my boss objects to a joke I made a year ago, employers who freak out when you turn down a job, and more

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

1. My manager says my joke a year ago was unprofessional

At the start of last year, I moved teams into a new-ish role that I was excited about. The manager of my new team (Ella) was someone I’d worked with for a long time and we had a rapport and professional friendship, but I’d never worked directly for her. When Ella became aware I was moving to her team, she asked, “Is there anything I should know about managing you before you move teams?” with a lighthearted, joking tone (we were eating lunch in the breakroom so it wasn’t any kind of official meeting).

I made a joke in response, something like: “Nothing huge — oh, but I hate taking direction, I do not respond well to feedback, and I won’t read any emails longer than 100 words.” Basically, I was trying to think of the world’s most difficult-to-manage employee (none of this was true of me!). Ella laughed in response and said something like, “Oh no! I’ve got my work cut out for me!” We were both joking and I never thought about it again.

Cut to this month: in my last supervision meeting with Ella, she said she thinks I’m ready to start applying for leadership positions, and she’d like to make a plan for anything we feel I could work on before applying for manager jobs. Great! We get to working on it, and she tells me one of the areas for improvement would be my “professionalism in the office.” I was shocked. I think I’m fairly appropriate in my role and office. I asked for examples and Ella referred to the joke I made back in 2020, about how I would be “impossible to manage.” She was clear she understood it as a self-deprecating joke, but that she’s had some time to think about it and believes it to be both “unprofessional and not in your best interest.” She could provide no other examples of me being unprofessional. I’ve never had this feedback before and always get good performance reviews.

I’m so confused. I don’t even know how she expects me to address this developmental goal. I have another meeting coming up in which I’d like to quash this issue entirely, but I don’t know where to start. So basically — was it really such a huge deal that I made a joke like that, and what do I do next?

Whaaaat. Your joke was fine. I wouldn’t use it on everyone, but you already had good rapport with her and presumably you were clearly kidding. It’s bizarre that she’s bringing it up now, over a year later … and the fact that she had no other examples of your “unprofessionalism” makes me think that (a) she was stretching to try to find improvement areas for you and this is just complete BS, or (b) she’s humorless in general or humorless/defensive about authority (you’d probably already know if this is true), or (c) she’s had a general feeling that you could be more polished or professional (which could be legit, who knows) but it’s kind of amorphous and when she couldn’t come up with any concrete examples, she just grasped at this.

In your next meeting, you could say something like, “In our last meeting, you mentioned I should work on my professionalism in the office and referenced the joke I made last year. I was really concerned to hear it and I’ve been reflecting on it a ton. I’d had no idea that this was a concern, and I’m hoping there are other examples you can share. If it’s something I need to work on, I of course want to — but I don’t have a good sense of what you’re picking up on or specifics of what you’d hope to see me do differently.” The idea here is to come in non-defensively, but still put the burden back on her of explaining more clearly what she means.

2. Is it normal for employers to react strongly when you turn down a job?

I have a question about what to expect *after* you’ve turned down a position. This past fall and winter, I got my first taste of the academic job market. I interviewed at lots of places where the work would be interesting but would not be tenure-track and would involve a lot of people/team management, and I ultimately ended up taking a postdoc at a prestigious institution that logistically worked better and would set me up for more tenure-track positions in a few years time (plus, I really liked the projects I’d be working on). When I turned down other offers, I wrote an email thanking them for their time, letting them know that they sounded like a great place doing interesting work, but that I was taking a postdoc that I thought better aligned with my long-term career goals.

For the most part, people responded to this well, and I went into more specifics about the other position if asked, but I got a few responses that surprised me. One position repeatedly told me how the department was extremely disappointed to hear I would not be continuing with them. Another asked if I could set up time to chat about my decision process so that they might improve the interview experience, and then proceeded to use that time to try and convince me to ditch the position I had already accepted. Was that a reaction I should’ve been prepared for when I agreed to the chat? I was blindsided, but being new to interviewing I’m not entirely sure what is common or acceptable in the process. My partner told me this is just what happens when you’re a desirable candidate but it still seems beyond the pale.

I have learned not to apply norms from the rest of the work world to academia, but with that caveat in place: No, this is not normal! It wouldn’t be odd to hear, “We’re so disappointed to hear that! Can we ask what made you decide to turn down our offer?” It wouldn’t even be strange if they asked for a call where they tried to address some of your concerns in the hopes they might change your mind. It’s not something you should expect will happen, but you do see it occasionally for a very strong candidate.

But telling you repeatedly how disappointed they are isn’t typical (I’d argue it’s a red flag, in fact, as it’s pretty disrespectful of your personal agency), and using false pretenses to lure you on the phone so they could lobby you isn’t typical. But the fact that you had multiple employers doing this certainly has me wondering whether you are a god-like candidate … or whether academia’s rather distinct set of norms has struck again. Readers in the field?

Related: I turned down a job, and now people are devastated

3. I’ve moved three hours from my office but not resigned

I’ve been the right hand to the CEO of my organization for the past five years. I have great respect for my boss, leadership, and coworkers, we work well together, and I’ve transformed the role into a more robust position. We’ve been working from home since March 2020 and won’t be officially called back into the office until at least 2022. If we want, we’ll be able to work from the office before this time. About six months into the pandemic, my family decided to move about three hours away to our cabin in another state. I let my boss know at the time, as I wanted to be transparent and honest with him. He was fine with this, but we discussed that it might not work longer term once we go back to a larger office presence. This did come to be and so we are actively hiring my replacement and I’m on the hiring committee. I would be handing off my job but we haven’t discussed how that transition would work or if I will have another role. To be clear, I haven’t resigned from my position and would like to stay.

I have tried discussing this to understand how he see this developing and whether I would have a position once my role is back-filled. He hasn’t wanted to talk about it, which I’m assuming means there will not be a position for me. I fell like I’m a bit in limbo for the future and want to start making plans if I don’t have a role, but I also don’t see why I would resign. If I don’t resign, would they have to fire me? I feel like I’m missing something.

If your boss told you that being three hours away won’t work long-term and they’re now hiring your replacement and he’s avoided your questions about whether there will be another role for you … the safest thing is to assume there is no other role for you. That said, you’ve got to ask him directly. Please insist on discussing it! Say something like, “We haven’t had a clear conversation about what filling my position means for me. I need to know whether I’ll still have a role here or whether I need to be looking for another job.”

If they don’t intend to employ you in some other capacity, they wouldn’t necessarily need to fire you — it would likely be more like “let’s plan on your last day being October 10th” or similar. That’s closer to a layoff than a firing; you’re not being let go for cause, but there’s no longer a position for you. Or they might see it as a resignation; you moved knowing it could mean no longer being able to do the job.

But you’ve got to insist on having the conversation. If the reality is that they’re planning to take you off their payroll in a couple of months, you need to be planning for that now.

Since you’d prefer to stay, do you have ideas about a new role you could take on and do remotely? If you can create a proposal with specifics, you might have a shot at it — and if they reject that idea, it’s likely to at least help move the other conversation along.

Read an update to this letter here

4. How to include pronouns on your resume

I’m happily employed in a health and human services field, but I’m starting a job search as I am about to graduate with my master’s degree. I currently work for a nonprofit, but the nature of my job means I’m also looking at a lot of government jobs along with nonprofit orgs. Since I’ve been working at my current job, I’ve come out as nonbinary and started using they/them pronouns. Everyone I work with has been supportive and I haven’t had any issues. Because of the nature of my professional niche, I’m likely to be asked my pronouns if contacted for an interview at any independent organization within my niche — but I have much less confidence in that happening if I decide to branch out a bit, nor do I think it’s yet the norm outside of this and other similar niches.

Is there a good way to indicate my pronouns on my resume? My given name reads as unambiguously “feminine,” and while I’m thinking of changing it some day I’m not there yet. I’d really like to indicate proactively to potential employers how I prefer to be addressed, but I have no idea how to do so in a professional manner.

Yes! You can put your pronouns right after or under your name on your resume, and can include them in your signature on your cover letter too. When candidates include pronouns in application materials, that’s nearly always where you see it.

You may end up screening out employers who are hostile to nonbinary folks, but that’s generally a good thing as long as you’re in a position to do it.

Related: how to get better at using a coworker’s nonbinary pronouns

5. How to explain why I moved to a new state

My fiancé is starting to apply to graduate school. A lot of them happen to be out of state, which is exciting. My problem is I would obviously need to find a new job and I’m unsure how to answer “what made you move to X?” I’m afraid if I say I moved because my fiancé is in school, all they’re going to hear is, “Well, she’ll move again after he’s done with school.” Is there a good way to answer this?

You don’t need to explain he’s in school! You can just say, “My fiancé is here, so I’m moving here to join him.”

But you could also say, “My fiancé is in grad school here, and we’re interested in settling in the area.” If you frame it that way, interviewers are less likely to worry you’ll leave when he’s done with school.

{ 347 comments… read them below }

  1. Xantar*

    #1. Could have been worse. You could have joked about how many years it would take you to make double-sided copies!

    1. Emily*

      Xantar: If Ella was really that perturbed by OP’s joke then maybe Ella should be working in the “no jokes allowed” office!

        1. Former Child*

          I’d add, “I’m just joking, of course” after any joke, but continue to make them. Then add, “That’s just what I hear sometimes and it makes me laugh inside.” But then add some grounded, astute comment that applies.
          Essentially you’re erasing the joke you made. It’s hard to change your personality but you can clean up any ambiguity or offense after you say something.

      1. Snark No More!*

        It’s a reference to a column from earlier in July where a person was called in to a meeting with their boss and HR (!) Because they made one joke about how long it would take them to figure out the copier. That office did not use humor for anything.

  2. Jessica*

    I think LW5’s situation really depends on what her fiancé is in school for. There are many fields where the idea of being able to find a job right where you went to grad school is like basing your future on a plan to win the lottery.

    1. tra la la*

      Yes — I would stick with “my fiance is here and I’m relocating to be with them.” There are fields where a department won’t hire its own PhD graduates (my dad would have loved to have stayed in the city where he got his PhD, but couldn’t because of that).

      1. Artemesia*

        This — law graduates often settle in the area where they choose to study and this is considered an asset. PhDs are not hired by their own departments, at least at good schools.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          And there’s a certain logic to that. As a recent graduate or postdoc, your interests/experience are very much determined by your supervisor, and hiring you as faculty doesn’t broaden the department’s expertise, or bring in new collaborations and connections. The cases I know where someone was later hired at at the institute they did their PhD or postdoc at have usually involved going away to another institute, developing their career and then returning (plus being excellent candidates). Plus a few cases of people being hired for more project based positions where their specific expertise was needed in expanding a new group.

        2. PostalMixup*

          But plenty of PhDs (at least in life sciences) get a postdoc position in a different department at the same institution, particularly away from the coasts where the density of high-quality institutions is lower. It’s becoming even more common as academia comes to grip with the fact that their PhD students can have family obligations, and don’t necessarily aim for a tenure-track faculty position. That’s harder to do for some fields, but even then, my institution had students that went from, say, Microbiology to Infectious Diseases. My husband went from Biochem to Cell Biology (he defended 18 months before I did, while I was pregnant with our first) and I went from Micro to Dermatology (he was 18 months into his postdoc; it didn’t make career sense to start a whole new one). And this was at a plenty good institution.

        3. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          It’s pretty common for MBAs end up in the same city if the city has a robust enough jobs market. It’s easier for businesses to develop recruiting relationships with nearby schools and the students tend to be comfortable in the area. Even going to a school in a smaller town, a significant portion of our class ended up in cities within a few hours’ drive after graduating.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Sure but it doesn’t matter whether they actually intend to settle there long term. What matters is that people hiring don’t write-off OP due to presumable expiration date on living there. So regardless of whether it’s plausible for the fiance to get and keep a job in that same area, OP doesn’t need to tell them “grad school”.

  3. AcademiaNut*

    Academic type here. It would be fairly normal for a potential employer to express disappointment, or want to talk about why you turned it down – in the latter case, it can be an attempt to genuinely improve their process. Getting obnoxious about it, however, is not a standard response. There are however, enough eccentric people with large egos that the OP may have just got unlucky.

    I don’t know what field they are in, but if they’re getting lots of offers and a research focussed postdoc at a prestigious institute, they’re probably an exceptional candidate. I find that with exceptional candidates, it’s generally understood that they have lots of options, and are likely to get a really good offer, so unless you’re a top employer offering a research focussed job with lots of research money in the candidate’s preferred country, you’ll recognize you’re a backup choice and accept it. My guess would be that the outliers are the ones with the flaming egos.

    1. Sherm*

      I thought of ego as well. There are those in academia who take rejection sooo poorly and make it so personal, those who CAN’T BELIEVE their manuscript, for example, got rejected (although it was deserved) and then write an appeal letter dripping with indignation (which never works and just causes embarrassment).

      1. ecnaseener*

        I guess this is what happens to people who never get over their hangups with being a straight-A student in high school?

      2. Well...*

        This shocks me, because taking rejection over and over is a necessary reality of the current job market and funding situation in so many fields. Even the majority of folks with ivy league degrees can’t expect to get ivy league professor jobs and have to settle for jobs at less prestigious institutes. How did they survive that process without handling rejection?

          1. Camelid coordinator*

            Yes, they end up bitter and unable to appreciate the pluses of where they are because they expected to be in the Ivies.

        1. fantomina*

          But academics who got their TT jobs back in the days when your advisor would call up a buddy at another college and basically set up a job for you may not have had to get used to job market-related rejection. And I’ve found that a lot of those folks are also the ones who haven’t published since the day they got tenure, meaning they haven’t necessarily experienced publishing-related rejection in several decades, either.

        2. AnonToday*

          My grad school was apparently place you go if you don’t get into the ivy PhD programs for my field. And a lot of my classmates…didn’t really handle it. It resulted in a bitter people with complex egos who “handled” it by being rude to the admin assistants and making it known that you were lucky to be graced by their presence.

          We also had a few who did their undergrad at ivies and didn’t apply there for grad school because they were just really f-ing done with the egos (and the weather), and they didn’t have this attitude, so it wasn’t everyone.

          1. Well...*

            I also went to a non-ivy grad school, and I knew my fair share of PhD students like that. I found they didn’t really survive on the academic track though. I wonder if the ivy grad school background enables that more. The career path for the rest of us requires a lot more willingness to get rejected and push outside oru comfort zones.

    2. Urban Prof*

      I’m an academic with a lot of experience chairing searches, so I’ve got a very strong opinion on LW2’s situation.

      It was only one department that was unprofessional, according to the LW. This department’s search committee (SC) actively deceived LW2. First, they asked LW2 to contact them again (!) to give them feedback (!) on the search. That is so far outside the norm that I am surprised LW2 agreed to do it. (I am not faulting LW2 for agreeing; I am only surprised LW2 was not counseled against it by mentors. It is not a fresh graduate’s job to counsel a group of tenured professionals on how to do their job better.)

      And then, instead of having the conversation they misled LW2 into thinking they would be having, the SC tried to talk LW2 into taking the job they had already declined! That is outrageous.

      Given this really unseemly conduct on the part of the SC, I am firmly of the opinion that they were going to lose the line if they did not have a successful search outcome. They were desperate, and they abused the trust of LW2.

      Here is my take on the whole situation. Either LW2 was the only applicant the entire SC could agree upon, or the other applicants that the SC would have hired had taken other positions at that point in the search timeline.

      There is no excuse for the SC’s unprofessional treatment of LW2 here, so I am NOT trying to excuse it; I am only endeavoring to explain it.

      1. Bananagram*

        There’s such variation amongst fields that it’s hard to generalize, but in mine at least (humanities, one of the smaller ones) there aren’t lines to lose for term positions, which these are. That said, the OP’s language about projects suggested the sciences to me, as did the number of positions she was considering.

        I’m inclined to agree with you more broadly, though, which is that this is just unusual dysfunction in a field where dysfunction is already pretty common.

        1. Urban Prof*

          That’s an excellent point, Bananagram. Many departments will not lose non-tenure-track lines if they are not filled. So my “losing the line” theory may be wrong! And I agree that LW2’s situation does sound like it might be in the sciences, and I too have a humanities perspective on things.

          But holy dysfunction, Batman, I would not want to work in that department.

