interviews before knowing that the company wasn’t for me, because of culture fit. If an applicant can make that choice and feel that way about a company, I’m not sure why people find it so much worse for a company to feel that way about the applicant.

  27. DiscoCat*

    Taking this thought further, how do we define how relaxed we, our friends, colleagues or workplace are? There is a lot of merit in hiring someone who *fits* the culture or seems easy going/ adaptable enough, but the downside is that it gets taken too far: A lot of workplaces have/ had a pattern of hiring only people who are *from* a certain culture. If “relaxed” includes telling sexist and racist jokes, or bros hiring other bros from from their own socio-economic biotope then they’re not hiring for merit, skill, experience and diversity. The “relaxed” stands in for something far less innocuous.

    1. Sabine*

      I always like having challenges to the culture, even if it’s something innocuous like a couple of extroverts who will greet everyone in an introverted office.

      At a previous job they were big on culture fit which resulted in a quarter of one team all being from the same tiny alma mater and another being mostly from the same religious group. This was how the company stayed incredibly white despite the city and industry diversifying.

    2. JustaTech*

      I think it’s interesting to think about the whole relaxed vs formal workplace on several axes.
      There’s dress code (suit vs jeans).
      There’s sociability inside a department (how much do people chat with their close coworkers)
      There’s sociability outside a department (how much do people chat with people from other departments)
      There’s internal work hierarchy (you must only go up the chain of command and only senior people may speak across departments vs there’s no reason to involve the bosses for simple requests across departments)
      There’s internal work structure (this is our format for meetings, this is our format for reports)
      There’s external work structure (regulated industries like finance, aerospace, pharma vs less regulated industries like tech, media, sales).

      It’s possible to be relaxed on several of these fronts and formal on others.

      But you’re right than when people hire for “culture fit” they’re often only thinking about sociability within the group, which, as you say, leads to a lot of homogeneity.

  28. OP1 Here*

    Hi I’m OP1!

    So I did end up turning down the other job offer for multiple reasons – even without factoring in the bonus, they couldn’t match or exceed my current salary; it’s a newer business in a more risky industry; it would be a lateral move in terms of responsibility; and more.

    But I’m loving all these comments about the bonus because this is totally something new to me! To answer some questions the best I can – Boss has phrased this as her commission bonus, so when she brought it up in 2020, it was for 2020 business, which should wouldn’t receive until this summer. I have no idea if it’ll come directly through my payroll or hers and then she’ll gift it to me separately. There are two people, myself included, she’s sharing it with, and the other person is getting more because she’s been here MUCH longer than me. I’m not sure how it’ll be taxed, so I’ll write in an update when it all plays out!

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      I’m willing to bet that she phrased it as sharing “her” bonus, but it’s going to be the company reallocating part of her bonus to you – not that she’s going to write you a check out of her own bank account.

      It would be VERY odd to have the latter scenario and could cause all sorts of issues for the company. Companies have rules around how they pay employees, and can’t funnel money through other people (so, even if she were taxed on it and then paid you, the IRS may be missing out on employment taxes, and they don’t take too kindly to that – there are all sorts of laws at play here.)

  29. Luke G*

    OP1: As a manager, if I’m giving anything to my employees out of my own pocket (regardless of whether it’s filtered through the company for tax purposes), that’s always to say thank you for work they’ve already done, not to create an obligation for them in the future. Sure, part of why I do it is to help with retention- happy, appreciated staff are more likely to stay- but I know full well it’s not guaranteed. Something that comes at a personal cost is a personal gift, and personal gifts shouldn’t come with strings attached.

    1. OP1 Here*

      Thank you for this perspective! Ideally, I would not want to leave soon after a bonus, as a sign of returned good faith, and I did end up turning down the other offer for various reasons (which also came with a deadline too early, so I would have had to let the bonus go). But if the stars align this way in the future, I’ll be prepared!

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, exactly. You’re saying thank you, not trying to create an obligation.

  30. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m really hope I’m.wromg but couldn’t the company use “wasn’t relaxed enough for us” as an excuse to hire someone else.

