my boss wants me to ask a rejected problematic job candidate to volunteer

A reader writes:

I was wondering what your thoughts are asking a rejected job candidate to volunteer at our organization. It’s a complicated situation, because the candidate has been very involved here and has a good background, except for his condescending tone, tendency to ramble, overwhelming eagerness (to the point of it being uncomfortable), and an apparent lack of self-awareness.

My first experience with this candidate (I’ll call him John) was pre-Covid. For context, I am a woman in my 20s, and he is a 50+ man. I was leading my first public event in my role, and afterwards John came up to me and started a lengthy conversation that I found very condescending. He seemed to be quizzing me on some very basic aspects of my job — things that a very entry-level person would know. I have some very specialized knowledge despite my age, and I know I might appear even younger than I am, but I strongly felt that John was trying to find some weakness or gap in my abilities. He found out that he has a more advanced degree than me and seemed to be pleased with that information. Then, he casually mentioned that he had applied for my role (by sending his resume straight to the director, ignoring the actual process) and that he “had just missed the deadline,” apparently implying that he would have gotten the job if he’d submitted his resume earlier. I later learned that this was not true and that they had chosen not to interview him. I just felt an air of sexism and entitlement after the conversation.

Fast forward to a year later, and he applied for an assistant position in my department. Due to Covid, we didn’t have any in-person events, so I had not seen him since our first interaction. During the pandemic, my department got a new manager and it was she and I who would be interviewing John. I let her know right away what my experience had been, but said that I would of course give him a fair chance. She appreciated the background.

The interview was … a complete and total confirmation of all of my concerns. Thankfully, my boss completely agreed. Just a few notes from the interview:
• The interview took most other candidates about 45 minutes. John talked for over an hour and a half, and we skipped the last four questions just so we could end it at that point.
• In both his cover letter and his interview, he talked about working with “upper-level management” on “developing an overall strategy” — things that an assistant would never do.
• He used a ton of jargon and unnecessarily complicated words constantly.
• His answers didn’t actually answer the questions. It felt like he was telling us exactly what he wanted to tell us about his background.
• His tone was way too eager, even desperate, and that was off-putting enough to make me concerned about how he might interact with the public.
• He often referenced his knowledge in the major aspects of my role, making me think he would have a hard time working under me.
• Many of his comments made it obvious that he believes he is absolutely fantastic, to the point of being overqualified.
• Throughout the interview, he launched into mini-lectures about different topics in our field, directed at my manager and me, clearly trying to educate us on them. These topics were all things we discuss and practice daily.

Honestly, even though his background seemed great on paper, it was not exceptional. He ended the interview by complimenting our “interview style” in a way that felt totally patronizing.

We hired someone else for the job, and she is working out fantastically.

My problem is, my manager and her boss both seem to think that asking John to volunteer is a good idea. We are in pretty desperate need of help in my area, and we’re expanding this summer, which will leave us even more short-handed. We don’t have the budget to hire someone. My boss was a bit reluctant, but the bottom line is that John does know this field very well, would likely be a great ambassador, and could be extremely useful. I have a few other contacts who I plan on asking to volunteer, and that makes it even more complicated — all of the other people who would make great volunteers also personally know John. He has been deeply involved and a part of many groups here, and was even part of a volunteer campaign to raise funds for our organization a few years ago.

So, on one hand, I really need volunteers, and I plan on asking the groups he’s part of if they would be interested. I would have to very purposefully avoid asking him, and at some point I think he would approach us to ask about volunteering in this particular area. And my boss and her boss recognize that I need volunteers and think John would, for all his faults, still be a very enthusiastic addition. I am just dreading the thought of training him. I can totally see him giving patronizing suggestions on my training, constantly trying to assert his own ideas and opinions, having trouble taking directions from me, and trying to prove that he should be working here.

I am stuck. I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this!

I wouldn’t ask someone to volunteer who has already demonstrated that they’re likely to be a problem. Managing volunteers is hard enough as it is; there’s no point in inviting problems into the job.

Based on what John has already shown you about himself on more than one occasion, he’s likely to take up a lot of your time and energy. He’s going to give you lessons you don’t need, attempt to do work outside of his role, and quite possibly question your directions to him and your competence. As badly as you might need volunteers, I can’t see taking that on. If John weren’t interested in volunteering, you’d find other options, right? So move straight to finding them now.

It sounds like that’s your preference but you’re concerned about your boss and her boss’s interest in bringing him on anyway. Have you told them directly that you don’t want him volunteering and why? Or have you more danced around the edges of it? If you haven’t already, try saying directly, “I’ve given this a lot of thought and it’s my strong preference not to have John volunteer. Based on my experiences with him, I think he will take up a lot of time and energy to manage and be a disruptive presence. I’d rather work on recruiting other volunteers.” It’s possible that if you, the person who’d be dealing with him most, say explicitly that you don’t want to do it, they’ll defer to you. Or they might not! But it’s worth finding out.

You can also point out that if John becomes a problem, it’ll be far more difficult politically to fire him from volunteering than it would be to just never invite him in the first place. You can fire volunteers, of course. But when you’re already anticipating problems before even approaching the person, that’s a bad sign. (If your manager does insist you invite him to volunteer, though, try to get her agreement on how you’ll handle it if problems arise — and her clear agreement that you’ll have the authority to fire him if things go badly.)

If John approaches you himself about volunteering at some point, there are a few ways you can handle that:

* You can thank him but tell him you’re all set for volunteers for now (if you can credibly say that; obviously this won’t work if he sees you’re still actively recruiting others).

* You can slow-pedal his involvement to the point of inaction, i.e., “Great, I’ll put you on our list and will let you know if we have a project come up that would be a good fit.”

* You can let him “apply” to volunteer and not select him. If he asks why you didn’t select him, you can refer to a competitive process with a lot of interest. (Again, only if you can do this credibly based on what he might be seeing in the groups you’re recruiting from.)

* If the volunteer work is relatively low level, you can give him a version of the truth: “Our sense from our interview with you is that you’re looking to do relatively high-level work and our volunteers do mainly clerical support. If something comes up that’s more aligned with your interests, I’ll let you know!” (Or if you can stomach it, say “more aligned with your skills” — he might like that.)

Also, are your boss and her boss even right that John would be a great ambassador? This is someone who rambles, doesn’t pay attention to cues, uses too much jargon, doesn’t answer direct questions, and is condescending to others. Those are not great traits for ambassadors for your organization, totally aside from how much of a pain he might be to manage.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 294 comments… read them below }

  1. Alex*

    Regardless of the situation I wouldn’t be impressed if any organisation that I had apply for paid work at came back with a suggestion that I should give them my time for free.

    1. Jennifer*

      That is kind of weird, I agree. But it sounds like the OP thinks he may approach them.

    2. Mary Anne Spier*

      Agree. John sounds insufferable, but “hey we don’t want to pay you to do this work but we’ll exploit your free labor” is not a good look.

    3. Lilo*

      Strong agreement. I think this is a bad practice generally and suggests the organization is mismanaged, to be honest. It’s suggesting there’s not a good delination between paid labor and volunteers and management is just using volunteers to plug holes.

      When you rely on volunteers you need to manage them properly and try to assign them to roles that help a particular cause or are the right kind of activities, not just “this should be a paid job but we don’t have labor for it”.

      1. Self Employed*


        And unless this is a nonprofit (and it wasn’t mentioned in the letter for length) businesses are not allowed under labor law to have unpaid volunteers. Internships are legally restricted to people in school or who have just finished and there are also restrictions on the type of job duties–they need to be more about learning opportunities than providing routine labor for the employer. (I won a labor claim against an employer who misclassified me as an intern because I was part time and always had excuses why I never got onboarded.)

        1. JustAssuming*

          She talked about him volunteering and helping fundraise in the past – to me that really sounds like a non-profit, especially if they are actively recruiting volunteers in general

    4. Blue*

      In general I definitely agree, although in this case it seems slightly different because he has volunteered in multiple capacities in the past.

      My overall suggestion would be don’t try to hide the volunteer opportunities from John, but don’t directly solicit him. If he applies or signs up, let him down as gently as possible (I think Alison’s options are great for this).

      1. Selena*

        The headline makes it sound like OP is looking to get free labor out of some schmuck whose only interaction with the company is a rejected application.

        The letter makes it clear this guy has a long history of volunteering for the company and *wants* to volunteer again (albeit with the obvious goal of eventually working his way into OPs job)

        1. TardyTardis*

          And yet all the negatives that made him not worth hiring will still be there while he’s present. I’m not sure his presence will be an asset to the company.

    5. Frank Doyle*

      I think the OP makes it pretty clear that she isn’t planning on asking John directly, but because of the groups he’s involved with and the other people he knows, he’s going to be made aware that volunteer opportunities are happening, and she’s anticipating that he’s going to volunteer to be a volunteer.

    6. MsClaw*

      That was my first reaction as well. Because reaching out to someone and saying ‘hey we didn’t want to pay you to work for us, but we’d sure love to have you give us your time and energy for free, how bout that?’ is…… mind-bogglingly tone deaf.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I think this case is different because of John’s history volunteering.

        I volunteered for an organization for years, applied for an opening, didn’t get it but have continued to volunteer for several years. The difference, though, is they had a conversation with me around the person they hired and the background they had and I completely understood why that person was chosen over me and I didn’t feel exploited at all.
        It doesn’t sound like John would even be open to that conversation though.

        1. Selena*

          John clearly isn’t as rational about the situation as you are.

          I think he very much wants to volunteer, but only so he can tell everyone what a horrible mistake the company made by rejecting his application.

      2. Carol the happy elf*

        So THAT’s where the bane of my existence went!
        “Bill” was a bloated ego, with pretentious, bombastic, sexist, know-it-all leanings, (Cliff Clavin from Cheers? On steroids?) and had a marginally bigger education than I did, but he had singlehandedly towed the Ark to the peak of Mt. Ararat, earning Noah’s eternal gratitude and 2 spare chickens.
        (both roosters, dontcha know.)

        He resented that I was a paid employee, while no manager wanted to deal with him. So. He. Volunteered. And applied, and applied. And volunteered some more. (And ate all the Good Belgian Valentines’ Day chocolate candy from the jar on my desk, but that’s a hanging offense, sadly not available to me as a solution….)
        My manager “suggested” that we offer him a volunteer title, with a desk and nameplate, and a set of front-door-only keys.

        I quickly adjusted my schedule for exclusive travel/teach for the next 6 months, and let her know that if these things happened with “Bill”, then SHE would be the lucky director to ride herd on him.

