did my boss reject me just so she could hire a friend, my employee lives in her cubicle, and more

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

1. Did my boss reject me just so she could hire a friend?

Late last year, my manager “Sarah” was promoted to my grand-manager. Since her role was now available, my same-job colleague “Jake” and I had a frank conversation where we confirmed we were both going for the position and assured each other that we’d be good sports and happy for the other if one of us was promoted over the other (true!).

I interviewed on a Friday and thought it went as well as it could have on my part. One of my questions was whether the interviewers had any concerns about my candidacy I could address. Sarah answered on behalf of the panel, stating that my lack of management experience was her main concern. She said that since she was still learning her new role, she didn’t want to be teaching her new direct report how to manage along with teaching them her old job. I summarized everything I’d done to prepare myself for management — supervising volunteers, training junior staff members, leading projects, and one-on-one coaching from a prior manager specifically geared towards preparing me for a management role. The interview ended on good terms.

The following Monday morning, Sarah came to me to tell me my application had been unsuccessful. She gave me feedback that was mainly very positive, with only some very minor negative points. I left the meeting feeling like there wasn’t a whole lot I could work on, except perhaps my manager’s suggestion that I pursue a formal management certification to strengthen my application.

Jake and I talked, and he also received a rejection with the same “no management experience” feedback. Well, then the successful applicant was announced, and … wow. Prior to Jake and I, “Fran” had held one of our two positions, and she was now coming back. Seems fine on the surface, except Jake and I know her job history and she also has no management experience. She’s also a friend of Sarah’s.

I feel really weird about this. I’ve talked to Jake, some professional contacts, and some friends, and today I spoke to the ex-manager who had put so much time and effort into helping me to advance in my last role. While everyone I’ve spoken to has validated my feelings, I’ve worried that maybe I’m spinning the story in my favor, or maybe Fran has management experience I don’t know about — but that conversation with my ex-manager cinched it. The moment I told her who it was, she gasped, and when I gave her the details she was adamant that this was capital-H-Hinky. She used the phrase “major conflict of interest.”

Does this seem off to you? I know hiring a friend should be a no-no, but is it okay because she held my job for three years and has a proven track record? We’re a small industry, lots of us know each other well, and I’ve formed several strong friendships myself. Turning Jake and I down with the same excuse, but Fran apparently not having it either … if it turns out she does it’s a non-issue, but if it comes up when she starts in the role that she doesn’t, I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to keep a straight face.

My therapist has suggested that I could contact the HR representative who was on my interview panel, but I don’t know how I’d possibly phrase, “Did you know Sarah and Fran are friends? Did you OK this hire?” I also don’t know if it would be worth it at this point, as they’re not going to un-hire Fran and it has a high possibility of torpedoing my relationship with Sarah if it gets back to her that I’m questioning it. That said, my faith in Sarah is permanently stained by this. I don’t trust her decision-making anymore, and it’s really upsetting me that I feel this way. I would prefer to stay in this role than pursue another employer, due to excellent benefits, pay, and a wonderful wider team, so leaving isn’t an option I’m going to take just yet — but who knows.

If it turns out to be true that Fran has no management experience, then yes, this is very hinky. Even in small industries, the bar for hiring a friend should be very high; it has to be clear that the hire is obviously the best qualified person for the job so that it doesn’t raise exactly the kinds of feelings you’re grappling with right now … and even then, it’s fraught with problems. Of course, it’s possible that Fran has some other skill or experience that makes her the best candidate even without management experience and that Sarah’s mistake wasn’t in hiring her but in leaving you and Jake with the impression that management experience was the deciding factor when it was actually about something else. That’s a pretty significant mistake if so, but it would at least change things a bit.

I do think you should speak with HR. I’d say it this way: “Jake and I were both told that our lack of management experience was the reason we didn’t get the X role. I’ve since heard Fran doesn’t have management experience either. If I’m wrong and she does, this is a non-issue — but if she also lacks the experience that we were told we needed, I have real concerns about what happened. Fran and Sarah are personal friends, and if Fran doesn’t have the experience that Jake and I both told was the deciding factor, it raises the question for me of whether that personal relationship played an inappropriate role in the hire.” Yes, it’s unlikely that Fran will be un-hired at this point — but there could be other useful outcomes, like Sarah’s management of your team getting more scrutiny and oversight and/or stronger efforts to support your and Jake’s aspirations at the company.

2. My employee basically lives in her cubicle

I work at a research university, and I have an employee who I recently learned is using her work space after hours. This employee lives across the street from our offices and insists on working five days a week in office, despite a pretty liberal remote/ hybrid option. Her cubicle is very lived in — dry cleaning hanging on the wall, grocery bags of unopened food, many pairs of shoes, luggage, etc. It is neat but clearly an odd sight to the passerby. I have addressed the state of her cubicle a few times. All of this was odd and definitely raised a flag for me.

One of her coworkers shared with me that this employee does not have internet at home and prefers to come in after hours and use her cubicle (and the campus wifi) for anything she can’t do on her phone. In fact, she used to be able to get campus wifi in her apartment but during the pandemic the system was updated and does not reach that far.

I am not sure how to address this — there appears to be no policy stopping this. Folks are given 24-hour access and while it is uncommon for staff to be here in their cubicles at night, faculty do it all the time. While she may be watching videos or shopping, there appears to be no violation of our cyber security policy. While I don’t know her unique finances, her salary is at a point where I would usually assume she could afford internet at home. Is this something worth addressing or am I overthinking this?

My biggest concern is safety ramifications — if something happens at night, does anyone know she’s in there? But if people are given 24-hour access to the building and others are there occasionally, that may already be covered. Beyond that, I’d put this in the category of odd but not actionable. (That said, I do think it’s reasonable for you to say that her office can’t be an overflow storage area for her home. She can’t routinely use her office to store things that would normally be stored at home, like luggage. It’s an office, not a storage unit or an offshoot of her apartment.)

3. Should I hire an assistant manager who stirs up drama?

I’ve been promoted to the head of my smallish department. All good so far. My dilemma is that I now have to hire an assistant head of the department. The person who is the strongest internal candidate has really stepped up in the last few months but has a history of stirring the pot. Think petty interpersonal conflicts and gossip. For various reasons, external candidates may not be an option. No one else on the team has demonstrated the skills required for the job. The optimist in me wants to believe this person can change based on what they’ve shown in the past few months. The pessimist says there is no way I’ll be able to trust them to have my back. None of the other candidates have stepped up the way this person has though. What do you think?

Absolutely do not hire someone with a history of petty interpersonal conflicts, at least not if that history is relatively recent. I’d even consider going without anyone in the role if that were the only alternative, and would be willing to explain to the person why. People in leadership roles need to minimize drama, not cause it.

4. Should I warn my employer about the checkered past of the company offering us a large contract?

Several years back I worked for a year with company A, who had a solid product but some awful business practices. Plenty of small but not likely illegal things, like padding client charges and cutting corners on products. But they also had a history of running up debt with their vendors, making impossible and ever changing demands, and then refusing to pay the bill. I was in an entry-level position and had a limited view of all the details – but it seemed like their team of lawyers and accountants were always in a battle with someone (which was often discussed loudly in the office).

I did not leave on the best terms, but since we are a small industry I’ve done my best to remain neutral towards them if they happen to come up. Over the years I have heard from several past clients who have had issues with non- or slow payment on large contracts (as recently as this year).

Fast forward to now, I have been working with company B for a few years, like the people, and enjoy my work. This week we got some great news about a potential new contract with — you guessed it — company A. No one seems to have made the connection that I’ve worked for company A yet, I would not be working directly with the project, and I could probably ignore the whole thing. Except company A is already talking about big orders on tight time frames, promising enormous future business, and asking for sensitive information — and I feel like I’m in a red flag factory that no one else can see.

What should I do here? I have a good relationship with the owners of my current company and think they value my opinion. But company A is notorious for disparaging past employees and could easily find out I work here now. Randomly suggesting that we get ironclad contracts and prepaid orders from them would be unusual and outside of my role. But sharing what I know seems like a liability too, especially considering how vengeful and petty I know company A to be. Should I just get a new job?

No! You should talk to your current company. Tell them you used to work at Company A and have some info about how you saw them operate that you don’t feel comfortable keeping to yourself — and then share what you know. The tone you want is not a gossipy “they’re the worst ever, can you believe this, let me spill all the tea,” but rather a more restrained “there were some serious issues that I want to make sure you’re aware of as you move forward.” But tell them. You have business-relevant info. What they do with it from there is up to them.

It’s very unlikely that this will get back to your old company in a way that would result in them badmouthing you — because it’s unlikely that your company owners will go to them and say, “Well, your former entry-level employee Valentina Bumblebee told us X.” Instead, they’re just more likely to do more due diligence, ask around, and maybe put the brakes on things. But even if Company A does decide to disparage you, your current company already knows you and your work, and Company A’s motives would be pretty transparent.

5. My resume has a very long section — is it OK to truncate it?

I’m editing my resume to make it punch more visually and improve the way it looks to those ATS bots. One of my jobs had me move around internally, but it makes my resume very long.

Would it be appropriate to list the whole time I was there, and then only my duties and accomplishments for my last position there, and then mention that if they want to know more, I can provide it, or should I try to jam it all in with font tricks?

I wouldn’t write anything like “more info available upon request” since that’s generally taken as a given, and the expectation is that you’ve already done the work to cull the info that will be most relevant (preferably without font tricks, so that you’re presenting a reasonable amount of information, not an excessive amount). But there are a couple of ways to approach it.

Option 1

Oatmeal Association, June 2020 – present
Senior Oatmeal Stirrer, May 2023-present
Oatmeal Stirrer, December 2022-May 2023
Groats Partnership Coordinator, January 2022-November 2022
Oats Quality Control Associate, June 2020-December 2021
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment

In this version, your bulleted accomplishments could be pulled from all four roles.

Option 2

Oatmeal Association, June 2020 – present

Senior Oatmeal Stirrer, May 2023-present
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment
* accomplishment

Oatmeal Stirrer, December 2022-May 2023

Groats Partnership Coordinator, January 2022-November 2022

Oats Quality Control Associate, June 2020-December 2021

This version works if the accomplishments you want to highlight are all from the most recent role anyway.

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric*

    #3, you wrote “No one else on the team has demonstrated the skills required for the job.”

    It is a lot easier to teach skills than it is to teach basic character traits.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        I got this mixed up with LW5, and thought ‘but surely that’s only a stand in title’!

        1. Elsa*

          Ha, that’s funny! I guess the one time it’s ok to promote a pot-stirrer is if you work for the Oatmeal Association!

          1. Phony Genius*

            Which raises the question of why an oatmeal stirrer is a higher position than a groats partnership coordinator.

            1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

              Anyone who has ever left oatmeal unstirred too long knows it’s critical path!

      2. Pizza Rat*

        Indeed. Nobody has time for that crap. It also can make people anxious and even paranoid which is terrible for morale.

    1. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

      OP3 with the drama-stirring candidate: This person has also not demonstrated the skills required for the job.

      If you hired them for the role, you’d create SO much extra work for yourself and everyone else with all the fighting, backstabbing, lost morale, productivity hits, and general misery that this person would cause. Save yourself and your team the pain and aggravation of what this person would do if you have them more power over others.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        One of the skills beyond the technical skills is the ability to assist you in managing people. If they are drama llamas they do not have that skill.

      2. F P*

        In 2009 a new CEO began to work. Seven months later old my boss was laid off and a new one was hired as her “friend” from another company. Last I checked she was gone by 2017 but CEO is still there with a whole new staff.

    2. TG*

      If it’s gossip and drama don’t hire them; however try to look at the situations with clear eyes. I worked with someone – a woman – in a male dominated industry and she had a “rep”…well that rep turned out to me the men putting her down as they didn’t like her “noise” – aka she was intelligent and assertive. Once that regime was swept out she was able to move upward with a lot of kudos.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I was thinking this. Hopefully you’ve already done this and it’s redundant, LW, but definitely assess the situation all around and make sure that it was definitely “petty interpersonal conflicts and gossip”, because sometimes the people raising legitimate issues or speaking up about bullying or discrimination get labelled that way. Definitely dig a little into your perceptions and memories to be sure that it was truly unwarranted behaviour before you decline to promote them.

        It’s also possible that they have genuinely reformed / matured– people do! You could also think about how long you’d want to see evidence of the reformed behaviour before you considered them for promotion.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I was reminded of the past LW whom AAM told that he was not getting promoted here–he’d butted heads too often with management. In the update he’d switched jobs and been promoted at the new place.

        People do change. (In both directions.) I think LW should consider how far in the past the pot stirring was. If there’s been no pot stirring for a year, that could mean the person has learnt and grown. Or that the earlier reputation was more “insisted that the problem be addressed, rather than hop over it like everyone else.”

        1. ferrina*

          On the flip side, if it’s only been a couple months and those couple months only started when it looked like OP needed to promote/hire someone, pot stirrer may have only cleaned up their act temporarily to get the job.

      3. HonorBox*

        This is a great point. I know that woman in fact, and the fact that she’s assertive has made her “hard to work with.” But a new leader has seen the fact that she’s just trying to pull others along to get the work done. That’s someone who you’d want to have on your team and want to promote.

        But as you said, if it is someone who is fueled by drama and gossip, that’s a bad person to put in a leadership position.