    I’m curious if the LW is a woman or
    is a person of color or from other marginalized groups.
    I know that cultural fit is important but it does seem to be an excuse

    1. Colette*

      It’s possible – but it’s possible that the OP came across as more formal or more reliant on well-defined processes than they were looking for. Just because there is a possibility that it could be illegal discrimination doesn’t mean that it was illegal discrimination.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I’m just saying if the company is made up of majority white men, and LW is a black woman, and the company hires a less qualified white guy for the role under the guise that he fits the company culture more, then there’s a problem with the company.

        1. Natalie*

          I don’t really understand the point of mentioning that if a bunch of things were different, it would a be different situation.

        2. JustEm*

          I’m not sure there’s any indication the other person was less qualified though? There were two top applicants, both presumably qualified, and only one job — they had to eliminate one somehow. Testing well does not necessarily mean more qualified or better fit for the job.

        3. Colette*

          That’s a lot of ifs.

          But even if the company is majority white men, that doesn’t make every woman or person of colour a good fit for the way they do business. If their business is not a good fit for every woman or person of colour, that’s a big problem – but they could be a good fit for most without being a good fit for every one.

        4. Roscoe*

          And we have no proof of any of that.

          Sometimes this comment section likes to take a tiny bit of information, and extrapolate the worst possible scenario and make judgments.

          So sure, you COULD be right. This could also be a situation where the hiring manager was sexually into the other applicant and thats why they got the job. Based on the information we have, both are equally plausible.

          If, If, If, If. We could spend all day trying to make up scenarios that aren’t based in reality. But that doesn’t really help anything.

        5. James*

          While that’s something to look out for, none of that is evident in the letter. The most reasonable explanation, given the letter, is that they had two candidates that were equally qualified and one was a better fit. It happens, a lot. Making up stories in order to attribute nefarious machinations for what is, in all honesty, a routine business practice (not hiring a potential candidate) multiplies entities unnecessarily.

        6. Observer*

          I’m just saying if the company is made up of majority white men, and LW is a black woman, and the company hires a less qualified white guy for the

          That’s a lot of if there. And there is nothing to indicate that any of these are true. On the other hand, the feedback, while still vague was a lot more specific than just “not a good fit” by itself.

          Absent evidence, jumping to discrimination is not all that useful.

        7. ele4phant*

          You are inserting a whole bunch of assumptions here – both about the LW’s and her competitors race and gender, and about her competitor’s qualifications. They could have equally as well as the LW, AND had a workstyle that seemed a better fit for how the organization works. For all we know, they could both be white men. Or they could both be BIPOC women.

          It COULD be true, but we have no indication that any of it us, so why insert it?

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      The company doesn’t need an excuse though. They were choosing between two presumably good candidates and they don’t really need to justify their decision to anyone. Yeah it’s possible they are terrible people and are covering up discrimination or something, but with just the information given there is no reason to think they weren’t just trying to give OP honest feedback. If they really believed based on their interactions (hopefully on things OP said or reacted to about their culture rather than just because OP was on interview-best behavior) that OP would be happier in a more corporate environment it seems useful to share that.

    3. Forrest*

      This is always a danger with “culture fit”– but equally, it can cover things like hierarchical vs flat, how bureaucratic things are, entrepreneurialism, dress codes, formality in emails, how quickly things change, whether the main focus is on money, systems or people– all really critical stuff that makes a *huge* difference to how teams and individuals work, and how happy/miserable/successful you are at work.

      All of those things can ALSO be used as a cover for discrimination– there is no hard and fast way of distinguishing “good” culture fit from “bad” culture fit.

      So yeah, it could be a cover-up for discrimination, but so could, “has more relevant experience than you” (define relevant!) “answered the skills question better” (define better!) Anti-discrimination work has to look at a whole range of hires and find a pattern, not just one or two, because it’s very easy to hire in a discriminatory way and make it look identical to hiring in a non-discriminatory way if you’re looking at an individual hire.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      … and this is why companies don’t like to give feedback when they reject people. They gave her a perfectly understandable reason, as others here have explained, and now they’re getting “it could be an excuse.” It could be! But there’s zero that indicates that it is.

  31. James*

    #5: Not sure how your company works, but at my company we maintain internal resumes. These are sometimes submitted to regulators and clients to demonstrate competence in certain areas–tribal groups like to know that you’re a legit archaeologist, for example–and sometimes we request them for internal jobs–quality control on a high-risk construction job, for example. Many of us update these annually or semiannually, about the same time we do our interviews, but many people, especially those on long-term assignments, forget. So it’s not unusual for us to ask for that sort of information. If anyone asks saying “I’m updating my internal resume; realized I hadn’t done it in a while” is sufficient.