        She found him a “big fish/small pond” job that had worn out the last ten years’ worth of directors! And he got hired! Because they were desperate!

        He did well, with his overblown charm, until the first performance review 2 years later (when he threw the women overboard, but they had- at our office’s unofficial advice- kept every memo, every note, and they retired en masse.) That office got closed down, absorbed into mine, and “Bill” wasn’t seen again. We figured that the villagers took him away with torches and pitchforks, since he had made promises he could never keep.

        So good to find out where “Bill’s evil twin” landed- but don’t give him that volunteer work now unless 1) Your boss is willing to keep him on a short bridle, and 2) You have a back door to your office!

        And trust your instincts. Nonprofits overstep like crazy, and it’s easy to get sucked into the tornado of nutcake thinking. (Sorry about all the jumble of metaphorage, but reminders of “Bill” still make me a bit crazy.)

    7. Well...*

      Yea I’ve seen similar behavior from crackpots in the academy, and the kindest thing is always to disengage them. The more you fuel their fantasies that they are the best, even without paying them, the more they keep working furiously to support their own egos. It’s pretty sad and IMO not ethical to drag out by sprinkling breadcrumbs.

      1. Artemesia*

        I have observed this as well and it is MORE difficult when it is a condescending, disruptive volunteer than when it is an employee. This guy could do serious damage in the community and also make your work life miserable trying to deal with it. AND someone like this actively drives better volunteers away; would you volunteer if you had to deal with a bossy fellow volunteer who made it clear he was superior to you a mere woman and who tried to direct your volunteer work? The potential damage is far greater than any help he could bring. YOU KNOW THIS — sometimes you get a volunteer and find out the hard way, but YOU KNOW THIS. Why would you bring him on.

        1. Ama*

          Yes, I occasionally work with a volunteer who is not a John level problem but she she needs a lot of oversight and emotional management (she has twice run to my boss all upset that she “isn’t being helpful” when I have made a simple statement in a team meeting that a project she is helping with needs to kick it in gear before it misses a crucial milestone — the statement wasn’t even directed at her, but as a reminder to the whole team that we’re falling behind). If she were on payroll we’d have had some serious talks by now about her needing to stay on task and also not fall apart when everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but because she’s a volunteer and my boss personally likes her what I end up doing is trying to avoid bringing her in except when I have a very specific and limited task for her.

        2. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

          Totally agree and have experienced this too. It’s extremely difficult to manage challenging volunteers because of the natural leeway given to any volunteer as are giving their time for free.

          While volunteers don’t receive payment they are generally extended far more courtesies than perhaps a paid employee would receive (listening, engaging, making feel involved). There’s an unseen element to the exchange and it’s this part that relies heavily on social contracts and niceties – it’s this that concerns me as the individual mentioned is already giving signs of not being able to mesh well with type of exchange – especially if his labour is being unpaid, payment in terms of attention, respect is possibly likely to be sought elsewhere.

          Its also good practice to use volunteering to upskill people so there is an exchange of their time, which could be a good get out for not using him as mentioned in Alison’s answer.

          Challenging volunteers who aren’t reigned in become a headache for everyone around them paid or not. If you can show your managers these comments – they come from hard won experiences.

        3. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. An employee you have concrete steps to deal with them. Volunteers can be harder. I wouldn’t give this guy an inch. I’d lay out all the reasons he’s already been a problem and why you don’t want to bring him anywhere near your projects. Surely there are more options than this guy.

        4. DrRat*


          That’s all you need to drill into your own head and say to your boss. I have seen WAY too many organizations that took on a known problematic volunteer because they wanted to avoid offending said volunteer. What they end up doing is offending and alienating every good volunteer they have. I’m not kidding – I worked at an organization once that took on a “John” as a volunteer and within a couple of months 20 good volunteers quit because 1) they couldn’t stand him and 2) they became disillusioned with the organization because the organization made such a poor decision and stood by it. Good volunteers are worth their weight in gold. Don’t risk losing them over an egotistical blowhard.

          1. Self Employed*

            We had a bad volunteer in a group who argued with people and others left because they weren’t coming to meetings to hear bickering and whining.

          2. BTDT*

            I think the logical and rational among us think that if we use logic, rationality, and clarity of language, managers will….well… do their jobs and manage problems.

            Unfortunately, no amount of logic will sway a manager who simply refuses to fire terminally problematic volunteers. There is no amount of pain they are not willing to have others bear to avoid the horror of managing problematic volunteers.

    8. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      YEP. A someone who had that happen to me, can confirm it’s a Bad Idea. And insulting. The situation was different (I wasn’t a John; it was an org comfortable with exploiting young people desperate for experience in the throes of a recession), but it’s still unkind.

      Also, it might open John up to thinking he has a chance at a paid gig someday soon, i.e., working his way into your org. I’ve also had that from a volunteer and it ended badly when he realized that our volunteer positions weren’t a guaranteed pathway to employment at the org. He ended up ghosting. And I felt very badly for him.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        I could also see a volunteer in a similar situation spreading the word about not getting a job at the org, causing it to be harder to find volunteers.

    9. Mouse*

      It sounds like John has volunteered before, though. I think there’s a difference between asking a rejected candidate to volunteer, and asking an existing volunteer who unsuccessfully applied for a job with the org if they’d like to continue to volunteer on other projects.

      1. Denver Gutierrez*

        Agreed. We have had volunteers who applied for paid jobs and were not hired because they wouldn’t be a good fit or because another candidate was better qualified. They continued to volunteer, and if they had hard feelings, they never showed it.

        We actually love to see volunteers apply for jobs because they already know the place and what the job would entail and we knew them and had an idea of their skills and attitude. We have gotten some of our best employees by hiring volunteers. But not all of them are a good fit.

    10. LW Here*

      Hi! To be clear, I totally agree with everyone saying it’s very tone deaf and distasteful to ask a rejected candidate to volunteer. This was, obviously, very much not my idea. While my grandboss did expect me to reach out to him individually, I was more concerned about asking the groups he’s a part of.

      Also not disagreeing with Lilo that this organization is mismanaged.

    11. TootsNYC*

      this was my immediate thought from the headline, and it might be one of the reasons I gave if he asked.
      Though that wouldn’t help with a secondary “no”: “Oh, I don’t mind–it’s important to me!”

    12. lookie loo*

      but volunteering and paid work should not, by definition, cover the same tasks/responsibilities/scope. it might be tacky, but i feel like if an animal rescue (for example) didn’t hire me as an accountant but said “we certainly would welcome you to join our weekend dog-walking volunteer team” it wouldn’t seem like they were scamming me out of paid work…

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I don’t know if that is true that volunteering and paid work should not cover the same tasks.
        Every volunteer position I have even had overlapped with paid positions.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          My understanding is it isn’t supposed to overlap. If you’re paying some people to do the thing, it’s paid work. You can’t have volunteers do the thing also for no pay.

      2. Coenobita*

        Yeah, that really depends. If you both work for pay and volunteer at an organization, your *own* duties in those capacities shouldn’t overlap. But there are plenty of cases where volunteers and paid staff are doing the same tasks (e.g., my local library system has both paid and volunteer shelvers). I agree with your example, though – it’s a little tacky but not offensive or an apparent attempt to subvert labor laws or anything.

      3. MCMonkeybean*

        I agree. I imagine in the non-profit areas there are a lot of people who volunteer for various organizations regularly who would also be interested in a paid job if one came up that was a good fit. But it would (or should) presumably be for different types of work than the volunteering would be.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          At the place I worked, we had a volunteer archivist. She got hired when a part-time position opened up. Then she moved into a full-time position, and she is now the department head, supervising paid staff and volunteers, and doing a fabulous job.

      4. Ana Gram*

        I don’t think that’s true at all. I’m a volunteer EMT and have exactly the same duties as a paid EMT in my organization. It’s really not an issue.

      5. Denver Gutierrez*

        I work at an animal shelter and the duties do often overlap. Volunteers choose which departments they wish to work in and also what role or roles they are interested in. For example, if you want to volunteer with the cats, you can come in and help the staff with cleaning the cat condos and rooms, or you can do supportive work and help with washing dishes, litter boxes, doing laundry, or you can just come in and help with cat socialization and enrichment. You can do all of the above if you want.

        All of these tasks are also things staff does as well. If no volunteers come in, then staff is doing all of that. So if you become a paid employee, you are doing a lot of what you already know how to do, as well as the things that staff only does, such as administering medication to sick animals. That is why we love when good volunteers apply, because they have a good overview of the position already, need less training, and we know them and what they can do.

    13. Jim*

      So the guy applied for a job and the offer your company is planning to present him with is a salary of $0?
      Hmmm… That sounds enticing.

    14. Duh*

      True. But I would bet John would jump at the chance to volunteer. If he does it will be a nightmare.

    15. Fleapot*

      I once got a rejection email that included a line about volunteer positions being available with the organization.

      I responded to say, “I’m available on a freelance basis for [xyz], but am not looking for unpaid opportunities in my field.”

      I wasn’t an entry-level applicant who might have benefited from volunteer experience (I spent a few years in a similar role, and have a PhD). I was also in the midst of a really draining job search at the time. I would have been disappointed to get a generic “thanks, but the position has been filled” email, but that line felt like a real kick in the teeth.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        I guess it can vary; our non-profit had PhDs and other well-educated and experienced volunteers who did very specialized work. Those couldn’t have been paid positions because for those, we needed flexible generalists who could perform a variety of tasks.

        1. Fleapot*

          I’d bet that those volunteers benefited quite a lot from doing that specialized work, though. It might have been connected to their research and fed into publications and conference papers, and it was at *least* a line on a CV. For an early-career researcher, hands-on experience with an established non-profit could be a real asset in any number of ways; for a more established academic, it could be useful as a way to accrue status in the field or demonstrate a commitment to public service. I’m not suggesting that it’s not altruistic, too! But there’s undoubtedly an element of self-interest involved. It’s also good to bear in mind that in the situation you describe, the unpaid work that a tenured or tenure-track professor might do for your non-profit is effectively subsidized by the university that employs them. (Which is fine! A good thing, even.)

          Given what they do, this organization would have had volunteer opportunities that involved either 1) exactly what they’d chosen another applicant to do, and exactly what I’d done in other roles, or 2) something along the lines of setting up ticket tables for public programs or answering phones one afternoon a week. If it was the former, it was wildly inappropriate, full stop. If it was the latter, it was going to be to their benefit, not mine, and it was just not the moment to ask.