      4. Hyaline*

        All of this—the LW also doesn’t say if they witnessed the pot stirring themselves or if the employee has that reputation. If they witnessed it (and recently—not a few times five years ago, which I would file under “learned and grew”), that’s different to me than if the person has this reputation but the LW hasn’t seen it personally. If it’s the latter, I’d absolutely push on it a bit to make sure it itself wasn’t unfair or unfounded gossip!

      5. Baunilha*

        At my previous job, I was the pot-stirrer and it’s pretty much what TG described: I was very outspoken about issues that bothered me (including senior people) and was put on a PIP because of it. I wasn’t interested in getting promoted, but I didn’t wanna lose my job, so I worked hard to survive the PIP and kept my head down. It worked: I got to keep my job and to everyone’s surprise, was promoted to my manager’s position seven months later.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      OP#3 should consider that while the pot-stirrer has recently improved their interpersonal efforts, they are (at very best) a very unproven quantity. At worst, they are playing the role of “good employee” in anticipation of getting this promotion, with no intention of continuing their improvement once they get what they want. I would want to know how they handle a situation where they didn’t get something that they wanted – like a promotion to assistant manager – and whether they maintain their improved interpersonal skills BEFORE taking the risk of putting them into a role where they could abuse their power over other team members and/or undercut their manager.

      1. NeonFireworks*

        I was in a situation like 3 – the pot-stirrer and I were on the same level and they had more experience but had managed to antagonise all but one of the other employees in the unit (about 20). There were 4 candidates (not including me) in the running for the unit’s leadship position, and in the meantime, the pot-stirrer had attempted to throw me under the bus several times and started an awful rumour about me that wasn’t even close to true. The company selected the pot-stirrer. I quit.

    4. I can read anything except the room*

      Agreed! Especially when the typical arrangement is to have everyone below the Assistant Manager reporting into the AM so the Manager can focus on strategic or whatever tasks instead of putting most of their hours into people management. You absolutely need someone with good people skills/emotional intelligence in that role – someone you can trust to hold down the fort without being micromanaged, who won’t take advantage of largely unsupervised autonomy by establishing a fiefdom based on their own petty grievances and wants, while concealing it from the Manager, who isn’t hearing from anyone who contradicts the Asst Manager’s version of events. If you can’t trust them to exercise good judgment in your absence, you shouldn’t hire them.

    5. el l*

      Agreed. Remember the old but very true cliche: Ability gets you hired, attitude gets you fired. Well, this shows why that’s true. Talented pot-stirrers get into senior positions, and they become such a headache that you have to fire them. Sounds like that’s the path here.

    6. i drink too much coffee*

      Came here to say this! Skills are teachable. You cannot teach people empathy and caring.

    7. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Hire externally. Three months of good behavior in the hopes of a promotion does not trump years of poor behavior.

    8. Irish Teacher.*

      And character traits and soft skils become more important the further up the hierarchy you go. If somebody is an individual contributor, well, soft skills are still important but it might sometimes make sense to prioritise skills and then just manage their behaviour closely or have them work mostly independently/from home, but an assistant manager who stirs up drama? That’s pretty much a recipe for disaster.

      Interpersonal conflicts, gossip and petty drama are bad enough between peers. When the person with a history of stirring such things has power over others…yeah, that’s a serious issue. If one of your peers passes on a rumour about a fellow peer, you might brush it off, but often people will give it more credence if it comes from somebody further up the chain because there is an assumption that they will have additional information. A colleague tells me “I bet x is going to be fired” and I might roll my eyes. If the deputy principal started speculating about such a thing, I’d assume the principal had given him a hint and that he was passing on, if not a fact, at least something with some substance behind it.

      And a peer who starts rows/conflicts is irritating. A manager, who has the power to derail your career doing it? Well, that’s when people start quitting.

    9. LW3*

      Yeah… I kind of knew that was the answer. For additional context, I have worked with this person for a long time. I have seen the drama first hand. It’s not calling out problems with work or areas for improvement. It’s more having a group of “work friends” that excludes others and sharing things that should not be shared with this group.

  2. Rincewind*

    I was turned down for a promotion once because I wasn’t an RN. They gave the job to an outside hire, an RN who quit without notice about 8 months later. I interviewed for the position again, and was again told that it had to be an RN. (I was a CNA but already held a BSci; if I was to get a nursing degree, it would’ve been a BSN, not an RN). Except that time, they hired someone who did NOT hold an RN degree. She was a casual/PRN worker with the company for 8 years – I was full time as a shift lead for almost 2. I asked why she was hired instead of me and was told that it was because she had more experience with the company. I had worked more hours in my 2 years than she had in 8.
    I quit. I wouldn’t blame you if you quit, OP, if it turns out that Fran has no experience either.

    1. Blarg*

      Sorry to be pedantic, but a BSN is a degree, while the RN is the license allowing you to practice. A person can be a Registered Nurse via a couple of paths (in the US and much of the world that I’m familiar with). More and more RNs do hold a BSN. But they aren’t mutually exclusive.

      1. Dandylions*

        Yeah I was confused by this comment too! A BSN or ASN can both be RN’s.

        I also have a BS in Biology but I don’t think that qualifies me for nursing in the slightest. Generally managers in healthcare must be able to work amicably with nurses and, for want of better phrasing, cater to their egos.

      2. melissa*

        The nurses have arrived haha. Yes, I had a BA in something else. Then I went back and became an RN— I did this by earning a BSN and then sitting the state exam to become an RN.

      3. Deanna Troi*

        That is incredibly frustrating to have it given to someone with less experience than you. I hope you found a better job!

        I will echo Blarg, though – in the US, there is no such thing as a degree in RN. You can get an associate or bachelor degree in nursing, then take the RN licensing exam. I mean this kindly, but if you’re not clear on how the process works, it might be possible that there are other factors at play in the hiring process that you’re not aware of.

    2. doreen*

      I’m not a nurse but a little confused – isn’t a CNA a certified nursing assistant or aide? I’m trying to figure out what kind of promotion could be filled by either an RN or a CNA.

      1. Autumn*

        Probably not a direct care type of thing, more likely a paper pusher of some kind. (I’m an RN, with an ASN(AAS in my case) and a BA. There are certain health care admin jobs that are much more based in common sense than in nursing knowledge. On the other hand you can hold me to the standard of “reasonable and prudent RN” but there’s no standard in law of “reasonable and prudent human” unfortunately.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          There actually is! “Reasonable man standard” is one of the first things they teach in law school because it’s explicitly the benchmark for whether someone did something wrong under certain causes of action.

          1. FemHealthcareWorker*

            Isn’t there also a different standard called a “reasonable woman standard”?

  3. Shenanigans*

    Shenanigans like in #1 have been going on at my organization, but from the very top. In a few short weeks they have completely shaken the confidence and destroyed the goodwill of about half our organization. It would be impressive if it weren’t so disappointing.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Letter number 1 is a similar story to “and that’s why I left OldJob”; I was outside of the managerial politicking and scheming though. So much happier outside of that arena.

      1. ferrina*

        Me too.

        This happened at Old Job- Toxic Boss was leaving and was encouraged to pick her successor (which made no sense, since Toxic Boss was leaving for a competitor). Toxic Boss picked her favorite Golden Child, even though Golden Child didn’t have the skills or experience for the role. For example- Golden Child had never independently handled a client account. Now Golden Child would over see all client accounts.
        Well, it quickly became clear to the underlings that Golden Child had no clue what to do. She would do whatever had been said by the last person they talked to. This led to Golden Child constantly going back on what she had said, making promises, then giving us no resources to fulfill those promises. But Grandboss didn’t care as long as he didn’t have to deal with anything (he also didn’t care about productivity numbers- he was pretty checked out of his job). I was second in command and ended up doing Golden Child’s job in the background. I wrote policies that Golden Child would sign off on so we would have consistent SOPs. I created proposals and initiatives to preemptively set us up to do projects that helped the company and say no to pet projects that just wasted time. It was really the best option in a bad situation- I was trying to leave but it was an economic downturn and no one was hiring, and if I didn’t do her job, it actually made things harder on me. If I did her job, I got the resources and processes I and my team needed. I was a one-person shadow government.
        Finally I got out, and the inevitable happened. Without someone else doing her job, Golden Child was clearly incompetent. Golden Child went AWOL and no one knew where she was for months. Grandboss tried to shrug it all off, but eventually he was forced out. Golden Child left (no one knows if it was by her own volition). The department had to be completely rebuilt from the ground up.

    2. Smithy*

      Yeah…..I will also say that these situations either sniff of shenanigans OR that management isn’t truly being clear about what someone has to do to advance. In a way that only hurts everyone.

      I’ve found too many managers who use either of the phrases – not enough experience/no management experience – are terrible with following up what actionable steps should look like. My sector will be one where it’s not uncommon for a department to have a fairly experienced director and then only a few direct reports who are significantly junior. And the reality is, within that department there do not exist next steps jobs. Therefore, for the advancement roles that do exist, they’re really large leaps of experience. And possibly experiences that the person can never get at that employer because those roles just do not exist.

      Most managers don’t love having to replace staff, so while they may think they’re being clear with feedback along the lines of not enough experience – they’re really only going half of the way that means finding jobs that might exist on other teams/departments or other organizations. This inevitably ends up being made worse whenever hiring is done and it’s not crystal clear what that person has that internal candidates don’t. And then add in any bad faith activity, and it’s a race to the moral bottom.

      1. By the lake*

        I had not thought of this and that could very likely be in play here. But also, it doesn’t sound like OP has worked directly with Fran. Maybe Jake has? But either way, at this point OP doesn’t know how Fran will function as a manager. To me, going to HR at this point is premature. If Fran demonstrates she does not have the necessary skills and OP and Jake got vague feedback and it’s clear Sara and Fran are good friends outside the office and not just work buds then yes, HR. But until OP has more context maybe hold off.

        1. LW1*

          Thank you for your insight! You’re right that I’ve never worked with Fran, and I am definitely intending to dive headfirst into this new situation without consciously letting it effect my relationship with her. FWIW, I definitely do know they are friends, Sarah often talks about her weekend plans and sometimes they include Fran.
          One thing I didn’t mention in my letter is that our performance reviews are coming up, and I worry that going to HR prematurely might influence my results, which are directly tied to our salary increases. Perhaps you are right, thank you!

      2. Anon Office Drone*

        This is excellent insight, and I agree, as I’ve experienced it — being told I don’t have the experience but there’s no way to get it.

    3. The flamingo in your garden*

      I’ve seen it too in a past job. New CEO put friends in high positions. One was rather toxic and was trying to run the company through her as the power behind the throne.

      She got one of her wishes and pulled all the project managers into one department (she tried to get the business analysts but in a brilliant move, the C-Level over them changed all their job titles so she couldn’t do so).

      In three months, two people were gone including the PMO director. Then someone else quit. She hired a new PMO director that was a horrible person. One person went on a PIP within two weeks, a contractor was told not to come back, another PM quit, and the last one got fired.

      A mess of gargantuan proportions.

  4. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – are Sarah and Fran personal friends or were they friendly at work when Fran was in the role you and Jake hold now? There is a BIG difference between personal friends and work buddies. If it is the former, then yes, I think it sounds hinky. But from what I can see, Fran was in your/Jake’s role and presumably did what she could to build her mentoring/coaching skills in the position. She has since moved to a different company, where she may very well have had a team lead role (officially or unofficially) – of which you/your mentor may not be aware. She sounds like she may be a bit more senior than you or Jake, unless she went to a completely lateral role at the other company.

    I would tread very carefully. If you’re very sure that Fran did not have any team lead responsibilities in her role at the other company, and if you are absolutely certain that Sarah and Fran are close personal friends (as opposed to people who are friendly colleagues), then it might make some sense to talk to HR about the situation. But if you aren’t truly sure about your facts, I would keep quiet and let things play out.

    Even if you are absolutely correct that Fran was hired because she is Sarah’s friend, and she doesn’t have team lead experience, remember that it is unlikely that Sarah hired Fran in a vacuum – other people were no doubt involved in the decision, including Sarah’s manager and HR. So, there are people with buy-in to this decision. And the decision has been made. It would take quite a lot of evidence of real malfeasance for the decision to be reversed.

    This means that if you do complain to HR, that you are going to be seen as the problem. Having been in something like this situation – it doesn’t end well when you raise an issue for which there’s no real proof, and yet your manager, their manager, and other stakeholders have already bought into the decision.

    I would think instead about whether you want to wait for another couple of years to have a chance at progression in your current company. Perhaps you should apply for Fran’s job….

    1. tabloidtainted*

      The hiring process can be “rigged” in someone’s favor by a single person even if multiple people involved in the decision making process.

      1. Alexis Carrington Colby*

        Yep. Especially if the higher-ups don’t understand the open role and what type of person needs to fill it. They could be easily swayed.

        I’ve seen it happen a few times.

      2. bamcheeks*

        This is absolutely true, and it’s one of the things you just have to live with, IMO. It’s just not possible to design a recruitment process which comes out with a 100% fair and objective process, plus the gap between “hiring a personal friend who I’ve worked with” and “hiring a good colleague who I trust” often isn’t cut and dried. It’s completely possible that Sarah hired Fran because she was a personal friend: it’s also possible that Fran, LW and Jake all had similar skills and levels of experience and Sarah preferred Fran because she feels she clicks better with her or the way she answered questions just felt more solid or her vision was more in line with how Sarah wants the role to develop or something else which is kind of subjective but also a legitimate thing to consider in hiring.