    Of course, the difference between an internal resume and an external one is where you send it. I’ve known more than one person update their internal resume and send it out as part of a job application. It’s part of doing business; while no one likes the idea of an employee leaving we don’t hire stupid people, and we’re handing them tools to build their careers.

    #3: That nearly happened to me. I was almost put on a PIP, and the next week got an award. The PIP was for one thing, the award for something else. My boss was disconcerted, but for my part I got the message. Then again, I’m the type that focuses on improving what I do wrong (the good stuff doesn’t need my attention; it takes care of itself). If the employee in question is that type you should be fine. If not, you can use the award as an opportunity to discuss how they can improve–it’s a positive thing, and saying “I knew you were a great employee, we need to see more of this!” is a nice way of telling someone they need to improve.

  32. Not So NewReader*

    OP1. You know you best. I think that I would have to stop and think about this one also. Could I quit soon after, keep the money and still live with myself.

    One huge thing in your favor is this is unplanned (meaning unbudgeted) money. You don’t need this money to pay basic bills with–I could be mistaken but this is what the letter sounds like to me. Given that, this takes the question out of the rock -and-hard-place scenario. If you gave it back, you’d still have your home and food on your table.

    So if I were in this type of situation it would boil down to “can I live with myself?”.
    The first thing that comes to mind, is that I want to be closer to the time where I receive the money. As it stands now you could be out of there before the money even arrives. End of problem.

    On the other end of the possible outcomes you could have a job offer and be waiting for the timing to give notice. Here I’d consider just accepting the check and not cashing it. Once I gave notice I could just hand the check back. End of problem.

    I think the most difficult scenario is if you have one or more openings that you have applied for and you don’t know where you stand. And she gives you the check. Here I might consider cashing it into my bank account but not spending it. If an opportunity came up a month or two later, I’d consider asking her if she wants it back as part of giving notice.

    I guess my punchline is that if this bothered me to much degree then I would just talk to her about it. Offer the money back. If she says no, then the money would be mine and I could live with myself knowing that I tried to make it right in my own way.

    I’d like to point out that this money is for work ALREADY COMPLETED. It’s not for future work. Yes, it’s supposed to give you incentive to stay with the company and work hard. But it’s main focus is on past work. I don’t think that technically, you “owe” anything here.
    I am kind of chuckling because if this were a bad, evil, toxic boss, we’d all be saying, “Pocket the money and be on your way! They owe you for putting up with their toxicity.” It’s funny/odd how that is harder to say if the company/boss is even halfway decent.

    1. OP1 Here*

      Yes, these were all my feelings – this bonus would be super awesome to have and put in my savings, but I don’t need it for bills/food/to live. And my boss, while not always my favorite person, is a good boss and looks out for me. I know she has my best interests at heart, so there would definitely be a part of me that would feel guilty for taking a bonus and leaving right after, even for work already completed. (Though then I feel the need to challenge myself – would I feel guilty because I’m a people-pleaser, or because it’s something to actually feel guilty about?)

      In this case, the other offer ended up not panning out to be worth it, so I’ve turned it down, but I’ve wondered about this question in the past, so between Alison and all the great commenters, I’m happy to have more perspectives to consider if this is a situation I’m ever in again!

  33. Jenna Webster*

    OP3, at the last 2 places I worked at, no one who was on a performance plan was eligible for any award, except as part of a team. It really doesn’t make sense to award someone you may end up firing. Even if they’re good at one thing, I agree that it really does send a mixed message. Let them focus on improving what needs to be improved. If they’re great with customers, they can be awarded for that later.

  34. MissBaudelaire*

    If I was placed on a PIP and then got an award, I would feel so confused and not know which way to turn. It would feel like getting A’s on all the homework and then flunking the test.

    1. James*

      I think it depends. If you’re getting an award for the thing you’re on a PIP for, yes, it would be as you say. If, however, you got an award for something completely different I don’t think it would send mixed messages. Just because you flunked your math test, doesn’t mean you can’t ace your history test.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think people understand you can be really bad at one part of your job and great in another. The bottom line is it’s weird and confusing to give someone an award then fire them a week later. You don’t want to give people false hope. It would be better to wait to see if he improves in other areas and then award them.

