updates: the “low ego” job posting, getting reimbursed for parking, and more

Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Job posting asks for candidate with “low ego” (#5 at the link)

I did take the job that said the ideal candidate would have a “low ego.” Turns out that means “willing to turn a blind eye to manager’s backhanded/ passive aggressive comments” and “unconcerned with career development or having a manager that will be an active participant in supporting your work or helping develop your career.” For those and many other reasons I couldn’t have known before coming into the position, I started job hunting again within a month of taking the role. You live and you learn.

2. Can I be reimbursed for parking when I have to bring my car in for a work task? (#4 at the link)

When I actually went to ask the office that deals with finances and reimbursement for parking reimbursement, that set off a kerfuffle, shortly followed by a formal policy that employee parking at work could never be paid for by the unit regardless of circumstances. I then decided to put my foot down and say no to any sort of task that would require bringing in a car! Having a car during the day was not part of the job description, so it didn’t seem like they could make me. I was pretty new at my job when I wrote this and since then it’s been a lot easier for me to question things and say no. Students need food for an event? It’ll need to be something that can be delivered. Items need to be picked up? They can be mailed and that’s the cost of doing business. Very rarely has there been anything in the past few years that I’ve actually needed to drive somewhere to get or obtain and if that does happen, I either ask my boss to do it (who does drive in!) or do it on a night/weekend once I’m home and flex my time accordingly.

3. Demotion vs. firing (#4 at the link)

An update: My grandboss was the hiring manager for this position, for a few reasons that made sense at the time, and suggested we demote the manager rather than fire her. The underlying hope was that she’d see the writing on the wall and find another job before too long. That didn’t feel quite right to me given her timeline before we hired her (unemployed for a few months in a very employable field!). Thus, my letter to you. It was an optimistic hire. Some individuals who lacked a manager background/skillset in our line of work would have been able to rise to the occasion, but this one clearly had no self-awareness, lacked a sense of professional norms, and wasn’t receptive to feedback.

Upon reflection, I am realizing my grandboss does a lot of optimistic hiring moves, which doesn’t feel great but hasn’t been disastrous elsewhere yet, and at least gives me something to look out for when grandboss does bring on new people. Blessedly, grandboss is no longer the hiring manager except for his own direct reports.

When we brought the demote vs. fire issue to the VP, he quickly said to cut ties–it wasn’t working and we had mission-critical work and needed a committed, improvement-focused person on the team. It was nice to get a definitive answer, as I had a lot of concerns about team culture after a demotion. The firing meeting was drama-free and short. It didn’t feel great–knowing someone is losing a paycheck isn’t great–but the team really has been better off. After the initial shock with the other teammates, then reassurances of their great work, the few pieces of manager’s recurring work were picked up quickly and seamlessly. For what it’s worth, another teammate is going to be promoted to manager (after a good work track record!). The fired manager un-friended me on LinkedIn (as a burn I guess, after she added me a few weeks prior) and from what I can tell, is still unemployed.

4. How to explain an incomplete master’s degree (#5 at the link; first update here)

This past year has been a roller coaster. I left my retail job last November because it became very obvious I just couldn’t keep up physically anymore on top of a change in culture where I would not have fit. I also just didn’t have the patience for customers anymore. I took some time off, partially because of a back injury but also just because I needed a break. However when I started doing 6 different wordle variants a day I realized I needed a job.

I began a hunt and started applying. I managed to get an interview during what became the longest month of my life as it was the big storm in May and sadly my father passed. However I was still able to focus on the interview, I used all the AAM advice I could think of. I prepped questions, I studied the company, I personalized my cover letter to my relevant experience, I sent a thank you note, and more.

As for the result of that, I just finished my 6 month probationary period last week. I passed my evaluation with great scores. I’m now the head of IT at a local nonprofit that provides a variety of services to seniors and those with disabilities. I seem to have landed a unicorn honestly, the pay is good, has benefits, currently 30 hours a week, given a great deal of freedom for my schedule and work from home. Very reasonable expectations for my progress and skills and most importantly the culture, I’ve met almost everyone and they’re all great, everyone here is so nice and it’s chill, we took a break last Friday and made paper snowflakes just for fun.

Honestly I could see staying here for quite a while, compared to working big box retail this is night and day.

So first thanks for your response to my initial letter, thanks for the support of the community and thank you for all the good interview and job hunt advice you’ve posted in the past.