          1. Office sweater lady*

            I also was thinking sciences and perhaps that the OP has exceptional skills that are in high demand. Painting with a very broad brush, getting hired for a good academic job out of PhD can be very competitive so perhaps this department assumed they would be able to hire their first choice candidate without any trouble. However, even though you always hear about a “glut” of new PhDs on the market, there are still some areas and skills which there are highly in demand and I’d bet the OP is in one of these. I have been asked to give feedback on turning down an opportunity but the request was polite, open about their goals, and just asked for me to reply to some emailed questions, which I thought was appropriate and normal, unlike what this department did.

          2. Pucci*

            It could be that this position was created to have a large managing TAs component. I could see a position likethat being something a department might lose if they don’t hire someone. Also it’s getting to the start of the school year, that could be playing into their anger, unjustified as it might be. School politics might have gotten their search started late.

          3. fantomina*

            I’ve seen funding for a TT line be pulled after a failed search. So if a few finalists withdrew for any reason (using the search as a bargaining tactic at current institution, got an offer elsewhere, etc) the stakes could be pretty high for that search committee. That doesn’t excuse it, but it helps explain the hostility, perhaps.

          4. rototiller*

            Ex-STEM academic here, and I agree that a freakout about losing the line is a possibility. It doesn’t even have to be about the department losing it – if it’s a larger department, could be subdisciplines battling for resources. “If we don’t hire a llama groomer this round that asshole from alpaca brushing is gonna push for his guy,” kinda thing. Faction politics + toxic egos = weird, inappropriate academic behavior, in my experience.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Quibbling with your “only one department was unprofessional” statement – LW also mentioned a different department that repeatedly said how extremely disappointed they were. That’s also unprofessional (though not as bad as the second example)

        1. rural academic*

          I don’t think it’s a problem for the department to express that sentiment once, but multiple times does seem a little much. I’m curious, though, whether the “extremely disappointed” was expressed multiple times in a single message (which would definitely be too much), or whether there was more back-and-forth communication for some reason, and the disappointment mentioned each time.

          I do think the repeated expressions of disappointment, while inappropriate, could be just a manifestation of a search chair who is awkward at communications.

          1. Nanani*

            There’s a difference between expressing (perhaps badly) that they are disappointed with the outcome, vs a paternalistic “We’re disappointed in you personally” – The second one is extremely unprofessional.
            The first one could be understandable, as long as they don’t harp on it and try to make it LWs problem like the sneak-attack department did.

            1. ecnaseener*

              Yeah, definitely depends – the fact that LW included it in the same category of weird freakouts makes me think it was on the side of “WE JUST CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULD LET US DOWN” wailing

      3. Yet Another Academic*

        I’m also in academia and have applied for jobs, been turned down for jobs, declined offers, been on search committees, extended offers that were accepted, and extended offers that were declined. Without more details, I can’t say exactly what happened in this LW’s case.
        Academic searches can be fraught, though. Something that people outside of academia may not realize is that (depending on the field) timing plays a crucial part of the process. The “season” for my field last maybe a month or two. Candidates are all interviewing and receiving offers at the same time. Most searches will have multiple acceptable candidates. However, once an offer is extended, those other candidates look elsewhere. They may accept other offers, leaving the committee with just one person they can hire. Adding new candidates to the mix may not be an option, due to various financial and bureaucratic concerns. It’s that candidate or no candidate, which can make things a little fraught and lead to unusual behavior.
        I’ve received a verbal offer that didn’t become an actual offer because the search committee was trying to keep me from accepting another job while they waited to hear back from another candidate. To my mind, that was a peak of unprofessional behavior.
        Something else I’ve noticed, which may not apply in this situation: Candidates are often unaware of these dynamics and often have limited experience with job searches. We’ve had candidates behave in ways that have left us in a fairly bad position. We extended a TT offer to someone who was waiting to hear back from an incredibly prestigious post doc. They didn’t want to tell us that, and they essentially ghosted us for 3 weeks. We had extended the offer and couldn’t take it back due to various rules, but we also had no idea what was going on. The search almost failed, and we had to lobby pretty hard to bring in additional candidates.
        Another candidate engaged in some pretty hardball negotiations. This dragged things out, but we also want to give candidates what they need to do well! So, we worked hard to find the resources. Then, at the very last minute after a prolonged months long negotiating process, they asked for a TT spousal hire. We couldn’t do that. I happen to know that this person was fairly angry about the situation and has complained about it widely. This search did fail, then a Covid-related hiring freeze happened, and we are still down a faculty member 3 years later.
        In sum, academia is weird. Sometimes, bad behavior is rewarded. Sometimes, it’s not. Do what lets you sleep at night.

        1. Blackcat*

          “Most searches will have multiple acceptable candidates. However, once an offer is extended, those other candidates look elsewhere. They may accept other offers, leaving the committee with just one person they can hire. Adding new candidates to the mix may not be an option, due to various financial and bureaucratic concerns. It’s that candidate or no candidate, which can make things a little fraught and lead to unusual behavior.”

          Yeah, I think something like this happened. I had one experience like the LW. I interviewed for a non-tenure track teaching role at the same time as I was interviewing for a prestigious post-doc. I was offered both the same week. I ended up taking the post-doc. I turned down the teaching role pretty immediately, but I got multiple appeals from them trying to persuade me to change my mind. The last one included the line of “We will never find someone else who can teach both class X and class Y, and if you don’t sign up, our search will fail.” They very much wanted to guilt me into the job, and they seemed indignant I would turn them down. They also never offered more $$ to me, though! In my case, I think part of it was that their department was all male and they were also desperate to hire a woman (a 90%/10% male/female split is not uncommon in my field, but it’s somewhat rare to find 100% male departments). It was red flags EVERYWHERE, and I’d never, ever work there after the experience.

          They ultimately emailed my PhD advisor and graduate department chair, both of whom told them to politely f-off. I didn’t hear from them again after that, but that felt extra gross–they didn’t listen to my no, but they did listen to senior men saying no on my behalf. Yuck.

          So…. while I’d say this is exceptionally bad behavior, this is a thing that happens in academic STEM. I also wonder if it happens more to women in male dominated fields (and/or people of color).

          1. fantomina*

            That’s an exceptionally gross experience. I’m sorry you had to deal with that, but glad you spotted the red flags (red billboards? giant pennants?) well in advance!

      4. Retired Prof*

        Absolutely this. We usually get enough hiring money to bring three to four candidates for interviews. If all of them turn us down, the Dean usually pulls back the position and we have to ask for it again the next year, especially if another department found two good candidates and could use both (we are a perpetually underfunded institution). Combine that reality with the fact that the search committee chair is not selected for their skill, but for their willingness. And there are some epically clueless people in academics. I have a colleague who is absolutely capable of this behavior – luckily he’s also too lazy to volunteer to chair a search.

      5. Mallory Janis Ian*

        That was kind of my take: That the search committee didn’t want to have a failed search and the applicant pool had dwindled. Losing the line could have been in play, as well, but even without that possibility, the pain of a failed search may be what they were trying to avoid.

      6. Majnoona*

        These are really good points. I’ve chaired a zillion searches (at two universities) and have never done (or heard of anyone doing) something like this. We’ve never had to risk losing a line but I can see how if that were the case someone might try. And it is true that once you reach agreement on a candidate you don’t want to have to go back (which gives the candidate some leverage). That said, we’ve always ranked our choices (including saying we won’t accept candidate X so that doesn’t happen). But then, we get over 100 (good) applicants for each spot. We know no one wants to be contingent faculty. We expect them to take better offers if they get them and we move on. I think you were treated weirdly and Urban Prof’s reasoning is good.

      7. Prof Space Cadet*

        If a university is haranguing for declining an offer, it would seem to suggest a red flag to me about the university. It could be that the faculty there don’t understand the current job market, but it could also indicate administrative malfeasance or poor faculty-administration relations.

        A few years ago, I chaired a search committee at my previous university to hire two non-tenure track lecturers. Our two highest-ranked finalists each turned us down to accept offers at other universities that paid better and/or had other “intangible” advantages that we couldn’t match. I didn’t blame either of them one bit and would have done the same thing if I had been in their shoes. The result of that lay squarely on university administration for not approving the search sooner in the hiring cycle and for not offering a competitive salary relative to other institutions. We did end up hiring two very good people from the same applicant pool, but we had to think more broadly about the position (i.e., we originally wanted two llama groomers, but instead had to settle for an alpaca groomer and a llama breeder). Administration was happy we hired them and didn’t fault us for having to bring two more candidates to campus, but I can see how this might have been an issue at some places.

        Moral of story: even in normally very competitive academic fields, excellent candidates are still interviewing colleges/universities as much as the the search committee is interviewing them.

    3. Well...*

      I’m pretty shocked this institute isn’t offering a tenure track job and is upset a candidate would take a prestigious postdoc (which, as OP writes, improves their chances of landing a tenure track position).

      Maybe in OP’s field there is some realistic academic career path where OP can work in their field without possibility of tenure, but in many fields that leads to either a dead end or transitioning out of your academic field.

      1. fantomina*

        In the humanities, many candidates would be considered lucky to get a full-time, non-tenure track appointment, because even though it’s a dead end, it’s still more stable than adjuncting full-time at multiple institutions for poverty wages. (at my last job the whole department was adjuncts, with one NTT faculty as program director, and while teaching the max # of sections at that school, they made under $12k/year)

        1. Well...*

          Yes by dead-end I meant adjuncting. I guess at least a full-time adjunct position is better than cobbling together part time positions into a living wage. Or maybe there are full time positions with benefits adjuncts don’t have?

          I think without tenure though, claiming the job is stable is pretty dubious. If you lose your job, the job market means the likelihood of finding a new one is very small. The likelihood of finding a new job where you live is almost zero.

      2. Untenured scientist*

        I work in a field of science where many people do actually have long, successful careers in untenured, soft money research scientist positions. I’m in such a position, and as long as I keep the grant money coming in, I get a good salary, full benefits, plenty of opportunity for advancement, and much more work/life balance and flexibility than a tenure-track role. It can be a tenuous career path, though.

        Regarding the followup the LW received, I don’t think it’s unusual for a search committee to request feedback on what they could do to make a position like this more appealing to highly desirable candidates, given that these positions often require very specialized skills but with little flexibility in offer details (since that is probably constrained by a grant). Ive seen many follow ups of this nature. But the bait and switch pressure that the LW received is not typical… highly qualified candidates are going to have options, hiring committees are well aware of this, and they should not take rejection personally. My guess is someone in charge was getting desperate due to time limits; a failed search could delay a key part of a funded project, and funding agencies don’t like that (not a good excuse for the behavior, though… they should have planned for backup contingencies when planning the project!)

      3. ErinWV*

        Full-time non-TT is not equivalent to just continuous adjuncting, though. My institution does not offer tenure, but full-time faculty receive full benefits, have a guaranteed course load every term, and have a compounding review process which is kind of comparable to tenure.

        We do lose a lot of candidates to TT positions though, enough that our faculty have been actively lobbying for tenure for the past few years.

    4. DieTrying*

      Academic here, been on both sides of this — the rejecting, the being rejected by a candidate — a few times over. These departments acted unprofessionally by anyone’s standards, including those of the academy.

      That being said, academics at times tend to take searches highly personally, and individuals who have a loose grasp of professional norms are often tolerated for longer, in greater measure in academia than they would be in other fields. For example, a mid-career scholar from a university I turned down for my Ph.D. cornered me at a conference nearly a decade later — at a time when I already had both my Ph.D. and a job! — to inform me that they had voted in favor of my admission, implying: “how dare you turn us down?!” On the other hand, the chair of a search for a very plum position who was turned down not only by me but by the two other finalists, due to all of us getting freak competing offers, is now a very dear friend, owing in large part to their incredibly professional behavior in the midst of that debacle (and the new search that had to be launched.)

      All that’s to say: I hope and trust that your postdoc is everything you hope it will be, OP, and that in your next round in the market you encounter only the good nuts :)

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Whoof, I can’t imagine. The department I worked for did some hiring in 2019-20. The first candidate who came in wowed us all — brilliant research, obviously capable teacher and speaker, enjoyable to talk to.

        He got a better-for-him offer and took it. We were disappointed, but not surprised — and certainly not angry! I wish him well, and can’t begin to imagine hassling him over it.

        Best wishes for a great postdoc and a great career, OP. Be appropriately wary of those schmucks.

    5. nuqotw*

      I’m a junior academic type…the whole thing seems bizarre, especially the institution that tricked OP into a call. A prestigious post doc is obviously better than a “non-tenure track teaching” job. Either way you’re back on the job market a few years later and the post doc is better for your CV every time.

      1. Well...*

        If this was indeed a non tenure track teaching job, then this institute is straight-up predatory. Relying on adjunct work is bad enough, but pestering people? Unacceptable.

      2. Daisy*

        She didn’t say teaching. She said ‘would involve a lot of people/team management’.

      3. AFac*

        I think it depends. In some areas, there seem to be a lot of people who are carving careers out of non-tenure track positions because they don’t want to deal with the stress of tenure, want better work-life balance, or prefer to teach/do admin and don’t want to do research. Whole departments (math, languages, music) can run on these people, and while technically they have to be reappointed every so often, the understanding is that they have the job as long as they perform adequately.

        1. Yorick*

          Yes, these positions are not the same as adjuncts, which are on a class-by-class, semester-by-semester basis according to the department’s needs.

        2. Bob Loblaw*

          Yeah, I teach full-time in a school of management, and my salary is higher than TT lines in the humanities. I get a new contract every 5 years instead of having a permanent (tenured) contract, but they have to give me a full year’s notice if they are not going to renew it.

    6. Junior Assistant Peon*

      From what I’ve read about my own field, university departments tend to get pissy and declare a failed search if their preferred candidate says no, rather than moving on to their second and third choices. The official reason for this is that there’s a weird unofficial “recruiting season” in the field, so the second and third choices often accept other offers by the time they can be contacted. The “recruiting season” stuff makes no sense to me because PhD’s are research-based and students don’t finish on a set schedule like a coursework-based medical school student would.

      The whole thing never made sense to me. There are very, very few tenured professor jobs out there relative to the number of new PhD’s cranked out every year, the ones who get jobs at Harvard or Caltech are often just very slightly more qualified than the ones who get jobs at South-Central Montana State, and highly qualified candidates are a dime a dozen. There is absolutely no reason for them to cry and whine and declare a failed search because their purple unicorn got another offer.

      1. rural academic*

        In my field, the majority of candidates defend their dissertations in the spring, so they are actually mostly finishing at the same time. My institution does not insist on hiring newly minted PhDs, so people who finished in past years are in the mix as applicants as well, but many of them already have short-term positions that will end at the end of the academic year. So yes, the recruiting season matters, and by April or May a department has likely lost out on its top choices and is scrambling to fill a position — but courses are already on the schedule, since students may have registered in March.

        As you note yourself, a department’s second and third choices may have accepted other offers and become unavailable. At my institution, we would have to make an appeal to our administration to bring in additional candidates for interviews, and that permission would not always be granted due to budgetary issues. The timeline for interviews matters a lot, and the stakes can be high.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          The “recruiting season” stuff makes sense in your field if most people graduate in the spring. In my field, chemistry, a grad student who’s put in roughly 5 years will get their advisor’s permission to job-hunt, and get an industry job or postdoc lined up. Once the student has found a job, he/she will spend about a month writing a thesis and defend, and this can happen at any time of year because companies hire when business needs dictate, not during some special time of year. The student’s official diploma often comes a few months later when the current semester ends and the next graduation ceremony is held (often skipped by new PhD’s in my field because they just started a job and have little vacation time to return to their grad school location). A small minority of my classmates went into tenured professor jobs because there just aren’t very many of them available. I always thought the “recruiting season” stuff is bonkers and is the cause of failed searches. If universities staggered their hiring like industry does, they wouldn’t have this problem of interviewing four people and racing to hire one before someone else beats them to it.

      2. AES*

        “university departments tend to get pissy and declare a failed search if their preferred candidate says no”
        This would have to be a VERY privileged department. As mentioned above, declaring a failed search would in all likelihood mean that the department would lose that line–and in mine that would be true whether this was for a tenure-track or non-tenure track job. I would only do this if I had scraped the absolute bottom of the barrel of candidates who had passed our initial screen. (This would obviously be a higher bar for a tenure-track appointment than for a one-year contingent position, but if I had ANY reasonable path to avoiding a failed search, I would take that path.)