      2. yala*

        I dunno. I’m on a PIP now, and while I’d LOVE some positive feedback once in a while when I do well, I feel like an actual *award* –even if not related to the area I’m trying to improve in– would give me…maybe not exactly a false sense of security, but definitely a false sense of thinking I’m doing better than I am.

        1. James*

          I think it depends on how it’s done. In my case, the proposed PIP was for a specific issue. The award was for a specific thing I did. The two really had no overlap–being able to bring a report in on a super-tight deadline has no bearing on whether or not I occasionally drop an FID into a bucket of purge water. The two being so different, there was no real way for anyone to get confused. I was clearly doing really well in one area, and clearly screwing up royally in another, and the skillsets didn’t overlap.

          If your job doesn’t involve activities with such a wide difference I can see the award being problematic. If the award had some bearing on the PIP, or vice versa, it would suggest a certain amount of confusion on the part of management.

  35. Jared*

    To the OP from #5: I recently went through a home refinance process and they asked for similar information about salary history and job titles. You could approach HR and tell them you are in a similar process and require that information for a home refi application (if that makes sense in your situation).

  36. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – is the bonus REALLY coming out of your manager’s personal bonus, or is this a situation where the manager has a pool of money to bonus all their staff with, including themselves. I have heard of this before (and while I think it is an odd practice), I believe the idea is that the idea is to promote loyalty of employees whose managers allocate the bonuses fairly to the team, rather than taking an unfair proportion of the bonus themselves. It seems to be most common in professional services types of companies, where loyalty to the practice group and partner are just as important as loyalty to the company. Anyway, I highly doubt that your manager is going to be paying you a bonus out of their personal bank account.

    I would look into how the bonus program at your company actually works before assuming this is your manager being ultra-altruistic. It doesn’t mean the manager doesn’t value you, of course – just that these types of bonus structures are explicitly designed to promote loyalty to a practice director, and you should be aware of that and factor it into your decision making about whether to take a role with a different company.

    1. OP1 Here*

      We’re a national company with field offices all over, and I’m newer to the team, so I’m not sure how these are handled in other offices, or if this is something my boss regularly does for our team. I would guess it’s a combo – she works in sales and gets paid via commission, while we get regular salaries, so I do believe it’s mostly her bonus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if sales principals in other field offices use this same strategy. It was ultimately presented as “I have a large bonus coming next summer from commissions. If you team members work with me to make this year’s busy time more streamlined and we do well, I’ll give you X amount of that bonus when it comes.” So kind of a “thank you for your work” paired with “I’m sharing this with you because it’ll make you want to stay here” even if she didn’t strictly say as much.

  37. Kathryn*

    #3 I had a somewhat similar experience at a previous job where I received a raise that was specifically presented to me as a merit increase and then a few weeks later was put on a performance improvement plan. I questioned the merit increase the PIP, and the timing of both but my manager just sort of shrugged off my concerns and didn’t really provide me with any answers. I left the job not long after even though it meant taking a pay cut and having a longer commute to my next job.

    If you possibly can, avoid any formal award or recognition during the time the employee is on the PIP.

    1. shirleywurley*

      Sounds like a deeply incompetent manager, or some sort of office politics at play. I’m very sorry that you went through that.

      Seriously, if an employee is excellent enough in one aspect (or more) of their job to merit a pay rise or award, it is extremely doubtful that a PIP (or similar) is actually needed. PIPs are meant to be a last resort, and employers don’t tend to hand out awards and pay rises willy nilly. Unless whatever “problem” an otherwise great employee is displaying is putting lives and/or health at risk, try talking to the employee first, instead of just jumping straight to a PIP so you can flex your boss muscles. Ugh.

      (Then again, I have also seen PIPs handed out to try and rob people of legally-required pay rises, and to illegally extend people’s probation periods. In most cases, this wasn’t actually personal: the poor employee had the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time while office politics and ego battles between management played out. It was awful.)

  38. Jennifer*

    #2 I hope you don’t get into your head too much about this. I had something similar happen to me and it can be frustrating when you did nothing wrong. I don’t think the company did anything wrong either. One thing to remember is that if you had accepted the job, you probably wouldn’t have been happy there long term. Better to know that now than have to go through another job search again in a few months.