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. Gandalf's Sense of Humor*

    #1- “For those and many other reasons I couldn’t have known before coming into the position”

    Looking back at Alison’s original response which included “But it’s also possible that it says something about their culture — like that you need to have an unnaturally thick skin because you’re going to be harshly criticized all the time, or that you won’t get credit for your work.” OP really did know that this was potentially a problem because Alison told her. Having “low ego” in a job posting is such a bizarre thing, this should have been a red flag immediately but all the more with Alison’s spot on advice.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I think a comma is missing to separate “for those” from the rest of the sentence. Meaning there were “other” reasons that were unrelated to the low-ego flag and couldn’t have been known in advance. “Those” reasons were the ones that Alison pointed out and the LW could have known about.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yes, this is how I read it.

        But, I suppose, congrats to those in the comment section who want to be able to say “I told you so”?

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        I think most of us have been there, ignored what in hindsight was a red flag. It happens. But in my case taking that bad fit job really helped me know exactly what I was looking for and not settling for a job that wasn’t a good fit.

    2. Goldenrod*

      Agreed, but “low ego” could also have meant that they wanted someone who wasn’t arrogant and who could get along well with others.

      I feel like it’s vague enough that it *could* have turned out fine….Since it didn’t, it’s 20/20 hindsight. Kudos to LW #1 for realizing it quickly and determining to move on! That’s half the battle right there.

      Good luck, LW#1!!

      1. ferrina*

        Literally the only people I have known that have said “low ego” were the people who demanded that others be subservient. If you weren’t, it was because you were selfish and egotistical. People who actually value teamwork tend to say “must value teamwork”, not complain about other people’s egos. i.e., the people that value collaboration focus on positive collaborative language, and the people who are ego-driven project that onto others.

        Also really glad that LW recognized it as a huge issue! Good luck to them!

        1. Random Dice*

          I’ve never heard the term low ego used around me… but in a similar vein, in my roommate days I learned that anyone who insisted on “no drama!” were ALWAYS the drama llamas.

    3. DocVonMitte*

      Most of my work history has been at startups and so so many job postings include “low ego”. It became a bit of a cultural fad within certain startups; making it hard to know if it was just in there to be in there or in there because you were about to work for a toxic dumpster fire.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I did some brief time at a start-up small biz (7 mos) and now am at a more established small biz. While the “low ego” is never stated, it can sometimes mean that you need to be willing to pitch in at different levels, including sometimes at a level that’s years or decades below one’s current skill level (think formatting llama grooming tables vs. a high-level synthesis of best llama-grooming practices including an analysis of llama grooming by region or season).

        “Low ego” would be a different red flag for me–I have learned that I can’t be a director of a group, and a llama analyst, and a table formatter. It’s not that my ego is too big, it’s that there just isn’t enough of me to go around!

        1. DocVonMitte*

          That is exactly why I am no longer at startups haha just made the move to a 10,000+ healthcare giant this year. I could not be happier to have a role with a more narrow scope (and enough resources to do it).

        2. Barbarella*

          Yes, my team uses “humility” that way–to indicate that someone is willing to do work at different levels. The way it plays out is that people who are willing to do lower level work get stuck with it while people who turn down the lower level work get the promotable projects. Yet another kind of red flag!

    4. Ellie*

      Well, it depends on how it’s said, but it’s not necessarily a red flag in software development. We often say things like, ‘there’s no egos here’, or ‘don’t worry about my ego, we’re all working towards the same thing’. What we really mean is to feel free to point out errors in the code, and to not take it personally when others do the same. Its not a competition, we’re a team that works together. It’s probably not a great way of saying it, but most people in software will have had to work with people with insufferable egos, and it can really drag down the project. But ‘low ego’ does sound a little more red flag-like.

    5. tamarack etc.*

      The story is missing a piece that could be interesting – whether the OP actually asked, and what they said. In any event, their intuition that it could be a red flag was correct, though unfortunately they ignored it.

  2. Antilles*

    #2 seems like a good outcome for everyone. OP doesn’t have to pay out of their own pocket and you just work around it by ordering things for delivery/shipment.
    Wondering just how big the “whole kerfuffle” was though. I’m guessing that OP’s request ended up discovering a bunch of inconsistencies among departments and complaints and problems and etc. So the university just set one very clear policy to end all the hassle and arguments – we don’t pay for parking, full stop, don’t even bother to ask.