          I was also very much in survival mode at that moment. It’s one thing for somebody with an advanced degree and a secure, salaried job to choose to do specialized volunteer work for a non-profit; it’s a very different thing for an organization to request unpaid work from somebody who isn’t sure how they’re going to pay their rent.

          The next job I found after this particular rejection, btw, was doing secretarial work through a temp agency (so answering phones and typing, but at least getting $13/hr for it). There’s a lot of overlap between “flexible generalist” and “specialized work”…

    16. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

      He wants to get his foot in the door so he can start going after what he really wants.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Or, quite possibly, what he really wants in the first place is the opportunity to feel like he’s Important to this particular organization; gets to say he works there, toot his horn within the organization about how much he knows, corral managers to make them listen to his grand strategies about how to run the place, etc. He can do all those things whether he’s getting paid for the opportunity or not; getting paid for it is just a minor extra frill.

  2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    As someone who has been a volunteer leader in several non-profits, I have seen a tendency to reward people who exhibit “passion”, even if they are not qualified for the volunteer role. My recommendation: outline the downsides to your management as Alison recommends and remind your manager why neither of you were comfortable working with John.

    1. LTL*

      It sounds like OP’s boss believes that John will make a great addition because of his enthusiasm, but enthusiasm does not equal competence.

    2. MassMatt*

      It seems to me that the same qualities that make him a bad fit as an employee would make him a poor fit as a volunteer also. Your boss saying he would be good “ambassador” seems especially wrongheaded. John is a condescending windbag who ignores nonverbal cues and wastes everyone’s time because he loves hearing himself talk. And bet plenty sexist also. What part of this reads as “good volunteer”? Unless these volunteer positions are very clerical and don’t involve much interaction with others, this sounds like someone you want to keep out of your organization, in whatever capacity.

      This is on top of the optics of asking rejected candidates to volunteer for free; maybe you have a need and maybe he has volunteered before and maybe it’s the norm for your region, etc but in general it’s not a good practice.

      1. Southern Ladybug*

        Exactly. “Would likely be a great ambassador” is simply not true based on everything stated in the OP. “Hot mess of a disaster driving away people” is more accurate.

      2. Amaranth*

        It sounds like code for ‘brings in donors’ but it seems likely the people John would complain to would also hear how the organization didn’t value him enough to hire a man of his tremendous skills, so will take his opinion with a salt lick.

      3. pancakes*

        Yes to all this. It also seems very unlikely there’s any real possibility of managing him effectively, even in a limited capacity, considering that the people who interviewed him let him steamroll over their schedule and the questions they wanted to ask. “This guy wants to keep talking so we’ll just scrap our plans and let him talk himself out” is not how interviews should be handled.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Well, after a certain number of attempts, “this person is oblivious to the cues needed to not steamroll our usual interview process” is answer enough. No need to bluntly shut them down and re-direct to your remaining planned questions, as you no longer need those answers to rule out the candidate.

          1. pancakes*

            I disagree there’s no need to try to rein the candidate in. The interview went on twice as long as planned! I’m not sure I see the downside to bluntly redirecting conversation or ending the interview at the planned ending point, either – being blunt with someone who is being pointedly rude and wasting one’s tome isn’t unfair and shouldn’t be unthinkable. It’s also far from clear that a certain number of attempts were made, or that any attempt was made to firmly take back control of the interview. To the contrary, the candidate “launched into mini-lectures” more than once.

    3. Four-Eyes*

      That’s a great suggestion. If after that, they keep pushing and downplaying his issues, I would ask them directly what about him/ his skillset is making them so intent on this. This might give you a better insight on their thought process. Articulating this out loud may also force them to more accurately weigh out the pros and cons, and it may give you an opportunity to present volunteers with those qualifications that are not problematic like he is.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      Right! He wasn’t right for an assistant job that would require taking direction. Even if the volunteer role didn’t involve the same specific tasks, it would still involve the same kind of taking direction from someone else and staying in your lane, things that John clearly demonstrated he would not do.

      Personally I think John would leap at the volunteer opportunities as a way to worm his way in. He seems like the sort who would see this less as an insult and more like an unofficial opening to do all the stuff he implied he would do as an employee. Don’t let your manager be biased by thinking that just because John knows people, he’d be valuable. Those people likely know *all* about John and I wouldn’t bet on them all being eager to volunteer with him.

    5. Le Sigh*

      Also, if John is as difficult as described, he probably is a time suck rather than a time saver. They’re asking for volunteers because they’re understaffed. John sounds like he’d likely create *more* work for OP, not less, thus not only creating all the problems everyone else described, but also failing to even solve the original problem.

  3. Damn it, Hardison!*

    If John is condescending rather than collegial with potential coworkers, it’s likely he would be that way with other volunteers and even the public (if the volunteer role interacted with them). He sounds like potentially more trouble than he’s worth as a volunteer.

    1. LKW*

      Absolutely a risk. Not to mention that if he fancies himself an idea guy, he could very easily go off script, making other volunteers confused and frustrated.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yup, exactly. Having to do clean-up after an overly enthusiastic volunteer has way over-promised is always excruciating.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yep. He would think he has a foot in the door and would definitely try to get OP’s job.

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        Maybe not her job; it would be more satisfying for him to become her BOSSSS!

    3. Anonariffic*

      I was wondering about that too- LW says she was concerned during the interview about how he’d interact with the public but then says he’d make a great volunteer ambassador.

      The only thing I can see where both of those could be true would be if this organization uses volunteers for awareness events targeted at people outside their field- it’s a llama rescue group, John sees himself as the god of llama whisperers, he’s a know-it-all nightmare to peers and supervisors and new llama owners. But he’s great at school presentations or working a booth at the county fair because then he gets to show off his superior knowledge answering every question the kids ask.

    4. ursula*

      Very this. I would immediately quit any volunteer opportunity that forced me into proximity with this kind of dude.

      1. I take tea*

        So would I. My shoulders are still up at my ears from reading this. Please, just because you can get something for free, it doesn’t mean that you should bring a dumpster home. If you would not pay for something, even if you easily could spare the money, you don’t want it. Don’t take it because it’s free.
        (I sometimes fail at this when presented with books, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good advice.)

  4. starsaphire*

    Having been in similar situations with volunteer work, I can absolutely see this guy driving away a lot of interested, talented volunteers, not to mention staff.

    How many good people are they willing to sacrifice for the dubious honor of having John on board?

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, ughhhhhh, I would not want to work with John. He will be a chronic problem, he wants to be a problem, he sounds like a smug pompous mansplainer. Please don’t encourage him to work there at all.

    2. Gingerblue*

      Seriously. I would absolutely not stick around as a volunteer if this guy were part of the package.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      This was my immediate thought, too. Given what you have already seen from him, I could totally see him telling other volunteers to do things “his” way rather than the way you have directed them to do things, trying to set up his own little cult of personality, and otherwise causing more disruption than the help he provides is worth.

      1. pope suburban*

        Indeed. I’m sure that Jon is very passionate about the organization’s mission, but his behavior simply cannot be rewarded. He’ll take any offer of a position as endorsement of what he does, and his interview suggests he’ll just run amok and quite probably harm the organization in the process. Don’t create what Captain Awkward calls a “missing stair” by letting John worm his way into things, even as a volunteer. I guarantee he won’t see himself that way, he’ll see this as the start of his tenure calling the shots, and it’s going to alienate a lot of people.

    4. LTL*

      On top of that, he’d be likely to drive the public away from the organization as well given his lack of social awareness.

      It sounds like John will drain more resources than he’ll bring in.

    5. High Score!*

      THIS! I stopped volunteering at an organization that I was realty helping bc their designated “lead” is pushy and condescending. She (females can be this way too) actively shuts down everyone else’s ideas and concerns and has implemented (without approval) colossally horrible ideas. I decided my time is better spent elsewhere.

  5. HugeTractsofLand*

    Eeek yeah, if this guy already doesn’t have boundaries and common sense, putting him in a volunteer role where there are even fewer boundaries (less clear-cut ways to manage and fire him given that he’s not on payroll) does NOT seem like a good idea.

    Go with your gut, OP! You’ll save yourself so much preemptive (or eventually real) stress!

  6. Jennifer*

    Agree 100% with Alison. Don’t hire someone just to avoid a potentially awkward conversation (that may not even happen) down the line. He’s not entitled to a volunteer role just because he works with those other organizations or has an interest, or because he knows people that will be volunteering. No one is entitled to any job, volunteer or otherwise, anywhere for those reasons. I think the “slow-pedal” approach would be best, and if he is insistent, hit ’em with the truth. Good luck to you.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. It is easier to say no upfront than to unload someone later when they are a problem. Short term pain for long term gain.

  7. Lilo*

    TBH, I don’t like the concept of asking rejected job candidates to volunteer at all. It just feels like you’re using the carrot of a potential job to motivate volunteers and my experience is that tends to lead to tense and resentful situations when no job appears or you end up hiring someone else.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      And I think this is a point you could make with John but especially with your manager. “Given that he has applied to work here more than once, it would be inappropriate to ask him to volunteer. Even though we’re not offering it as a carrot or an unpaid trial run, it could easily look that way.”

      1. OhNo*

        That’s a great way to phrase it to the manager(s), if LW thinks that argument would help their cause. It’s more objective, too, which might help with the grandboss who might not have had to deal with him in person yet.

        Much as I hate to detract from the (completely valid!) argument that he’d be a bad fit, that argument can be subjective and easy for higher-ups wave off as a “personality conflict” or something else easily overcome if the employee would just try. (Do not fall for this argument if arises, LW! Listen to your gut when it says this guy would be capital-B Bad to work with!)

      2. TootsNYC*

        or it looks like you’re saying, “eh, we don’t have to hire him; he’ll stick around and volunteer,” so you’re taking advantage of him the other direction too.

    2. Littorally*

      Right, that jumped out at me too. Obviously this may be beyond OP’s scope, but is this really proper? Obviously nonprofits can and should take volunteers, but my understanding is the line between paid work and volunteer work is meant to be pretty sharp.

    3. T.J. Juckson*

      Could I also add– please, non-profits, do NOT add me to your fundraising list after I have applied for a job with you!
      Or, if I happen to work for you, call me ON MY OFFICE NUMBER to ask for money. You’re not paying me actual market rates as it is.

      1. Lalaroo*

        Omg this. Or any business, really. It sucks to apply for a job with Sony, get GHOSTED, and then start getting promotional emails about their new products when you know the only way they got your email is from your application.