  39. La la la*

    #3- Do NOT give the award while this person is on a PIP. On top of confusing the employee, it puts your company in a vulnerable position. I can’t even count how many cases I’ve had to defend where a person’s employment was terminated for poor performance, the employee turns around and sues for discriminatory wrongful termination, and we can’t credibly rely on a poor performance defense because the company gave them awards or performance bonuses even though they were a TERRIBLE employee.

    1. shirleywurley*

      May I ask why these supposedly terrible employees were bestowed with performance bonuses or awards?

      I’ve been in management a long time and I have never seen a terrible employee recognised in such a way. Indeed, most genuinely good employees don’t receive such recognition.

      (I don’t mean to be argumentative. I’m genuinely curious. Especially as I’ve seen other managers weaponise PIPs to either flex boss muscles or get rid of good employees that they find threatening or what have you.)

      1. Jennifer*

        I wonder if the company had an “everybody gets a trophy” kind of culture. I worked for a company once where everyone had won some kind of “award”. I guess they didn’t want anyone to feel left out but it’s counterproductive.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Short answer: Terrible managers.

        Longer example: I took over a department where half of the employees were underperforming. My general assumption is that most people want to do a good job, but they need to know management’s definition of what a good job is. So, I reviewed all of their processes and wrote up new procedures. I got training for everyone, and did one-on-ones on a regular basis. Most of the staff responded well. Two employees refused to change anything they were doing. One ended up blowing himself up spectacularly by bring HR into the process, so we put him on a very basic PIP which he refused to follow, saying “This is stupid. You can’t tell me how to do my job.” Right before this guy was to be let go, my boss (who was involved in the process) intervened, saying “He’s bad but he has a family to support. Why can’t we let him stay on?” The boss then created a position for the other underperformer, saying “I spoke with him and he says he’s bored so a promotion will give him encouragement.” They stayed. I found a position in another department.

    2. TWW*

      Isn’t it possible that a person could be the company’s top-performing salesperson while also consistently failing to show up for staff meetings, or something like that? As long as it’s clear that the reward is for a task not included on the PIP, why would that be a problem?

  40. yala*

    How often should you be getting feedback while on a PIP? I’m about a month in, and tomorrow’s our first check in specifically related to it, and I’m just terrified that there’s still problems that I just haven’t been told about as they occur. There wasn’t really a time frame laid out in mine, so when I saw you say “a couple of months” I kind of panicked.

    1. Sondheim Geek*

      Are you still having regular (hopefully weekly) check-ins with your supervisor? If so, they may be using those as times to talk about any issues they’re still seeing rather than setting up a specific meeting only dedicated to the PIP. When I was on a PIP I had one check in with my supervisor and HR at the beginning, then weekly check-ins with my supervisor which included discussion of how my improvement was going. I don’t think I met again with her and HR specifically about my PIP until about a month later (I was showing improvement, but I ended up getting a job elsewhere that was better suited my skills and career goals).

      1. yala*

        I am still having the weekly check-ins, but I don’t get feedback. They last about three minutes. I guess I could ask at the meeting if she has any feedback relating to the PiP, but that makes me nervous for a number of reasons (I know it sounds silly, but I worry she’d see it as me overstepping, or being demanding, because if she had feedback, she’d give it to me. Also, it feels a bit like being asked to be slapped, what with the whole RSD. That part I know I need to get over, but also I’m just kind of frustrated, because I thought the purpose of these meetings WAS for her to give me feedback.)

        1. LizABit*

          What is she going over with you in these weekly meetings? If she’s providing examples of errors or reviewing areas needing improvement, that is feedback. If not, I’m wondering what she’s spending those few minutes doing??

          1. yala*

            She asks if I have any questions about what I’m currently working on. If I do, I ask. If not, that’s pretty much the meeting. Sometimes one of us lets the other know about appointments/etc in the coming week that might impact work schedule.

            Like. I know I probably should use the question time to ask for feedback. But I also feel like if she had feedback ready for me, she’d give it to me? So if she’s not saying anything, then maybe she hasn’t had time to check things over?

            1. Allonge*

              There is no better way of finding out than asking her, sorry. Managers are human, they forget, they are uninformed, they have a hundred otehr things on their plate. Ask her.