    1. Bad Wolf*

      I would suspect it is linked to the IRS rules that state that regular commuting expenses to your main office location are not reimbursible. Even if the employee is working from home, if they are attached to the office they went to, and the parking was to go to that office, it would most likely not be a qualified reimbursement under the IRS rules. But the expense policy should be clear about that.

      1. Sloanicota*

        This is what it is at my job, but it creates a crappy situation where nobody wants to be the one to drop off those supplies / pick up that item since the unfortunate person will have to shell out for parking – or risk double parking, a high risk/high reward strategy – in order to achieve a business purpose. I like OP’s suggestions to have the office pay for things rather than pass parking costs off to remote staff who don’t technically need to be there.

    2. Parking person (#2)*

      This is me! I think it was only within my specific department – the sense I got was my department *had* been reimbursing people from time to time if they happened to ask, or it was sort of unofficial (like.. you had a validation that was for guests and you just.. used it for yourself instead one day, whoops) and me asking triggered them to actually stick with the policy that is actually what the whole campus policy is.

  3. Wednesday*

    #4 – Congrats on the new job…it sounds like a dream!

    But is doing 6+ wordle variants per day really bad or unusual?? *looks around guiltily*

      1. Two Dog Night*

        Octordle, sedecordle, and a completely ridiculous one that has 32 words–can’t remember the name. Worldle, statele, globle, and globle capitals are all geography. Yeardle has you guess the year.

        Oh, and squareword, which is one of my faves.

        I’m going to have to check foodle….

        1. Global Cat Herder*

          The 32 words one is DuoTriGordle

          One I haven’t seen listed is nerdle (math formula) and binerdle

          And I will once again plug redactle (although my clan plays redactle-unlimited because my mom finds the UX easier)

      2. slashgirl*

        octordle, word hurdle (4, 5, 6 letter words), phrazle (same folks as word hurdle), clue hurdle and square words are the ones I play in addition to Wordle, Quordle and Waffle. I also do non-word ones: Framed (movies), Heardle 60s, 70s, 80s and lyricle (lyrics).

      3. Lyudie*

        Canuckle is a Canadian-based one. There’s also Cladder, which is a combination between wordle and a crossword, with a timer.

      4. Goody*

        I’ve got Redactle, Bandle, four decades of Heardle, Phrazle, and Waffle. And technically I’m playing Wordle through a different app that a friend developed and uses the original word list, including the puzzles that the NYT chose to redact.

      5. CouldntPickAUsername*

        Letter writer number 4 here
        let me try to remember, there was wordle, there was the 4x times, the 8, the 16 and the 32 and then there was the one where they were all on a square with a cross in the middle, something akin to wordle sudoku I guess.

      6. Forgot my name again*

        No one’s mentioned Semantle yet? That and Cyrdle (the Welsh one) are the only ones I bother with these days.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I have a job and I still make time during the day to do Wordle, Quordle, Octordle, Sedecorder, Sedecordle, and Murdle haha

    2. mlem*

      ikr? My daily tour is Wordle, Dordle, Quordle, Octordle, Sedecordle, Worldle, Statele, Waffle, Heardle, Heardle80s, Squardle, and Squaredle. I did Redactle for a while but it didn’t stick for me.

    3. Rebelx*

      My thoughts exactly. I am not unemployed and I still do 5 Wordle variants a day, which is down from about 12 or so during peak Wordle madness.

      1. Rebelx*

        (The 5 are Wordle, Spanish Wordle, Wordle Peaks, Antiwordle and Squardle, in case anyone’s curious.)

    4. Michelle Smith*

      Nope! I felt very attacked by that line LOL!! I do a bunch of different wordle variants. Anywhere from a couple to a couple dozen, including ones about movies or that have math equations. I get LW’s point and I’m happy for them, but no I don’t think it’s weird for people to do puzzles lol.

    5. Persephone Mulberry*

      For real.

      I’ve dropped most of the Wordle variants but still do Wordle, Phrazle, Waffle, Squareword, and I don’t know what its actual name is but the letter-swapping game at quintessential dot fun. And not a word game, but also Chrono dot Quest.

      1. Gray Lady*

        For non-word ones, I like Chrono as well as Worldle (guess country by shape) and Globle (guess random country by narrowing down location).

  4. KatieP*

    LW #2 – FWIW, they probably refused to reimburse your parking because it would be considered taxable income for a series of complicated reasons having to do with the fact that they charge students for the same service. I did the same as you for about 5 years, then broke down and bought a parking pass because I’ve got personal reasons to need to drive to/from campus several times a month. It’s ridiculous to have to pay to park where you work.