      2. Mary Anne Spier*

        Geez, this. I had a phone screen that abruptly ended when I told the Christian org I did not identify as Christian, and they did not hire non-Christians (which, to be fair, I was aware of, but thought I could plead my case and also gave them fair warning on my application). Guess which org is now all too happy to solicit for my heathen dollars.

    4. Carol the happy elf*

      You’re right; playing into his hopes for a job is kind of soullessly evil and exploitative, but nonprofits can have that Macchiavellian way about them.
      They also very often don’t have a good volunteer version of an HR. So if he’s harassing the other volunteers, often there’s no way to stop his behavior- but keep him working for free.

  8. Dust Bunny*

    This sounds like your boss is not just trying to borrow trouble but is looking to buy it at boutique prices.

    This guy sounds like a pain and your employer sounds disingenuous in trying to get volunteer work out of someone they didn’t want to hire. I’m not impressed either way.

    1. Julia*

      This is beautifully phrased and seems deeply true from my reading of the letter as well

  9. Detective Amy Santiago*

    the candidate has been very involved here and has a good background, except for his condescending tone, tendency to ramble, overwhelming eagerness (to the point of it being uncomfortable), and an apparent lack of self-awareness.

    But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

    1. EPLawyer*

      BWAHAHAHAHA. This is my all time favorite joke. (yes I am a sick person).

      This person is not someone you want on board. They have already shown they think they are better than everyone else already working there. Being a volunteer will not change that attitude. But as noted, it will make other people not want to volunteer. Just because he is involved in other groups does not mean the other groups like working with him.

    2. BRR*

      Ha spot on! It’s such an advice column trope. “Other than [completely awful behavior/trait] they’re a good person.”

    3. Ms. Anon*


      Also–am I reading this wrong? but… didn’t this prize start his relationship w/LW by sussing out her resume and announcing he’s coming for her job? I would def confront my supervisor about why s/he is so gung ho on having me deal with *that* every day.

      1. BTDT*

        Having been in a nearly exact situation, my supervisor’s response was, “You need to toughen up and deal with people who want you out. That’s life.”

    4. Elle by the sea*

      Haha, really spot on!

      It also reminds me of teachers describing an underperforming student with a terrible attitude as someone who “would be talented“. That used to drive my mother, an excellent, enthusiastic and caring teacher, completely mad.

    5. DrRat*

      Everyone who now wants to marry Detective Amy Santiago, regardless of your own gender/orientation, raise your hand.

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      *joins in the screaming*

      I was just so itchy reading this….!

      *more screaming*

  10. Allypopx*

    I work with some volunteers like John and it’s a nightmare. For the staff and for the other volunteers.

    Here’s the thing: volunteer management is hard, and training and managing a volunteer like Jon, enthusiastic or not, helpful or not, is going to take a lot of resources. You’re already short-staffed and stretched thin, I would say very honestly that bringing him in is going to put more on your plate and be an active hindrance, not an asset. That might be a way to frame it to your boss, particularly if she’s already encountered him enough to see the mental and emotional toll he can take – and just in a short (ha) meeting!

    This is a land mine and I hope they don’t force you to step on it.

    1. BRR*

      That’s a good way of framing it. If you add what he’d contribute and subtract how much work/stress he’s going to be, it’s probably a net negative.

    2. Van Wilder*

      Yes, managing someone like this (paid or not) creates more work than it saves.

  11. Lilk*

    Oh my goodness, I recently interviewed this dude, apparently. It was difficult to refrain from pushing him out of the interview. He actually stopped halfway through a long-winded answer and asked what the question was because he had been talking so long, he forgot.

  12. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Put as much distance as you can between John and your organization. This guy is a problem before he even has a formal role — how much worse is it going to be when he has one?

  13. Liane*

    A few years ago there was an AAM saga (2 or 3 updates!) about a museum volunteer that this OP should read and persuade her boss and grand boss to read. This will be the future of their company/organization if they let John volunteer.
    I will post link separately.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Definitely a good read for this letter. The extremely problematic volunteer who just wouldn’t go.

      2. EPLawyer*

        I wonder if they ever got everything back. Considering the saga and they were going to take a YEAR to transition everything from the volunteer’s HOUSE to the Museum, I’m thinking not. If the OP is out there, we would love another update.

      3. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Oh god. This. Many museum volunteers are a special type of ARGH. There’s also a really interesting (BAD) sense of collective ownership that comes with museum work and is a whoooole other messy issue that needs to be unpacked. Combine that with exploitative labor practices, a need for volunteers (since they barely pay their actual workers and are consistently overextended and understaffed), and you basically have Rogue Force 1, Colonizer Style.

        Source: I am a museum worker.

      4. Message in a Bottle*

        Wow. I wonder if that OP is still at that museum. And if he still has the collections at his house. Just, wow.

      5. Red Fraggle*

        OMG, I’m TWITCHING. Aaaaaaaand sending this to my curator and collections managers immediately; they’ll both curl up like spiders in horror.

    1. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

      I was just coming here to reference this exact story? Same feel, almost identical circumstances. And, what if he gets there with others who know him and starts a clique to undermine OP? Do not meddle with him.

  14. EventPlannerGal*

    I’m curious about why they think he would be “a great ambassador”. If you got this impression – condescending, far too verbose, self-important and with a strong tendency to mansplain – so strongly after a couple of interactions, I would be surprised if he didn’t come off in exactly the same way to many other people. And if he’s this condescending to you, someone who actually works for the org, how is he going to interact with people who don’t? This sounds like a person I wouldn’t really want representing an organisation I was a part of, especially not if this role involves dealing with the public.

    1. Cat Tree*

      My read of the situation is that he is socially involved with a lot of people who are involved with the organization. So they would probably think he has plenty of friends who might be interested in this company. But the reality is more likely that he’s That Guy in the friends group, that nobody really likes but they tolerate him because it’s not clear who has the authority to ask him to leave.

      1. serenity*

        Being friendly with other volunteers (who, despite this, may keep their distance from him for any of the reasons we have seen in the letter) does not = a good ambassador for the organization. Surprised that isn’t more clear to OP’s manager and others.

      2. Denver Gutierrez*

        That makes sense but what a terrible idea on the work place’s part nonetheless. Knowing people and being involved doesn’t equal likable. I bet he is the Hyacinth Bucket (“pronounced boo-kay!”) of the group. Knows many people, socially connected, involved in many causes but people run and hide when they hear him coming.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      This is how he acts when he’s on his *best behavior*. How bad is he going to be on a normal day?

      1. Brooke*

        I agree with this idea in theory but in truth, he may not see this as his “best behavior” but his “I need to show you why I’m impressive” which to him involves things like showing how much he has to say, bulldozing over what other people are saying, and showing how he knows so much more than the nearby authority figures. Guys like this don’t tend to see “be on your best behavior” as a value they should follow.

        1. pancakes*

          Him not seeing any of that doesn’t oblige people he works with or even merely meets socially to join him in not seeing any of that! Or to form relationships of any kind with him in an effort to help him see.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      This was my thought as well. Hiring or otherwise employing a person like this does not reflect well on the organization at all.

      I’m in close to the same demographic as John and if I had to work with him, I would end up schooling him on the modern world.

      Ugh. I’m sorry you’re in this position, LW.

    4. Generic Name*

      They probably think he’ll be a Great Ambassador because he shamelessly namedrops. I’d bet the people he’s namedropping want nothing to do with him and merely tolerate him and he in fact does not have ability to bring in donors to the extent that he implies.

    5. Chilipapper Attitude*

      Yes, I don’t think the grandboss has thought through the damage this person could do to the organization as its “ambassador.”
      That is on top of the time and stress it will take to manage him.

      OP, if he does wind up volunteering and you have to manage him, I think you need to be super clear (and even what might feel like rude but is not) to him immediately. “This job requires this filing and not lecturing staff or other volunteers. And I know you are interested in high level decision making but that is not part of this position. Is that something you can agree to do?” Or whatever wording works. And hold him to it. You might have to make it uncomfortable for him to continue volunteering

  15. Heidi*

    John confuses me. He seems pompous and convinced he’s smarter than everyone. Yet he’s also applying for jobs that are clearly lower in the hierarchy than people he patronizes. The entitlement combined with the desperation for validation makes for a really unappealing job applicant or volunteer. Also, if you’ve noticed the sexist attitude, other people are likely to perceive it as well. If it helps to think of it this way, you’re protecting the team by not bringing this particular brand of toxicity into your organization. It can end up being a real liability.

    1. it's me*

      I kind of felt like he’s insecure and maybe inwardly panicking that he’s going to experience ageism and “you’re overqualified” as a rejection so he’s acting out by overcompensating.

      1. LKW*

        I think it’s more “If I can get my foot in the door, I’ll show them how awesome I am and they’ll promote me to Director, CEO, other roles I deserve within the year.” I don’t think this is for show.

        1. BubbleTea*

          Yes and this would be my concern with the volunteering too – he would see it as a way to get his influence and expertise recognised. If he can railroad his way into a position, he can railroad around in that position until he is running the place.

        2. pancakes*

          I agree. And whether he is or isn’t also panicked about potential age discrimination, being seen as overqualified, etc., there’s no reason to believe acting out this way will be helpful. If anything it would just be one more strike against him in addition to other, unfair strikes against him, not a replacement of them.

    2. Myrin*

      I’ve known two people like that and with both of them, it became clear to me over time that somewhere deep, deep, very deep down, they knew (instinctively? subconsciously?) exactly how much they were failing and alienating people in all aspects of life and they tried to combat that by behaving outwardly pompous and grand, like their loudly and permanently saying how awesome they are could somehow drown out their incompetence; if you looked at it long enough and closely enough, it almost seemed like the person they were most wanting to convince was themselves.

      Psychologically speaking, an absolutely fascinating personality. As a coworker, not so much.

    3. MCL*

      Coming from the perspective of an industry with a very tight labor market (GLAM), I have to say this attitude of “I’m better than this job but I’m applying anyway” is not totally uncommon. People with lots of experience are applying for jobs that are not very senior, but the attitude of “I’ll condescend to take this job” needs to get turned all the way off in order to advance in an interview process.

      OP, this guy should not volunteer for you. I guess if you absolutely must accommodate your boss, maybe you can make a case that he volunteers for a small handful of specific events per year rather than indefinite service. He already drives you nuts, he will not stop driving you nuts, and I question that he is a good “ambassador” for your organization if this is the impression he gave you after only one interaction.

      Also, I think you were pretty clear that you wouldn’t be asking him directly to volunteer; he would find out about volunteer opps because you would be asking groups that he is involved with. Just be careful that your organization doesn’t go out so far over its skis that you’re building all your programs on volunteer labor and expertise.