        This kind of stuff can definitely make you question your leadership’s judgment, and whether it’s somewhere you want to progress, but neither of those things necessarily means Sarah’s done something wrong.

        1. WellRed*

          She may have also hired Fran because it seemed easier than picking one internal candidate over the other. All OP can do now is watch and wait.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. The thinking might be “if I hire OP, Jake will leave” and vice versa. But hiring Fran makes it likely that *both* OP and Jake will leave.

            It’s possible Susan and Fran see this as a plus, especially if Fran did manage a team that she could bring over. Sounds like that’s not the norms in the OP’s industry the way it is with, say, college football and basketball coaches turning over the whole staff.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        For sure, but it’s also important to realize that anyone else who participated in the hiring decision has probably approved of the decision, or at least not been adamantly opposed to it. Most of those people were probably at the company previously, when Fran held her old role there. Or, if newer, likely don’t have the standing to oppose the hiring decision – not when Fran is a previous employee who has gained valuable experience at a competitor, and has the endorsement of not only Sarah but likely other senior management.

      4. not nice, don't care*

        My department has been subjected to awful hires thanks to administration putting their thumb on the scale to choose candidates they personally like, rather than the best person for the job as determined by the person who will be managing them.

    2. Msd*

      I agree that going to HR is not a good idea. HR will definitely have a conversation with Sarah but I think it will about the OP as a potential problem not about why she hired Fran. That issue/conversation will then be communicated to Fran (which is OP’s new boss?). . Nothing good will come of it.

      1. Random Dice*

        I also would steer very very clear of going to HR. Nothing good and only bad will come of it.

    3. Allonge*

      Yes, if I went to HR I would focus on what kind of training / support I can get for further development, is there a job shadowing opportunity or could I get considered if there would be a need for a temporary manager, (or whatever makes sense along these lines).

      So focus on myself and my opportunities – if the hiring decision has been made, most likely HR will support that as a default at this stage. In any case, it’s unlikely that even on the off chance that Fran would be un-hired, the choice would go back to OP or Jake.

      Also, if there would be issues with Fran’s management, a pre-emptive complaint could make things worse in the ‘oh, you had it in her from the first day’ kind of way. Let’s hope that does not become an issue, but still, worth keeping it in mind.

      1. Smithy*

        This is where I fall….especially if the advice directed was about a management certificate. I don’t want to poo-poo that kind of training in general, but to take ongoing management classes and training when you don’t have a formal management role….at some point the same block still exists. You have no experience managing someone else and are just taking on theory without being able to put it into practice.

        So I think the conversation with HR can more be about whether there are other avenues to get formal management experience – either in their current job, perhaps with student interns, or if there are other teams that have openings with a greater willingness to take on new managers.

        Obviously not all jobs in all employers have easy team transfer opportunities – but I will add that my first job managing ended up being under a first time Associate Director who’d never managed more than one person before. So she was learning that role while I was learning how to manage – and I will say….it wasn’t an ideal placement?

    4. Knope Knope Knope*

      Yes I agree with all of this. Plus, Fran might be a great manager. If she’s not, then there will be opportunities to go to Sarah or HR.

      Every manager has to start somewhere. I have employees who are great individual contributors who I don’t see as ready for management and those who I have. People way underestimate how hard it is to be a first time manager and I wonder if Sarah was also too vague in her feedback. Maybe OP can get additional feedback about what would make her ready for management. I’ve never heard of a management certification but I look for people who can work independently, are goal-oriented, proactive in identifying problems and proposing solutions, have strong follow-through, are assertive but diplomatic and who are showing signs of outgrowing their current job meaning they can do it with ease and need a new challenge. Absent all those things I’m usually unlikely to move someone into a management role for the first time. Perhaps Sarah couldn’t articulate it, as it’s taken me some years and experience to identify what makes a good first time manager. Even with all of that in place, managing a first time manager requires significant commitment and energy.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > Plus, Fran might be a great manager

        Yes, but so could OP or the other employee (assuming OP and the other person, and Fran, all have a similar amount of experience). But OP hasn’t had the chance to prove it, due to corrupt hiring practice.

        1. SnowyRose*

          I don’t think there is enough here to say that the hiring process was corrupt, and I don’t think it serves LW1 to say that it was. Is it possible Fran was hired because she was Sarah’s friend? Sure, it’s possible. But as Learnedthehardway and others have pointed out, there’s a lot of different decisions that go into hiring someone–especially a new manager–and there’s oftentimes a lot of nuance and a certain amount of subjectivity in those decisions.

          It’s advice that’s often repeated, but it’s because it’s true. If LW1 wants to learn how to be a stronger candidate in the future, they should talk to their manager.

          1. Going Anon*

            Thank you. I agree on the surface the situation doesn’t sound great, but I feel like immediately jumping to “The LW has been wronged and their manager sucks!” isn’t the best option. I think the LW should certainly keep that in mind as things progress, but I also think they should give the situation a fair shot and recognize they may not have a full picture of the steps leading up to this.

      2. Smithy*

        I think it’s also relevant that Fran did leave and has been working somewhere else, where on paper her qualifications read as quantitatively/qualitatively strong. Tasks that include project management where they lead a team even if they’re not anyone’s supervisor. Or essentially the exact same tasks as OP and Jake, but at a higher profile/more significant level. Working with an 8 figure account vs a 6 figure account – practically, the work may be almost entirely the same. But it’s not hard to highlight that difference to HR.

        I will also add that the line between friendly work colleagues and more so friends vs colleagues is likely going to be very hard to truly prove to HR. Without having access to my text messages – it would be almost impossible to make that case to HR. There are 100% former/current coworkers where we’re now truly friends. But in those cases, we also worked together for years in the same field that we work in now. On the flip side, there are other people where I see them more as friendly former coworkers – but I can’t imagine saying to their face “we’re not really friends – just friendly coworkers”.

      3. MCMonkeybean*

        Yeah, I think the biggest thing I would say to OP is to make sure they remember that while they are not sure whether or not Fran is *more* qualified, it seems true at a minimum that she is not *less* qualified–so while I would privately grumble to my friends and family, I would urge OP to try to keep an open mind about Fran for now. If you don’t plan to leave, then while this may affect how you feel about Sarah’s judgment, try not to let it affect how you see Fran. As OP said, they’re not likely to un-hire Fran at this point so I would at least try not to start that relationship out on a negative note, especially since I assume OP will be working with Fran more closely than they will with Sarah.

    5. Sloanicota*

      I agree that I would tread carefully. Unfortunately, as a former applicant, you have low credibility in complaining about the hire right now, and as you say, the most likely outcome is that you sour your relationship with both your boss and grandboss. If Fran is a bad manager after six months, you can raise the specifics of that, but you’re going to look like sour grapes here even though you’re probably correct. And it sounds like talking to other people about it so much has made you feel worse; they probably are being sympathetic in a way that might not be totally helpful.

    6. HonorBox*

      I think the distinction about friends and friendly is a good one. So that’s definitely something OP will need to consider. If they’re drinking buddies or go hiking on weekends, there’s something to flag to HR.

      If you do have a conversation with HR, it is best to know FOR SURE that Fran doesn’t have the experience you were told you needed. Even some type of unofficial management might qualify when comparing Fran with two candidates who don’t have that experience. So I’d make sure my details are solid before the conversation occurs.

    7. M2*

      I have worked with former colleagues who I was friendly with (but not friends) who I would hire back in a heartbeat. Many of them are better than internal people I work with but those internal people don’t know that! I hired someone who is great but she came into my office and said Sally should be full salary I can’t believe she is still hourly. This is so awful. This person had no idea what was going on and went to HR. What this person didn’t know was Sally makes more hourly than she ever will on a salary. Sally only wants to work 25-30 hours a week and makes $50 an hour with benefits. I have it all in writing. If Sally went FT salaries she would not make that hourly range on the band. I had to argue for that and she makes OT anytime over 37 hours a week. She works OT for about 6 weeks of the year. She makes bank! But it isn’t this team members role or job to know how much Sally gets paid hourly or why. Sally is vital to my team and she wanted the PT hours. So there are things a manager knows that team members don’t and it isn’t their business to know. It isn’t my job to tel others what Sally gets paid, if she wants to, so be it. She isn’t a specialist either, she just gets all of the crap done and doesn’t complain and is awesome.

    8. Anon Office Drone*

      I agree with this comment. Talking to HR is very risky, and I can’t see that there would be any upsides for you, OP.

      1. Goldie*

        Agreed, I think it could go really badly for LW. Its time to just get ok with the decision and be a great team member. LW might find that they like the new manager or not. Hiring is very complicated and LW wasn’t in the room. They don’t know why the decision was made.

        But going to HR could sour relationships several layers up the organization.

    9. B*

      Yes, I was a little surprised by the advice to elevate this to HR. This doesn’t seem that egregious to me, and would not be prohibited by nepotism policies anywhere I have worked. It’s poor management for the message it sends to the people passed up and bad for morale, but I would think it falls in the realm of hiring manager discretion. Maybe it’s different in some industries.

    10. LW1*

      Hi! A few things I left out of my letter for brevity:
      1) yes I’m 100% certain they are friends outside of work, they do zoom exercise classes together and Sarah often talks about weekend plans that have involved Fran
      2) Fran unfortunately was hired in a vacuum. I asked after the hiring process way back at the beginning – three people were involved in the process, a colleague at the company who didn’t want to be involved and didn’t care (his behaviour in my interview made this clear, as well as what I know of his personality), and an HR rep who told me in my interview that she didn’t even really know what the job was. Sarah’s manager told me directly that he had no input whatever except to sign off on Sarah’s choice, because if he was involved then he would have to send their choice to his boss who is notoriously difficult to get hold of.

      I love your suggestion to go for Fran’s job – unfortunately it would be a lateral move to a worse company so I have no interest! I think you’re right about waiting it out

  5. Katie Impact*

    OP2: This sort of thing isn’t uncommon in universities, from what I’ve seen. There are always going to be people (students, staff, and faculty) in the building at any hour of the day or night, and it’s difficult to set a hard cutoff between “this person is pulling a lot of all-nighters” and “this person is basically living in the university building”. If anything the employee is doing poses a specific risk to the university or other people, you can address that, but otherwise there may not be much you can or should do.

    1. Testing*

      I was going to say this… The office of a university can be very different from other kinds of offices, including in the amount of stuff you store in your cube.

      1. OP #2*

        Yes – this is why I chose to include that specific context. I do find that most admin staff are not expected to be here after hours. I do not see email or work product happening after 5pm. Based on the concerned feedback from the co-worker, the state of the cubicle, and the fact no work product is sent after hours – I believe she uses this as an extension of her apartment.

        1. Autumn*

          I’m a little worried that cubbie dweller is not sufficiently housed. Possibly unstable housemates or cannot evict ex partner but doesn’t want to say anything out of personal embarrassment?

          1. Inconvenient Indian*

            How, exactly, would that change the advice? Is the OP supposed to find this person an apartment?

            1. Orv*

              If the person were a student it would matter because there might be resources you could direct them to. (I had this happen once where a student starting living in a computer lab I managed.) With staff, though, you’re right, I don’t think there’s much they can do.

            2. Dahlia*

              Sort of maybe if their job is student support? Or at least find them programs or other resources to find somewhere safe to stay.

    2. MK*

      What makes this different in my opinion is the items she keeps there. I also have access to my workplace (a courthouse) after hours, but most afternoons/evenings I go there to do work without the constant interruptions of office hours, at a desktop computer that is more convenient than my laptop, and because I don’t want to lugg case files to and from home. But I don’t keep drycleaning, luggage and groceries there, except briefly (as in, I picked the drycleaning on my way and take it home immediately).
      And I think that, while this is common in universities, the assumption is that people are there to do work, not chill.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Yeah, I don’t understand why needing to use their Internet requires her dry cleaning, groceries, 5 pairs of shoes etc to be kept there. Even though she isn’t living in the workplace, it does look outwardly like she is. So they need to be conscious of how this looks, especially if the workplace area is open to “general people” to see.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          That’s the issue to focus on — fine you need the internet at the office, but you keep your personal belongings here for an extended time. You don’t need your drycleaning to access the internet.

        2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          What she has is OTT but keeping shoes, a couple sweaters, a blazer, is very normal where I work. I have all of that in my office (not a cubicle, admittedly). Shoes especially–office appropriate shoes and commuting appropriate shows rarely overlap. We have hoteling and have been pushing for assigned lockers so that people can keep a few items around the office.

          1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            Good luck with the lockers! They make hoteling/hot-desking so much more tolerable. It’s so demoralizing to not even be able to keep a notebook or a coffee cup at work!

          2. Allonge*

            I totally agree it’s normal in a lot of places to have a cardigan or shoes – it’s more that the presence of food (not two granola bars, but groceries), suitcases, dry cleaning and several shoes makes the shoes part of the problem. I doubt OP would have written in for a pair of pumps and a shawl.

          3. OP #2*

            Agreed – I am trying not to scrutinize and our conversations have been mostly about the state and welcoming work space of her cubicle. I have even offered her more storage which she has declined. In terms of shoes, I see 4-5 pairs at any given time. I can imagine a comfy, a professional, and maybe a sneaker but she has walking boots and crocs too. I am debating about how direct I need to be with what is and is not visible.

          4. AnotherOne*

            That’s allegedly what my office is eventually going to have- once we go thru the 2 years of renovations to get there.