              1. yala*

                Well, I officially don’t know what the weekly meetings are for, because apparently she’d been finding small errors in my teapots (which I hadn’t put on the inspection line yet) for weeks, but never mentioned it at all in any of the weekly meetings this past month. If I’d known my teapots had been moved to the inspection line, I could have double-checked them in smaller batches instead of waiting until I’d finished the end of the order to go through and touch up.

                I don’t think it’s forgetting, I think it’s very on purpose. I don’t know why she wouldn’t want to let me know about a problem that I could easily address and refrain from repeating in the future sooner rather than after it’s become a Big Thing.

                But yeah, I guess that means I’m going to have to ask and ask specifically. I just really wish I didn’t have to.

  41. Allypopx*

    Followup question re: OP1 – since this isn’t company money, could the manager theoretically ask for the money back if the OP left quickly? I’m wondering if that’s something else to consider.

  42. Safely Retired*

    Regarding #3 and the PIP, my first thought was to wonder how the PIP is being handled. It could be “fixing it is up to you”, or it could involve coaching, perhaps even training. It sounds as though it is an employee worth trying to save.

  43. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP #5: A cover story for the salary information might be that you’re responding to an industry organization’s salary survey, which helps them collect market information to inform the professionals in your field.

  44. SongbirdT*

    Re: #3 – I feel like there’s a whole spectrum of grey area here that wasn’t addressed.

    If your employee is so good with customers, so excellent that you believe they deserve an award for it, can’t you find a way to make accomodations for the areas they’re not as strong in? For example, is there someone else on the team who is great at managing the finer details and tasks, but merely tolerates the customer-facing aspects of the role who would be willing to take on PIP employee’s tasks while PIP employee takes their customer interactions, essentially turning them into a team that works together to cover all aspects? Is the lateness thing something that could be remedied by slightly adjusting their start time or by giving them an arrival range of times?

    Maybe my perspective is clouded by being a mom to an adhd kid, but I can totally see Kiddo in a situation like PIP employee and it pains me that we as a society can’t seem to let go of traditional expectations in the workplace and find creative to work with people to accommodate their skill gaps rather than just fire them because they don’t excel at every aspect.

    I acknowledge that this isn’t possible with every job, but I think it is possible with more jobs than we think, if we just tried.

    1. Bricolage on the Brink*

      I was thinking along similar lines – especially since this is not the first employee to be considered for a (assuming customer) service award while on a PIP at this organization.

      If this is a pattern among your staff, perhaps your hiring processes aren’t adequately finding the balance between customer facing and behind the scenes responsibilities. Or, perhaps the expectations around this behind-the-scenes work aren’t in alignment with what is reasonable?

      It may be that there were several distinct cases that have no connection, but this pattern would flag to me that there may be *something* going on here.

  45. your LGBTQ work friend*

    I wonder if OP #2 is a man of color or a woman of any race? If so, something else might be at play, if the workplace is mostly staffed by white men (and especially if a white man was chosen over OP): hidden discrimination within the “not a good cultural fit” explanation. Women and people of color are often perceived, in the workplace, as more uptight — because they have to BE more uptight in order to guard against a variety of possible harms (e.g., sexual harassment or stereotyping). So, IF OP is not a white man AND if the workplace they visited was mostly white men, then I would want to carefully ask for more info about exactly how they were not as good a fit as the other candidate. I the candidate is LGBTQ+ and consequently on guard when visiting a mostly straight workplace, same.

    1. Roscoe*

      Oh my god. Does this sub have to jump to discrimination for EVERYTHING. I’m black myself, so I get discrimination. But geez, there is absolutely nothing to indicate any of this. You can make up as many stories as you want. What if its nepotism at play? What if the other person bribed the manager? And you have an equal amount of evidence of any of those.

      I think understanding discrimination exists is important. Jumping to that for every single thing just is not helpful

    2. Broadway Duchess*

      I feel like if there were those issues at play, it would’ve been specified. BIPOC and women tend to be good at sussing that out. It seems like scenarios are veering on imagination here.

    3. Observer*

      So, IF OP is not a white man AND if the workplace they visited was mostly white men, then I would want to carefully ask for more info about exactly how they were not as good a fit as the other candidate.

      Aside from the fact that there is simply zero reason to believe this is going on, this is one of the worse pieces of advice I’ve seen on the site.

      There is no way the employer is going to give the OP something that they can actually use to make a case. On the other hand, it could really do them a lot of harm to start this kind of digging.