        With that said, I have hired for at least 7 positions (some TT, some visiting) and in each case, if our preferred candidate declined, I would send them ONE message saying I was sorry to hear it and would be grateful if they were willing to share their rationale so we could be better positioned for hiring in future years, but I would never follow up after that unless specifically invited to by the candidate!

      3. Yorick*

        Academic markets usually happen in the fall, hiring for the following fall. There is also a secondary round in the spring, hiring for that fall. Once you’re into summer, most of the capable candidates either already have jobs or won’t be available for another year.

    7. Miller_Admin*

      Ref: 2. Is it normal for employers to react strongly when you turn down a job? I’ve seen this in both higher educ (which I am) to a sales job. Academia does not have mandatory HR/ Employee Relationship training for department chairs. It’s ego, etc. If it’s a department or a faculty member that brings in a lot money, the ego and narcissism comes into play. Some of them that I worked with are great; others I worked with I wouldn’t want as a direct supervisor. We had high turnovers for individuals that worked for those professors that bought in a million or two a year in grants. We had one faculty member that would have to sign documentation to switch grants paying a salary every year; that wouldn’t slow down to sign it. The grant would run out; and the person working wouldn’t be paid because they wouldn’t be willing to stop by the office and sign the form. I took care of that issue when I came aboard. I would call the person that was working; inform them that they cannot work at all until the faculty member signed the paperwork to switch budget codes. That worked wonders.

      — another was extreme was when I was working in banking. After our merger with another bank, there was a large number of lay offs. I got laid off and went to an interview that I thought was office management based on the job posting. Got there and it was sales for vacuum cleaners. I was offered the job and refused it. He threatened me; said he would report me to the Unemployment commission if I didn’t accept the job. I told him to go ahead, I was not required to take a job outside my field, etc.

    8. PT*

      One thing my husband was warned about on his academic job hunt- and he actually did have an offer with this invisible string- was that universities with less appealing jobs would structure the offer/offer acceptance deadline so it would pressure good candidates to take the mediocre offer in hand instead of waiting to see if an offer from a better/better fit university panned out.

      What ended up happening in his case was that he was on the phone negotiating with his current university whose offer he accepted up until the last hour of the offer deadline for the university whose offer he turned down. And this was adjusting for time zones, one was behind the other. The university he turned down was so salty they put a stop to any reimbursements they hadn’t disbursed yet from his interview visits. (They had exactly 0 resources for him to do his research, so I don’t know why they were acting so shocked he went to a school that had a dedicated research center all set up.)

      It is entirely possible they think they hooked the “big fish” and are mad it swam away.

    9. MsT*

      Having spent time in academia as a HR Manager I’m pretty convinced that the academics with the largest egos also have the most fragile ego. They are a nightmare to work with compared to the ones who despite being brilliant academics are simply a pleasure to work with.

      For example, Michael Smith, a Nobel Prize winner was reportedly an amazingly gracious man and an all round lovely human.

      1. Paulina*

        I once had the opportunity to meet and briefly chat with Michael Smith, and I absolutely agree with that characterization of him. The other highly recognized researchers I’ve been lucky enough to meet have also been both brilliant and kind.

    10. fueled by coffee*

      Some people here have already alluded to this, but in addition to what’s already been said about the cost of failed searches, I’ve also noticed an attitude regarding non-TT roles by hiring committees that applicants should be grateful for any full-time job offer, regardless of the nature of that job. That is, hiring committees are aware of the huge numbers of precariously employed PhDs, and can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t accept a full-time offer.

      Real things I’ve seen in job ads for these kinds of jobs:
      *10-month non-renewable positions that require relocation to remote areas of the country
      *Pay that is far below the cost of living for the area and frankly insulting for the amount of work required (think minimum wage for teaching a 6-6 course load)
      *No lab space, but the candidate was advised they could keep their research materials on a hallway cart
      *semester-long positions (which runs into problems with the “hiring season” discussed above, since you’re then unemployed from December-August)

      Some non-TT positions are great! And the things listed above certainly beat unemployment, probably. But there’s definitely an attitude that PhDs should be grateful for any offer of employment, no matter how crappy the conditions, and I can totally see an out-of-touch committee chair being angry that someone they were invested in declined a not-so-great offer.

  4. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: Ella might be telling you that she’d like you to change going forward, or indicating that her preference isn’t for such casual conversation isn’t her preference between herself as a manager and a subordinate, especially if other employees don’t have that rapport with her. If Ella wrote to Alison saying, “I like this employee but she sometimes comes right up to the edge of making jokes that put me in a weird spot,” Alison’s advice would be to talk to you. We finally have a manager who told you what she wants! This is what it looks like, and tbh your reaction is why so many managers are afraid to use their words.

    1. Anononon*

      I think you’re veering into advice column fanfic. Per the OP, the only things Ella has said are that OP should be more professional and that OP’s joke from a year ago is the only example that Ella could thing of regarding OP’s alleged lack of professionalism. Ella’s certainly not using her words to directly explain to OP what her concerns are.

      1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

        It’s not fanfic. Ella told the OP exactly what she wanted from her. Yes, time went by, but we’ve also seen letters where a manager let things go for too long without saying anything. So she said something.

        1. Emily*

          The Original Stellaaaaa: You keep missing the point that the *only* example of OP’s supposed issue of professionalism in the office that Ella was able to give OP was that one mild joke from a year ago. If it was really such an ongoing issue, Ella should be able to better explain things to OP/have more examples. Also, it’s rather odd that you said “tbh your reaction is why so many managers are afraid to use their words.” There’s no evidence at all that OP had a bad reaction to Ella when Ella told OP about the joke from a year ago. OP said she was “shocked”, which is understandable. I’d be shocked/confused too. It’s not like OP is being dismissive of Ella’s concern, OP is just confused by what is going on and is trying to address it.

          1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

            I’m not missing the point. It’s been bothering Ella for a year so she said something.

            1. tra la la*

              “I like this employee but she sometimes comes right up to the edge of making jokes that put me in a weird spot.”

              If Ella can’t come up with more examples, it’s not “sometimes,” it’s “once, a year ago.” If, like another commenter says below, Ella means “this was OK to say to me but not to others,” then she can use her words and say that. Even so, it’s something that happened a year ago, it’s hardly egregious, and if Ella can’t come up with more examples, “sometimes” makes no sense.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The thing is, if the only example she has is this one (minor) thing from a year ago, then this isn’t an issue the OP needs to be working on — but she framed it to her that way anyway. That’s the problem.

              It would be different if she’d said something like, “Hey, this has stayed in my mind and I should have spoken to you about it at the time. I was concerned last year when (blah blah).” But instead she’s citing it as an example of a larger trend — one the OP needs to work on before she can be promoted — when she hasn’t actually said anything that shows that.

            3. JelloStapler*

              I get what you’re saying, also she should have said something before an entire year passed and she used it as the sole example of unprofessionalism.

            4. Dust Bunny*

              Then Ella is ridiculous and should have addressed it much sooner instead of stewing about it for a year so she could bring it up in a formal setting.

              Or, really, Ella should have gotten over it a lot sooner.

              I rather wonder if this is one of those weird places that doesn’t want people’s performance reviews to be too good and this was all Ella had to complain about.

              1. Forrest*

                It wasn’t a performance review though, it was a developmental conversation about applying for leadership roles, and I think that makes a difference? Any conversation that’s about areas of weakness that you *need* to work on to be successful in your current role needs to come up with objectives which are specific, measurable, achievable etc. But a conversation to help you move on to the next, higher-level role doesn’t.

                1. serenity*

                  Even so, a tepid joke from 18 months ago – and only that – isn’t a disqualifier for management roles and OP’s boss flubbed this conversation.

              2. SheLooksFamiliar*

                ‘I rather wonder if this is one of those weird places that doesn’t want people’s performance reviews to be too good and this was all Ella had to complain about.’

                Exactly. Some employers and/or managers feel like they must have an ‘area of improvement’ discussion, regardless of performance. It could be that Ella is one of those managers, and OP’s joke is the only thing she could come up with.

              3. meyer lemon*

                My guess is that something about the joke didn’t quite sit right with Ella at the time and she’s been wondering ever since whether she should have said something, and she felt like this was her moment to bring it up.

                But if nothing like it has happened since, this may be more about Ella than the LW. I wonder if Ella is an inexperienced or insecure manager, or if she’s a bit uncomfortable with the dynamics of managing someone she used to be friendly with. This seems like a pretty mild remark to hold on to for so long.

              4. I'm just here for the cats*

                Or maybe it’s more like everyone has to work on improving something before they can be promoted and sacrifice in order to get ahead and Ella can’t think of anything else that the LW could improve on so she is grasping at straws

        2. Regatta*

          But what the manager says is bothering her is ridiculous. It’s not a normal feedback type of thing. Her subordinate should be able to make a tame joke without the manager losing her cool and stewing over it for a year – seems like the manager has some sort of issue she needs to deal with, not the letter writer.

    2. draker1001*

      If you let a year go by after someone uses “such casual conversation” then either it isn’t much of a problem or certainly you can come up with more recent examples from within the year.

      TBH, your comment seems rude and has nothing to do with why managers are afraid to use their words, a thing that isn’t a thing.

      1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

        How on earth is it rude? It’s not what OP wants to hear, but it seems she needs to adjust her sense of what her relationship with Ella is. I get that it hurts, but Ella is stating what she needs and maybe even setting a professional boundary that she feels is overdue.

        1. Disco Janet*

          It’s rude to tell someone they are the reason managers are afraid to use their words when that just doesn’t really make sense given the scenario.

          It’s like telling someone they’re the reason we can’t have nice things, when they’re not and haven’t done anything wrong. Vaguely insulting and doesn’t really make sense.

        2. Knope Knope Knope*

          I don’t think Ella really stated what she needs. She stated something OP needs to do in order to be promoted, but rather than give her concrete feedback on how to do that, she pointed to one example a year ago. Unless OP can go back in time and unmake the joke, or unless there are more examples OP can work on improving, Ella hasn’t given her useful or actionable feedback.

          OP, at the risk of also veering into fanfic, I wonder if your manager didn’t actually mean “professionalism” but “executive presence.” That quality that makes someone seem like a boss. It could be harder to come up with concrete examples of if you are in fact professional. Maybe Google and it and see if it fits and ask Ella about it. There are concrete tips out there, even if Ella can’t articulate them.

          1. Ray Gillette*

            This could be it. I used to have a joke title in the “title” section of my Slack profile. My manager told me that there was nothing wrong with the joke in and of itself, it was actually pretty funny, but it was the kind of thing that a junior employee would do (or maybe a “quirky” SME who was completely uninterested in leadership) and would subtly undermine my authority as a new manager.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              That’s thoughtful feedback. Executive presence is something I’m working on now as I go into leadership roles. I’ve long enjoyed some weirdness capital at my company, and coworkers like my quippy nature, but the fact is I wouldn’t want a direct report’s first descriptor of me to be “quirky.”

              I can totally see myself having made the same joke OP did, and I can understand a manager wanting to warn me to not, say, flip that script in leadership. (“Welcome to the team! Just to warn you, I hate dissent, expect 12-hour days, and require you to give me all your social media passwords and access to your front-door camera.”)

        3. EPLawyer*

          But Ella didn’t use her words. She said nothing about boundaries. She said that OP needs to be more professional. Then cited one example. She was not clear about what needed to be done. This was in fact the exact opposite of using her words. She was vague and expected OP to read her mind as to what she meant.

          1. JelloStapler*

            Have an example is one where she started the joke and the OP responded in kind. Seems a little bit like a bait and switch to me

        4. Not So NewReader*

          I totally agree with the part about OP needs to adjust what her relationship with Ella is.

          To me this parallels a parent who jokes along with the kiddo then the kid says something and parent banishes them to their room for the rest of the evening. It’s a like a water faucet- humor on/humor off, it doesn’t work with kids and it doesn’t work with adults either. Either something is funny or it’s not. It can’t be funny today and problematic a year later. This type of on/off thing destroys trust and in turn changes relationships.

          Now OP has no idea what else is eating away at the boss and the boss is not saying. I find it amazing how many people have trouble with being consistent. “Oh, it’s okay if the dog jumps on me.” Until one day it’s not okay and Surprise!… it’s not okay anymore.

          I had a boss do this to me on a different matter. I had made a mistake and asked how to correct it. Then I fixed it. This was normal, we’d ask how to fix our mistakes and then we’d fix them. This one particular mistake the boss mentioned for years later. It was like he was stuck on this one moment. There was a huge disconnect there in that he did not realize he never saw me make that mistake again and I went on to show others how to fix it when they made the same mistake. (We handled a lot of stuff- mistakes were to be expected.)

          I think Alison is right, OP, ask your boss to expand on that and show you other instances in more recent time. Unfortunately, I’d recommend not looking for that “ah-ha” moment where the boss figures out their own disconnect.

        5. Yorick*

          But Ella isn’t stating what she needs or wants from OP. She said OP isn’t quite “professional” enough, which is vague, and couldn’t give any examples other than this very minor thing.

          There’s no reason to think that OP is too “casual” or “jokey” with Ella overall, since that’s not what the feedback said.

    3. Heidi*

      I was wondering whether Ella meant that it was fine to tell this joke that one time last year because Ella knows the OP well, but that it wouldn’t land well with other people who weren’t as familiar with OP and their work.

      1. Maggie*

        Heidi, I read it like this as well: the manager was fine with it, but she worries that if OP is like this with anyone, even people she does not have an established relationship with, she needs to warn her before OP tries to move up. It’s valid and useful feedback, even if OP thinks it’s obvious not to do that with people she doesn’t know well. Look. Most humor has a grain of truth to it. Lots if people use “sarcasm” when they’re not actually being sarcastic, just honest. If I were the OP, I’d say thanks for the advice and avoid sarcasm while trying to advance.

        1. ecnaseener*

          But if Ella can’t point to a more recent example of inappropriate humor, then OP *has* been avoiding it for the better part of a year. The problem is that the advice isn’t actionable.

          1. quill*

            Honestly we can’t know, given the last year, if Ella has been in a position to observe LW’s professionalism, but regardless, it’s a weird thing to remember after a year.

        2. Anoni*

          This is such a weird take. She was joking with her manager. Holy crap, if joking in a completely non-offensive, bland way were such a problem, nobody would joke ever with their bosses or coworkers. It’s neither valid nor useful if your feedback is on something that happened a year ago, was a low-key joke over lunch, and you can provide no other examples of the issue that actually demonstrates there is an issue.

      2. Les*

        It reads to me like Alison’s first theory: “I’m desperate to find an area of improvement for you.” Some managers flag the ridiculous when searching for something to manage. If you’re protected, one can flatly repeat it to underscore the absurdity. “Humor in the workplace is unprofessional.”

        1. Dust Bunny*


          Ella didn’t have a legitimate criticism so she pulled fake one out of the archives.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Which is actually good advice. But the boss could have used a few more words, such as, “I was okay with it because you and I ‘get’ each other and the humor fits our group. But not everyone you meet will do the same.”

        1. Dust Bunny*

          It’s still weird to do that when you only have on example, though. It doesn’t sound like the LW has a history of making mildly flippant jokes at work–just the one a whole year ago.

          1. Grace Poole*

            Exactly. There’s nothing in the story that flags that the OP doesn’t know the difference between what’s appropriate to joke about casually with work peers, and what would be inappropriate in other situations. Most of us know that an offhand remark in the break room wouldn’t fly in a formal meeting with leadership.

            1. Emily*

              Grace Poole: Agreed! I think that’s the point some people keep missing (or choosing to miss).

      4. BRR*

        This is basically the only scenario I could think of where ella’s feedback isn’t weird. Maybe Ella wanted to stick the feedback under more general terms.

        The other possibility that just popped in my mind is how is Ella otherwise? I had a manager who was incredibly vague and didn’t like having any type of difficult conversation. This type of comment would have been perfectly in character for them.