            I’m sorta going, maybe i can get away with a desktop box to hold a pair of office shoes, notepads and some pens cuz until we have the lockers we’re gonna be SOL.

          5. doreen*

            It’s completely normal to have a a pair of shoes and a sweater. And even some food is normal – but I’ve never seen anyone keep food visible. It’s some packets of oatmeal or a box of biscotti or a few of those shelf stable tuna and cracker packages kept in a drawer , not multiple grocery bags.

        3. JustaTech*

          My undergrad professor had at least 5 pairs of shoes in his office – flip fops for when he took his kiddo to swim class, cowboy boots for field collecting where there was high risk of rattlesnakes (cowboy boots are tall enough and stiff enough to provide some protection against snake bites), regular hiking boots for low-snake field collecting, and then just other random shoes.

          His office was also a general disaster, with stacks of papers and books everywhere. I commented to him once that if there was an earthquake we’d bleed to death from papercuts.

          The amount of stuff and clutter that is normal (if not great) in a tenured professor’s office (with a door) is very different from what’s normal in a staff person’s cube.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        For the specific items, any of them might make sense for a few hours. Even a day, if you biked Tuesday and drove Wednesday. Any longer starts to seem like the office is just extra storage, especially if it’s a cube. (And the person lives across the street, so it’s not like it would have been more difficult to drop any of the items at home vs work. Like I see it if she lives half an hour away and there’s a Trader Joe’s near work and so she grabbed some stuff on sale over lunch, planning to take it home that night.)

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I think most of us who’ve worked onsite have kept a change of clothes, extra shoes, a stash of granola bars, a toothbrush, and such like on hand. And I spent long hours in my office to avoid my ex while splitting up, working on special projects, talking to candidates or colleagues in other timezones, or just getting things done without literally bringing work home with me. It didn’t faze me when colleagues did those things, too.

        Since I’ve been 100% remote for several years, it’s possible that I don’t know what the onsite vibe is now, but the situation OP describes sounds actionable to me. The employee appears to have made herself at home to an extreme degree, if not literally. That’s more concerning than quirky to me – as in I hope her homelife is safe. I also hope a reminder that her workspace is not to be treated like extra room of her home is all that’s needed.

        1. BikeWalkBarb*

          You hit on what I was wondering about. I know we’re not supposed to speculate about facts not in evidence, but I immediately thought “is this co-worker safe at home?”. It would be challenging to tiptoe into expressing concern for their personal safety and the possibility of an abusive relationship; I’d definitely want an Allison script for that scenario.

          1. OP #2*

            That has come to mind. Based on what she has shared she lives alone. She has identified herself to us as single. She was a student at the University. Rented a rent stabilized studio and never left. 20+ years later she is in the same place. I don’t see any signs that lead to SVSH/ domestic violence/ etc to make me make the connection of an unsafe home, immediately.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Thank you for responding to this, OP, that’s a relief. I hate to think along the lines I did, but I’ve known people who avoided going home for concerning reasons.

            2. Humble Schoolmarm*

              Ah, that makes sense. Unless she is a super minimalist (and the stare of her cube suggests not) I would imagine that after 20 years of life detritus, storage space is probably at a premium.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, this. Especially since she lives so nearby. If she had to drive home, OK, it would still look not-awesome but at least it would make more sense. But if she used to be able to get campus wifi at her apartment she probably lives close enough to take all her stuff home and then come back, and has just gotten in the habit of not bothering to do that. (If she’s “coming in after hours”, does that mean she’s coming back after hours? She can take her groceries and dry cleaning home first.)

        I keep a jacket in my office and a few extra things, but only the jacket is permanent, because our workspace is cold and it’s silly for me to haul a jacket in every day.

    3. Allonge*

      Yes, if this is part of the culture, the most OP can do is ask that the space is kept reasonably clean and free of groceries and suitcases.

    4. Nodramalama*

      Yeah at my uni people used to be in the library at least all hours. I do think asking them to not leave open food out is sensible though.

      1. OP #2*

        Agreed – but she is an admin staff person. There is nothing in her role that would indicate late night work. She does not deliver work product at night.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah I think the line you’re looking for here is:
          a spare pair of shoes, a spare outfit, a couple snacks: reasonable things to want to have on hand while working
          4-5 pairs of shoes, dry cleaning that remains not taken home for more than one business day, full bag of groceries: too much, this isn’t your living room

          In other words: it’s the quantity of stuff that’s a problem, and if the quantity is what it is because she’s anticipating being there at all hours for non-work reasons and wants her non-work stuff handy, well that’s not what the office is for. ESPECIALLY when you live across the street.

    5. nnn*

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. When I was a student and when I was a university employee, there were always students pulling all-nighters, professors working eccentric hours, researchers on a roll, and a ton of overlap between these groups.

      Also, a lot of older housing in the university neighbourhood didn’t have air conditioning, so it wasn’t uncommon for people who lived nearby to hang out in the air-conditioned university buildings until it got cool enough to go home and go to sleep.

      1. EngineeringFun*

        I got my PhD at 40 years old in 2017. For a decade I was a 8am-4 pm worker, but during my PhD I learned to work from noon to 1 am. Classes were 6-9 pm and then group meetings and an hour drive home… my sleep schedule was all messed up. Also the stress was intense. Oh also no money for anything….yeah there might be a lot going on here. This person could be paying off huge debts as well.

    6. AcademiaNut*

      I find it’s particularly common for people just out of their PhD – they’ve just finished a period where they were often expected to spend very long hours at the office, with little money, and often using public transit (so no car to store stuff). If you’re spending 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, finishing up your thesis, keeping groceries, dishes, spare clothing, personal items and the occasional small appliance in your office tends to happen naturally. And the hours can be very weird, with lots of late night work, and a tendency to have your social life be at work because that’s where you are all the time.

      I’d sit the employee down and have a chat about appropriate use of the office, though, as it sounds like she’s pushing things fairly far. A spare pair of shoes and a sweater is one thing, turning your cubicle into a mini apartment is another.

      It doesn’t sound like it’s the case here, but I’d also draw the line at people doing full out cooking (not just heating leftovers or assembling components), sleeping at the office, having visitors or romantic partners hanging out with them, using AV equipment to watch movies or play video games large screen, or drinking alone in their office. All of these are examples from my experience, BTW.

      1. HidingInTheLab*

        As a someone who works at a university, I have, uh, done three of the five things you list as being over the line. I should probably not admit to which three…

        (Okay but in defense of the watching-something-on-a-large-screen one, it was a science-themed movie, and like yes it was a group of friends doing it, but anyone was welcome to join in. It was arguably a social bonding activity for the junior researchers in the department?) (…I think that explanation made it worse.)

        I also totally store stuff in/around my desk all the time — usually for less than a day, but yeah, often groceries (if I was out getting lunch, sometimes I’d swing by the store), sometimes luggage if I was going to / coming from the train station straight from/to work… Very normal in my context!

        As others have said, in my case it’s the combination of the odd hours, the cultural expectation that you socialise with the people you work with, and the fact that I don’t have a car. There is a line, though, and there’s nothing wrong with a quiet word when somebody has crossed it!

    7. AGD*

      I work in higher ed, and yes. I was the inveterate cubicle dweller for years, and there were two main reasons. One is that my waking hours get wonky easily, and the other is that I’m more productive when I’m not at home. During periods when I’ve lived alone, there was no real downside to spending long evenings or random chunks of the weekend in the office.

    8. Hyaline*

      Yeah, academia is basically open 24/7–and storing weird crap in your office is pretty normal. Not that the LW can’t draw the line at luggage and whatnot, but it’s reasonable that the employee didn’t pick up on that as a norm after seeing who knows what stacked up in faulty offices! It might seem weird that she’s basically using work as a hangout space but that happens not infrequently in academic settings, so I wouldn’t press on it.

    9. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I think the situation needs to be addressed as a safety issue. Several years ago a student working late in a school building was attacked. The security camera footage was useless. The whole building like most on campus was unlocked 24/7. Attempts were made to improve overall security but anyone can access to the campus buildings and wander around unchallenged at all hours. In spite of security drills and awareness campaigns, locks were only installed on several buildings this year. Our main reception office diligently locks their doors every day but anyone can vault over the waist high counter and walk away with laptops and other devices.

      1. Venus*

        I went to university back in the 90s and they locked all the doors after 9pm way back then. I think your school is an anomaly. Safety is definitely important, but having security drills yet no locks on doors seems an odd way to prioritize.

    10. GrooveBat*

      My obvious question: is OP *sure* that the employee actually has housing across the street? Could they have somehow lost it? Are they homeless and simply too ashamed to tell anyone?

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        This, or is the housing they have somehow unsafe – a landlord who refuses to correct a major issue, a roommate that is abusive/steals things/has a partner around whom the worker is uncomfortable or unsafe… None of which is OP’s problem to solve, but any of which could have prompted the worker to spend as much time at work as possible and to protect their belongings. It’s worth asking if everything is okay as part of conversation, as that situation isn’t unusual among university students/new(ish) grads who are likely to share housing.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          (The fact that they’re storing luggage makes me wonder about this too – is this someone who is waiting for the right moment to Get Out of an awful situation?)

      2. Festively Dressed Earl*

        I was thinking the same thing, or that her housing situation is unhealthy or unsafe.

      3. Reebee*

        I think it’s important to accept OP’s word that the employee does indeed live across the street.

        OP wrote in for advice on addressing an employee’s overflowing work space, period.

        OP: I am with others who say that the extent to which the employee is using her workspace is unacceptable. Her lack of access to wi-fi after working hours is her own situation to manage.

    11. Nonanon*

      A lab on my floor actually had a student living in the lab cubicles (I don’t know the full story; they wound up leaving the lab but I’m not certain the exact circumstances). It was difficult to actually call because 1. no one actually cared that much 2. sometimes you’re in the lab at weird hours 3. you keep backups of EVERYTHING (clothes, snacks, coffee, toothbrush, whatever), partially because sometimes you’re pulling all nighters, sometimes you get chemical on your shoes and need to change them. This is what I mean when I say “scientists can be quirky and their own thing,” not homeboy from a few weeks ago who was STABBING CHAIRS.

      1. Venus*

        Yeah, when I was in school a few decades ago there were a couple grad students over the years who decided to give up their apartment and live in their cubicle. Once it was noticed they were eventually told that they needed to find a place to stay. They were relatively well paid and could definitely afford a place. The one guy I knew was always working or at the gym for a couple hours a day and couldn’t be bothered with the time and effort to go back and forth to an apartment, although he found time when he was told that other students weren’t comfortable with his sleeping under his desk and he needed to make changes.

    12. The Starsong Princess*

      I wonder if she even has an apartment at all – she could be homeless or couch surfing. The conversation I would be having would be about that. Anyway, the office is for work, it is not your living room to lounge and watch tv. Op should have that conversation too.

  6. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – you absolutely SHOULD tell your current employer about your concerns about their prospective client. Make sure you take the concerns to the senior leadership / ownership, not just to the person who doing the business development, too. You want to make sure your concerns are truly recognized and considered.

    If I were the owner of a company, and I found out that my employee had NOT disclosed serious issues with a potential client, I would be pretty upset with them, if we landed the client but couldn’t get paid, or had other foreseeable issues arise.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Agreed. If I were in management and you brought this concern about company A to me, it would increase my respect for you as an employee regardless of what decision is ultimately made. It shows you are a responsible contributor who cares about company B’s success and elevates your employer’s perspective on you. That’s a win.

      Company A can’t cause you any real damage. As Alison points out, I don’t see how they would find out you had said something in your role at company B. Even if they did, you’ve been an employee in good standing for years. If I were your manager and an external former employer disparaged you, they’d come across as petty and inappropriate. That situation would make *them* look unreasonable, not you.

      I hope you speak up about your concerns, and your employer can use that information however they wish.

    2. Old Admin*

      OP#4 : I second that.
      In my company, we’ve very factually reported various business relevant incidents to senior leadership/CEO without looking like gossips. (Competitors bragging, disclosing internal information, loudly discussing our company on public transport, colleagues being drilled by family members for sensitive company information – they didn’t get it)

      Prewrite your report outside of email/chat, be undramatic, be truthful. Think about the report before sending it. Do not expect a reaction, let TPTB make the decision on how to act.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I agree as well! Although I wouldn’t send it in writing, I would try as hard as possible to tell them face-to-face (or via a call if you are a remote worker). And if you don’t feel comfortable going directly to the higher-ups, would you feel better running it by your direct manager first? I do think that the higher-ups really need to know the information you have, but maybe your manager would be in a good position to help you figure out the best course of action. But I do agree that it’s a good idea to write out ahead of time what you want to say so you can be thorough and as objective-sounding as possible. You could write a full script if you want to, but even just a list of bullet points would probably suffice.

        I recently reported a problem c-level exec to the board of the non-profit I was leaving (that the CEO wasn’t doing anything about so I felt I had no choice but to report the issue to the board directly). One of the thoughts going through my head – having last year read Bad Blood, the book about the Theranos scandal – is that Theranos managed to get so far with their deceit because they threatened any employees who realized that their devices were bunk and so the employees were too scared to say anything to anyone with the power to shut the company down. I was in a position to say something where I wasn’t being threatened and really felt my concerns warranted it, so I said something. Now, it does sound like Company A is maybe a little vengeful, but it also sounds like you are very secure in your position in Company B so it’s unlikely they’d really be able to hurt you. Plus, as AAM said, it’s also unlikely they’d even really know you were the reason Company B is being more careful with them. So I’d say you have very little to lose by saying anything, and if your company is full of good people they probably will be extremely grateful that you did say something. Best of luck, OP!