      1. serenity*

        I think Alison is exactly right upthread when she says she feels disappointed that so many commenters are taking perfectly valid (presumably) feedback and making some really unhelpful speculative leaps or putting words in the mouth of the hiring manager. Some of the reactions are verging on paranoia.

  46. winter frog.*

    If I were the interviewer giving feedback to OP2, I don’t think I would have given the feedback as described. I get that the person was probably trying to soften the blow and let OP2 that she did nothing wrong, but the feedback given is not really actionable and could hurt the company in the long run. It’s implied that OP2 wasn’t selected because her personality doesn’t fit with the established company culture, but that’s not something that can be “fixed”. I would be concerned that it will discourage OP2 (who is an otherwise stellar candidate) from applying to future openings at the company. And discouraging excellent candidates from applying can’t be good for the company, right?

    If I was the interviewer, I would have simply said to OP2 that she was an excellent candidate, and that the other person was just a little better and left it at that.

    If OP2 was the only qualified candidate, would they have passed on her simply because of perceived fit? Or would they have tried to make it work? If they would have passed on her anyway, then ok, maybe it’s good to know that they think OP2 wouldn’t fit their relaxed culture. But if they would have hired her in that scenario, then anything that might discourage her from applying again is a bad idea.

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      I think that was the point, though. There is nothing that OP did wrong. OP doesn’t have anything to “fix,” it just came down to gut feel. OP’s application materials are strong, interviewing skills got her to top 2… her job is out there. It just wasn’t this one.

    2. MissBaudelaire*

      I feel like that was why they gave that feedback. It was nothing OP did or did not do. It was a personality fit, and OP’s personality is their personality. You’re right, there was no fixing it, because there’s nothing to fix. It wasn’t that OP was a bad person or anything, it was just that they weren’t a great fit. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

      I almost think of interviewing like dating. They can think I’m a nice enough person, but if it isn’t right it isn’t right. And the same goes for me. A job can be a fine enough job, but if it isn’t for me no one is going to be happy about me being there.

      It doesn’t matter if they would have passed on her if she was the only qualified candidate. It matters that in this situation, they weren’t the best fit. No hard feelings on either side, best of luck.

      1. k*

        The difference between interviewing and dating is that you are not required to have successful dates in order to keep yourself alive. If you do not have successful interviews then good luck eating or having shelter.

  47. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    OP5: Ask for a verification of employment with wages for however many number of years you need. I do these often for staff that are purchasing or refinancing a home, or are need to recertify their participation in certain programs.

  48. Genny*

    OP 4, it sounds like you’re describing the Presidential Management Fellowship program. If that’s the case, go ahead and reach back out to the hiring managers, but often times the people manning the tables at the PMF hiring fair are Agency PMF coordinators, not necessarily hiring managers. They can certainly pass your interest along to the actual hiring managers, but they may not have much say in expediting the process. However, everyone knows how the system works and you won’t be penalized for being up front about your situation.

    Again, assuming this is the PMF program, if Job A gets you into the job series or Department you want to be in, don’t worry too much about it not being the perfect fit for your long-term career goals. It’s a lot easier to move around once you’re on the inside. Plus, you can also use your rotations to network with those offices that are better fits for your long-term career goals.

  49. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    OP2: Hiring is de facto graded on a curve, which most other things don’t have to be. In a class, if four people all get 100% on an exam, the teacher can give them the same high grade. For hiring, if there’s one position, they have to decide between the candidates, sometimes on the basis of things that seem small; in theory, they could even toss a coin, and then the recruiter is left saying “you were one of two excellent candidates, and they chose the other one, I’m sorry.”

  50. Silicon Valley Girl*

    #2 doesn’t have to be so wild or nefarious as some commenters have suggested. I immediately thought the candidate could be a formal, suit-&-tie type from an East Coast corporation interviewing at a Silicon Valley start-up where everyone’s in shorts & T-shirts, riffing on ideas around a foosball table (where the candidate & interviewer/potential coworkers are all white cis-males). Because I’ve seen that that happen plenty of times! Sure, the less “relaxed” person can learn to fit in, but if there’s 2 otherwise equal candidates & one is more formal & one is more “relaxed,” the qualified one who fits in will get the job.