    4. Atlantic Beach Pie*

      I think he’s trying to “get a foot in the door” with the expectation that once they see how great he is, they’ll promote him to Grand Poobah or whatever. I’ve worked for several organizations that would be considered “dream jobs” for many and we routinely had people who would apply for every job that opened regardless of their own qualifications, from custodial staff to CEO.

      A lot of people also volunteer for nonprofit organizations with the hope that they’ll get hired there, which more often than not doesn’t work out in my experience.

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        As for getting into a “dream job” kind of place as a custodian: I’ve got a friend who works in TV and says a lot of his colleagues got into the industry that way, by applying as an accountant or something like that and then transferring into the glamorous parts of the studio. If you apply to be a sitcom writer or something like that, you’re competing against a kabillion other people desperate to get in.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          That sounds like it must be really frustrating to the people who manage the accounting department and are just trying to hire people they get to KEEP.

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            You have to have an actual background in accounting to pull this off, which limits the number of wannabe writers chasing after back-office jobs.

            As long as the person spends at least a few years in the position they were hired to do, it’s no different than a normal situation where you hire somebody and they move on in 3-5 years.

    5. Workerbee*

      I saw it as John being unable to acquire the job(s) he thinks he deserves but is unwilling to do the self-examination necessary to realize he’s a major part of his own defeat. So anytime he does get a bite, his ego goes into overtime. After all, he’s getting interviews! And look, bigwigs in the org still want to bring him on in some capacity! Ugh.

      1. Web Crawler*

        There’s something amusing about “This” as a top level comment, though.

        Like, it gives the feeling that you had nothing more to add, but had to say something that indicates you agree with the advice given in this advice column

  16. The Prettiest Curse*

    As a former nonprofit employee, there are some volunteers who are just going to eat up more of your time than they will could possibly save. John sounds like one of those, in addition to sounding like a complete nightmare. In summary, don’t!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Dear gods this, plus they make your other volunteers miserable. Don’t do this to your staff, paid or not.

    2. vlookup*

      Yup, John is a classic time vampire.

      As a young woman in the nonprofit sector I’ve dealt with my fair share of patronizing, condescending older men who think you should be grateful to them for bloviating at you. I really really think this is a hill worth dying on, because this dude is going to make you miserable otherwise.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, exactly. Think of how much of your other volunteers’ time this will suck up as well!
        I also realized that part of my original post was garbled, it should have said “could ever possibly save”.

  17. BRR*

    If John becomes a volunteer, you will be writing letters to Alison daily if not hourly. It’s pretty clear that you will be unable to manage him (see yesterday’s letter on the condescending coworker, come to think of it that might actually be John too). It seems to me that there’s some combination of being desperate for volunteers and ignoring John’s flaws, which I think people tend to do when someone is good/knowledgeable about a subject. He’s had multiple opportunities to show who he is and that someone is someone who will be very stressful to work with.

    Also about asking a candidate to volunteer. I don’t love it in general but it’s very clear that John really really wants to work at your organization. I doubt he’s going to be able to have a clear understanding of what his role is as a volunteer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he presented himself as a critically important person in your organization or if he thought this was guaranteeing him a job at some point. His actions feel a bit clingy and I think that’s all the more reason to try to maintain a distance between your organization and John, not only for your own sanity but if John can’t “get the hint” it’s kind to not keep him sort of involved.

    Tl;dr Don’t ask him to volunteer. Actively keep him from volunteering.

  18. Purple Loves Snow*

    When people show you who they are, listen to them.

    John has already showed you on more than one occasion who he is. He is not a right fight for the organization in any capacity.

    1. Purple Loves Snow*

      *Shoud be fit not fight.

      He is not a right fit for the organization in any capacity.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      He was raised male. That’s enough in some families.

      There used to be a television show called “Father Knows Best.” No, father doesn’t always know best. Sometimes father is an incompetent boob. But yet we continue to worship at the altar of male authority. It’s ridiculous and it needs to stop.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        I recognize this happens all too much sadly. Yet I’ve experienced pushiness like that from both men and women (plus a close family member was female and had many of the same attributes).

        I’m also thinking of a post years back where the LW basically sabotaged the first job they took after being out of the workforce. In that instance, they went around their manager to “fix” a problem (said manager was on vacation). LW was totally surprised to get fired. I think the LW in that case was female.

    2. LKW*

      Sometimes mediocre people are simply rewarded for being mediocre. It’d be easy to say that this applies to white men, but i think that would go down a rabbit hole that is frowned upon on AAM. Nonetheless, sometimes people are simply unaware of their own limitations and assume everyone thinks the way they think and has the same POV. Any challenge is clearly because of external issues – to paraphrase (and possibly butcher the saying) “If you think everyone you meet is an asshole – the common denominator is you; you are probably the asshole.”

      1. MtnLaurel*

        I’m reminded of a man from a prominent political family in the US: a critic once described him as having been “born on second base and thinks he hit a double.” It applies to this area too.

        1. LKW*

          This. I know so many people who have decided they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps when in reality, someone else bought the boots, the straps, a ladder and an iced tea because the effort might have made them parched.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      So, my dad is something like this. Overbearing, convinced he’s Always Right, leaves no room in conversations for anything but nodding and smiling, an Idea Guy with no ability to execute, and I could go on but I’m verging on cruelty. Suffice to say we’re low-contact and I vastly prefer it that way.

      Some of it seems to be a fear he can’t shake that his (genuine) life achievements will be taken away, or somehow not count any more. (A lifelong rivalry with both his brothers has something to do with this, I think. So does his impoverished childhood.) Some of it is standard-issue white-cishet-dude(-of-a-certain-age) inability to see or imagine or honor anyone else’s interiority or personhood — other people exist to reflect his glory and be sponges for his arguments.

      I see his pain. I see his genuine passion for his work and for his politics, and I wish he could find better outlets for it than talking everyone around him into the ground. I can’t, however, let him do that to me… any more than OP should let John go Johnning all over the place.

    4. Bernice Clifton*

      Good reasons listed, but as someone with a family member like John, you get to the point that you know he’s not interested in feedback and he will belittle you if you offer it, so when he volunteers a story about how he’s so smart and great, you learn to stay neutral, which people like John probably believe is agreement.

  19. Machiamellie*

    I’m gonna be that person, sorry.

    As an autistic adult, I’ve met many other neurodiverse individuals who exhibit many of the same traits that John does. Of course, yes he could just be a clueless older man who is sexist and pompous and long-winded. He could also be autistic, not pick up on social cues due to that, not realize how he comes across, and would greatly benefit from someone explaining to him why he may not be succeeding in his job search.

    That said, it’s not OP’s responsibility to be that person if she doesn’t want to be.

    I’ve participated in employer focus groups, explaining to hiring managers how their management styles and job postings may alienate neurodiverse candidates. Many managers have very strict ideas of how their employees should behave. For example, expecting entry level candidates to be “team players,” “get along with everyone on the team,” “be able to stand up in a meeting and present a topic, etc.” Whereas a good manager would accept that an entry level candidate might not possess those interpersonal skills but can learn them, through mentoring by the manager and interacting with the team. Many managers are very lazy and want a perfect employee from the get-go. I am NOT calling OP a lazy manager!

    Just saying that sometimes the best person for the job isn’t the person who behaves perfectly, and someone who isn’t perfect can be an amazing employee.

    In this particular instance, I’d see about posting the volunteer opening for anyone to apply if they want. If he applies, have a blunt conversation about how he would be expected to behave in the role, and see if he is open to that.

    1. different seudonym*

      He’s not clueless. He’a actively trying to humiliate. That isn’t an indication of neuroatypicality.

      1. Allypopx*

        Thank you. This is not a lack of social skills. This is actively trying to overinflate his qualifications and bowl over the (women, notably) who he would be reporting to. These are intentional decisions.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yeah. He can definitely seem to turn it on and off (simply put he couldn’t have survived this long in business if he couldn’t).

          Additionally, someone at his age should have worked out by now if they do have some kind of mental issue that makes them hard to relate to others and found ways to work around it. I really don’t accept ‘it’s okay to have some dude mansplain everything about your job to you because he might have *insert mental stuff here* and it’s your job to help him cope with it’ (which btw, not saying someone here is saying, but I have had it said to ME)

          1. Machiamellie*

            I never said it was ok to let him act that way.

            I don’t think it’s ok to let an employee exhibit these behaviors. I think a manager should tell them that the behavior isn’t acceptable, tell them how they’re expected to change, and then discipline them if they do not.

            In a job search, a neurodiverse individual would benefit from someone taking the time to tell him “this behavior that you are exhibiting is problematic because x, y, z.” That is what I was saying.

            I’m bowing out because this isn’t productive for me in any way.

      2. Machiamellie*

        I read it as someone who could be clueless. Lots of people have inferred intent on things that I do that wasn’t there. I guess I’m the only one here who’s willing to give John the benefit of the doubt.

        1. Colette*

          He could be clueless; that doesn’t make his behaviour – e.g. explaining basic principles to competent women; rambling and not answer questions, etc. – acceptable. John has done nothing to earn the benefit of the doubt.

          1. Machiamellie*

            I give people the benefit of the doubt when I’m reading someone else’s description of their behavior.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          How would that change the advice to the OP? Should she hire him and hope that he’ll act differently than what’s she’s seen so far? Why invite that problem rather than deciding based on what she has actually seen from him?

          We really don’t need to go so far out of our way to find excuses for John.

        3. Myrin*

          I guess so, yes.

          This is not about mangaers having “very strict ideas of how their employees should behave”, this is someone who has been behaving totally out of bounds in situations where he was presumably trying to be on his best behaviour. Why exactly should OP assume that he would behave differently once he actually works with her? She has no reason to do so, even if one assumes neurodiversity.

          This is not about minor issues like, say, never looking anyone in the eye or completely misinterpreting any and all nonverbal communication – OP gave a literal list of actual facts (and yes, all of these except for his over-eager tone of voice are objectively verifiable facts) about how off-putting his behaviour has been; neurodiversity or not, why would she even invite the possibility of having to work with someone who behaves like that?

    2. Colette*

      I disagree. The key problem is that John doesn’t think he needs to learn, because he knows best. And given his sexist behaviour, he wouldn’t learn from the OP anyway. He might agree to follow the rules; there’s a very small chance that he would actually follow them.

        1. Colette*

          We know because we believe what the OPs say, and because many of us have dealt with people who behave like that before.