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Agree! you absolutely should tell what you know about the business practices you observed.

      Sometimes when a client is waving the possibility of big contracts, long-term business, the Sales tail can wag the Decision Making dog. Having a heads up that this potential client has a history of stiffing vendors, complicating projects, being slippery with contracts and obligations will give management at LW’s employer a heads up to do extra due diligence before committing resources or to any work.

      And if they are smart, they will ignore everything about “big long term deal” and focus on whether the opportunity in front of them now makes sense on its own.

      What will probably happen (if management is halfway decent) is that management on the finance/due diligence side will look more closely at the contracts, at the potential client’s payment behavior, history, financial reports, credit standing etc. And will structure any agreements with clearly defined deliverables on both sides, upfront deposits/milestone payments and sensible change order, cancellation, and penalty terms to minimize risk if this client’s past performance repeats.

      Knowing that that company does not always operate in good faith will give management an extra push to not get distracted by pie in the sky promises.

    4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      This is one of the times when loyalty to the company is an issue. OP you work for Company B now. Your work in exchange for a paycheck includes telling them about potentially harmful problems. You have to let them known.

    5. Salty Caramel*

      +1000. I would most definitely want to know in LW4’s manager’s position. You can’t manage what you don’t know about.

      Allison’s advice about tone is important too. When relaying this information it needs to be, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

    6. Ama*

      I had a momentary flash of alarm last week when my boss told me they’d made a new hire who used to work at my previous employer and called him by his first name — which is the same first name as the boss I had at that employer who got fired for embezzlement. It wasn’t him (that person got fired over a decade ago and was in a different area of work than the one I work in now so it would have been extremely unlikely), but it did make me think about how I would have handled it if I’d shown up to our first face to face meeting and it *was* my former boss.

      (Since our meeting would have been virtual I decided I would have sent a private chat message to my boss saying we needed to come up with an excuse to end the meeting so I could speak with her privately.)

  7. Alexis Carrington Colby*

    It looks like my comment didn’t post.

    LW #1, I wouldn’t say anything, or tread very carefully if you do. The most HR will likely do is say they will look into it, but they might tell Sarah and Fran, which could come back to bite you.

    But I agree that Sarah probably hired her because they were friends and Fran wasn’t vetted properly.

    1. Limdood*

      I agree. this feels odd. usually AAM is much more reserved about the “talk to HR” suggestion. I suppose I CAN potentially see an outcome where taking to HR is beneficial in this case, but it feels like on balance, the potential drawbacks (loose tongues and retaliation) far outweigh the unlikely and minor possible benefits.

      1. CR Heads*

        Yes, i was very surprised to the advice here, especially when the usual suggestion for not getting a job is to accept it and don’t dwell on it. Plus, in this case there’s really nothing to go to HR about – the candidates all seem roughly equal and it’s going to make OP look like she has sour grapes.

        Also, did the ex-manager say anything more specific? I see that she gasped

      2. PotsPansTeapots*

        I could see it maybe working if the discussion was framed around “what can I do to gain management experience and move up,” but I agree going to HR just to learn more about this decision probably won’t result in outcomes LW1 likes.

    2. Malarkey01*

      HR will almost definitely talk to Sarah- they’ll have to if they want to find out it’s true she’s friends with Fran.
      The fact that none of them potentially have management experience levels the field even more. If I have 3 candidates with the same shortcoming I’m picking the best off other factors, but saying man if any of you have management experience you’d be the top pick isn’t untrue.

      I think the only thing to gain here isn’t more oversight of the team but a spotlight on LW and a bad taste in her manager and grand managers mind.

    3. LW1*

      Thank you! I think I agree about holding off on going to HR, on thinking more about it I agree there likely isn’t any benefit to it and a potential for a whole lot of negative

  8. ThePinkLady*

    OP#2 – I think my first concern would be that something is going on at home that means it’s not safe or comfortable for your employee or her things to be there. It might not be affecting her work, but you do nevertheless have a duty of care towards her, and this behaviour seems to go beyond even the quite unusual norms of your organisation. Is this something you, perhaps with some advice from HR, could try to explore with her?

    1. Nodramalama*

      It seems more likely to me that they want access to free WiFi, and possibly saving on heating/cooling bills

      1. WellRed*

        But then why the luggage, groceries etc? Although overflow storage is certainly a possibility.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I’m picturing overflow storage for the dry cleaning and luggage, and the groceries as buying stuff to eat at the office. Let’s say pop tarts: rather than carry in the bag of pop tarts and unload it, placing them in some sort of organized food storage area and getting rid of the bag, she’s just grabbing a new box from the bag whenever the old box runs out. Which is definitely a habit someone could get into when finishing a phd.

          1. Lady Danbury*

            I have a bag of snacks and tea under my desks. It’s all nonperishable, so I don’t feel the need to keep it in a communal food storage area, but I could see how someone might view it as “groceries” if they could see it (you’d have to move all the way around my desk for that).

        2. Justme, The OG*

          I work in HIED and have a snack bar in my office. It’s summer and dining is mostly closed and they stop filling the vending machines.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Because they haven’t bothered to take it home. People get complacent. Maybe the apartment is small. But that’s not a reason to let her store stuff in her cubicle.

          No, her employer does not have any duty of care toward her, beyond the usual “pay her on time”, etc. This is a cubicle, not a home/storage unit. It’s on the employee to figure out how to keep her stuff organized and also her workspace work-appropriate.

    2. Isabel Archer*

      Strongly disagree that the employer has any “duty of care” here. Curious why you think it does.

      1. Charley*

        I’m also curious about that framing, especially since it seems unlikely that the manager would be in a position to do anything about most things that could be going on in the employee’s household.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          I wouldn’t call it a “duty of care” and I agree that the manager probably can’t solve the problem, but it would be kind to ask whether everything’s all right and to offer to help the worker find whatever resources the university may have. My uni has emergency funds for students, for example, that can help if someone doesn’t have the money for a deposit on a new apartment or to buy necessary supplies, and we also have mental health services for students and staff that have crisis appointments. It’s not on the manager to solve the problem, but it’s not out of line to offer to help connect the worker with other resources that they might not know about. Lots of students and even long-term employees don’t know these things exist simply because they’ve never needed them.

    3. Hyaline*

      It seems like the LW already has done some subtle poking to see what’s going on and the answer is “free WiFi.” I agree that these situations are often red flags for unsafe or unstable home life but a) I don’t think that’s the case here and b) while offering to help would be the Generally a Good Person thing to do, I don’t think there is an explicit duty here especially if the employee isn’t disclosing anything.

    4. Delta Delta*

      Having lived with grad students, I would not be surprised if there’s a roommate raising zebra mussels in jars in their shared living room, or something similar.

    5. Observer*

      you do nevertheless have a duty of care towards her

      Employers have a duty of care to probe into people’s private lives when their work is not being affected *and* they not asked for help or expressed any need? It’s not like there is real evidence of danger. Yes, her behavior is odd but it’s a stretch to say that it’s SO likely that it’s because of a genuine safety issue that the LW has even a moral, never mind legal, “duty” to start probing.

      It’s important to keep in mind that “trying to explore with her” could do a lot of damage, especially if you loop in HR and make it a whole official thing.

      1. The*

        Maybe this is a US/UK difference. I have worked in the public sector in the UK for 25 years, and here, we do take well-being of staff very seriously, and if this situation existed in my organisation, and was problematic (which it would be if we had a staff member essentially living in one of our offices, but I accept that might be normal in this specific environment) we would be looking to help her solve the problem – which might involve signposting to our Employee Assistance Programme, for practical, financial or therapeutic support, for example. Then once we were confident that there was nothing outside work preventing her from behaving as expected, we could be clear about how things needed to change in the workplace, and making sure that happened as a performance issue.

        1. doreen*

          It might be a US/UK difference but I don’t think the difference is a matter of whether the employer is interested in the well-being of staff. This is unusual behavior , but it’s not clearly dangerous, it’s not causing problems with her work and she hasn’t asked for help. My expectation is that if I tried to explore this issue in terms of “helping her solve the problem” she’d tell me to mind my own business. Because whether and how she does her work is the managers business and the condition she keeps her cubicle in is the manager’s business – but it’s really not the manager’s business whether she’s keeping this stuff in her cubicle because she doesn’t have space in her apartment since her mother moved in or if she’s keeping it there because she doesn’t have space because she compulsively shops.

          1. Observer*


            There is a difference between a “duty of care” and “caring about the welfare of your staff.” And also there are more appropriate and less appropriate ways of expressing your support. “Exploring” people’s private lives, with HR to boot, is rarely the appropriate way to be supportive.

  9. TheBunny*


    I have the same problem.

    I’ve done what Allison suggested, with a tweak. I have it like this:

    Company Name 2017-2023
    Teapot Builder 2022-2023
    Asst. Teapot Builder 2021-2022
    Teapot Intern 2017-2021


    The reason I do it this way is those resume parsing things turn the resume into alphabet soup if you don’t have something at the top that tells it how long you were at the company.

    There’s still some clean up with it like this, but this seems to be the least messy as without the long total tenure part at the top, the system seems to think it’s 3 jobs at different companies.

  10. Lisa*

    LW2, at my employer this would be in violation of our IT policies that permit “reasonable” personal use of equipment and networks and I’m surprised your policies allow this.

    1. Not Australian*

      Yeah, but then you get into the question of ‘who decides what’s reasonable?’ If the employee’s use of the equipment isn’t actively causing problems or costing the employer money, how is it unreasonable – especially if 24 hour access is available anyway?

      1. Antilles*

        Management decides what’s reasonable. In my experience, the actual enforcement of reasonable use IT policies is best described as “don’t cause no problems, won’t be no problems”.

        Are you doing something illegal? Viewing stuff that people generally wouldn’t want to see in the workplace (e.g., sexual or graphic violence)? Are you causing network lag and slowing down the network for others? Is your personal Internet use keeping you from meeting productivity goals, ignoring people who ask questions, or other similar work impacts?

        If any of those answers are yes, management cares. If you’re not doing any of those, it falls under reasonable levels of personal use.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yeah, if your CrunchyRoll habit is slowing down people’s actual work (to pick a very specific example) then it’s a problem.
          If you watch YouTube at lunch and it doesn’t impact the network, whatever, enjoy your Mr Beast.

      2. HonorBox*

        I think it depends on what exactly the person is doing. Some casual browsing, shopping, personal research… probably not a problem. But if they’re in the office every night watching movies … probably a different answer. I would personally lean toward reasonable is that which you’d do during the workday on a break or over your lunch hour.

        1. Observer*

          But if they’re in the office every night watching movies … probably a different answer.

          But why? If the school had metered internet (I remember those days, not fondly!) that would be one thing. And I be the first to say that this has to stop. Otherwise, I just don’t think it’s something I would spend energy on.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Yeah, and if reasonably priced internet is not available in her apartment, it might be perfectly logical to come use campus wifi. University internet is often huge bandwidth, high speed, and a virtually unlimited pipe. Why would someone pay $150+ a month for a capped internet plan that required you to buy garbage cable just to get it, when your office less than five minutes away had a big pipe and virtually unlimited bandwidth?

            IMO, the problem is the storage of stuff. Sure, I always stored a change of clothes in my file drawers. I always had some emergency food and water in my desk too, in metal tins or hard plastic so it didn’t attract insects or rodents. But except for the office coat rack, it was all hidden away.

            Now, my university job had dry cleaning pickup at the offices. If LW#2 has that also, the employee could be storing her dry cleaning there until pickup day. I don’t buy “dry clean only” stuff any more, so I never used that service.

            Does the employee have a file cabinet or stuff in her cube? Is there a way that stuff can be “put away” so that it’s not so unsightly? Can you establish a maximum “dwell time” for stuff out in the open like luggage or shoes?

            If her flat is only five minutes away, and used to be able to get campus wifi, she just probably stopped bringing her stuff home.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            Bandwidth for one thing.
            I’ve been the IT person in the past who had to tell the people who thought they were the only ones working at 9pm-midnight to stop fricking torrenting gigs of movies because they were doing enough that it was messing up traffic for actual work stuff. And then had to start blocking sites.
            I’m not saying that’s what the employee here is doing, but it’s one reason why “reasonable” use of work internet does not generally include “come in on your off hours and do stuff entirely for your personal amusement”. That and for security reasons we usually don’t want people doing personal stuff on the reg. Not quite so hardnosed about it that someone checking the socials on lunch or whatever would get dinged, but generally speaking, whatever random internet thing one might do in one’s personal life could easily be a security concern that never once occurs to the user. It’s just a quagmire, and the reasonable advice about reasonable use lands on the side AGAINST “come in at all hours to do stuff on our internet that has nothing to do with work”.

            1. Observer*

              Well, the LW says that she’s apparently not breaching any security policies. But I would agree that the LW should check with IT on that. And, yes, also check with them about bandwidth. But I would not assume that that’s going to be a problem.

              Keep in mind that she used to use the school’s wifi from her apartment, so it doesn’t sound like that much has changed in terms of her level of use.

      3. BikeWalkBarb*

        It’s a university and they likely have a policy for employees. I’m in a state agency and our personal use is supposed to be de minimis, which is defined in the policy. The same was true when I worked in administration for a public research university. Our IT was pretty strict about it and certain sites were outright blocked unless you got special permission based on work need.