    1. State University serf*

      At my state university it was explained away as that there was a state law against state agencies paying for state employees parking fees at state locations. I imagine it is for the loss of revenue more than anything else, but they never did actually give the law cite.

      Hmm, now we could start a side discussion about how much we have to pay for the parking pass hunting license, but Alison would be disappointed in us…

      1. KatieP*

        Yeah, that’s probably not it (the law bit). If you were in the same state as I am, I’d say someone was blowing smoke. I approve reimbursements for our employees when they pay parking fees at other state universities and state agencies in this state all the time. Just not when they pay to park here.

        For the revenue bit, you may not be far off the mark. Someone else a bit further up pointed out the IRS rules on covering employee parking at their normal work location, which is probably the biggest reason.

    2. pieces_of_flair*

      Yes, according to my state university there are important but vague legal reasons that employee parking cannot be paid. I think this is fairly standard. It sucks hard, however.

  5. Same*

    #3 – LinkedIn isn’t a place for friends, it’s for work connections. I doubt severing bag connection was a “burn.” More likely it was a combination of: 1) expectibf that work connections with someone who fired you would be fruitless, and 2) The emotional discomfort of seeing the person who fired you online frequently.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        Yeah I agree with this take. I’ve disconnected with people from LI both after leaving a job under good circumstances and being fired/let go. I don’t view it as a burn, I view it as, “There is no point in continuing a business relationship with you.” Now, if they had blocked you, that would be a bit of a horse of a different color.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Why do it if under good circumstances? Genuinely curious and can’t think of a plausible reason on my own.

    1. DocVonMitte*

      I was thinking the same thing. After being fired I felt so much shame that it was really hard to see people related to that job on LinkedIn. I unfriended basically everyone. It wasn’t personal, I need to do it for my own mental health.

      1. SpiderLadyCEO*

        Yep. I muted everyone, because I didn’t want to see them but I also didn’t want them to know it.

    2. Meep*

      My former manager (the absolute loon) used to tell me I couldn’t add anyone on LinkedIn without her say-so. If I did, she would berate me. I sometimes add contacts now out of spite (all people I know, but she would’ve thought as “bad connections” because they weren’t her). Funny enough, she removed everyone when she was fired.

      In theory, it should be for work connections. In practice, it has become more of an elitist version of FB since Meta bought it.

      1. Snell*

        It’s so strange to see what LinkedIn has become! When I was a child, I saw LinkedIn on my dad’s computer and asked him about it, and he explained it was for networking for your job, and I lost all interest and dismissed it as a Boring Adult Thing. For timeline context, when this happened, MySpace was hot I wanted to be on MySpace. I was too young to legally be allowed on there, but I was old enough to /want/ it.

        1. Wonderer*

          A friend of mine in Germany was shocked that anyone professional was using LinkedIn. He’d only heard of it being used by local prostitutes to connect with clients!

      2. Shiba Dad*

        My former manager (the absolute loon) used to tell me I couldn’t add anyone on LinkedIn without her say-so.


    3. Barbarella*

      Yeah, the originally letter was only from October ’22, when the new hire had been there 2 mo. Disconnecting from someone when you’ve only worked with them for 6 months and only connected to them a few weeks earlier isn’t a burn. It’s a “welp, that connection won’t be worth anything.”

    4. Stebuu*

      I would absolutely not want to stay connected on LinkedIn with somebody who I knew had firsthand experience that I was bad at my job.

      I’m in a somewhat niche field, and I absolutely check LinkedIn when doing hiring and regularly reach out to potential hiree’s connections whom I personally know. This has prevented me from making a bad hire multiple times.

  6. Heffalump*

    Demotion vs. firing: “The underlying hope was that she’d see the writing on the wall and find another job before too long.”

    If that was in fact the underlying hope, that was poor management. As Alison has written in a number of contexts, it’s kinder to tell the person straight up that there are problems with their work. If I were demoted, I’d take it to mean that I wasn’t good enough for the job I’d been demoted from, but I was good enough for the job I was demoted into.

    1. ferrina*

      Yes. Soo glad that the VP stepped in and nixed that “maybe she’ll get the hint” plan. The LW’s insights about grandboss’s optimistic hiring practices were fascinating- that’s an important and vaguely terrifying thing to know.

    2. DocVonMitte*

      I had that happen (not a true demotion, just my boss slowly freezing me out of things and taking away responsibilities with the hope that I’d take the hint and leave). I am autistic so… I did not get the hint.