      5. meyer lemon*

        I think it might be something like this–that Ella is concerned she has been overly familiar and overly lenient toward the LW because of their prior relationship, and she is trying to belatedly course correct. If so, I think she’s just projecting her own insecurities, though. I would assume that the LW has enough sense not to make this kind of joke with someone she’s never met before.

    4. Emily*

      The Original Stellaaaaa: It was one mild joke and Ella didn’t bring it up until a year later. Also, context is hugely important. Ella and OP were having a casual lunch in the breakroom. If Ella was having a meeting with OP and asked the question and OP replied jokingly, then that might be a different issue. If the only “lack of proffesionalism” example Ella can give OP is that one joke from a year ago, then Ella is really grasping at straws and/or an extremely humorless person.

      1. Artemesia*

        I can appreciate someone’s iconoclasm, or their sarcastic comments as a peer but see them as in appropriate as they climb the ladder or see them as unprofessional. I might not mention the joke when it happened but still see it as an example of a sarcastic style that can be grating in someone in a position of leadership.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree with that, for sure, and maybe Ella couldn’t come up with examples off the top of her head right in the moment — but she needs to be able to flesh it out more for the OP if/when the OP asks her for more information about the concern. It’s definitely not okay to just rest on one joke from a year ago without offering anything else. The “anything else” could even be something like “I wish I had other examples, this is the only one that stuck in my head, but you’ve had a tendency to make jokes like this in high-level meetings” — that would at least give the OP something more to go on.

        2. Myrin*

          You’re completely right that “a sarcastic style […] can be grating in someone in a position of leadership” – I don’t think most people, OP probably included, would argue with that.

          HOWEVER, we have no reason to believe that this one joke was “an example of a sarcastic style”. OP doesn’t say that she generally has a sarcastic streak or that anyone in either her professional or her personal life has ever remarked on her being too casual.

          She could be mistaken about that, of course. Maybe the situation is along the lines of Alison’s Possibility C, where over the year, Ella has picked up on small, hard-to-describe-but-definitely-there examples of OP being slightly unprofessional/behaving in ways that wouldn’t be seen favourably in a manager, but that was for some reason the only example that had manifested in her memory.

          But if that’s the case, then Ella has a duty to not leave the OP hanging and guessing in circles, especially when she could, when asked, actively not provide other examples of OP’s not being polished. The least she should do is express exactly that to OP, in an “I remember that there were some questionable moments here and there but I can’t quite pinpoint them right now. Let me gather my thoughts and let’s meet again in two hours so that I can give you some examples nevermind that this is a planned supervisory meeting and I should have prepared those beforehand.”

          Ella needs to use her words.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Adding, OP could be in with a group of people where this type of self-deprecating humor is the norm. When with a group like this, it’s really easy for a person to learn to over-ride it and tune it out. With that, this person might not realize how much of that humor they use themselves. OR, It could be OP, that your boss hears so much of that humor that she did not figure out that you are not one of the lead participants in this type of joking.

            I worked with a group of people who had very dark humor for [reasons]. I found my humor growing darker and darker and I realized I had to stop. I perpetuating this dark humor that had turned unhealthy for the group. And there is the fact that others can see us as being the same as the group because of the group’s collective approach even if we (as individuals) are avoiding that particular behavior.

        3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Yeah. I absolutely agree with Alison (Ella’s wording was weird) but if OP is trying to improve, this is something to consider. Lots of people are professional enough for their current roles but they don’t necessarily project the sort of professionalism you’d expect from someone in a leadership position.

          Annoyingly, grace and finesse are things that are difficult to describe in actionable ways. (That said, it’s Ella’s job so she definitely should be trying harder!)

    5. Roscoe*

      If you want the conversation to be less casual, say that. But as it stands, she is essentially still talking around the problem.

    6. R*

      This is a really strange interpretation and unfair to OP. There’s nothing to indicate that Ella behaved poorly in response to Ella’s feedback, nor is it on the employee to make it less fearful or anxiety inducing for managers to address problems.

    7. Betty Broderick-Allen*

      If OP’s reaction is why so many managers are afraid of communicating directly, then those managers are pretty fragile and probably should work on that themselves.

  5. Applejax*

    Academic here. I got a few oddly aggressive emails from places I turned down. Part of it may have to do with the post doc deadline system – in my field, there is an agreed on date before which no school requires a response to an offer of a postdoc, so if you turn down a position near that date people will get upset (because the applicant pool narrows dramatically after that date). It’s not reasonable or fair, but it does happen. I also had people who were angry that I considered a post doc (temporary position) at a prestigious place over a tenure track or career track (permanent position) job at a less prestigious place.

    1. Srsly*

      That’s helpful for the OP to know, but as an academic type myself, I’d also want to really emphasize that NO, this is in no way typical of the field. Absolutely not.

    2. Well...*

      Yea, I think everyone gets annoyed with people who sit on postdoc offers until the last minute. We are a small enough field that we usually know who’s doing it and who’s in line for the spot, and it has a cascading effect on the first round offers right around our deadline.

      Still it’s pretty universally considered unprofessional to pressure people after they’ve decided. I also think sitting on offers you don’t want hurts your reputation a bit.

      1. Well...*

        To clarify: If they are truly deliberating (or on a short list and sitting on a single offer), it’s fine. If they are sitting on like five offers, some from very prestigious schools and some not, that annoys people.

  6. NewProf*

    Congratulations on your new postdoc LW #2! I also got my first taste of the academic job market last year and my experience was similar to yours; while most institutions that I turned down were polite and understanding, two or three really tried to change my mind.

    1. Lady of the Lab*

      My father tells the story about how when he was about to transition to a faculty position in the 1980’s he had the misfortune of going to a conference where he was sat at a table with 3 different people who had offered him jobs. In his field it wasn’t done to apply to more than 1 job at a time, so it was a really awkward evening.

      Fast forward to my faculty search, and I think I had 60 applications going at one point (not all to TT positions, because I was done with being a postdoc and was willing to accept sales if it got me a little more stability). One of the people who offered me a job that round apparently spent 6 weeks negotiating with my postdoc supervisor, rather than me (in the old style of things I guess) – as a result it took him way too actually long to get me an offer and I accepted a TT at a different institution position… he was shocked and angry.

  7. Lauren*

    I’m curious: how common is it these days to add pronouns to your resume? I haven’t job searched since it became more commonplace to add pronouns to email signatures and such. I’d imagine it varies quite a bit between industries, regions, etc.?

    1. Decidedly Me*

      From reviewing resumes, I rarely see them added. I can’t actually think of a time where I’ve seen them included, but I’m sure there’s been a time or two.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hiring for nonprofit advocacy work, I probably see it more than in a lot of other industries. It’s still only on a small portion of resumes I see (like less than 5%), but it’s definitely increasing. I assume it’s a lot less common in, say, manufacturing — but I think we’ll see it start to increase everywhere in the coming years.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        Work in nonprofit that overlaps with academia myself and we are starting to see it become much more common for people on the academic side of the house. On the resumes we received from undergraduates applying for our most recent internship posting I would say at least 60% of them included their pronouns.

        1. Della*

          That is because in academia we are strongly encouraged (ordered) to include our pronouns on everything. It is a lot of social pressure from a very irritating few, and the very few people that are pressuring people are generally cis and straight. God help any trans, non-binary, or queer folks who actually find it uncomfortable and object to it – they are talked down and told to follow these orders that are for their own good.

          1. earl grey aficionado*

            I wrote a comment here recently about exactly this kind of pressure from cis and straight people and how uncomfortable it made me as a nonbinary undergrad, but I don’t know if it’s fair to attribute the rise in pronouns on resumes to that pressure. A lot of my peers (mid-to-late-20-somethings, including in academia) put pronouns on their resumes because it’s important to them. As long as candidates aren’t being grilled about it or penalized for not having them, I don’t see a problem. I’m a little concerned about swinging too far over to the side of “no one should ask about pronouns ever” because of some people’s pushiness when I know that greater acceptance of sharing pronouns has helped a lot of queer and trans people I know.

            (I really do see your point, especially about the academic job market specifically. Just wanted to push back a little on the idea that it’s *all* external pressure from cis, straight folks that’s causing this shift.)

            1. earl grey*

              Re-reading your comment, Della, I’m pretty sure we’re already in agreement, because you’re talking specifically about what happens when people get penalized for not having it – just trying to sort out my complicated feelings on a very complicated topic!

              1. earl grey aficionado*

                (And ugh, sorry about the username confusion. This is all earl grey aficionado, just having some issues with what’s saved in my browser.)

              2. Della*

                No worries – I understood what you were saying in your reply. I think we’re in agreement about this.

            2. Brooks Brothers Stan*

              >Just wanted to push back a little on the idea that it’s *all* external pressure from cis, straight folks that’s causing this shift.

              Yeah, from my point of view and my segment of the job market it’s 1) not mandated at all and there are no penalties for not including it, and 2) to normalize for those who ARE uncomfortable. The part of the nonprofit world I’m in including pronouns is at least parallel to the norms, but it isn’t something demanded of you. I do disagree with penalizing those who do not include them, as it runs the risk of exposing people in ways they truly aren’t comfortable with.

              FWIW I include my pronouns in my email signature by default.

              1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                “I would say at least 60% of them included their pronouns.”

                The kids are alright.

                “to normalize for those who ARE uncomfortable. ”
                Yes. That’s why I started do it. I have a very clearly male, look male, and am male. And I’m saying I’m he/him at least on my social media.

            3. Alexis Rosay*

              As someone who works with a lot of Gen Z folks, *by far* the most common use of stating pronouns I see is when someone uses they/them pronouns. Now, these folks are still in school and not in the workplace, but it’s actually made me add my pronouns (something I was previously indifferent to) because I don’t want non-binary people to have to be the only ones overtly stating their pronouns. I don’t agree at all that most people moving toward stating pronouns are cis & straight.

              I do certainly agree that mandating pronouns is a terrible idea. I just don’t personally see anything close to a mandate anywhere I’ve worked.

          2. nicoleandmaggie*

            What Della said. We’re not ordered to in my field, but I felt really uncomfortable last summer when everyone was doing it on zoom and in signatures and I didn’t know what to put (since then I’ve settled on pronouns: any, though this summer way fewer people are doing it). But I would feel really weird putting that on my cv because I literally don’t get gender and feel really uncomfortable identifying as any gender and do not want to draw attention to my gender (at the same time, I don’t really care what pronouns other people use for me).

            I honestly don’t think gender should be on job applications the same way your age and marital status shouldn’t be. Except for a very few jobs, it is not a BFOQ and should not influence the job application process.

    3. Isabelle*

      My friend has an uncommon first name of Dutch origin that confuses non-Dutch speakers who often mistake it for a male name. She writes her name as Firstname Lastname (She/Her) on her CV and LinkedIn.

      1. rosemaryshrub*

        I also have an uncommon possibly male sounding name and in the early years of job hunting was mistaken for a man a couple of times (prior to speaking/meeting). At the time I actually thought of it as an advantage and I think I personally would have been really torn about adding pronouns.

        1. Lil Sebastian*

          I can relate! I am a woman with a very common, androgynous name that is overwhelmingly used for men (I’ve met about five other women my whole life with my name, and every time it happens, we’re both very excited!). I am very sure that having a male name on paper has helped me in the past. However, now I’m in the nonprofit world and I’ve noticed the exact opposite a couple of times. You can learn a lot about a potential employer or colleague by how they react to learning you’re a woman when they expected a man! I now include pronouns and, not gunna lie, a part of me misses my secret misogyny screening tool.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          I’m a woman in an overwhelmingly male industry. To be honest, I want to call as little attention to my gender as possible. I don’t go so far as masking my feminine first name (although I know people who do), but I would be pretty uncomfortable putting pronouns on a resume or email signature.

    4. Rock Prof*

      I was just looking at short-listed academic CVs for a position at my university, and quite a few of those had pronouns. So I’d say it’s becoming more common.

    5. Alexis Rosay*

      I think it’s going to become extremely common in certain regions and industries as Gen Z enters the workforce.

  8. another academic*

    For OP#1, I wonder if:
    a. The hiring manager thought their job was “better” than an academic postdoc. There’s a table in here that has the minimum salary amounts if you’re on an NIH grant (tons of people in the biomedical fields), and lots of PIs only pay NIH minimum even if they’re in a high cost of living area: , under the section Postdoctoral Trainees and Fellows. NIH minimum is higher (in some cases, much higher) than what I’ve seen in some other fields. Also, postdocs are very unstable positions- not student, not staff, and not faculty- and live at the mercy of their faculty bosses, which at minimum means crazy hours. Everyone has heard of outright abusive faculty, but as long as the faculty person doesn’t actually hit the postdoc when they throw the centrifuge rotor, it’s very hard for anyone to discipline the faculty member. If the hiring manager is offering a staff position with roughly the same salary as a postdoc, they might be surprised that someone would go for a postdoc instead.
    b. The person emphasized in the interview that they wanted to pursue a non-tenure track position. I’ve talked to someone from my grad program who kept saying over and over again that she wanted to enter my line of work. Next thing I heard, she had accepted a traditional postdoc in her field. I was a bit miffed that I had spent so much giving her advice.

    1. Fierce Jindo*

      Oh, these are both pretty plausible, especially in combination. (Doesn’t excuse them, though!)

    2. Pucci*

      Those pay scales are not that different for non-tenure track positions in smaller colleges and universities

    3. Rock Prof*

      I got paid more as a post-doc than I did when I started my TT position. (Post-doc was in Germany. TT position way at a low cost of living small state school in the US)

  9. Ori*

    I don’t mean this in a nasty way, but I’m really confused about why LW3 thinks she still has a job? She moved 3 hours away, boss said it wasn’t working, they’re hiring her replacement. Was redeployment to a role that *would* work remotely discussed?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I tend to agree, but I think it’s because the boss has avoided giving her an answer when she’s raised it! You’d think he’d come out and tell her there’s no role for her since she moved away, and it’s odd that he hasn’t just said it.

      1. Simply the best*

        I do wonder how explicit the letter writer has been that what she’s asking about is staying with the company. If it’s just been vague questions about “transitions”, I can see the boss thinking the question is about what the transition between LW and the new employee will look like – like the transfer of knowledge and a training schedule. So they just blow that question off, thinking they’ll cross that bridge once they’ve hired somebody and know what their availability looks like.

        1. pbnj*

          OP said they discussed moving 3 hours away “might not work”. You could interpret that either as a polite way to say we need to make plans for you to move on from the company or we’ll have to see if working remotely works from this job. It’s unclear whether OP is able to perform the job well remotely, but I could see myself wanting to revisit the discussion after 1.5 years being remote. Also if OP is the right-hand person to the CEO, that tends to afford opportunities that others may not be allowed, in particular if OP has valuable skills.

            1. Nanani*

              but not giving them a “your last day/paycheck will be..” date is definitely not clear.

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                Well it sounds like the plan is to keep OP on until a replacement has been hired (and possibly after OP is able to give the new hire a quick overview of sorts) so they can’t give a last day/paycheck at this time. That’s not uncommon when the resignee has kept their end date open-ended on their part.

              2. MCMonkeyBean*

                Not clear as to WHEN but I think still pretty clear that it will happen once a new person is hired and trained.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              It seems apparent, but the OP isn’t going to fire herself; if she keeps working and they keep paying her because they’re too indirect to give a straight answer . . . then the OP still works there.

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                They’re only paying her now because she’s helping to find her replacement. Once that’s done, they will likely ask/tell her when her last day will be.

              2. Malarkey01*

                I mean I assume once new hire provides a start date, boss will say “so OP, Bob starts the 3rd. I’m thinking a 2 week training period so your last day will be 15th. Is that what you were thinking?” I don’t think anyone believes LWs boss will just continue to employer them because they’re too indirect. Boss thinks it’s clear and that LW has just provided an open ended flexible date based on new hire.

              3. MCMonkeyBean*

                There is no question as to whether she still works there; obviously she does. Her question is whether there will be a new role for her once her current position is filled by a new hire. And I think that is highly unlikely.

      2. Contracts Killer*

        I don’t think it is odd that the boss hasn’t been forthright about whether they will keep her. They presumably want LW around to train a new person. If they haven’t hired a new person yet and aren’t sure when that may happen, it is in their best interest to keep LW there as long as they can if they want LW to train the new person. If they tell LW now that they will be let go X weeks after new person is hired, LW may start looking for a new job and be gone before they can train a replacement. Crappy of the boss to do, but it makes sense.