        She wouldn’t be violating our policy about not having it interfere with work when using it after hours but if she’s using her work equipment all her browsing history is in their records and she may be violating something that way. Supervisor wouldn’t know where she’s browsing but IT would, and if her site visits introduce any kind of cybersecurity issue that’s a bigger deal.

    2. nnn*

      My experience has been universities are far more flexible about personal internet use than most other employers, both because of long historical precedent and because there are students living on campus using the network for 100% of their personal use anyway, so the network is designed with the assumption that people are going to be streaming etc.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yes, plus there is literally nothing that some academic might be studying and legitimately need access to. Somebody is doing a monograph on fanfiction, someone else is looking at innovation and data security in porn, someone else is doing an analysis of drug pricing on the dark web!

        1. Insert Pun Here*

          Yep—I work at a university in a non-faculty role that works closely with many faculty across many disciplines. The things I’ve googled in the course of doing my job… whew. Never once any warning or notice from IT. (I did immediately let my boss know when someone sent me a bunch of pictures of naked men — it was a reasonable, though unexpected, occurrence given the nature of my job — you know, just in case. Nothing ever came of it.)

          Universities may also be reluctant to do the kind of routine monitoring of staff computer usage that’s common in corporate settings because there’s a high likelihood that it’ll capture info that’s a FERPA or HIPAA (if the university has a medical arm, which many do) violation.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I’ve worked in universities for years but getting an email entitled “Dildos in the Atrium” was still a surprise. It turned out to be a reminder that the local Safer Sex org was holding a stall in the main concourse and that we were all welcome to hot and chat and practice puttimg condoms on if we wanted to.

      2. metadata minion*

        Agree; this is completely normal in university settings, at least from an internet-use perspective.

    3. Hyaline*

      Honestly, “because academia” answers a lot here. There may be a policy but it’s going to be very squishy and rarely enforced. Try teasing out “personal” from “legit” in many research fields! Plus you have every student on campus using the network for personal use. Literally no one is going to care that an employee is shopping after hours. Plus she’s probably not paid very well so consider it a free perk.

      1. amoeba*

        Yup. When I was at uni, all the student housing was using the university WiFi. You also had to use it for personal stuff in a lot of the buildings because there was zero phone signal there. It was very much not considered a problem by anybody.

        (And definitely no restrictions/filters either – we used to put, erm, definitely NSFW images on the insides of the “Doktorhut” – the hat you traditionally make in Germany when people defend their PhD. We searched all of those on the lab computers, and even printed them on site. With the help of some faculty who had access to the coloured printer. And then cut those out in the break room and glued them to the hat over coffee. It’s a very different world!)

    4. Fluffy Fish*

      it’s going to be very different than your average employer because its a university – people actively live on site and use the technology resources all the time for work and personal.

      1. OP #2*

        My concern is she is an admin staff person with pretty set 9-5 hours. There is no work being asked after hours and no work product indicated that need. All the other comments here about it being a university are true and make the culture on boundaries a bit harder to discuss.

    5. Observer*

      t my employer this would be in violation of our IT policies that permit “reasonable” personal use of equipment and networks and I’m surprised your policies allow this.

      Why? It doesn’t sound like what she is doing is actually presenting any real issues – she’s apparently not doing anything illegal or unsafe, and schedule means that she’s probably not hitting network performance either. Why would IT care? Why would the manager, for that matter, care?

      I do get why the LW is concerned about the whole over-all situation. But the IT piece seems to me to just not be an issue.

  11. Robinobin*

    LW1, I would be very, very cautious about going to HR or anyone else who may have power to intervene in this matter. From (horrific) personal experience, I’ve learned that a manager who will lie to get their friend hired will also gleefully lie to get you fired.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      I think, in many states, if you fill out the right form and pay a fee, your name absolutely could be Valentina Bumblebee!

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        At least when I did my name change, in King County, Washington, you could do it same-day and dirt cheap. :P

        1. Be Gneiss*

          A cursory google (so take that for what it’s worth) says $10-$500 depending on state (and sometimes county).

      2. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        I hope the law has changed in the years since, but in the 1990s I had a colleague in a midwest state who was told by the judge she could only change her name if she had her husband’s permission.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      As long as you aren’t doing it to hide from creditors, hide a criminal history, things like that, you can change your name. It’s mostly some fees and paperwork.

      The real hassle is after you change your name and you have to get a new social security card (same number just new name), driver’s license, and update all your accounts.

      1. I Have RBF*

        In California, it can run from ~$600 to $1000 to DIY change your name, with court filing fee ($435+), newspaper advertisement ($90+) and Certified Copy of the decree (2 x $40.50). For most of my life, I have not been able to afford this. Also, these costs do not include your time and frustration filing out the forms, and then getting all new documents (SS card, DL, passport, bank cards) and changing over all your accounts.

        Essentially, it would have been much easier when I was young and poor and didn’t have my name on things like a deed, but I couldn’t afford it. Now that I can afford it, the paperwork burden is at least a month’s worth of work, between filling out forms, waiting for documents, and calling to chase down bureaucrats, and I can’t afford the time…

        Even if using the occasion of marriage to change a surname, which only costs the marriage license fee, it took my spouse at least two months to get all their ID’s and accounts changed.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Yes, she sounds much more fun than the previous Veronica (?) Warbleworth!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I think there was a Tangerina Warbleworth. If I recall correctly, the name was retired as an example name because someone picked it up as their commenting name.

  12. linger*

    OP3: if you have the scope to help subordinates develop the technical skills for the vacant Asst Head position, and you really can’t hire from outside, then would it be feasible to explicitly do a rotating audition for the role, whereby each halfway-competent and willing candidate from the present team gets, say, a month to fill in temporarily and get feedback and be trained on whatever skills — including soft skills — are observed to be lacking?
    This would have the advantages of (1) explicitly putting the soft skills on the same footing as the technical skill requirements; (2) building in some cross-training for future flexibility in covering the role; (3) building in a time limit at the outset so you’re not stuck with a complete disaster; and (4) giving you more data for a final decision.

    Two obvious caveats:
    (i) Don’t force unwilling participants into the role.
    (ii) This is less advisable if the role has access to confidential HR information on the remainder of the team.

    1. BikeWalkBarb*

      This is a great idea!

      I’m in a public agency and we routinely have acting or interim appointments. That’s partly to keep things running and having someone who’s authorized to sign things at a certain level, but it’s also a chance to give people more visibility in the organization, demonstrate opportunity to potential candidates, give them a stretch role and a different view of the operations and issues.

      I had a one-month higher-level acting appointment and it was great. It was clear that this wasn’t an insider advantage for the permanent position (I wasn’t eligible for it anyway, as it requires a specific professional certification I don’t have). If this kind of rotation isn’t common in your organization you’d want to specify that element since you might still get a better outside candidate if you advertised, so this is described on the front end as a growth and learning stint, not a running start on the permanent appointment.

    2. lina*

      It’s also not ideal if the role would have any supervisory responsibilities. I was the victim of something like this quite some time ago – we had a team of four; there were three people of equivalent skills and managerial experience who were eligible to apply for a vacant lead position, and then me, significantly more junior. To test them all out, the grand-boss had them rotate in three-month stints as the lead; it ultimately took 18 months to fill the position, they each did two.

      In theory: it let each of them gain experience to allow them to compete for the permanent position, and let the grandboss see how they did in the role. They would “coordinate with each other” so that they were effectively a team-of-three-acting-as-one and just whoever was in charge that month was the visible face of decisions etc. All three had their own portfolio of work in addition to the management tasks.

      In practice: the three of them formed a clique that I wasn’t included in, and I had a different boss every three months for a year and a half, with different management style and information needs. None of the three knew enough about what I was doing to effectively manage me or provide guidance on my projects.

      In the long run, the most effective of the three won the permanent position and the other two moved on. All four of us still work at the same organization and have grown our careers in different directions in the years since and I don’t hold any ill-will for any of them, but boy oh boy, was it complicated living through it some days.

  13. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW5 – I tend to use Option 1 for a similar job, because the highlights straddle more than one role (promotion, reorg/rebrand, etc).

    Fox Designs Inc (previously Fox Acres)
    – Vulpine Plush Coordinator 2012-2015
    – Team Lead, 3D Designs 2010-2012
    – Machine Operator 2008-2010
    * Plush of the Year (North West Region) 2013
    * identified process bottlenecks and increased production by 13% over two years
    * coordinated reorganisation of Plush division to deploy talent most appropriately

    1. Lizzybeth*

      So I’ve had probably 8 different titles in about 12 years (I’m adaptable so I get moved a lot). This feedback helps a bit, but I still feel like I’d be dedicating more space to listing titles than listing accomplishments or that my resume would have to be really long. And I feel very stuck because of it, like hiring managers will assume all of the titles are because I’m a problem that just keeps getting moved around. Although 12 years would be a long time to hang onto a problem, I suppose. Part of me wants to see what else is out there, part of me dreads the idea of trying to write a resume. My boss is super cool too though, and reading many of the posts here makes me think the grass might not be greener. :)

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Don’t talk yourself out of it! Stop trying to imagine what hiring managers will think. (Also, notice that you are assuming all the things they think will be negative?) Stop telling yourself to dread it and that it will be hard. The longer you wait, the harder it will seem.

        Just whack together a resume. NO pressure, no effort. Let it sit for a week. Go over it again. Let it sit. Go over it again. Then throw it out there. If you don’t look, you’ll never know if there is something better. Maybe an even cooler boss. Maybe purple grass.

  14. bamcheeks*

    LW1, I have worked in public sector organisations with formal, transparent, robust, DEI-focussed hiring and promotion processes for twenty years, and my experience is that that there are always people who know how to work around the rules to install their preferred people in preferred places. It may very well be that Sarah has done something illegitimate to get Fran into position, but if she did, she probably did it by the book sufficiently well that there’s nothing actionable or technically unallowed: they may have violated the spirit of a free and equal contest by weighting the required criteria towards a known and preferred candidate, for example, but once that’s in place, the preferred candidate legitimately scored higher. It’s also completely possible that it was a perfectly fair decision, and that you, Fran and Jake all have very similar amounts of experience and quantifiable skills, and there’s no rule saying she has to prefer internal candidates. When you have candidates who are relatively equal on paper, the difference between “she’s my friend”, “she’s ideologically aligned with me and doesn’t challenge me”, “she’s colleague who I get on well with and trust”, “she shares my vision for the department”, etc gets very murky. Sometimes you really do have two or three strong candidates, all of whom could succeed in the role, and “who would be the easiest for me to work with” is a very legitimate deciding factor. That’s the reality of hiring, even in very structured processes.

    Therefore, I wouldn’t bother going to HR or raising any fuss about Fran’s promotion.
    For me, it’s not worth dwelling on, “was this hiring decision WRONG or illegitimate in some way?” That’s very unknowable and you can drive yourself crazy trying to decide. Instead, I just tried to take a sober look at if XYZ was being prioritised, whether that was a legitimate thing like a preference for commercial llama experience, or a less legitimate thing like “Claire loooooves Warren even though we think he’s a useless toad”, was this an environment I could progress in? Basically, remember that the only thing you can control is you.

    What I would consider doing is having a “of course I’m disappointed, but that’s life! Realistically, what are my opportunities for advancement likely to be here?” and listening carefully not just to the answer, but really to how enthusiastic my manager sounds about the idea of me advancing. Are they someone I trust to champion my work and give me the opportunities I need to move forward? Whilst they obviously have to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the discussion amongst the promotion panel, do they give me confidence that it was a decision made with integrity, and that my opportunity might come up next time? Or are they fake smile, very smooth, all platitudes? I have had two senior managers who were the last, and honestly, that was a very clear indication that as much as I loved the work at my level, this wasn’t somewhere where I would want to progress.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of nuance that can make a big difference.

      I don’t want to sound harsh towards OP. But when I’m hiring first time managers, there are going to be a lot of decisions that they don’t understand at first. I want their first instinct to be to come to talk to me about those decisions. Not to assume I’m doing something nefarious.

      1. jasmine*

        I think the issue is Sarah did have a conversation with LW explaining her decision, and LW didn’t feel the conversation was helpful. So I’m assuming that clarity wasn’t provided.

        If LW decides not to talk to HR, they can have a conversation with their manager about what concrete steps they could take to act on the feedback and for future advancement. They might come away from the conversation feeling like there was just some miscommunication in the initial feedback, or they might come away with more concerns. Feels like it might be worth seeing what happens though.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      yes to all of this. Also, while OP tells us that she and Jake were both applying and had both agreed to be a good loser should the other win, the boss may not have known that, and may have decided fresh blood would be more neutral.
      I don’t think it’s a good idea to do anything unless Fran turns out to be a terrible manager, but that would be the case even if there were no suspicion of nepotism.
      And if the boss was capable of lying to get Fran hired, she’s also capable of lying to get OP or Jake might complain fired.

    3. LW1*

      Thank you!! Your comment was extremely helpful to me – in that I’m realising very quickly that Sarah seems to have no interest in helping me to advance or develop my skills, and that’s starting to feel like the root of my problem. I’ve had several conversations with her since the initial feedback, all on the vein of getting practical management experience or higher level development, and everything I suggest has been shot down with no alternatives offered. I think you’ve really got at the root of my feelings here; that not only do I feel like my rejection was extremely vague, but that I feel unsupported in my strong desire to grow and develop. Perhaps Fran will wind up being more supportive of this than Sarah – I guess I’ll find out!