      It is so much kinder to be direct (for everyone, not just autistic folks). I don’t mind being told I’m not a great fit for a given job, but it sucks to realize everyone thought you were bad at your job and just wasn’t telling you.

    3. Firebird*

      My ex was demoted twice before they finally fired him. He never took the hint and his employers were never direct enough with the problems. He truly thought that he was a great employee and was doing them a favor by staying. After one of the demotions (I don’t remember which one) he went to HR and said there were no hard feelings and that he was loyal and would never quit.

      1. Heffalump*

        Did you know of his going to HR at the time he did it? Did you suggest that maybe he was missing something? If you did, what was his response?

        1. Firebird*

          He told me after he did it. I found out later that he has a cluster-b diagnosis. He has a very high opinion of himself and requires regular ego massages. One of the many reasons that he is now my ex.

    4. Anon for this comment*

      In my department there are now 3 former managers working in other positions. One of them moved into an existing vacancy on the same level as the managers, so that person may have wanted the switch. Another one (my former manager) was asked by the department head to step into an existing individual contributor role, but continues to report to the department head. (My dept head told me this—I wish they hadn’t!) And the 3rd stepped into a position newly created for them, so they may have wanted to move away from management too? It’s uncomfortable, though! Since I know that one of the three was asked to step down, I wonder about the other two. Not that I’m going to ask, of course, but if all 3 moved out of management roles involuntarily it makes me wonder how stable my department structure is.

  7. Rowan*

    #4 – this was so lovely to read, even with the sadness of your father’s passing. Good for you for returning and finishing, and landing a great position worthy of you! I hope it stays a unicorn and allows you to thrive!

  8. SpiderLadyCEO*

    Quite honestly, and more personally then I like to be here, the comment in #3 about “optimistic hiring” rubbed me the wrong way. As someone trying to find work right now, and who is failing because I have the skillsets needed but not the expected path, that was just frustrating to read, especially since in most places those hires seem to be working out fine.

    1. Kit*

      It would be amazing if more employers were open to nontraditional skills acquisition! I wouldn’t interpret that as “optimistic hiring,” though – I got the impression that OP3’s grandboss is more the sort to bring on a ‘reach’ candidate and hope they can make the leap despite not having demonstrated those skills at all.

      And in many cases – at OP3’s workplace and others – a ‘reach’ candidate, or one with a nontraditional career path, will do just fine in a role, but it’s good for OP to know that this is grandboss’s pattern because it gives them insight into hiring (and probably also promotion) practices that might impact their work, not because it is a red flag by itself.

  9. Stebuu*

    I would absolutely not want to stay connected on LinkedIn with somebody who I knew had firsthand experience that I was bad at my job.

    I’m in a somewhat niche field, and I absolutely check LinkedIn when doing hiring and regularly reach out to potential hiree’s connections whom I personally know. This has prevented me from making a bad hire multiple times.

  10. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    Closely to #1, I remember a job posting that said the candidate “should not be easily bullied,” and when the place called me to see if I was interested, I said, “well I’m not EVER bullied, but I can’t work for an organization that fosters that behavior in the first place.” I’ve never seen wording change so fast. This was a while ago and they’re still hiring.

      1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

        Really happy that at least for a week or so they gave themselves away (before I caught ’em).

    1. Stretchy McGillicuddy*

      I saw a job posting a couple days ago that had “strong conflict resolution skills” under the “desired skills” section. This was for a job that is not exactly known for being high conflict/high drama. Whatever the LI equivalent of “swipe left” is, that’s what I did.

      1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

        Translation: We need a new/the new person to handle two at-each-others’-throats coworkers that have been doing this for years and we’re too inept to corral it. Swipe left indeed.

  11. Here for the Insurance*

    “The underlying hope was that she’d see the writing on the wall and find another job before too long.”

    This was so cowardly of grandboss. People who can’t have uncomfortable conversations shouldn’t be in management.

  12. Team Eve: Parkour Enthusiast*

    I am so happy for #2 for putting your foot down and for #4 for finding a wonderful job after retail hell. I love hearing about good news!

  13. Shanderson*

    Oooh my firm has definitely put low ego in a job posting! it was for videography (think corporate/event footage) and we had two poor fits in a row that were just convinced they were were were a budding Coppola and “the client wants this filmed X way? Omg, f this client” so we specified we “strive to be egoless in creating our clients vision” to head ‘em off. I didn’t think how that might come across.

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