    2. TBS*

      Agreed. It sounds like OP has resigned and just doesn’t realize it! The question about firing is also strange, almost like OP might be looking for severance maybe?

      1. Willis*

        That’s what I was guessing…that she’d want it recorded in some way to be eligible for severance. But I don’t know why it would be recorded as a layoff or firing. Sure, the OP can ask about applying for or being transferred to another role but it seems pretty clear that she has quit this one. Maybe ask HR about available jobs if her boss won’t talk about it.

        1. Amaranth*

          I wonder if OP made it clear they want to stay, but it reads like Boss was pretty open at the start about wanting someone in-office once it was safe. It might also be an issue with nexus that was relaxed during the pandemic as so many people went to WFH, but needs to be addressed as normal policies go back into play.

      2. Snow Globe*

        I think Unemployment would definitely be a concern, and I can see why the OP might be able to get it. Even though OP moved, they were able to continue working in that role for over a year, so if the company is only now deciding that they can’t continue with the remote work, most states would probably consider that a dismissal and approve unemployment.

        1. doreen*

          I’m not so sure about that- constructive dismissal involves the employer making the working conditions so intolerable that the employee basically has no choice other than to resign. That’s not really what happened here- it wouldn’t be considered constructive dismissal if the OP hadn’t moved, and I’d be really surprised if it was considered constructive dismissal based on the OPs choice to move. In some states, you are eligible for unemployment if you resign to follow a spouse who has accepted a job elsewhere, but the OP didn’t say that was the reason for the move.

        2. Malarkey01*

          I can’t speak for every state, but my state will not consider declining to return to in person work as eligible for unemployment. The pandemic was an extraordinary situation and businesses allowed temporary procedures to work from home but those don’t supersede or set a precedent for return to worksite.

          1. Miller_Admin*

            Agreed. The OP made the choice to relocate. Not like the employer agreed to it; and than switched on them.

    3. Forrest*

      I wasn’t clear from the letter whether LW3 considered the move to be permanent. It was to a “cabin” they presumably already owned, and doesn’t say anything about having sold their primary residence.

      So I could totally see a situation where LW3 meant, “We’re packing the house up and moving to Oregon whilst everything’s remote– if that isn’t going to work out long-term, we’ll have to rethink” with “move back to BigCity” being one option. If that is what they meant and they haven’t initiated that conversation with their boss, sounds like it’s very urgent!

      1. Willis*

        It would be very VERY weird to not say anything as she assists in hiring her replacement if what she meant with her move was “if I can’t work from home we’ll have to re-think and move back to BigCity.”

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          But on the other hand, I can’t think of a situation where hinting at “this may not work out in the long run” and hiring a replacement, while the employee is contributing full-time and being paid, is an even remotely acceptable way of laying someone off. The OP could have initiated the conversation that is needed to get clarity, but it’s their boss’s job to ensure the conversation happens if the company is not keeping the OP on.

    4. person123*

      Maybe this is a difference between cultures / employment law, but my take is if they’re still working and still being paid then they have a job, and until they are explicitly told they don’t have a job, assuming they do is reasonable. Presumably their contract has a notice period that needs invoking (mine in three months, but realise that’s industry- / country-specific); layoff processes and paperwork can also take months. People don’t just stop having jobs with no notification, unless it’s a very casual contract.

      Every time I’ve resigned, or had employees resign, it’s been written. Usually there’s a conversation around it, but it also has written confirmation. As a manager I can’t send “termination forms” (not a fan of the name of the form!) to HR without attaching written confirmation. LW needs to have a paper trail confirming they do / don’t have a job for their own security, then they can look for other roles if they need to.

      1. ecnaseener*

        If LW is in the US, they probably don’t have a contract and there’s probably no company rule about written notice at a specific time. The boss may be thinking of this as LW’s notice period of undefined length.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        If this is in the US, the LW probably doesn’t have a contract. The convention is to give a two week notice when you quit and there’s no real convention about how much notice the company gives you when you’re fired or laid off. It can be same day ie “you’re fired.”

        In this case it sounds like they are keeping it vague now because the LW is helping hire her replacement and they may want her to train the replacement for a bit after they’re hired. But once that happens, I expect they’ll say that the LW’s last day will be in a week or two.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Yes, my worry is that they had a conversation and agreed that LW can’t stay in this role…and boss understood that as a resignation, while LW understood it as “I can’t stay in THIS role”

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Agree with this. I think LW thinks they are in the middle of a conversation (that will move toward finding her new role with the company), while Boss thinks the conversation ended weeks ago (with LW’s resignation due to her decision to stay remote, with a last day to be established at a date in the near future). LW never explicitly said she was resigning from the company, and Boss never explicitly said she’d be out of all jobs with the company when she left this job, but both of them thought that was the obvious conclusion.

        Boss may have been totally shocked by LW’s expectation that her employment would continue, especially because she brought it up separately from the conversation about hiring her replacement. LW needed to START with “I’d really like to stay with the company. Is there a way to make that happen, even though I’d like to stay remote?” not bring it up as a seeming afterthought weeks later.

        Not that LW thought this way, but … you’re not entitled to your job. If you want to be sure you keep it, YOU need to prioritize making sure your intentions and actions are clear. When it comes down to it, everyone else will cover their own cabooses, not yours. I read a post on another site once where an employee missed a huge weeklong event because of confusion about who was supposed to give her a ride there. She went home and never made any effort to get herself to the event (she had a vehicle and theoretically could have driven herself). She assumed her colleagues would get blamed for not picking her up, and she was shocked when she got fired for no call / no show. COVER YOUR OWN CABOOSE, ALWAYS.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yeah…I really don’t think LW#3 has a job anymore.

        I once took a position replacing someone who moved across the county. After a couple of days of training over the phone with him, I told him I’d rather just proceed on my own and call him with any questions during his remaining two weeks. He informed me that he was staying on and I was just there to do things that couldn’t be done remotely. He was absolutely the only person who thought this. He thought this eventhough he had a specific employment end date. His boss told him directly “You resigned and we hired your replacement. We are not paying two salaries.” He still didn’t believe it, saying he never said the words “I am resigning” so that meant he still had a job.

        Sorry LW, but when your boss says “You cannot do this job from three hours away” and hires someone else, you don’t have a job. You need to a have a direct conversation because it is highly likely your boss is seeing your current time as a transition period, and when the new person is ready, you’re out. You need to ask, specifically, if there is another role for you and be prepared for the answer to be no.

      3. ElleKay*

        Yes. This ^ is what I thought too. I think 2 different conversations happened here and neither has really explained what they think they’re discussing.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      I agree. My rule of thumb is unless there is a specific discussion of where I am going next, then I’d assume I am going out the door never to return.

      Upon hearing, “I have moved 3 hours away”, I am trying to picture why a boss would think the person was not quitting. OP, did you point blank say that you do not want to leave the company? I mean we are talking about a boss who won’t say if you have a job or not, but I have to wonder did you say clearly and repeatedly that you still want to work there? Did you offer particulars of how that could work out?

      I had one job where I ASSumed that once I had x I could move to y. No-no-no. That was not how things worked in that company. The company did not think that way and did not handle things that way AT ALL. There’s much more to the story however, the punchline here is always take things at face value and do not read more into stuff. I had a job doing x and that was it. That was all.

    7. WellRed*

      OP I am also surprised that you are being so…passive about the whole situation. Of course they think you resigned! There’s no other job for you. Do you think if you don’t officially say “I resign” that a new role will magically appear? Alison gave great advice but you need to be prepared to move on.

      1. NotJane*

        Very passive! OP wrote, “we are actively hiring my replacement.” Sounds pretty straightforward to me, so I’m really curious about where the disconnect between “actively hiring my replacement” and “I’m a bit in limbo” is coming from.

        1. twocents*

          I agree. Especially combined with the fact that Boss has already said being fully remote won’t work. “This won’t work” + actively replacing you = you have no job.

          Reminds me of some of my co-workers who were hoping to basically force my employer’s hand on this stuff. “Oh I moved away so I can’t come back in, even on a hybrid schedule” and my employer has basically gone “thank you for your resignation.”

            1. twocents*

              It just strikes me as risky! I would prefer more remote time but I expected a hybrid schedule so I can deal with it. I need to pay my mortgage more than I need to not go into an office.

      2. FunTimes*

        Yes, this is very odd! On both sides, really. The manager also seems to be acting coy, when the situation calls for directness and clarity. OP, you are going to be out of a job soon, possibly whether or not you speak up, but definitely if you don’t speak up! Tell your manager you want to stay at the company, ask explicitly if there is a remote role for you (or, Alison said, propose one), and don’t stop asking until you get a straight answer.

    8. R*

      I read it the same way. The default in most companies would be to assume that was a resignation. Moving into a new role would have to be explicitly discussed. In some companies (maybe most?) you also wouldn’t just be automatically slotted – you may have to interview or at the very least meet briefly with the new manager to discuss the role. That seems the most likely explanation for why their manager isn’t discussing a new position… they don’t know OP is expecting it.

    9. Person from the Resume*

      I agree.

      The LW did essentially resign from that position. She moved while WFH and she and boss discussed that if the move was permanent that her position can’t be done remotely after the COVID remote work period ends. Now the remote time has ended.

      Without an agreement in place about a new position, it seems like the LW has essentially resigned and agreed to work until her replacement is hired.

      LW did the right thing about asking the boss about another position. So many people write in without even trying to talk first. Frankly the boss dodging the question is a bad sign. Maybe there’s some confusion and he assumed it was clear that the LW was quitting her job and now is avoiding breaking the bad news to her. Without a prior agreement (which she doesn’t have) the LW will no longer be working for the company shortly.

      If you want to work for them remotely, LW, come up with a suggestion for the office with an open position where you can WFH full time. You can’t expect them to create a new job so you can work from home for them. What empty position can you fill?

  10. Fierce Jindo*

    No, that’s not normal for any part of academia, and universities offering non-tenure track roles that would’ve traditionally been tenure-track REALLY don’t have a leg to stand on with over-the-top disappointment.

    Glad you’re not working with those bizarros, OP. Congrats on the postdoc!

    1. Srsly*

      My hunch is that the universities being oddly persistent in asking for feedback (which, again, to be very clear, is basically unheard of in academia) might not be very strong institutions and are / or have had a string of candidates turn down their offers, and want to understand why.

      The other plausible reason is, as mentioned above, that the OP is a rising star and the SC wants to gauge what drove their choice of another department — but that would be really unusual, since institutions are so much about fit.

      Either way, this is outlier behavior, OP.

      1. J.B.*

        Or they are horribly abusive, and planning to load all kinds of work on this non-tenure track job, where the person will be a non-entity because “not faculty”.

      2. Rock Prof*

        I was thinking along the lines of a string of people rejecting their offers, too. I’ve heard of some searches that got pushy in similar instances, unfortunately.

    2. Alternative Person*

      Seriously. The way some universities (and honestly a lot of jobs) are restructuring away good positions then complaining when they can’t get or keep staff is beyond frustrating.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        [Saw this question late …] This is also my take on the situation. We’ve seen bad / arrogant / excessively demanding behavior from hiring managers not that rarely, and I don’t think it’s more common in academia than elsewhere, all in all. (My own experience have, knock on wood, been quite civilized. At least as far as the actual hiring committees are concerned – at worst I had a somewhat odd interview with an individual faculty member, or not the greatest impression of an administrator. The hiring committee members were polite, even quite lovely up to now, except for not giving me the job I wanted :-) )

        It’s just that in academia, bad behavior will come academia-flavored. Everyone knows that there is a huge pressure on junior academics, and all the possible pathways (selective liberal arts college, big state school with a little of everything, running one’s own lab at a research-focused place, and all the ones in-between and around the margins) come with risks & pitfalls.

        The OP’s argument that they believe accepting the postdoc means doing meaningful work for a while that sets them up more competitively for a TT role, is completely sensible. It sounds like the non-TT role(s) they rejected were designed to be at least half-way decent employment-wise (eg. renewable full-time non-TT roles with benefits), so the hiring chair might have been invested in thinking of them as attractive. When in reality, even though they might be ok-ish, they are still probably created to fill teaching slots that they can”t afford to create TT positions for. So they are sub-standard from that POV. And the people who reacted badly may not like to hear that.

        (Me, I’m a postdoc and my best shot right now, given geographic limitations, is non-TT grant funded research faculty roles – since TT roles don’t open up so often and I have a bit of an odd background. But at least myself and my co-workers, TT / tenured and non-TT, are on the same page about what it takes to earn one’s livelihood on the faculty side of academia.)

  11. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – I think there are a couple possibilities for why your manager mentioned this:

    1. She was concerned that you replied to a serious question with a joke, and felt that she needed to flag this. I think that’s actually a legitimate concern, if you’re in the habit of responding to serious questions with jokes or if you show a tendency to joke at the wrong moment.

    2. She’s concerned that being excessively self-deprecating may undermine other people’s confidence in you – also not an unreasonable thing to bring up, if you do that quite a bit.

    It’s worth reflecting to see if you have any tendencies to respond inappropriately to situations or to be overly self-deprecating. It may be the case at your company that you need to cultivate a more “buttoned down” approach to be considered someone suitable for growth to senior levels within the organization.

    1. TechWorker*

      I also read it as possibly number 2. I had an intern this year whose brand of humour was mostly jokes about how terrible she was – we hired her anyway because we saw through it to someone who was clearly very competent, but I did give her feedback at the end of her internship that’s it’s worth toning down for other interviews as she’s at risk of people taking her at her word.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I honestly think it’s pointless to speculate on the exact nature of the problem Ella identified until she clarifies whether or not the problem is actually ongoing. So far, it sounds like it was a one-time issue a year ago – so any advice to LW about avoiding that kind of comment sorta falls flat, because they *have been* avoiding it.

      I hope we get an update on this one – maybe Ella does have more recent examples that slipped her mind, and then the feedback is actionable. But with the current information, it’s not actionable.

      1. Forrest*

        I also am not clear whether she expects it to be actionable in a specific way, though. This was in the context of a discussion about LW going for leadership roles. If it’s, “I need to see XYZ before I would support your application for a promotion”, and LW needs Ella’s support, then Ella needs to be clear about what improvement would look like.

        But if it’s in the context of a more general developmental chat and Ella is supportive of LW moving up but not actually involved in that process, it might be more, “Hey, here’s something for you to think about, I’m concerned it might hold you back, but you can decide what you want to do with this feedback”. In that situation, it’s really OK if Ella is talking about something that’s more of a vibe rather than something she can give specific examples of and a SMART objective. LW can take that away and reflect on it, think about whether there are places she could tighten up her game or ask a few other people she trusts for further feedback, and then decide whether it’s something she wants to act on or not.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Yes, I think “Don’t make self-deprecating jokes while having a first interaction with a new supervisor” isn’t terrible advice for someone looking to move up. It’s possible that OP hasn’t needed to do this for a year, so the outdated example is the only one to give.
          Even if that’s the case, Ella still needed to be a lot more direct and specific, though.

          1. JustaTech*

            Particularly since the joking conversation *wasn’t* the “first interaction” that the OP had had with Ella; they’d known each other for quite a while in a friendly way, which is why it would make sense that the OP (and Ella!) was more willing to make the joke in the first place.

            But again, this could be solved with another conversation Ella, who will hopefully be more specific.

        2. Smithy*

          I do wonder if SMART objectives are actually getting in the supervisor’s way of better articulating the issue.

          Let’s say the larger issue is around humor that’s dry, sarcastic and/or self-deprecating and its reading to this manager as less professional. Softening humor or being mindful of audience when it comes to tone and familiarity aren’t exactly as easy to make time bound and quantifiable. And if this manager believes that an issue needs to be concrete and possible to turn into a SMART goal, then it may get in the way to discussing this with more detail and nuance.

          Overall, the OP is clearly doing good work as they’re in this discussion about promotion. So the point may be more a case of going from a good candidate to an excellent one. Or someone who you feel can grow into the role vs someone really ready to start tomorrow.