  15. CR Heads*

    I don’t think I agree that LW1 should go to HR, at least not at this point. Nothing’s really happened yet and it’s going to come across as “the candidate who didn’t get the job is complaining about it”

    It’s understandable to be disappointed or feel it’s unfair, but imo going to HR now is a bad move

    1. I should really pick a name*

      While I’m not sure whether or not they should do something about it, if they’re going to, now is probably the time to do it.

      If you’re going to question the grounds on which someone was hired, sooner is better than later.

      1. CR Heads*

        I know what you mean, it just seemed contrary to AG’s usual advice which is to accept that you didn’t get the role and move on.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          That advice is when you are applying for a role and don’t have all the information that LW1 has, though. This is a completely different situation, hence, a completely different response is called for.

          1. CR Heads*

            What information does LW1 really have though? There were three candidates, all of whom had similar experience, none managerial.

            The fact that a friend was chosen instead of the LW or the other person doesn’t seem HR worthy to me. LW or the other guy are not clearly better candidates

            The proof will be in the pudding – if Fran is incompetent or a poor manager she’ll be exposed. If not, hopefully LW gets the next promotion

    2. ferrina*

      I think it depends on how good HR is. For most HRs that I’ve worked with, I wouldn’t bother. They would read it as sour grapes, and I’d be labeled as the problem. They would assume that there was a reason that Fran got the job (even if there was no actual reason). They would likely tell Sarah that I was the person that raised concerns, and now I’d be on Sarah’s bad list.

      Unless you have a lot of trust in HR, I would just keep your head down and let things play out. If Sarah is handing out jobs to her friends, she won’t be above punishing you for questioning her friend’s ability. Sarah hasn’t demonstrated great ethics.

    3. pinyata*

      I’m also unsure what this would look like from HR: “Sarah’s management of your team getting more scrutiny and oversight and/or stronger efforts to support your and Jake’s aspirations at the company.” What oversight or scrutiny would HR do in this case?

      Even if the complaints were valid about hiring a friend, my experience with HR is it would be noted and maybe mentioned to Sarah’s boss but nothing beyond that.

      1. Cookie Monster*

        HR themselves might not scrutinize Sarah, but they could give a head’s up to Sarah’s manager to do so.

    4. TPS Reporter*

      I agree. Also I do think it depends on your HR. My HR has no real investment in who we hire, we’ve hired a lot of friends and family with no eye blinks. HR does seem to care about having a diverse candidate pool and hires, so if your HR is very concerned in that area and OP and/or Jake are a different race/ethnicity/gender identity than Sara, there may be some issues there that HR would be concerned with.

  16. Student*

    #2 From personal experience with co-workers who’ve done this, I would urge you to consider two possible issues.

    One, talk to other people who work near her to gauge whether this employee’s residential use of a business space is disrupting their work-focused use of a business space. Is the pile of food attracting rodents and pests, or is it kept safely? If she is sleeping there, even occasionally, her neighbors may feel pressured to accomodate that by not working in their own spaces normally. Is there any boundary-crossing on her part by doing things that are way out of the ordinary in a business space that she ought to be coached out of? For this, I’m thinking of issues like wearing PJs in the cube, having social friends over to her cube, extending her pile of stuff well outside her cube, having her personal entertainment disrupt normal work hours (by openly watching or listening without headphones to entertainment at her cube while normal business is happening).

    All things I have experienced from people using their cube as a living space.

    Second, consider her safety and impact on office operations. Office buildings are not built to residential standards. Talk to whomever would know about fire codes – this may take some digging, but I guaruntee there’s somebody – about whether there are any issues. Talk to your favility manager to get their opinion. Look at her cube – could she get out of it quickly in an emergency, or would the extra stuff slow her egress significantly? Does she have things in her cube that pose a serious fire hazard and are more common for residential use, like cooking items (hot pot, toaster, electric teapot), hair dryer, candles, or just too many electronics in too few sockets (power strip plugged into another power strip)? There are many electrical and safety issues that are fundamentally different for residential vs office design and they aren’t always obvious if you’re unfamiliar with building codes, until you fry an office circuit. This may also impact cleaning staff particularly, but depends on how your building handles that and whether she actively gets in their way.

    1. Postdooc*

      Agreed- I’m also in academia and I (like many!) have been guilty of some of this, and shared spaces with others like this. IMO it’s going to be really important to see if this person is making other people not comfortable using the space for its primary work function.

      For example, during grad school, my lab mate originally planned on fully living out of the lab to save money on rent. Fortunately another lab mate found out and talked sense into him, but it was often strange to come in to the office to see him taking a nap on the sofa… I know that it could be a challenge when you needed to work late or on the weekend- often a time where I wanted complete focus, only to see him also there, no matter what.

    2. The OG Sleepless*

      Every time there is a post about someone living in their office, I think of the start of almost every season of For All Mankind where Margot is living secretly in her office. Over the years her office becomes more and more elaborate, adding things like a grand piano, and nobody except maybe her admin has a clue that she lives there.

      1. OP #2*

        Ahh if only this was a Margot scenario! But yes what an image. I think most comments want to assume she may need to work late or that it is common for University folks to work all hours. She is a 9-5 admin staff person. So there is no reason to work late and no work product to show late work being produced. My indication is penny pinching. She has not told me once that she does not have internet – but shared with a colleague. When we rolled out the remote work policy she was quick to say she does not like working at home and prefers to work in the office.

        1. Observer*

          So, I think that the top comment on this thread is really useful then. If her behavior during work hours, or the level of stuff she has in there is causing an issue for others (or her behavior is just inappropriate), deal with it. Talk to campus security, facilities and IT about potential security / safety issues, and deal with that if anything comes up.

          Otherwise, it sounds really weird, but it also doesn’t sound like it’s something you should spend a lot of effort on. (Again, assuming some digging does not actually uncover issues.)

  17. peaches*

    From my own experience, HR May already know with OP1. My boss got a friend hired who was somewhat qualified for the role, but not the choice of HR and the hiring committee. She burned a lot of bridges with HR getting her hired…I would look elsewhere

    1. TPS Reporter*

      I would say give Fran a chance. If she turns out to be a great manager, then no harm done. But don’t wait too long. If you see right away that Fran is problematic and Sarah is not managing her then get out.

  18. Enough*

    #3 – Don’t do it. Unless this has been a sustained change of a year if not more. A few months is not enough time to see if there is a real change. My son has seen this just recently. An employee of his company has not been stellar in certain aspects but seemed to have improved but as soon as he got the next step in the company in compensation and ability to contribute to the direction of the company he went right back to his old ways. The PTB know it but I don’t know what they are going to do.

    1. LW3*

      Thanks, I suspect this is what is happening in my situation. This person suddenly stepped up when a promotion became available. But some little voice in the back of my head keeps saying… maybe they’ve changed…

  19. HonorBox*

    OP2 – I’m going to highlight two scenarios on both sides of the question. If the individual is coming in after hours just to do some light internet stuff, and if there’s no security issue involved, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I don’t think they should be popping popcorn and watching a movie, but if it is some limited internet searching or shopping, I’d let it go. Whether or not they can afford internet service on their salary is not something you should be looking at either. You don’t know what their student loan payments might be, or what other bills they have.

    I do think you should say something about the cube becoming storage. There’s a big difference, as others have pointed out, with having your dry cleaning there for the afternoon or having an extra pair of shoes handy. Heck, I’ve even stored Christmas gifts in my office at times (for a limited time), just to keep them out of sight of my kids. But keeping luggage, groceries, clothing, etc. for long periods of time is not appropriate in the workplace. They need to find a place that is their own personal space for those things. Our cube or office isn’t our personal space to store things. Let this person know that their workspace isn’t additional storage. And there is no way to monitor that stuff… what if it walks away at some point? They need a secure space that is theirs.

    1. I Have RBF*

      And there is no way to monitor that stuff… what if it walks away at some point? They need a secure space that is theirs.

      This is a key point. I learned that even in a badge secured workplace there is no way to stop your stuff from “walking away” unless it is in locked storage. I lost some nice personal office supplies to learn that lesson.

      Never leave anything out in a cube or open office that you would be upset to have stolen.

  20. SirHumphreyAppleby*

    For the last LW – I’ve had a couple of jobs where I had multiple roles in different countries and FWIW I’ve been using Option 1 for how I list them on my resume. I’ve had success.

  21. Green great dragon*

    Two things at once can be going on.

    Fran might be the best candidate out of three people who all lack significant management experience, and lack of management experience might still be the biggest weakness in your application. You might have got the job over Fran if you had more management experience to counterbalance areas you were weaker. Maybe Fran already has the qualification Sarah suggested.

    Or Fran may have been unfairly chosen, and lack of management experience might still be the biggest weakness in your application.

    So I wouldn’t see Fran’s lack of management experience as a smoking gun if it turns out to be true. If you’re raising with HR, I would focus on the friendship element. And if Fran does take the job, form your own judgement about her.

    1. Yoli*

      Agree. Last year out of two people with similar knowledge bases and interview performance, I actually hired the one with less management experience (none vs. some) because that person is Spanish bilingual, which is a huge need in my field. An outside person probably wouldn’t assume that was the case (that person and I are non-Latinx so people are often surprised we speak Spanish), and while I used to supervise them at our last org, someone extrapolating that to “she hired her unqualified friend” would develop a pretty poor reputation in my field, given how connected people are just by the nature of the work.

      OP, I think you can chalk it up to the hiring manager giving vague/misaligned feedback (maybe out of a misguided attempt to spare an internal candidate’s feelings) and follow up on that if you can get to a place of acceptance with not getting the job.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yup, Sarah may have just told OP and Jake that she wanted someone with managerial experience to save face, or because she couldn’t think of another reason to give for why she was turning them both down in favor of Fran. But that doesn’t mean that Fran isn’t the best person for the job out of the three of them. And like others have said, maybe Fran does now have managerial experience that you don’t know about, OP. Or, I don’t know, that she has more experience in the field than you and Jake do so it made more sense for her to be the manager even without managerial experience. A lot goes into choosing someone for a job and you probably don’t know all of the facts.

        Do you actually know Fran? Do you have concerns about her other than that she’s Sarah’s friend and doesn’t have managerial experience? If that’s true, then, sure, go to HR about it. It might even be worth talking to HR just generally about the interview process; maybe they’d have insight as to what you could work on for a future promotion that Sarah wouldn’t have. But if your only concern is that Sarah and Fran are friends, I’d give that more of a wait-and-see approach. You said that it’s a small industry, which makes me think that hiring non-friends is more difficult. I do agree that Sarah shouldn’t be supervising a close friend but if they’re more acquaintances than friends, or if Sarah can put a hold on the friendship while she’s Fran’s manager, then this could be a non-issue.

    2. TPS Reporter*

      I agree there’s a lot of unknowns here and giving Fran a chance makes sense. I am friends with various ex co-workers, some I do think would be a great hire and some not. I would be super careful about hiring a friend even if I did work with them before, but if they truly were a great employee in the past and I felt like I could truly justify their hiring over internal I probably would. It would be tough and I would probably be more sensitive to OP and Jake so as to not alienate my existing employees who I (presumably) think are good employees.

  22. MsM*

    LW5: I list a couple of the strongest/most relevant bullet points under each title, make sure they provide a relatively holistic picture of what I did there when combined, and then put my LinkedIn address in the header so they can go look at the full listing if they really want.

    1. Comtesse de Sandwich*

      Thank you – that’s extremely helpful. I have my LinkedIn address on the document as part of my contact information, and since I tend to send it at a PDF I also have it set as a hyperlink, so that anyone with it can click on it and it goes right there.

      I’m just very discouraged, having been looking since September. I had one interview go to the third round, with three open seats for it, and then not getting it, but that was the only one to go past phone screenings.

  23. Nancy*

    LW1: Do not go to HR. You actually don’t know Fran’s job history, you just know what someone else told you.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      No, and this is exactly why LW should go to HR. This knowledge is out there and if it’s wrong, HR can put the kibosh on it and make sure that Fran isn’t starting with a black mark against her in everyone else’s books.

      And if it turns out that it’s correct and that Fran doesn’t have any management experience, then it is a huge red flag against Sarah and a sign that management needs to keep an eye on her as well, since her judgment is questionable.

      Keeping this to yourself accomplishes exactly nothing.

      1. Bast*

        This is a great point. I am not sure what promotions look like in the rest of the company, but it can tank morale and unfairly bias people against Fran (or any new manager) when the promotions constantly go to outside hires. It isn’t Fran’s fault, obviously, but she might be walking into a hornet’s nest that she knows nothing about because “management passed over 2 hard working employees in favor of an outsider and lied about why they did so.” If Fran actually turns out to have that experience, this nips it in the bud.

  24. Megan*

    Please, please ensure that the qualified coworker was truly engaged in “petty gossip” and that her raising legitimate issues about people the boss liked or favored isn’t being cast as such. I have seen that so many times and it is soooo unfair to the person who raises the issues.

    1. Bast*

      Yes. I’m sure most of us have had an experience with someone who was labeled as a “troublemaker” or “pot stirrer” only to find out that they reported harassment or raised concerns about a legitimate problem that management couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with.

      1. LW3*

        I have thought about it, and I don’t think this is the dynamic I’m dealing with. This is more if this person likes you then you’re in their group, and they will watch out for you and defend you even when they shouldn’t. But if you’re not in their group then they’ll potentially spread gossip and/or share things that should not be shared.