  51. Delphine*

    My boss once felt a candidate for a position we were interviewing was too “corporate” for our culture. Based on what? Something neither I nor my colleague who was also part of the interview process could see. I appreciate the importance of cultural fit. But I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of something so subjective being appraised over the course of a couple of interviews, where candidates are often trying to convey a specific image and are also likely to be nervous. I think cultural fit can easily become a dog whistle for sexism or racism, and even when it’s not, it is the part of the evaluation that is most likely to be affected by an interviewer’s biases.

    There are legitimate ways and thoughtful ways to evaluate cultural fit. But do I believe that most companies are being that thoughtful? No, I don’t. Even in the OP’s case, “relaxed” is so subjective. Telling a candidate they’d be a better fit for a corporate company? I can’t imagine that any employer would be able to see how relaxed I am based on my interviews.

    1. Observer*

      I appreciate the importance of cultural fit. But I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of something so subjective being appraised over the course of a couple of interviews, where candidates are often trying to convey a specific image and are also likely to be nervous.

      It’s a legitimate problem. But employers don’t really have much choice.

      I just had a conversation that illustrates how important this can be. We need to purchase a particular piece of equipment. Due to regulations, I needed to spec out a less desirable item. The regulation in question kicked in over a really minor issue. But that’s just the way it is. For some people this kind of nitpicky regulation would make them CRAZY. I don’t love it, but I roll with it. But we’ve had others who are good at their jobs who simply could not cope with this kind of thing, and it affected them and everyone around them.

      Evaluating this is like evaluating any other aspect of the potential employee – you’re working with very limited information. You just have to do the best you can and focus on the things that really can have an effect.

    2. Roscoe*

      But again, the issue is that SOMETHING was going to tip the scales one way or the other. If OP was a good candidate, sometimes it comes down to those intangible things that are hard to articulate. Maybe its a gut feeling. Maybe you just liked that person more and working with them seems like it would be slightly more pleasant. But if you have 2 people and either can be good, this seems to be very valid to me.

  52. k*

    #2 is incredibly depressing. I’m not a relaxed person. I’ll never be a relaxed person. I also don’t fit in most places and have a lot of trouble making friends and getting people to like me. Unfortunately I need a roof over my head and food to eat, and I can’t tell my landlord or the grocery store that I can’t pay them because nobody wanted to hire me because I wasn’t relaxed.

      1. k*

        But the concept of “cultural fit,” and the idea that it is acceptable to block someone from ever making a living because of it, is widespread.

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          But different companies have different cultures. They just said they thought OP would be a better fit in a more traditional corporate environment.

          And choosing one candidate over another isn’t blocking anyone from making a living, that’s just how hiring always has to work. If they only have one position then they have to choose.

        2. Roscoe*

          You aren’t being blackballed from working ever, you are just not right for THIS company.

          Can you honestly say you’ve never interviewed at a place that you didn’t think was the right fit for you? You probably have. So what is the difference from you making that decision and them making it about you?

          1. k*

            I’ve interviewed at plenty of places I didn’t think were a comfortable fit. But I don’t care, as long as they pay me. The right fit for me is a job that employs me and continues to employ me.

        3. ele4phant*

          There are a wide range of work cultures out there. Even firms that do the exact same thing may cultivate very different environments. For every firm that is flat, flexible, and casual, there are others that have rigid hierarchies and protocols, that are more formal.

          If you aren’t able to find a good fit ANYWHERE, there’s something more going on that may be making you come across as a less appealing candidate, or you are targeting the exact wrong types of firms and switching that up may mean more success for you.

          Good luck to you, it sounds like you are in a rough spot, hopefully you hit the right place soon.

  53. ThePear8*

    #4 – yes, ask them! Allison is right that given the circumstances, it’s probably fine for you to at this stage.
    I’d like to share an experience I had while in the interview process for two different internships last year – I received an offer from Company A on a Thursday, and they wanted my response by Monday. I told Company B that I had an offer and when they needed my response by, but I was still interested in interviewing with them and being able to learn more about their opportunity before I made my decision. I was impressed by the fire it lit under their butt! The recruiter called me back in 15 minutes with an interview scheduled for me the very next day, and an hour after that interview they called and sent me an offer to contemplate over the weekend along side my second one.
    You might be able to inspire a little more speed if you reach out to the other companies you applied for and let them know.

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