          1. Regatta*

            Or turn the letter writer from a human to a robot. Let’s promote robots! I’ve only worked one place where robots were prized over humans, and it was run by a miserable despot. Most places I’ve worked will promote people with senses of humor over dull robots.

      2. Smithy*

        I think it’s worth it for the OP to push for more context, because while us in the comments may be speculating broadly – we do know it was enough of an issue for the OP’s manager to mention.

        I used to work with a colleague who’s professional dress was far more aligned with office attire in tv office attire in a show like Ugly Betty or a soap opera. While nothing that would break a generic dress code, it was always a combination of 4 inch stilettos, a lot of makeup, tighter clothing in brighter colors that read as less professional or aligned with our organization’s culture. Mentioning any one item on their own never quite painted the full picture but the overall affect was one simply less aligned with our industry.

        It is the manager’s job to become better at explaining what the issue is – particularly if it’s more about being outside the broader norms of an industry/workplace and may cost some capital when applying for leadership roles. All of which to say, if the manager did a poor job of explaining before, I think Alison’s advice about being genuinely eager and open to hear more is important.

    3. WellRed*

      The OP says it was only the one time though and even if it isn’t, why can’t the boss give other examples? Either of your examples should give the boss examples to work with.

    4. NOK*

      Good point re: #2. I’m seeing people getting pretty spun up over the delivery of feedback and not spending a lot of time considering the content. While I agree her approach to delivering this feedback was flawed, don’t discount kernels of truth that may be there.

  12. Ocean of Ramen*

    #2 reminded me of a weird reaction I’d gotten after turning down a job. I was interviewing with two similar companies, but one was giving off weird vibes. The interviewers were the CEO/owner and the hiring manager and they both expected a lot of time and energy from me during the hiring process (expecting me to respond to their correspondence within 15 minutes, calling me on a weekend to rant about playing phone tag with one of my references, etc). I got the feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy working for them, so when they called me with an offer I graciously turned them down.

    That’s when they proceeded to tell me that they’d already announced to the entire staff that they hired me, had set up a company email address for me, and had already given out said work email address to clients and vendors to contact me! Apparently “my” email inbox already had 20-some-odd emails in it waiting for me to tackle on my first day. They were completely incredulous that I was turning down the job.

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      Wait, what?! That makes me think of kind of the people who try to spring a surprise wedding on their partner: they haven’t said yes yet! Do not take any steps that can’t be easily undone if the answer happens to be no. And yet they were either that confident in your answer, or in their ability to talk you into it regardless.
      Good for you for turning them down, if that’s what they were like in the (theoretically) ‘best behaviour’ stage, I’d hate to see how they’d behave once they had you locked in.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Or 3 – such narcissists that they could not imagine anyone saying no to them. Anyone that demanding in the INTERVIEW stage is not really thinking of the potential hire as a functioning human being but only as a tool to be acquired.

    2. JustKnope*

      This is honestly hilarious to me! Thank goodness you dodged that bullet. Those people are in desperate need of a hiring-competent HR department…

    3. GammaGirl1908*


      Just, wow. I’d be thanking the jobs gods for helping me dodge that bullet. I can only imagine what they’d be like after a few months.

  13. LW #5*

    Thank you so much for the advice! My fiancé is in school to get his doctorate in physical therapy so at least a 3 year program. We’re not sure if we would want to move back to our home state after or not (probably depends on where he gets in!) but I think not mentioning school at all is super smart and no reason to prove further.

    1. ankle*

      If I were in your shoes, I would probably say, “My partner is here, so I’m moving here to join him.” Maybe I’m too much of a worrier — I wouldn’t want a prospective employer to think I was possibly taking multiple weeks off for a wedding in the near future.

      1. LW #5*

        Ankle that makes a lot of sense luckily we’ll be married before I move so I can use husband instead! :)

    2. Wisteria*

      Consider not mentioning your fiance at all but saying that you are moving for family reasons. It’s a true statement! Before you go down that route, though, consider how evasive you are willing to be since it is natural for people to follow up with a friendly question about family.

    1. Forrest*

      This was in the context of eating their lunch in the break room. If Ella had asked in the context of a meeting and LW had given a joke response and not followed up with a serious one, they’d definitely be at fault. But if Ella asked in an informal setting and in a “lighthearted” way, it’s not LW’s fault for not recognising it as a serious question that required a serious answer.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I agree–given her response it seems like maybe the question was genuine but OP thought it was a joke so it’s just kind of a miscommunication that isn’t particularly anyone’s fault. I think OP’s interpretation/response was fine given the setting.

    2. KRM*

      If a real response to that question was expected, I would not feel comfortable giving in the lunchroom over lunch and I doubt OP would either. Have an informal 1:1 meeting where you can ask that and expect a real answer. But I think the joking response was entirely justified, and the fact that Ella does not seem to have followed up would have cemented for me that it wasn’t an entirely serious question.

  14. LDN Layabout*

    LW3: if you moved three hours away knowing that the company is going to be bringing people back into the office? That’s a resignation. You just haven’t given them your notice yet.

    1. Red Swedish Fish*

      I was coming to say this, I would consider my employee telling me this their resignation. It seems so odd to me to think that if I told my boss I wasn’t returning and told them to hire someone else but then to expect another position to be made/given to me.

      1. Juli G.*

        I agree but I find it equally odd that the boss hasn’t confirmed that there’s no new role for her.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          I’m curious if the LW has actually asked “Is there a possibility that a remote-friendly role could be created for me to move into once my current role is filled?” or if it’s been more of a “I would really hate to leave this organization, I wish there was some way for me to stay on as an employee in a more remote-friendly role.” One of those is a straightforward question (which, yes, the boss should answer) while the other is hinting and hoping the boss gets what they’re saying.

        2. Red Swedish Fish*

          Agreed, I would have thought there would have been a conversation around when OP’s last day was after the new person was hired.

        3. Lunch Ghost*

          And hasn’t discussed the timeline for OP leaving the company. You would think this is a situation where they’d let her know. (And it’s really going to be their call since OP’s preference is obviously staying with them as long as possible.)

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Well their timeline presumably depends on when they hire someone. Clearly their preference would be for OP to stay on until they have a new person set up so it’s in flux as long as they are still hiring. OP should probably be job hunting as well and then she may be the one to set the timeline if she can find a new job.

      2. pbnj*

        I keep seeing articles about tech employees who moved away during the pandemic, who seem to either have either genuinely believed or decided to gamble on their company allowing them to stay remote even after the company indicated this was temporary during the pandemic. So while it seems like a bold move to me, I guess there’s other people who are doing this?

        1. LDN Layabout*

          The trick is that you need to have a skill that is highly valued/makes it easy to move on if your company doesn’t go for it. So I do know of people doing this, but they’re also prepared if they get told no, but they know they’re likely to have a new job within a month or two.

          1. pbnj*

            Yeah, I figured they were people who could land on their feet just fine if they got told no. More power to them.

            1. Alexis Rosay*

              Yes, it feels to me like this is an okay short-term strategy for some people—you can maintain your current position remotely for the next 2-3 years—but it’ll be pretty tough without a high-demand skill set to get promoted or find a new all-remote job in the long term.

        2. The Hon. Catherine Bingley*

          Yeah, and in my neighborhood that’s part of the reason homes are going for more than $100k over asking price! It’s been a topic of discussion what happens if the new owners’ company decides they need to be in-person and they can’t find a job here that pays enough for them to keep the house…

          1. Gumby*

            Only $100k over asking?

            I kid, kind of. Through my sobs. Apparently $1 million over asking is commonplace in my area now. Granted, the houses are already listed at a couple of million dollars to start with. No, not necessarily mansions. Just… Bay Area. Sigh.

        3. Loredena Frisealach*

          I did this! I’m a consultant, I hadn’t been to the office more than a handful of times in the year prior to the pandemic, and only occasionally had clients that wanted a site visit. For family reasons we were looking to relocate to another state, and I initially framed it to my manager as a trial run/potential snow bird situation. Since my employer already had a full time employee in the same state it was determined that there wasn’t any reason it should be an issue, even though there’s no office there.

          Admittedly I wasn’t taking a huge risk – I was already feeling more than a bit stymied at my lack of career progress so was considering changing jobs regardless. Which I ended up doing, so the main influence of this was I made sure only to apply to companies that were open to being fully remote.

        4. Wry*

          My company has been remote since last March, and at one point, maybe a few months in to remote work, my boss brought up during a team meeting that even though we’re remote for the foreseeable future, we should still expect to come back to the office at some point, so please don’t just move away without telling anyone. It made us all wonder if someone in the company had done that (!) and that now HR was asking all the managers to relay the message.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            ” It made us all wonder if someone in the company had done that (!) and that now HR was asking all the managers to relay the message.”

            HR Magic 8 Ball says “Yes”

          2. Emily*

            Yeah, that sounds like a yes. My employer made it clear that one of the reasons that very few employees will be able to continue working fully remotely is because the organization is only set up to employ people in a few states.

    2. mreasy*

      This isn’t necessarily true, though. My company is going back to in-person work in September, but are making many exceptions to accommodate people who moved away during the pandemic. Many places are doing this, recognizing that allowing remote work is essential to stay competitive in a lot of cases.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        But her boss told her it may not work out and they’re literally recruiting to replace her. That’s not a ‘yeah we’ll work around it’.

        1. mreasy*

          Agreed – but it’s not out of the question that LW could be moved to another role if they’re valuable, and if their boss won’t confirm one way or the other (which is definitely strange).

      2. AnotherAlison*

        And policies have been in flux. Employees have to move on with their lives without full information, and at some places it has been a coin flip guess of whether they would have to go back or not, although I do think the OP’s company was clear that possibility existed.

        – Where I worked at the start of the pandemic was all rah-rah about how great everything was going with remote work. By July 2020, they were forcing some people back to the office, and it was back to in-office/no remote work by June 2021. The strange part was that they were trying to move some positions to full-remote pre-pandemic so they could reduce real estate and changed course on that. I even know someone who had to resign over 3 mo. of school-age childcare that she could not find for the summer when they were forced back.

        – Where I work now had no plan for how they would return to the office when I started here in January. Within 3 months, they decided to cancel a lease in the building I would have worked at, and now it’s part-time work from home and part-time hot-desking in the office part of a manufacturing facility that doesn’t have enough room for everyone. Meanwhile, my entire team is in another state so it makes no sense that I have to leave my house, other than “policy”.

        All that to say I can see why the OP might still be waiting for the final answer. Both companies I have dealt with have been kind of vague and kicked the can down the road when asked about plans. If OP’s company has some WFH people still and felt valuable to the company, I would have hoped something could have been worked out for her.

      3. the cat's ass*

        The DH has a 100% remote job at a company that just hired a new CEO, and the CEO now wants the entire team of 20 to come to headquarters at an unspecified time, for an unspecified time. This whole gig has sounded like people building the plane while theyre flying it, and now everyone on the team is looking for new jobs. If youre 100% remote and then the rules change, your employer should expect to lose at least part of their workforce. workforce. I think LW # 3 should start looking.

  15. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    OP 1: If there are some people in the office or from former workplaces who you trust, maybe check in with them. But rather than asking “Am I unprofessional?” I’d ask something like: “If I had to be extra polished/professional in the workplace, how do you recommend I should start?”

    Look to see if you get any trends in your answers.

  16. Forrest*

    >>Another asked if I could set up time to chat about my decision process so that they might improve the interview experience, and then proceeded to use that time to try and convince me to ditch the position I had already accepted

    This just makes me think they’d set their expectations too high / salary too low. I’m in a professional services role in a UK university, and there’s usually tons of people looking for non-academic jobs at the post-PhD or 5-10 years of professional experience level. If you dropping out was such a big disappointment for them, they should have looked again at their expectations or salary, not tried to bully you into changing your mind!

    1. AdequateAdmin*

      I recently saw a job (in the US) requiring PhD that only paid $36k. It wasn’t a research assistantship/internship/other position where you trade low salary for getting valuable career building experience, but a literal job that was $36k and I don’t recall any benefits offered. Where do companies get these ideas?!

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, this is a chronic problem in academics. People list all these qualifications and then pay 10K or 20K below market and panic when they have a failed search. You can’t pay your rent on prestige people.

  17. Alex*

    In re: weird search committee responses — it’s not normal, but sometimes they are occupied by major egos, so it’s not a fully unexpected level of weirdness. As someone who’s been on a couple of SCs before I left academia for a private firm, I can say that it’s low-key enraging that a SC offering a non-tenure track position thinks it has a position to complain if a candidate goes elsewhere. Non-tenure positions aren’t exactly plum, and often you can’t live on them. Of course people will take other options if they can! Congrats on the post doc, I hope it takes you where you’d like to go

    1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      Smiling at “not a fully unexpected level of weirdness”. Wonderful turn of phrase!

  18. Mom1kids3*

    Question about the reply to LW3: I understand it’s a minor point in the context of the whole reply, but I thought “layoff” specifically meant the position was being eliminated, not that the current person in the position was no longer suitable. This point was emphasized to me when I needed to “layoff” someone from my team a few years ago. Was that just my company being extra-careful with terminology?

    1. Susan from HR*

      You’re correct that’s what layoff means. Layoff is being used here to mean “gently fired” because it looks like LW3 is actually being terminated for cause (the employer considers her to have abandoned the job by moving far away during a period of remote work).

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Agree. LW is not being fired for incompetence or having made a huge mistake or poor performance, which is when people generally use that term.. It’s generally negative on the employee’s part.

        But … she isn’t really resigning? and the position still exists? This is a mutual decision to end her employment. She is not leaving her job under negative circumstances. She’s certainly eligible for re-hire. But … given the categories we have for circumstances under which you leave your job, if you dragged me to court and forced my hand, if she isn’t resigning, I’d say she’s being fired.

      2. PT*

        Well, it could be a layoff in that sense, because the job didn’t used to have to explicitly say “must live within X distance of the office” because it was a given that you would work in-office pre-March 2020. However, in March 2020 the job description was then “Teapot designers may work from wherever” and then in September 2021″ the description changed back to “Teapot designers must work in office.”

        So she is no longer eligible for her job, due to a change in its description that did not exist when she was hired and then again over the last 18 months.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          I 100% agree with this explanation.

          Plus some companies will classify some departures as a reduction in force in order to make things easier for the ex-employee. No stigma of a firing for cause, the employee can get unemployment and maybe a bit of severance etc.

          In this particular case, I think the employee resigned but doesn’t think that’s what happened because the words “I resign” were never written or spoken.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah, I think from the manager’s perspective, there was a subtext to their previous discussions being “we’ve decided the job needs to be in person, take it or leave it” and by not saying “I’m coming back to the office”, #3 effectively said “I’m leaving it” – even though they didn’t literally say that. Whereas #3 is coming at it from the perspective of “they never explicitly said ‘take it or leave it’ and I never said I’m leaving, therefore it’s all undecided”.

    2. Wisteria*

      Well, there is nuance there. Layoffs are frequently used to reduce the size of the workforce, but it’s not like the job goes away entirely, it’s more like, “we only need 3 llama groomers instead of 5,” not, “we are eliminating the position of llama groomer.” So which 2 groomers you choose to layoff very much *can* mean that those two were not suitable. Layoffs frequently trim the less desirable staff, whether because they underperform or because they are difficult to work with.

  19. Susan from HR*

    LW1: My take is Ella was not actually joking back in 2020 when she asked you to describe yourself as an employee off the cuff. You pointed out the inanity of the question as phrased with your joke (what bad employee would self-identify to their future boss?) and apparently hurt her feelings because she’s bringing it up over a year later. I don’t think it’s reasonable, but that is what this is all about. I don’t think you need to revisit it with her. She said what she said, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense. Going forward, don’t joke around with Ella.

    1. Siv*

      I agree. I don’t think there’s a need to bring it up again. She didn’t like the joke and let you know. End of story.

      1. Sorrischian*

        If she’d brought it up to the LW at the time the joke was made or a week or two later, I’d agree with you, but a whole year? That is absolutely weird enough to deserve some follow up.

        1. WFHHalloweenCat*

          Agreed, especially since Ella brought it up under the guise of “needs improvement.” in order to advance in the workforce. I would want to know how I’m supposed to “improve” on something I did “wrong” exactly one time a year ago.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Exactly – and it is not a SMART goal either (measurable, actionable, whatever the other three letters stand for, I forget). OP is supposed to meet this goal in order to be considered for leadership positions, but Ella didn’t say how. Go back in time and unmake the joke?