  25. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    LW2 – If the cubicle is clearly permanent storage for her things, e.g., the luggage never moves, the bags of groceries never leave the space, then this would be the thing that I would focus on. There are many reasons for someone to have items with them at work, but if her official residence is across the street, none of them should be particularly long term. I wonder if she has an untenable living situation, whether it’s a roommate/partner issue, a hoarding issue, or the fact that she no longer has that apartment.
    The actionable topics would be regarding safety and liability, pest management, and professional appearance in a work environment. Getting to the actual reason and finding a long term solution could be a delicate process however.

    1. TPS Reporter*

      Exactly, talk to her about why having those items in the space is not acceptable- i.e. as you mentioned fire hazards, cleanliness, work focus. Don’t speculate on what is going on with her at home or suggesting what she may or may not do at home.

      And I think OP could be generally upbeat in the conversation, in case the employee is very sensitive about this because of whatever going on at home (or maybe nothing is going on who knows and she just finds the storage convenient). OP just has to talk to her, maybe start out more casual and the employee gets it right away and takes the stuff away.

  26. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    LW1 Fran is going to be walking into her new job with a major strike against her. People know that she and Sarah have a history of being personal friends. The level of trust between Fran and her co-workers is lessened because of the perception of favouritism. Fran is going to have to work very hard to show that she can be impartial. Every decision is going to be judged against the personal relationship rather than the professional one.

    1. Coffee Protein Drink*

      Good points all. Allison and the commentariat have talked a lot about how terrible an idea it is to be managing a friend. I wish Fran luck, but she’s got some hills to climb.

  27. Stuart Foote*

    A huge percentage of jobs (especially mid level to senior level jobs) go to friends of the hiring manager. At my last job the new CEO cleaned house and eventually nearly the entire C level team, and many of the middle managers, was composed of people he’d worked with at a previous role (which was apparently an extremely close knit company). During my last job search at least some of the jobs I interviewed for ended up going to friends of the hiring manager. Obviously working with someone can tell you a lot about their abilities, but in this case many of the people promoted really didn’t have the experience to support their new level and didn’t do a great job.

    1. Person Person*

      This comment illustrates the problem with a lot of the conversation. A CEO cleaning house and bringing in people he worked closely with before is not the same thing as a CEO hiring their personal besties.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Did you misread Stuart’s comment? That is exactly what happened here – “cleaning house” usually implies getting rid of bad actors, so maybe that’s your confusion.

        I also worked somewhere that the new president hired only members of his church to high level leadership roles they were mostly unqualified for. I didn’t find that detail out until a few years in and it explained a lot about why everything started sucking when he started.

        1. Person Person*

          I didn’t misread the comment. Stuart said the replacements after housecleaning were:

          “eventually nearly the entire C level team, and many of the middle managers, was composed of people he’d worked with at a previous role (which was apparently an extremely close knit company).”

          Those aren’t friends. Those are colleagues he worked with before.

  28. Parenthesis Guy*

    LW #3: One thing you should keep in mind is that if you leave the position empty or even don’t hire this person, that they’re going to look to leave and you have no one that has their skillset.

    I feel like this case is the opposite of the ones we see about the worker that complains that they didn’t get a promotion even though they went above and beyond for months while there were challenges. I would also make sure that people don’t like this employee because if they do your teams’ morale will drop.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      This sounds like a good outcome. The pot stirrer leaves, then they can hire someone professional who *also* has that skillset. Come on, the no assholes rule isn’t new.

  29. el l*

    What’s your fear, exactly, about what your previous employer will do if you participate in a normal due diligence process for your current employer? You’re just doing your job here.

    And as long as you keep the tone just-doing-my-job, then any retribution is on them, not you. And that tone is not “OMG, they were SO bad” but “Here’s what I saw when I was there, maybe I’ve made improvements since, and you can do with this info what you like.”

    Long as you keep it that way, any retaliation is on them, not you.

  30. DoNotDisturb*

    On #2 – I had an employee that randomly started coming to the office 2+ hours earlier than her shift. She was someone who commuted quite far daily, so it stood out to everyone. I asked her about it and her response was, “Oh, I’m up early every day so I like to come in and pay my bills, etc.” I said that was fine, but that she could not use office equipment during her off-hours for personal use, per HR (and to clarify, this wasn’t a laptop – it was a regular PC, so she didn’t have it on her person all the time like most of us did). She was miffed and HR had a talk with her, and that was that. She continued coming in early after that with her personal laptop, and we all just wrote it off as Something Odd. A few weeks in, though, she started wandering the office and gossiping with people, using office supplies for personal stuff again, things like that. Again, not totally egregious, but HR was not happy about it. I talked with her again about it and it turned into a huge debacle. She basically claimed that I was holding her back from getting a management role and she was just trying to be proactive and develop strong relationships with everyone, and prove that she could come in earlier rather than work the ‘late shift’ which is what she preferred. I told her I understood that, but her hours were agreed to in her initial interview AND in writing, we needed someone to cover those hours, and we were not in a position to hire anyone new at the time, unfortunately. Eventually her behavior became so bizarre and out of pocket – including some very aggressive texts on a Saturday morning followed by a mysterious illness after I told her I wanted to talk more in person to address her concerns – that she was fired.

    At the time it did really bother me because it was clear she was being manipulative and trying to undermine me. In hindsight, though, I’d agree that it’s Super Odd but not something that would require any immediate action.

    1. Bast*

      I have been that employee who comes in about an early because traffic becomes insane if I wait. My commute is about an hour. Given the choice, I’d rather come in early and leave early, but since I already have the earliest possible start time, I’d rather spend my time in the break room sipping a coffee and reading a book before I start as opposed to sitting in heavy traffic.

      1. DoNotDisturb*

        Yes – that would totally make sense to me, too! When I was commuting still, I was the same way. This was definitely something I’ve since written off as a bizarre first-time-manager experience.

  31. Lindy B.*

    Years ago, before I retired, I had applied for the Clinical Nurse Leader position on my small NICU unit. I had MANY years of experience including being charge nurse often. I was passed over for a friend of our manager who had less years of experience and didn’t even have her BSN (Bachelor of Science) in nursing which was a requirement for the job. I did have my BSN. Totally sucked, but there was nothing I could do about it.

  32. Another Hiring Manager*

    One thing I feel needs to be noted. You never know how you did at an interview unless you’re chosen to move to the next step. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it when you’re done. You can know you answered all the questions well and didn’t trip over your own feet or talk yourself into a corner, but there are always factors you don’t know in the decision-making process. There may be experience Fran has that LW1 and Jake don’t.

    I do applaud LW’s response how she has taken opportunities to lead within the scope of her job duties. That would put them higher on my list.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      I’m not even sure you can always know if you have answered the questions well, because what is a good answer may not be obvious. I’m thinking for example of a teaching job I applied for where the principal told me he had rejected any applications where the candidate had experience teaching at college because the school had a lot of students with learning needs and a lot with behavioural problems and he figured that people used to teaching adults who had chosen to take a particular course and therefore presumably both had an aptitude for it and were likely to be engaged and interested, would find it difficult to deal with 14 year olds who were perhaps reading at a 7 year old level, who had no interest in the subject and who were acting out as they did not want to be there.

      Most people would leave an interview feeling “I had a great answer to the question on experience. I have experience of teaching my subject at the college level which is above and beyond the level required” and in many schools, that would be true, but it wasn’t what that principal was looking for.

      And I think this is the case with a lot of questions. Now, an internal candidate has a better chance of gauging if their answers are matching with what he hiring manager wants, but there is still likely to be room for mismatches between what the candidate considers a good answer and what the hiring manager is looking for.

      1. anon here*

        Heh, I had an internal interview once where I kept giving “wrong” answers and it was because my answers were aspirational and the “right” answers per management were leading to a lot of problems that I wanted to try to help fix. (Things like “how involved should this role be in the content of supervising entry level staff?” when staff frequently felt adrift and confused; nevertheless, “instituting a regular standing meeting” was wrong and “wait for staff to come to you with issues” was right.) Did not get that internal role, surprising not even one person.

  33. Irish Teacher.*

    LW3, I do believe people can change, but I think that before you consider promoting this person, there are a couple of things you should consider.

    Firstly, how long has the few months been and how does the length of that compare to the time they’ve been involved in drama. If we are talking about the person having been in the company for 2 years, being pretty early career and having gotten in drama two or three times during their first year and a half in the company, but nothing in the last 8 months, that’s a lot different than if this is somebody in their 30s or 40s and they have been with the company 10 years and have been involved in multiple dramas but nothing in the last three months.

    And perhaps more importantly, when you say “really stepped up,” do you mean they have really helped you/the company out by say working extra hours at a time of crisis or do you mean they have really improved their soft skills, been a great support to colleagues, showed an ability to deal with interpersonal conflict in a way you couldn’t have imagined them doing a year ago, etc.

    If it’s the latter, then I’d have a lot more confidence in their ability to change than if it’s the former. I think you need to think beyond whether or not they would have your back. The bigger concern is whether they would be able to manage those below them in the hierarchy effectively and would those people feel comfortable going to them with a concern knowing their history? Do you feel this person has the confidence of the rest of your team and do you think they would treat everybody fairly or would they allow their tendency towards interpersonal conflict to effect how they managed? If they had a conflict with somebody below them in the hierarchy, could you trust them not to let that conflict influence how they managed that person or is there a risk they would retaliate? Could you trust them with the personal information they might have access to in a management position if they have a tendency to gossip?

    Related to this, I would ask you to consider, did this person’s change of attitude coincide with your promotion? If so, is it possible they have not changed but rather that they are the sort of person who is supportive towards management and those who have power over them but who is very different to those who are their peers or their own reports? While people certainly can change, if the changes coincided with your gaining a position of power over them, it is likely that it may not be so much that they have changed as that you are now among those that they want to keep “on side.”

    And lastly, do they know about this position and did they know about it over the last couple of months? If the improvement in their behaviour coincided with the announcement that a promotion would be available in the near future, then honestly, that would make me trust them less, not more, as it would indicate the possibility not only that they were only showing an improvement in order to be promoted but therefore that they have control over their behaviour but had previously chosen not to use soft skills.

    I realise there is no reason (for me) to assume this and unless you have reason to believe they knew, like that you used to be the assistant manager and they would have known you would be looking for an assistant, I wouldn’t think this, but if they did know or they could have easily guessed, then I would take their change of behaviour with a pinch of salt.

    I realise some of this sounds pretty cynical on my part and I am not assuming that any of these things are the case, but the LW should know whether or not they are (if the improvement in behaviour coincided with a promotion being announced or with the LW being promoted) and if they did, I would put little faith in the change. If they did not and if the change was a gradual improvement over time or if a lot of the interpersonal problems were with a particular person or people and the improvement coincided with that person leaving, then I’d be more willing to trust them.

    1. LW3*

      I think your analysis of the situation is probably spot on. This person stepped up in the getting tasks done department right when they realized there could be a promotional opportunity. I think part of me was just hoping I was wrong, which is why I wanted a reality check from the internet.

  34. Pdweasel*

    OP #2 – This makes me wonder if everything is alright at your employee’s home. It could be anything from just being more comfortable working in-office (e.g. lack of air conditioning, no good computer setup, loud neighbors, etc.) to something potentially serious (e.g. relationship problems, building maintenance issues, etc.).

    When I was a medical student, I spent a ton of time at the med school building (far more so than classmates) because my first apartment was a dumpster fire from hell and the landlord wouldn’t do anything about it. Another friend did likewise because of domestic violence at home.

    I think Alison’s suggestion is reasonable, but also keep your ears open in case things continue or escalate.

  35. Raida*

    4. Should I warn my employer about the checkered past of the company offering us a large contract?

    You don’t even need to say “When I worked there xx years ago in an entry level position…” You can can “Because I worked there several contacts in the business and others have told the same story: [experiences with the business from an external perspective]. I’d be happy to suggest a few businesses you could contact to get an idea of what their perspective is, not just my internal perspective from years ago.”

  36. Coverage Associate*

    Earlier in my career, I would stay late at the office to use the internet. I didn’t have internet at home. Even after I got internet at home, sometimes I would be meeting someone late near the office. If my manager was observing this in person, I would breezily say, “I’m not working. I’m just waiting to meet my friend for drinks/doing this very legal internet thing that requires a good connection, etc.”

    OP’s comments suggest concern with the optics of having an hourly employee in the office at all hours. If there’s a work reason that is a problem, like physical or data security, then allowing all hours access should be changed. If OP is worried about other managers assuming unpaid overtime or other poor management, I think OP can address that as it comes up by explaining OP has checked that this employee is doing personal things not in violation of policy.

    Now, I have a membership at a club next door to my office that has more comfortable chairs and WiFi, so I go there if I want to be near the office after work. If there are real reasons (eg, security) why this employee can’t be in this office at these times, can OP suggest employee go somewhere else on campus? When I was in university, one library had extended hours and anyone with a university ID could access it.

    Also, maybe employee has an arrangement with a security guard to walk her home, but only at certain times, like on a regular rounds? The number of times I have missed a train and stayed an extra 45 minutes or hour at work…

    Agree with the consensus about limiting clutter in cubicles, though the lack of personal storage is a problem for me at my hoteling office, but I only ever kept law-related books and my trial bag at the office (and the usual shelf stable snacks, over the counter meds, etc in desk drawers).

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