          The OP has listed specific behaviours that John has demonstrated during the two times they met that are serious concerns for anyone who has to work with him, especially women or other people he thinks of as being of lower status.

          Maybe he’s neurodiverse; maybe he’s just been socialized to think he is the most important person in the room. Why doesn’t matter.

          Why should the OP make her own life harder to give John the benefit of the doubt?

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          And the OP is a younger woman who may have experienced sexism directed at her before, so she may have been expecting that from him or may have read it into his behavior, etc.

          Let’s not blame women for experiencing sexism – two wrongs don’t make a right.

    3. gamesgamesgames*

      Idk, I feel like there is a big difference between patronizing sexism, and being straightforward and not realizing how you are coming across.
      A lot of people, particularly older men, hide behind this screen of oblivious and plausible deniability whenever they are called out for slimy behavior.

      also, generally, it’s not worth hiring someone who acts like they don’t respect you in the job interview. On top of normal job training, you then have to try to fight the condescension and disrespect.

      Why deal with that as a manager if you don’t have to?

    4. Allypopx*

      All due respect I think you’re projecting personal experiences here in a way that’s not applicable to the situation OP outlines.

    5. darcy*

      as an autistic adult, can we stop conflating “being an asshole” with “being autistic”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thank you, I’m closing this thread.

        From the site commenting rules:

        Don’t armchair-diagnose others (“it sounds like your coworker is autistic/has borderline personality disorder/etc.”). We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question.


        Letter-writers are experts on their own situations. When a letter-writer reports a situation is giving them bad vibes, particularly in regard to safety, harassment, or discrimination, believe that person. Don’t search for ways to explain away the behavior or pressure them to ignore their instincts.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Okay, contrary view from another person with autism (and depression, OCD, schizophrenia….I collect em like Pokemon).

      Even if his appalling behaviour is due to a mental reason it’s still his job to work out that maybe he’s been pissing people off and that’s why he can’t get a job at this place.

      Not the responsibility of anyone else to try and explain how to act at work.

      And yeah, I had some phenomenal ‘still wince at the thought’ incidents in my past where I’d really messed up human interaction and come over as the most arrogant, condescending, uptight little authoritarian imaginable. Whether that was due to a smorgasbord of mental illnesses or the fact that I really WAS clueless, young and arrogant as heck doesn’t matter – I definitely don’t hold it against any of the firms that turned me down for jobs during that time.

  20. Anon for this*

    My former boss had me do something similar. I was maybe 30 days into my full-time role as Llama Barn Director and we were short-staffed for part time llama trainers. She had me call the other person who had interviewed for the Llama Barn Director to bring him in for an interview for a part-time llama trainer position. I was uncomfortable with this for the same reasons as LW: she insisted. She warned me he was eccentric.

    He showed up for the interview and I gave him a basic llama trainer skills test. He could not pass the prerequisite skills test that you would need to complete to *enter* a llama trainer certification course. It was a 3-step test and he failed on step one, so we could not hire him as he would not be eligible to take the certification course we required.

    After the interview ended and I’d gone back to my office, he lingered in the building chatting with people that he was actually interviewing for all different jobs. This triggered a full-day panic in the building, as various people thought that my boss was secretly interviewing candidates to replace them and they were about to be fired. My Grandboss had to hold emergency meetings with all of her full-time department managers to tell them they were not being replaced and then feed that information down to the staff they managed.

    A few weeks later, our sister barn had to shut down and evacuate due to a bomb threat that was phoned in. Guess who called it in? Our eccentric interviewee. He was mad he got passed over for a job twice. Charges were pressed and he was permanently banned from all 30 Llamas Incorporated barns, and every director and manager was banned from interviewing or talking to him ever again.

    TL;DR: Listen to your gut, LW.

    1. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

      “this will show to them that I’m the best candidate for the job!”

      Sometimes I wonder what goes through peoples minds when they do dumb stuff.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I wish your saga surprised me. Sadly, I have seen too many instances of intersecting syndromes:

      – Management is Lazy and They Don’t Want to Start the Interview Process Again Syndrome – As in: “Yeah we didn’t want to hire this person but it’s a lower lever job and maybe he’ll be OK and we can move along with other things instead of starting from square one.”

      – Placating the Old White Guy Syndrome – For some reason, people seem to think that a bloviating, sexist, incompetent jerk is in need of coddling and special treatment.

      I once interviewed a guy who refused to answer any of my questions and would, instead, keep telling me about all of the many people he worked with in the industry (and some of them were dead). This was a technical position and the guy had no technical skills. He even said “I had people to do those computer things for me.”After we rejected the candidate, he called me repeatedly, insisting he was the best person for the job. The HR rep insisted that my boss interview the candidate because the candidate felt I was “too immature to do an interview with someone very experienced.” My boss did the interview and rejected the candidate as completely unqualified. The candidate sent an email to HR and told them he should be doing my job and I should be demoted into the open position. The HR rep forwarded the email my boss saying this was a good idea! (Note: We only interviewed this guy in the first place eventhough he lacked half the qualifications for the job because HR insisted.)

      My boss screamed at the HR rep (who was later fired for a variety of reasons), but I still got calls and emails from the candidate telling me I wasn’t qualified for my own job and I should quit and let him replace me.

      TL;DR: Oh yeah…for sure.

  21. TiredMama*

    I just don’t see a good way to have him volunteer. If he comes to you, I think your answer could be that you felt it was inappropriate to invite him to volunteer given that he interviewed. If he persists, is there a project he could ‘own’ and work on with someone else in the organization to keep him from contaminating other volunteers with his attitude?

  22. Nia*

    Sorry I know its not the point but is it really okay for a nonprofit to decide to make a normally paid position volunteer just because they can’t afford the salary? Are there not rules about that?

    1. Allypopx*

      It doesn’t sound like that’s what’s happening. The volunteer position sounds distinct from the assistant position he applied for.

      1. Nia*

        Oh I know but it sounds like the position they want him to volunteer for would be paid if they could afford it.

        1. Allypopx*

          Sorrrrt of…it sounds like hiring one person would be better but they could bring in multiple volunteers for support instead. So it will probably be reduced, more specific tasks than an employee would get. And volunteers of course have more control over their work and schedule expectations than an employee. So in that sense yes, you can give tasks to volunteers that you might give to a staff person under a different circumstance, but the structure and management are very different so it’s a little less straightforward than that.

            1. BRR*

              The law on unpaid internships is the intern must be the primary beneficiary per DOL rules for the internship to be legal. But I never thought of how volunteers are defined and if any nefarious organizations would say unpaid interns are volunteers to get around having to pay them. My searching shows there are a few criteria used and one is volunteers can’t displace a paid employee, which this isn’t, but I wonder if that changes if they eventually make this a paid role?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Nonprofits and the government are allowed to use unpaid interns and volunteers outside of those rules. Some (small) nonprofits are entirely volunteer-run!

    2. Bob Loblaw, Esq.*

      There’s been chatter about banning unpaid internships in the past, but I don’t think anything has ever been done on that front.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Not for nonprofits. Volunteering at a nonprofit is legal (with some narrow exceptions, like if you’re an employee asked to volunteer in the same area you work in).

    3. NonProfit Survivor*

      The legal nonprofit standard is that you can’t ask someone who is already an employee to volunteer for something that is largely the same as their job. So for example, you can’t ask the (hourly) receptionist to volunteer at your gala event checking in guests, even if they really want to and offer to volunteer their time. As far as volunteers doing staff-level work, unpaid interns, etc., rules governing non-profits are VERY permissive.

  23. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

    I was just coming here to reference this exact story? Same feel, almost identical circumstances. And, what if he gets there with others who know him and starts a clique to undermine OP? Do not meddle with him.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      I think this may have been supposed to be in a thread? I’m not sure what story you have in mind.

  24. Anonymous Hippo*

    It seems exploitive on the surface to accept a volunteer that you wouldn’t hire for a paid position.

    Also, I think John will be even more insufferable as a volunteer, because he’ll have the added bonus of doing this “out of the kindness of his heart” and I’m afraid it will limit your ability to discipline or control him because he isn’t a “real” employee.

    This seems like a very bad idea all around.

  25. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP, I volunteered for a nonprofit and was using my professional skills. They had a new volunteer who sounded a lot like John. And he was a nightmare to even be around. Not only did I stop volunteering to help them (as a PROFESSIONAL, not some random person doing filing), but when they contacted me to ask if I could help them out with something I declined.

    I don’t need to deal with that crap.

  26. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    I have quit volunteering with some organizations or groups because of “Johns” – men who think they’re the brightest bulb in the room, and the rest of us moths should perpetually flit around their brilliance. And though they repeatedly drive away good volunteers, they are always enabled by people like your manager and her boss who give him endless chances. Save yourself and your other volunteers the grief, and don’t even give this boor a foot-hold.

  27. Keymaster of Gozer*

    The thing is, an arsehole doesn’t stop being an arsehole just because the job title changes. Or the pay. He’s going to be like this whether he’s a full time employee or a volunteer.

    I’d push back, pointing out maybe that his personality would likely drive off other volunteers and potentially clients which is far more difficult to recover from than not having his skillset on site.

    Would I hire a top level genius network engineer who swears at all the women in the office and treats them like idiots? No. I’d rather have someone less skilled but who can act like a decent human being.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Agree 100%; Absolutely not. From what was described, he would have been a net negative at any price.

    2. LW Here*

      I definitely agree. I will definitely point out the potential issues with him driving off other volunteers. Many of them are likely to be less experienced, and I can totally see him making them feel like they don’t know enough to be there.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Or convincing them that they should be obeying his orders instead of yours or your colleagues’. That could lead to him undoing the effects of your training, by giving them instructions which contradict yours and pressuring them to obey him. Even if he didn’t actually drive them to leave, this could be disastrous.

  28. Bob Loblaw, Esq.*

    I am confused by this letter. It’s like a 5-paragraph essay with 10 bullet points about how much this guy sucks and then LW says he would be a “great ambassador”?

    Obviously, taking on John as a volunteer would be a disaster. Even if he did magically transform into a great volunteer (doubtful?), LW doesn’t like him, doesn’t respect him, and is dreading the idea of even training him. The relationship is already poisoned. And as someone who has been managed by someone who didn’t want me, I can tell you that it really sucked.

    If the boss insists John should be hired…someone else should supervise him. I don’t know how LW can make that happen, but otherwise, this just sounds incredibly painful.