          1. Sparkles McFadden*

            You just gave me a flashback! I think it’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

            I rather wish I didn’t have this still in my brain.

          2. arjumand*

            I agree 100%!
            I don’t understand how other posters are saying that maybe OP was ‘unprofessional’ in other ways, because when Ella was asked, all she could come up with was a jokey interaction, while eating lunch, over a year ago!
            I mean, not only is OP supposed to time travel and undo it, she’s supposed to mind-read so that she can tell exactly when a co-worker transforms from human to robot (what is this thing you call humour? It does not compute).

            And all this because ‘she’s had some time to think about it’! Actually, this sounds like someone who’s only paying lip-service to OP applying for leadership positions – for one reason or another, it’s not feasible, and Ella needs a way to make OP believe that it’s OP’s fault. Because if it was true, Ella would be able to come up with more recent examples (and I mean examples, plural), especially as she said she’s been thinking about it.

      2. serenity*

        It’s not the end of story because she’s bringing it up 18 months later in a conversation about the viability of OP’s leadership aspirations.

        I’m absolutely on team “Ella messed this up, even if there was some substance to what she was trying to say” with the emphasis on trying to say as her efforts were clearly a failure. As a boss, you must be more articulate about sharing something like this – if you truly think it’s a problem and truly want to help your report grow into senior roles. You say “You know, there was this example from a year and a half of ago that I wanted to bring to your attention. I’ve seen a pattern of you giving maybe a flippant answer in public settings, or joking in situations where it wasn’t exactly appropriate. I wanted to flag it because my sense is that this can hold you back in your career growth especially in more senior roles”. That’s what you say, not what Ella said.

  20. Slinky*

    Academic here. No, that is not normal. A few others here have shared having a similar experience, so maybe it’s more common than I’d like to believe, but my experiences of being a candidate turning down jobs have been more along the lines of, “I’m sorry to hear that. Could we negotiate?” and my experiences of having a candidate turn down our offer are, well, the same. There may be some in the field who operate this way, but it’s strange.

  21. Cat mom*

    Removed. You can’t advocate for bigotry here, and gender identity discrimination is now illegal in the U.S. – Alison

    1. ThatGirl*

      Lots of people share their pronouns simply to normalize them – I am a cis woman, I am read as a cis woman, I have a feminine name … and I put she/her in my signature because I want to make it more ordinary.

  22. deesse877*

    I’m an academic at a less-prestigious institution. What LW2 describes seems completely possible where I work–there have been parallel cases of weirdness that basically come down to hirers being in denial about their own place in both prestige and pay scales. F ’em. Unless your field is truly tiny, like Old Church Slavonic or something, you won’t have to deal with any of the weird ones again.

    1. Bart*

      I am a Dean who works with faculty search committees. Although I provide lots of advice and resources for my search committees, only some of the chairs listen to me. And let’s just say that most academics’ natural instincts regarding hiring would shock AAM readers. I could imagine a rogue committee doing what was described, but it certainly wouldn’t be the institution’s policy or practice. OP could consider giving a heads up to the Dean—I know I would appreciate learning about that behavior so I could mentor the committee (and add specific training on what NOT to do!)

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      This 100%. I’ve been on three hiring committees in the last 18 months and the worst ones are the ones where people are in a small specialized field, don’t understand that everyone doesn’t also want to be in their small specialized field, and are offended when candidates maybe want, you know, to be paid a living wage.

    3. Alexis Rosay*

      Yeah, I’m not in academia, but I work for an org that hires for positions I can only describe as ‘somewhat undesirable and extremely niche’. The rate we offer is competitive, but the work schedule, hours, and required qualifications are…not. Sometimes I’ve put out ads where I only get 2-3 applicants total. And yet others on the hiring committee are stunned, time after time, that so few people are interested.

  23. Not So Super-visor*

    I suspect that we’ll hear more stories like LW3’s if more offices decide to go back to in-person office work. I’m navigating this with an employee right now except that he didn’t tell us ahead of time that he’d moved 2.5 hours away. We had just started a merger process when everyone went remote, and VP for our division made a lot of statements before sending everyone remote that this would not be a permanently remote position. Now we’re in the thick of the merger and need to switch everyone over to new software, upgrade hardware, and essentially retrain almost 50 people. VP wants everyone back in the office this fall to accomplish this, and the employee had to confess that he’d moved to Capitol City of our state which is 2.5 hours away and want us to make an exception. VP is adament that refusal to return to the office is a resignation

    1. londonedit*

      I think you’re right. Loads of people have taken the opportunity to move out of London in the last year (I sometimes feel like I’m going to be the only one left) and I’m sure plenty of them have done it on the basis of ‘Oh, I’m sure I can just carry on working from home’ when actually that might not be the case. I know a couple of people who are now having to seriously negotiate with their employer because their employer is saying they expect everyone to be in the office at least two or three days a week, or whatever, and they’re having to say ‘Well, I’ve moved 150 miles away, so…’

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Yup and there’s going to be a serious mix of places where it’s eagerly embraced, resentfully agreed to and those where it’ll just be ‘well, you either come in or you’ve quit’ and people are going to find that the salaries/jobs they can find in their new area will not be anywhere near what they were earning in London.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Yes, it is a battle of wills right now. The Great Resignation.

      My company was weird in that pre-Pandemic if you lived within 50 miles of headquarters you had to come into the office. Employees who lived >50 miles could be remote employees. Well, since then we’ve all been remote and people don’t want to be forced back into the headquarters office. Some have moved, others threaten to move, or resign if forced back in just because they live within the radius.

      1. Liz*

        50 miles??? I think my limit on a commute would be 25, tops! My current commute is 10 and has been known to take over an hour if traffic is bad. (Although I realise this may be very different if you’re out in the countryside and/or mostly on long, straight roads with a higher speed limit, but even then, the cost of petrol alone is making my eyes water.) If I was 40 miles away, I’d move – house or job, whichever came up first.

      2. Baarle*

        So there’s a town on the Belgian-Dutch border called Baarle, part of it is in the Belgian municipality of Baarle-Hertog and part in the Dutch municipality of Baarle-Nassau. The municipal border is a messy series of enclaves/exclaves and second-order enclaves/exclaves that goes right through buildings so many people’s WFH commute will have included crossing the border.

        But for administrative purposes, your country is determined by the location of your front door – so anecdotally, when that rule was first instituted and people were either surprised by, or not happy with, the country they were ‘assigned’, some people moved their front doors.

        Which is another way of saying: I’m now imagining someone whose front door is 49.99 miles away from the office, moving their front door to the other side of the house so that they may work from home.

        (Visual indications aside, the border doesn’t have much of an impact on daily life until pandemic measures only apply to half the town – or half the shop.)

          1. AVP*

            Different town, but in that same part of the world – I once did a bike trip and stopped in a small town for lunch. The person at the next table asked which country we were in, I said NED and the person next to me said BEL – turns out none of us were 100% sure!

    3. WFHHalloweenCat*

      I think so too! We had a higher-level manager who was working from his vacation home on the other side of the country for the better part of a year without anyone knowing! He very reluctantly just came back last month. Would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I am extremely pro WFH but I would fully agree with your VP that if they have said clearly that this is still an in-office position long-term then moving away and saying you won’t come back to the office is a resignation.

      I think OP needs to realize that they have effectively resigned as well. Certainly it’s worth confirming that there is no other position they could move into as a remote employee, but they made it so they could not continue on in their roll. And they presumably would want it to be considered a resignation when they interview with future jobs (definitely discuss with your current job how they would frame you leaving when people call to check on your work history!)

  24. Susan from HR*

    LW3: I do not think you have a role in the future at this company. You should start looking for a job in your new home ASAP.

    If you refuse to log off after you’ve trained your replacement, then yes, they will have to “fire” you by locking you out of your computer. But I don’t know if that would count as an involuntary termination for unemployment purposes—it’s more like a voluntary quit because you essentially made it impossible to do your job in the way your employer wants (ie, in person) by moving so far away.

  25. SJ*

    Hi LW4! Congratulations on everything, both coming out in general and coming out at work specifically. It’s such a drawn-out process and there can be so many twists and turns. Sending you mega high fives from one they/them to another. :)

    I absolutely have my pronouns on my resume. The way I manage it is I go by initials normally so I have “SJ LastName” in big font at the top and then right underneath in smaller font “Full-Firstname LastName (they/them)”

    This is a bit specific to my nickname/full name situation, but that’s how I handle it. Good luck!

  26. Brooks Brothers Stan*

    LW1 to add onto what everyone else has said, does your workplace encourage that all forms of feedback/yearly evaluations *must* include areas of growth? I have worked for places where even if you were a stellar employee it was mandated that each section include something to improve on. It often left supervisors in a position of grasping at straws for these growth areas, and that’s very much what this read like to me. I have personally been in a position of, frankly, having to undermine a subordinates self-confidence because of short-sighted/hamfisted evaluation models such as this.

    If Ella has said you’re ready for leadership and the *only* area she identified as needing to improve was something that happened a year ago…that to me reads like a rather amazing evaluation.

    1. Alternative Person*

      I was wondering this too. One time a manager admitted he was nitpicking because the metrics require something to go in the box. When it comes to these kinds of things, managers need to be upfront about it.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        Having been on both sides of this equation even when managers are up front about it it still feels like you’re getting legit criticism, instead of merely ‘check the box’ words. I usually prefaced mine with “I need to put something here, so here’s a few things to work on, but you’re doing great as everything else in your review spells out.” But even with that it’s hard not to take such small, trivial things personally because it’s often out of nowhere-precisely because the supervisor doesn’t have any complaints!

        I’m so happy my current performance management system only asks for ‘feedback’ to be included. It doesn’t require that every area of performance have ‘growth opportunities’ shoved in.

      2. The Rural Juror*

        I once had a manager at a restaurant who couldn’t find anything negative to say about me, but she needed something to go in the box. She told me I didn’t smile enough and that customers might perceive me as an unhappy person. I am one of the smiley-est people around, so that comment made absolutely no sense.

        Those negative words still have an affect, though. It does seem like maybe the LW’s manager was grasping at straw and I hate how it’s made the LW feel. I can understand why they would want some clarity.

    2. pbnj*

      That’s a good point. I liked how a previous manager handled it – they would tell you that you’re great at X (either a soft or technical skill), I’d like to see you do more of X, or help coach others in X.

    3. twocents*

      That’s immediately what I thought of. It sounds like a company that has a culture of “continuous improvement” which doesn’t always account for the fact that you can literally become an expert at your job and continuing to do what you do is all that’s needed.

  27. MissDisplaced*

    #1: This is definitely a little off. I think that perhaps what they really meant was that you’re maybe not doing yourself any favors by using self-deprecating humor. IDK, it’s possible they read something about how too much self-deprecating humor makes women seem diminished in leadership roles or something? And there is a valid point to that.

    But in your case, there’s no indication you do or say stuff like this often! And it’s really weird to refer to something from a year ago that was clearly in a more relaxed setting.

  28. Siv*


    Maybe she was worried about his professionalism for weeks because of this joke. I can see her point. It’s like someone saying all they do all day is put their feet up. It could be interpreted as a joke and still be unprofessional.

    1. Dwight Schrute*

      I could see that if they didn’t know each other, but they were already familiar and I presume the new manager already knew about their work

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I mean that’s actually a really common joke on my team, some of our go-to people who are always extremely busy and pulled in many directions make jokes about how they have nothing to do or will just be twiddling their thumbs all day or something.

  29. Dwight Schrute*

    LW 5: My boyfriend moved to another state to be with me during grad school. When he was interviewing he just said we were moving here because I was going to school here and had plans to stay and work here after. He interviewed at a few places and none of them were worried about it.

    1. LW #5*

      That makes me feel a lot better! I know people move all the time and it’s not a big deal I just don’t want to be disqualified before I get a a chance.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        It’s more risky for a woman to mention this I think, unfortunately, because there’s still some cultural assumption that her career will be second to her husband’s. So Dwight’s boyfriend saying he moved for his partner is unfortunately less likely to get the “he’ll probably move again when his partner does” response than a woman saying the same thing. Ymmv based on industry and location of course, but those subconscious biases are still there even among people who try actively to fight them, and more in the general population.

  30. theletter*

    LW1 – I suspect Ella meant ‘professionalism’ more in context of the application to leadership positions. The joke made between you and her over lunch was fine and probably appreciated, but when you’re looking for those next-level positions, the expectations change. She might have meant more that you should mentally prepare yourself for a culture where you really have to stick up for yourself and your reports with grace and conviction, and you often won’t be able to rely on humor to smooth things over or create connections.

    I’ve observed that managers and directors seem happy, but rarely make jokes, if ever. Sad, right? But I’ve also seen a lot of well-meaning jokes go sideways, purely just because there’s always people who didn’t register that it was a joke/sarcastic. Managing is communications game, and it can go so wrong if you’re misunderstood.

    Imagine you’re in a big meeting, and someone asks a really obvious question. “Oh no, we’re actually spending all our budget on lottery tickets this year,” you respond. Hilarious, right? Until Bob the Literal blows his expense account on scratch-offs because listening is hard.

    So I don’t think she meant that you are unprofessional in the office, but that a general vibe of ‘super-polished, no-fussing, here-to-get-the-job-done, eyes-on-the-prize’ would help you get into leadership. Once you get the position and get comfortable, you might find that you can relax a little bit, and maybe even make some jokes.

    1. Anononon*

      But, there’s absolutely nothing in the letter to suggest that OP doesn’t understand that there’s a time and place for jokes. If she means that OP’s general vibe needs to be more polished, she should say that!

  31. PrairieEffingDawn*

    It bothers me when people respond to a reasonable work question with sarcastic office humor. Recent example–I reminded my team of a vacation I’m taking in August and my boss responded, jokingly, with “I don’t think that time off was approved.” Even though this was meant as a lighthearted jab, it really rubbed me the wrong way because, actually, I’ve had to play a lot of defense to get this break for myself and even though I *did* get the vacation time approved back in May, I still expect staffing and project issues are going to prevent me from disconnecting while I’m away.

    Aside from that context, I actually think jokes like this bug me so much because they’re just not funny or creative. Like, why respond with stock office humor that won’t elicit a true laugh when you can just give someone a genuine, professional response? (I’m down with jokes, just ones that are actually funny.)

    All this said, I still think LW1’s manager is being unreasonable to bring this up from a year ago. Maybe there’s more of a history of sarcasm than the LW is aware of? And I think Alison is right that she should ask for more examples.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      You get that not everybody will have the same sense of humor than you do, right? And sometimes these kinds of jokes that you think are objectively not funny will be a way some people show comradery with each other? I agree that if you are going to joke at the office, you need to read the room and know your audience–it seems reasonable to feel in your situation that the kind of joke your boss tried to make wasn’t great. But that it doesn’t seem like Ella and the OP’s break room conversation had that kind of context.

      1. PrairieEffingDawn*

        I’d be pretty obtuse to assume everyone shared my exact sense of humor!

        I think it’s possible the interaction between Ella and the OP *could* have had a similar context to the interaction between my boss and I. It’s the sarcasm in the joke, for me. Maybe Ella felt like it was a flippant response to an earnest question, and if I were a new manager trying to set my new team member up for success, I could see how that could bug me. We don’t know the history, I’m just saying it’s possible.

        Again–I actually don’t think it was reasonable for Ella to bring this up a year later unless it’s part of a pattern.

        1. JustaTech*

          I can totally see why you didn’t find your boss’s joke funny!
          Jokes are all about context. If it had been an offhand comment at lunch, and your boss had gone out of his way to make your getting to use your vacation smooth, that would be one thing. But when it had been a trial to even get the time, and the joke was (I’m guessing) made in a meeting, yeah, that’s not cool.

          One thing I’ve noticed that some people have trouble figuring out is that some jokes are fine at lunch are not fine in a meeting.

          But you’re right, it’s only worth bringing up if there’s a pattern.

  32. Macro*

    #1 Your boss thinks you’re ready to work on applying to leadership positions and has given you feedback that you need to work on professionalism.