    1. LW Here*

      Hi! Just to clarify: I added a lot of detail on the issues I have with him because my boss and grandboss obviously want me to ask him to volunteer, so I wanted to make it clear why I thought this was a bad idea. Regarding John as a “great ambassador,” I should have clarified that it’s my boss who feels that way. I do want to be fair in pointing out that John’s professional background matches well with the type of person we would want in this role, but as many others have noted, that doesn’t surmount the massive issues with him.
      I mainly wrote in because I have talked to my boss and grandboss and they are still pushing for me to take him on as a volunteer, and I wanted some more ideas on handling it. I really wish someone else could manage him (if I do end up being forced to take him on) but we’re pretty small, and I don’t think it’s feasible.

      1. Myrin*

        If – god forbid! – he does end up coming on board, can you insist (as much as that’s possible, of course; “insist” her could also mean “strongly prefer”) that he be managed directly by your boss? If they’re so gung-ho on taking him in, they might as well deal with him completely!

        Do you have any sense why your boss lets her hope of how useful John could be override her direct experience with him and everything you’ve ever told her? (Not least of all because of the human aspect, wherein any potential usefulness and embassy-stuff will swiftly be negated by his entire personality.) Surely there must come a point where she can see that this can only end up having mor downsides than upsides!

        1. LW Here*

          I think that might be feasible! Or even maybe suggesting that she manage him while I manage the other volunteers could be a wake-up call that I feel that strongly about not taking him on (since it’s a solid proposed action vs just the discussions we’ve had).

          I’m honestly not sure why my boss thinks he would be good. She has said that his background would be good for this role, which is true, but like many here have said, it doesn’t outweigh the massive red flags we’ve seen. I think she sees it as a beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation, but I would rather recruit less-experienced people who are good with the public (this is a public-facing role) and train them from the ground up. Then I can train them to my own specifications, and I won’t have to worry about John making up his own ideas about how things should go.

          1. Idril Celebrindal*

            Hi LW,

            I don’t know if this helps, but would your boss listen to all the points other commenters here have brought up about how he will absolutely, certainly drive away good volunteers you could have otherwise retained? That might be an angle she would hear.

            Also, something to consider about the idea of having your boss manage him is that the message he takes from it would most likely be that he is on your level or above you in the hierarchy. So both you and your bosd would have to be really clear to him that is not the case, and probably spend a lot of energy reinforcing that constantly the entire time he volunteers there. I know this is your last ditch option anyway, but if it does happen that is something to be prepared for.

          2. Working Hypothesis*

            Map out the time for her. How many hours total do you think it would take to train somebody from the ground up? How many hours per week do you think you’d have to waste on coping with John, correcting John, listening to John who won’t shut up, fixing problems caused by John, rehiring for paid roles who leave because they have to deal with John, and filling in/recruiting for other volunteers who are driven to quit because of John?

            Keep it plausible. But show her how fast this will become a time sink that loses you more than you gain.

          3. DrRat*

            I would genuinely say, “John’s personality issues will ultimately end up driving many of our other volunteers away. Do we really want to lose several good volunteers just to placate one bad one?”

            It might even be a good idea to quietly ask any current volunteers ahead of time how they would feel about working with him. If you get one or more current volunteers saying they would leave if he comes on board, that would give you some heavy ammunition.

          4. Khlovia*

            Never mind “less experienced”. you’d be better off with an absolute noob. You’d be better off with a fifth-grader coming in after school.

  29. Volunteer Recruitment Nerd*

    For any volunteer role you ought to have a clear role description – your volunteers shouldn’t just be ‘free labour’ to draw on for whatever you’re doing, you should define what you want them to do and what qualities/qualifications they need to have. From there you should be engaging in at least a cursory screening process to see if anyone you’re considering is a good fit with the role as outlined. Once you have the role defined I suspect you will be able to demonstrate, at least to anyone who was involved in the hiring process, that John is not a good fit. It may well be that John will end up seeing the role description (if your boss or another volunteer shares it) and he applies; again, you’re looking for fit. Your best defense in this situation might be a good offense – that is, do a proper bit of recruitment, cast the net out, and hopefully you’ll get people who fit the role description so well the idea of engaging someone like John as a volunteer won’t even come up again. I think the script given about how John didn’t seem interested in this type of activity is important – not least because it sounds like it’s true.

    I think this is a situation that seems difficult because it sounds a little claustrophobic, but if you approach your volunteer programme on its own terms, thinking about volunteering for its own sake and not just as a way to plug holes, it might end up being a bit less awkward.

  30. boop the first*

    I couldn’t get past the first part where it says he’s a great candidate except (literally EVERYTHING about him)!

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Apparently, he knows the field really well, he knows the organization (he’s “been very involved here”), has a good background (not sure what this means, but okay), has volunteered and raised funds, etc.

      It just goes to show that you can tick a lot of boxes for an organization, but sometimes it’s all about the soft skills—and John does not appear to have them.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Right. He’s got the knowledge, you just literally don’t want to breathe the same air as him, talk to him or deal with him in any way!

        We rejected someone like that at my work. He could have done the job, but good lord, I didn’t want to be NEAR him.

      2. Working Hypothesis*

        Especially when the job (both the volunteer and paid versions) is public-facing and instructional, in which case the soft skills are most of the position duties.

  31. Lalaroo*

    Caveats: I know this isn’t the point of the letter, and I know OP had more than enough reason not to hire this fella.

    OP gave this reason for deciding not to hire this guy: His tone was way too eager, even desperate, and that was off-putting enough to make me concerned about how he might interact with the public.

    It kinda seems unfair from an applicant perspective, like a catch-22, cause if you’re not eager/“passionate” you won’t get hired, but if you’re TOO eager then you’re creepy and won’t get hired. It’s frustrating to have to modulate your behavior so precisely!

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I don’t think it requires a great deal of precision to make a distinction between enthusiasm v over eager/passionate to the degree it makes others uncomfortable. I suspect that if the only red flag was his too enthusiastic passion, the OP and her boss would not have considered that a deal breaker. But I also think his eagerness was desperation for a job, not an expression of interest in the topic or non-profit. Expressing interest in the field is not that same as desperation for a job.

      And that comment was the 4th bullet point in the 4th paragraph. It was pretty low on her list of reasons not to hire the guy. The OP did list over-eagerness in the first paragraph but noted it was so strong it made her uncomfortable. Again, I think this was not so much passion for the job as for A job.

      I don’t think you should worry but you could practice this with a friend, like a mock interview.

      1. Lalaroo*

        I wonder if you read my caveat, where I talk about how I know this isn’t the point of the letter and that there were plenty of reasons not to hire this guy even without considering this little part? Because it seems like you might not have.

    2. Bob Loblaw, Esq.*

      I read that part and the part where LW said he used too many jargon and big words as maybe a bit of BEC phenomenon. Everything John does is just awful in LW’s eyes, down to word choice and tone.

      What you’re talking about is sort of frustrating though. I have never been hired for any job I was desperate for, and I think I used to make the mistake of trying to look or sound “passionate” in interviews, which probably just came across as insincere or creepy. I now try to express my interest in the position by telling the interviewer the reasons I’m interested instead of trying to “show” it. If they don’t think I’m stoked about the job and ding me for that, then it probably wouldn’t work out anyway.

      1. Colette*

        If the role they were interviewing for includes communicating, it is totally valid to consider using too many big words or jargon negatively – that kind of thing can get in the way of getting your message across. I worked at a big organization whose customer-facing documents were written at an 8th grade level, because they wanted to make sense to a large number of people.

        1. Bob Loblaw, Esq.*

          Yeah, you have to tailor your speech to your audience. If John was basically talking nonsense, then that’s an issue. But if the issue is that he used words LW understood but just didn’t like because they confirm her (justified) impression that he’s a pompous jerk, then that’s a BEC.

          1. Colette*

            I disagree – if someone uses big words not because they are clearer but because they like using big words (or big words make them feel smart), that’s valid data. (But also, deciding that someone is a pompous jerk is itself disqualifying.)

          2. LW Here*

            To clarify, the volunteer role is a public-facing one that involves explaining things to people of all ages. That’s why I was concerned about his persistent use of jargon and complex words, as well as his tendency to ramble and miss cues to wrap up the conversation.

            1. LW Here*

              *both the paid position he applied for as well as the volunteer role are public-facing and involve instructing others

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Well….sometimes people may give off a bad vibe. Like that llama bomber guy mentioned elsewhere in the thread. I don’t even know if I’d say “desperation for a job” is bad, it’s just that you got that horrible creeping feeling that something is wrong with this guy and you don’t want to spend every day with him. This one, for example, sounded really pushy and mansplainy and steamrolly.

    3. Colette*

      Desperation puts a burden on the recipient – it can be manipulatively used to get people to make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make, or to make people feel guilty. It would not be good for the org if, for example, John “joked’ repeatedly with clients that they should ask for him to be given a full time job; it wouldn’t be good if he asked other volunteers to let him take their work because he really needed it. The organization needs someone who will consider it’s needs and the needs of their clients, not only their own needs.

    4. Khlovia*

      For “eager and “passionate” read (in John’s case) Pushy and overbearing. It doesn’t require precise modulation to avoid those things. But it does require an effort John appears to be unlikely to be capable of making.

  32. JohannaCabal*

    I would be worried that Candidate-Turned-Volunteer would be seething about not getting a job and actively try to sabotage the org as a volunteer.

    OP, if he does end up a volunteer, I recommend making sure he does not have access to anything critical (important paperwork, electronics, money, etc.). He could also try to sabotage the person you do hire, so please watch out for that employee.

    I cannot see this working out well.

    1. LW Here*

      I haven’t even thought about that (my brain is all over the place), but I definitely need to point it out! It’s likely that the person we hired will be working with my volunteers as well. I cannot imagine having him work with the (young woman) who was hired instead of him! Now that I’m thinking about it from that angle, I’m even more confused at why my boss thinks this could ever work.

      This is definitely going to be part of the next convo I have with my boss. Thank you!

  33. NonProfit Survivor*

    Ask yourself (and your leadership): How much time and staff energy will be taken up in managing John, and is this offset by the amount of volunteer work he can do? If he’s taking up X hours of your week in coaching, meetings, and crisis management (because it sounds like he will inevitably cause some kind major problem), he had better be taking at least X+1 hours of work off of your staff’s plate. I also want to +1000 a previous commenter’s input about how many good volunteers John is likely to alienate. I have seen one obnoxious person decimate even the most dedicated volunteer ranks, especially when they feel like leadership doesn’t support them in this respect.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Yes. This is really important, and telling your boss credibly that she will likely lose three or four other volunteers (at least!) if she insists on bringing this one on may get through to her.