    If this were an entry level job I think that the advice to go back and demand to be given specific examples would be fine. But if you really want to be in leadership you need to have the ability to self examine a lot more than that. You need to stop and look around at your leadership team currently and think about what those elements may be. You need to be able to do some work yourself in this area. If you can’t look at that and go, “oh, I can see that the senior leadership does not joke with staff but they do joke with each other” or “it would be deeply inappropriate for a senior leader to make a joke about someone being hard to manage” or “everyone in senior leadership wears suits, am I good enough at other things to buck this trend and still present the image that the company expects” then you aren’t ready for a leadership role.

    At some point when you are in more senior roles your boss isn’t going to give you a point by point task breakdown and process and feedback on every single little thing you do. And if they do you – would rightly so – call it absurdly micromangment like. You need to step up and take some responsibility for yourself and your own career trajectory instead of demanding that someone else do it for you by rejecting the notion that self-reflection matters.

    It’s not to say you can’t, but I think if that’s what you expect because of what’s said here you’ve been sold a bit of a bill of goods. Your boss will sometimes say something vague and expect you to figure it out. And if they need to give you every single detail, then what on earth is the point of you?

    1. snarly*

      I think if there’s any appropriate time to request feedback, it’s during a one-on-one, though. Being a good leader is also knowing when to ask questions and when to go to bat for yourself or others. It’s perfectly reasonable for someone to ask about a piece of feedback that they don’t understand, and there’s absolutely no indication that the LW isn’t good at self-reflection. She’s simply asking a question about a specific piece of information, not for a ‘point by point task breakdown’ of every single thing–that doesn’t even make sense in the context of her letter. There’s a lot of projection and extrapolation going on in this response and it’s unfair to the OP.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If your boss gives you a piece of feedback that you can’t make sense of after you reflect on it, you need to be able to go back and say, “I’m having trouble putting my finger on what you mean — can we talk more about it?” That doesn’t change when you become more senior; if anything, I’d be *more* disturbed that a senior person didn’t ask for clarification on something that wasn’t resonating with them after reflection.

  33. Moniker*

    I have a very different take on LW1. My interpretation of Ella’s comment was as a warning that moving ahead would put the letter writer in an environment where that sort of comment would be seen as unprofessional. The original “joke” was not great, in my opinion. I have gotten similar feedback about similar comments when I was younger. I took it to heart and I believe it has paid off for me.

    1. bananab*

      Yeah, it’s actually decent feedback if only for “if you tell jokes like that you’ll have more weird situations like this one” or even “describing yourself via fireable traits, even as a joke, isn’t a good idea at work.”

      1. bananab*

        ETA: I don’t know that it belongs on a performance review, but as professional guidance it’s not too shabby.

    2. PrairieEffingDawn*

      This! Even if Ella didn’t see the joke as unprofessional, something about it stuck with her to remember it a year later. So someone else could have had a way worse reaction to it. I think she’s doing LW1 a favor by bringing it up.

    3. Myrin*

      I had similar thoughts as a possible interpretation of Ella’s comment BUT if that’s indeed what she meant, why is she shrouding it in the language she used instead of just saying “If you want to move ahead, you’ll have to be scrupulously professional to be taken seriously. An example would be something you said only once but which stuck with me because it was fine between you and me but wouldn’t be fine between you and direct reports. [Reminds OP of situation] I know you only said something like this once but it feels like a good, straightforward example for what I mean.”?

  34. agnes*

    #5 I would not talk about your partner being in grad school. I have seen that used to screen people out . I live in an area with multiple universities and people often have good intentions about staying, but find that they can’t. Don’ t give them a reason to rule you out.

    I know, not logical, no one is ever guaranteed to stay, but a possible built in “end date” is just another barrier to you getting the job you want.

    1. LW #5*

      That’s what my worry was I think I’ll just take Allison’s advice and say my husband is here so I’m moving to be with him.

  35. MissAgatha*

    When I was unemployed a few years ago I had an interview that seemed to go really well and they seemed happy with me – so much so that they called to offer me the job within minutes of me leaving the office. I requested 24 hours to talk it over with my spouse and in the end called them the next day and said no because it wasn’t in an industry that I was in love with. The lady LOST IT and started berating me for wasting her time and saying that I misled her that I wanted to work there, blah blah blah. Bullet … dodged

  36. AvonLady Barksdale*

    LW #3: I’ve moved and taken jobs with me twice. I’ve been lucky, but really, it’s just lucky. It’s important first not to assume it will work for everyone, and second to check in CONSTANTLY at the beginning and several months in. You can never, ever assume that your boss is on the same page.

    The major thing is to have the conversation. Set a meeting and do it now, and start formulating your plan B, think about your negotiation points, and consider that this job is no longer a fit for you and vice versa.

  37. Disgruntled Librarian*

    “I have learned not to apply norms from the rest of the work world to academia” is going to be my new mantra. Coming from a blue collar extended family and a husband who is in the corporate world, some of the stuff I’ve seen in academia would never happen outside. I totally get why so many people don’t trust us.

    I’ve turned down a couple of offers in my day that resulted in some weird responses. It is sadly par for the course, and most subject area communities are small, so you’re told not to burn bridges, but there is so much disfunction/politics, that bridges will be inadvertently burned. And if you end up on the bad side of someone important, you’re done, even if that important person is incredibly toxic and would never survive in the “real”world.

    1. JustaTech*

      Yes, this. I’m lucky that my mom worked for an academic library (but not as a librarian) so I got exposed to the idea of the politics and territorial-ness and Little Tin Gods before I even went to college so when I did have an academic job I knew to watch for the undertones and currents. Which isn’t to say I didn’t miss a bunch of big important things, but at least I knew that there was a lot more to why we weren’t working with the Z lab than just they didn’t have time for us.

  38. Girasol*

    LW1: Maybe this problem is LW1’s professionalism with respect to joking or about the lack of that manager’s sense of humor but there’s another possibility: the manager struggles with performance evaluations. You know: “Look at all these evaluations I have to finish by Friday, and with all that we have going on right now! It’s for a whole year’s performance and I can hardly remember last month! Let’s see, LW1: good performance all around, nothing in my notes about anything really wrong, but I have to offer some constructive feedback. Hm, what can I say? What has LW1 done that wasn’t excellent? All I can think of is that joke last year…” Performance evals are created by humans, after all, and aren’t necessarily at the level of judgment from on high.

  39. MCMonkeyBean*

    Wow, I was expecting some kind of racist or sexist joke that was clearly problematic but a little awkward to address a year after the fact. But this is so odd!

    I know it’s kind of nitpicky but I’m a little concerned that she called your joke “self-deprecating” if that was a direct quote. Hopefully she just was having trouble finding the words to describe what she really meant, but to me a “self-deprecating” joke makes fun of things you think are actually true about yourself in a joking-not-joking kind of way. But your joke was more about hypothetical terrible employees rather than traits you actually thought you yourself had (I think, right? That was my understanding.) So if she thinks you actually have any of those qualities or thinks that you think you do that seems like it could be a minor issue to address?

    Also–sometimes people really do reflect back on things and think differently than they did at the time, but even if it were more reasonable feedback it always sucks to get feedback from something so old that no one told you was a problem at the time. You’re left feeling like “jeez, have they been dwelling on this all year thinking poorly of me all this time and no one said anything?” or something like that. So that part kind of sucks too.

  40. bananab*

    Rarely worth it to joke around at work. Risk/reward just isn’t there. To be clear I don’t think there was anything wrong with the joke, Ella clearly got the joke, and the entire premise of the joke is that OP1 is in fact entirely professional. But yet, here we are. It’s why I leave my fun-loving side at home.

    1. mreasy*

      Work-appropriate joke: on a rainy day, “wish I could get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather we’re having.” The LW’s joke was too much interpretable as “what a dumb question.”

  41. Danielle*

    For Q1 – sometimes, for whatever reason, HR or management seems it necessary to “mandate” an area of improvement on a review. I dislike this practice but Ella may have received similar direction and this comment was what she latched on to.

  42. Squeeq*

    LW #2 – One weird thing about academia is that sometimes (particularly for tenure-track jobs), administration will refuse to let a department go to their second choice if negotiations are unsuccessful for the first choice. For some cash strapped departments, this can even mean that the position is taken away and given to another department entirely and permanently. It’s bizarre, but some schools/departments do work that way. It’s also possible that they have failed to secure any of their finalists and they don’t have time (or faculty available) to interview additional applicants before the school year starts.

  43. Snarly*

    LW5, it is technically accurate to say that you’re moving to be closer to family. I’d just leave it at that if I were you.

  44. LondonLady*

    #LW5 – “I’m moving to be with family” or “I’m moving to join my fiance” both sound like committed reasons, a positive thing.

  45. Another Day, Another Dollar*

    Here’s a slightly different take on #1. In the example, Ella asked what may have been meant as a serious question in a light manner. Maybe she did want a more serious answer, and maybe that’s why this interchange stuck in her mind. It’s certainly a question a manager might like to know about someone they will be working more closely with, and it might have been referring to things the manager could do versus asking about the individual. Maybe OP prefers email over a phone call or vice versa, for instance. The OP’s response treated the whole question as a joke, but serious things can be asked lightly. No way to know without talking to Ella, but just another possibility. BTW, I wouldn’t dismiss feedback because no one else told you that. Many people won’t give you feedback at all, so I think AAM is right on — talk to Ella about it non-defensively and get a better idea of what she means. Then you can better evaluate her advice. Best of luck in the next steps in your career, OP!

    1. sagc*

      Then why didn’t Ella say “no, seriously” or something? LW is not the one behaving strangely here.

    2. meyer lemon*

      If this is the case, Ella really has a weak grasp of context and nuance. If you want a thoughtful response to that question, don’t spring it on someone at lunch.

      1. Another Day, Another Dollar*

        I guess I’d say the point is to figure out where Ella is coming from, if possible, and does she have a point that OP should consider? This is just one scenario that came to mind as why this example stuck in her mind a year later even though she seems to be very pro OP.
        Lots of other possibilities, of course.

  46. bopper*

    I see this as “I appreciate your humor, but if you get promoted there may be people that won’t so I recommend you not do that in the future.”

    or “I asked you for how to manage you and didn’t get any real information. You used humor to deflect my question. That didn’t give me anything to work with.”

    or “The first thing you said to me was a joke that was a lie. In the future, will people know to take you seriously?”

    1. JustaTech*

      ““The first thing you said to me was a joke that was a lie.” – Do people really think this way? That feels really harsh, especially with someone you’ve known for years. And whose tone, facial expression and body language make it clear that they are joking.
      I guess I wouldn’t think of a joke as a lie, because to me a lie is something the speaker says expecting the listener to believe it is true. If the speaker expects that the listener will know that it is not true, and is actually meaning the opposite, that feels very different from a lie like “yes, I did submit that expense report last week” when the expense report has not been submitted.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I mean…a ton of jokes rely on contrast. The humor is in the juxtaposition. If you’re talking to someone you already know well and have worked with for a while, and that person knows you to be, for example, notoriously punctual and efficient, and you respond by saying “well you can expect me to be late all the time” and then you both laugh, it’s because you both already know this to be the opposite of the truth. It’s not evading the question; it’s basically saying “you already know the answers to this based on our existing relationship”. Like, there’s nothing new you need to know. Would I make a joke and not follow it up with an actual answer? Probably not. But if she didn’t think the person were asking in earnest, but also as a sort of joke – because they knew each other well already – then this was fine. And there’s zero evidence to suggest OP doesn’t know that this would not be fine with someone she didn’t know well already, or anyone else for that matter.

  47. Pronoun Letter Writer*

    I’m LW4 with the question about pronouns! Since writing this letter, I actually met with a very supportive colleague who gave me pretty much the same advice – and Alison’s point about screening out employers I wouldn’t want to work for is a really great point! And I’m interviewing soon for an internal promotion, which would certainly alleviate the pronoun stress!

  48. SiliconValley spouse*

    The complaining & lobbying after a job applicant takes a different position happens in Silicon Valley as well as academia.

    I have an example from the last time my husband was jobhunting. I’ll call him Jimbo here for anonymity, and I’ll call the giant companies by their real names, but not the small ones as that could doxx him & embarrass him and also if I named the petulant company, it would be likely to get back to the petulant person & my husband is a low drama person who would not like that. He’s a senior software engineer with a lot of experience in startups of various sizes + academia and has a semi-relevant PhD and has several patents & some publications (his PhD is in a hard science, but not computer sci. or math, so only semi-relevant).

    Jimbo was fired after an error in judgment at a very large and famous internet company (withholding name here only because this name cd doxx him), after being there less than a year. This was rough, but after several months of networking and interviewing, Jimbo had several job offers. Two were good enough to accept: He was torn between a small but very famous startup (again, withholding name to protect my spouse) and Google. Another offer came from a small startup in the financial sector (trying to bring Silicon Valley style to hedge funds), and they really wanted Jimbo. Jimbo also strategically got a job offer from Facebook as he knew he’d make him an offer and they’d offer a lot of $$, so he could use that salary offer as a bargaining chip. Jimbo thinks Facebook is evil and would never work there, and due to his disgust for Facebook he did not care about wasting its time. Jimbo was torn between the small famous startup & Google, but ended up going to Google and parlaying the offer from Facebook into a higher employee designation (Google is very into labelling its employees by status, and he got, say, an E5 instead of E4 due to what Facebook offer) on top of a better salary figure.

    Both the financial techish firm & the famous small startup expressed their disappointment, but one was dignified and the other got petulant and personal. One of the top execs at the famous startup wrote Jimbo a long and whiny email about how Jimbo had made a greedy and disappointing choice to go for the safe thing and how deeply disappointed he was. He had thought better of Jimbo, and Jimbo was missing the chance to be part of something very dynamic and exciting. The exec said he’d planned to make Jimbo a core part of the startup’s very being, and now Jimbo was going to just be an insignificant little fish in the giant pond of Google. My husband was pretty taken aback by this and showed it to me. It reminded me of an ex-boyfriend of mine who liked to point out how stupid I was for dumping him.

    1. Blackcat*

      “It reminded me of an ex-boyfriend of mine who liked to point out how stupid I was for dumping him.”

      I strongly suspect the Venn diagram of people who do this with hiring and people who do this with dating have significant overlap.

  49. WonkyStitch*

    #2 – I had a job search earlier this year. I had a potential offer from a more technical job and had an invitation to interview with a nonprofit, the owner of which I’d networked with for years on LinkedIn. I interviewed with the ED of the nonprofit, it went well, and a few days later they scheduled another interview for almost two weeks after that, with the person I assume would have been my direct boss.

    In the interim, I had a job offer from the other job. But I was still really interested in the role at the nonprofit as it was my “dream” job, but I had surgery upcoming and I thought the nonprofit might not have good medical as it only had a few employees, etc. Basically the nonprofit was just moving slowly.

    In the nonprofit 2nd interview, I told her I did have a job offer and would need to know their decision by early the following week or else I’d have to accept the other offer. She said she understood.

    The beginning of the following week, I hadn’t hear from the nonprofit. I finally accepted the job offer from the other job (which I’m at now and it’s fantastic, I’m so happy with the benefits and the work, etc.)

    The week after THAT, the ED emailed me to ask me to interview with him AGAIN. I responded back to his email that unfortunately I’d accepted another job offer so I couldn’t move forward with him.

    He never responded! No “good luck” or anything. Just silence. And I was just like, dude, really? If my current job hadn’t worked out, I would have still been really interested in working with them, but now I feel like I burned a bridge by taking a different job. It wasn’t anything against them at all.

    Ironically, in one of my current responsibilities at my new job, I had the opportunity to recommend that nonprofit to people who were looking to bring partners on board. I did so, because I still felt they were a great partner for my employer and I believe in their mission, but it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

  50. Lyric Mender*

    In a completely different field, I turned down a job offer that was more hours and less pay than what I was currently making, accepted a different position making way more money, and when I wrote a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email, the company tried to get me to open up negotiations again. They lowballed me, wanted me to work over 40 hours, and it paid less than my current job but for the same exact work. Ummm no thanks, I don’t think I need to explain to you why I turned you down and there’s nothing you could say that would make me forget you lowballed me on my first offer, KNOWING my current salary. Employers getting rejected can get weird.

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