  34. Brooke*

    Somewhat related, pre-covid I ran a weekly social event that was entirely volunteer-based. I was just starting to ramp up my recruitment of volunteers when covid hit. The event can’t be held virtually so it’s been on haitus ever since.

    About 8 months into the pandemic, a person I’ve worked with in the past said she was really interested in volunteering for my event whenever we got started again. I know that this person is extremely frustrating to work with (unreliable, unaware of her impact on other people, tends to use everyone as a therapist for her, inflated sense of her own abilities) and I definitely wouldn’t want to take her on as a volunteer, since our team is so small so we’d be working closely together. But since we weren’t anywhere near reopening the event, I just said “If/when we re-open, if you’re still interested in volunteering, you can follow up with me then.”

    I think there’s a very good chance she won’t follow up. But, if she does, I have no idea what I’ll say to her then. I can’t credibly say “I don’t need volunteers” especially if I’m actively campaigning for more help. It’s frustrating that it’s such an emotionally charged thing to say “I don’t want to work with you,” but sadly, it is.

  35. Mrs. Proudie*

    I would not bring him on, for all the reasons mentioned above. I am reminded of advice I heard years ago in a workshop on managing volunteers – “managing a vacancy is easier than managing the wrong person.” If the higher ups insist on bringing him on, make it project-based with a definite end date.

    1. Elle Woods*

      I love this advice. Speaking from personal experience, it relates to more than just managing volunteers too.

  36. Julia*

    This letter is super long, but like many AAM letters, it just boils down to “I have a problem with a decision my boss wants to make but I haven’t talked to her about it.” Open your mouth and say something. The end.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      It sounds to me like they have had a fair amount of discussion about this.

      And my boss and her boss recognize that I need volunteers and think John would, for all his faults, still be a very enthusiastic addition.

    2. LW Here*

      Hi, LW here! Just want to confirm that we have discussed it, and I’m made my feelings known. I was looking for a script and some advice on whether or not I should continue pushing back – which Alison tremendously helped with!

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        What did your boss say when you made it very clear that no matter how much knowledge John has, he is a nightmare to manage and you don’t want him there?

    3. fhqwhgads*

      No, it sounds like she’s discussed it with the boss and the boss is still unconvinced. The question is “what else can she do to get the point across to the boss?”

  37. A Person*

    > the candidate has been very involved here and has a good background

    But he’s got a terrible foreground. It doesn’t matter so much what he knows and what he’s done in the past, because you have to work with him here, in the present. If your boss (or her boss) insist on bringing this guy in, make them agree to manage him directly. (And then hold them to that.) It sounds like they’re doing some wishful thinking.

    1. LW Here*

      I really like this! I don’t know if I could get my manager to manage him, but I’m thinking that maybe even just suggesting that would send a very strong message that I feel strongly he would take a lot of time to manage properly.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Definitely. The more you can make clear to your boss that any problems John causes are going to be HER problems instead of YOUR problems, the less likely she is going to be to think it’s just a dandy idea to bring him on.

        So make it clear they will be her problems. You can ask her to agree to manage him herself. If that fails, you can insist on sitting down with her and going, exhaustively, through the list of things you expect John to do, to get her agreement to exactly what you think you will need to do about them. If that fails, you make sure that she knows that every single time John misbehaves, you will be in her office asking her what she wants to do about it, since she wouldn’t give you advance authority to handle it your own way.

        The more of her problem John becomes, the more likely John will not be there at all. He only looks like a great idea to her now because she thinks she can dump the hard parts on you. Don’t let her.

  38. Mental Lentil*

    > the candidate has been very involved here and has a good background

    But he’s got a terrible foreground.

    I love this phrasing. This is legend.

    If your boss (or her boss) insist on bringing this guy in, make them agree to manage him directly. (And then hold them to that.)

    Yep. This might be the pushback that they need.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Nesting fail. Meant this to be a response to A Person.

      Well, butt nuggets.

  39. JSPA*

    Bring in two or three qualified others, first. Get them in line, and get to know them. If they lobby for adding John, and they bring to the job a full set of “John management skills” that they can share with you, and everyone (except John) is clear on the combination of, “has some great skills and really means well” but, “negative charisma and social skills points,” you can probably handle him.

    If they either think he walks on water, or all know him, but are actually delighted to find a place where he’s not (yet agin) front and center, because nobody can handle him…that’s a bullet dodged. (This is not unlikely. Just because someone’s known to all, and their name comes up repeatedly, doesn’t mean everyone’s thrilled.)

    And if he’s irked at not being asked to volunteer, well, it’s downright strange to ask a would-be employee to do job things for free! You had no idea he’s be interested to do for love of the cause and the challenge, what he’d offered to do for money.

  40. Big Red*

    This reminds me of a story my boss told me about a candidate who applied for my job (fundraising). The guy had a really impressive resume, had worked for Hahvahd and raised tens of millions for their capital campaign, yadda yadda yadda. He gets to the final interview which is a presentation on your fundraising strategy for the organization. His “strategy” basically boiled down to: I will figure out where X celebrity hangs out, go there, engage them in conversation about [your org], BOOM! they write a check. His presentation was a list of celebrities he thought he could engage. These weren’t people he actually knew, he genuinely thought that he could walk up to Oprah at a restaurant and sit down at her table with her.

    Afterwards it came out that he had never worked for Hahvahd–his roommate or friend did, and they had talked about the fundraising campaign. Somehow in his mind “talking with my friend about his work and maybe giving some advice” = “I am responsible for the success of this campaign and have personally raised millions of dollars.”

    1. Big Red*

      Ironically, about a year into my tenure there we got a new board chair who only wanted to talk about “How can we get (A-list celebrity who is very very rich but notoriously stingy) to donate to us?” Maybe they should have gone with Hahvahd man after all!

  41. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m scratching my head at the OP’s boss thinking that John would be a great asset. Is John a major donor or the son of a board member? Sounds like that may be in play here.

    1. LW Here*

      Your guess is as good as mine! I don’t know of any relationships he has to the board or to any donors (though it is certainly possible), except that he was a part of a major fundraising drive a few years ago.

      What my boss has told me is that John’s background matches the kind of background that would be helpful in this role. While it is a niche area of knowledge, there are definitely other people with similar backgrounds. I almost feel like it’s a beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation for her, but like a lot of people have pointed out, I think it would take up so much of my time to manage him that it would take away from recruiting and training others.

      1. JSPA*

        Most people who are used to being in power and wielding power are NOT AT ALL shy about cutting out people who are an up-front guaranteed headache, on the basis of some niche skills. Now, that’s not always a good thing, if “headache” means, “this person will make me self conscious about the stereotypes I hold” or, “I would not want to have a beer with this person because they mouth breathe and stand too close, so I also will not consider them even for a remote coding job.” But when it legit means, “this person was up in my grille from the moment we met, and up in yours, and communicating in a way that we both find belittling (regardless of intent) and he sets our teeth on edge and he feels a job here is no more than what he’s due”? No. Just, No. Your boss isn’t bending over backward, she’s tying herself into a klein bottle.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I said this up above in response to boop the first’s comment:

      Apparently, he knows the field really well, he knows the organization (he’s “been very involved here”), has a good background (not sure what this means, but okay), has volunteered and raised funds, etc.

        1. LW Here*

          Sorry – I meant to clarify that his “good background” is some specialized knowledge in my area. It’s difficult to come across people with as much familiarity as him, but definitely not impossible.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Honestly, I think you will spend a lot less time training somebody who has no knowledge whatsoever but a willingness to take direction than you would on managing John, with all his specialized knowledge. You might point that out to your boss.

  42. TIRED*

    Alison posted this earlier in the comments: “We really don’t need to go so far out of our way to find excuses for John.” THIS THIS THIS!

    Because of biases that people have (John is an older man, my guess is he’s white) – John gets a million “benefit of the doubt” moments. This is how meh employees get promoted over better employees. This is how bad employees survive layoffs that better employees don’t. This is how John gets hired over Jane. I’m so over it.

  43. Working Hypothesis*

    This guy sounds like an absolute nightmare — and a truly terrible “ambassador” for your organization, no matter how enthusiastic he might be. I hope you can talk your boss out of inviting him.

  44. Denver Gutierrez*

    I was wondering the same thing about how management came up with idea that John would be a great ambassador. I have worked with people similar to him in the past. Even when they knew their stuff and were passionate about the work, their behavior was very off-putting to the public. Making people uncomfortable or scaring them away completely is not going to help your image.

    As someone who works at a place that has a volunteer program, I also don’t understand why they would want to take on someone so problematic they wouldn’t hire but it is ok to let him volunteer. Problematic is problematic. He already proved that he will overstep boundaries as an employee, so do they think he won’t overstep just because he is a volunteer and not paid ? I have witnessed many overstepping volunteers over the years and they ended up being fired from the program because they wouldn’t listen and caused too many issues.

  45. Workerbee*

    Gotta love upper management who pushes you to hire / acquire a known nightmare, when they’re not the ones who directly have to deal with said nightmare. /ire

  46. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Use can be made of folks with bad interpersonal skills. Give him behind-the-scenes tasks where he isn’t interacting with others too much. Cleaning the bathrooms, organizing the storage areas, etc.

  47. KaylinNeya*

    Am I the only one thinking back to the LW earlier in the week about Aloysius? Having him as a volunteer sounds like a Very Bad Idea. Good luck LW!!

  48. Bill Johnson*

    The whole scenario is a little bizarre. How does John make a living now? I can’t imagine being passed over for a job (was it twice?) and then being eager to volunteer at the same company. Seems like a set up for failure and frustration.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      LW says he’s 50+. He may have taken early retirement from something, and be looking for *this* job because the organization interests him, but not need a job per se.

  49. Dennis Feinstein*

    Ugh. Seriously just eff off John.
    Despite my moniker I’m a 50+ lady and I’ve had it up to here with the Johns of this world.
    Get volunteers who aren’t tedious condescending bores & let John feel completely free to go and patronise someone else.

  50. BethRA*

    Not a hiring decision, but our org’s leadership decided to bring a Bushel-of-Red-Flags type on as an event host in an area where we were trying to build a fundraising presence. He exhibited everything OP describes (the condescension, the rambling, the lack of self-awareness, the massive ego), but they signed him on over the objections of the actual fundraising team because “enthusiasm!” and because they thought his connections benefit us. And he did indeed have great connections – which wound up backfiring when he eventually poisoned every single one of them for us. He also turned what had been a simple but successful event into a costly and time-intensive mess.

    Just say no to the Johns of the world. They’re not just not worth the effort, they’re actively destructive.

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