HR misused my emergency contacts, requesting payment from a family friend, and more

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

1. My boss encouraged me to apply for a promotion, then said I didn’t have enough experience

My boss encouraged me to apply for a promotion. It’s something that I feel like I could do but don’t have a ton of experience with, but my understanding was that it was something my boss thought I could do successfully.

In the interview, my grandboss asked about another (non-existent) position that I had previously been told had no upward mobility. I thought this was strange, but gave a generally positive response while still trying to indicate that I was really interested in the position I had actually applied for.

A month or more later, I was told that they were happy with my work and my interview went well, but I didn’t have enough experience and there was nothing I could have done to get the promotion. They have not filled said position.

If there was no way I could possibly get the job because I don’t have enough experience, but my boss obviously knows my experience, why would I be encouraged to apply and they go through the interview? It seems like someone would have said something about that sooner. And when I asked about career development after the rejection, I was just told something vague about needing to get more experience, but no specifics about training or mentoring. The “not enough experience” in this context seems like a line, kind of like “it’s not you, it’s me”, and is making me re-evaluate some things. Am I off-base with that interpretation?

The most likely explanation is that your boss rethought how well you’d fit the role at some point. That could be because they tossed out the original suggestion too cavalierly, without really thinking it through, and later realized it wasn’t as strong of a match as they need. Or they might have sharpened their vision for the role over time, and realized as they did so that you’re not quite the right match. Or they might have been open to you wowing them in the interview and you did fine but they weren’t fully convinced. It’s also possible that your boss and your grandboss simply weren’t aligned; your boss thought you were a good fit but your grandboss disagreed. With all of those, “not enough experience” could be true and not an excuse, although ideally they’d give you more specific feedback and talk with you about what you could do to move up in the future.

2. How to send a payment request to a family friend who hasn’t paid for my work yet

In April, the music teacher of my partner’s dad reached out to me to help him with a short film. He had four days to complete it. He came over and spent the entire day here, and I filmed an interview with him and then went through all of his B-roll, performances, and the interview footage to edit the video together throughout the next few days, working crazy hours into the night. Because of the tight deadline and since he’s a family friend, I never sent a contract and deposit request as I normally would do for clients. I also thought this would be a nice portfolio piece so I wanted to do it. He was submitting the film to a film festival. It ended up coming fourth and so he didn’t win the award money. However, when he came over and we discussed the film before starting the interview, he said he would pay us and perhaps we could have a dinner together with my partner’s parents.

It is now two months later, and he hasn’t reached out with his budget to pay me for the work. According to my partner, my regular rate is very high. I wasn’t expecting him to pay my regular rate since he’s a family friend; I had said I would help him within his budget. The dinner never happened and now I feel awkward reaching out about payment. Should I send a formal email or an informal text message? Normally when working for friends at a discounted rate, I send an invoice for the full amount with a line item at the end showing the discount and then balance. But for this musician, I don’t really know how much the discount should be so I’m unsure how to proceed. I want to make sure I am not disrespectful or hurting the relationship in any way since he’s a close friend and the teacher of my partner’s dad.

If I’m understanding correctly, you never nailed down a specific amount he would pay — just that he would pay something and the amount would be worked out at a later date? It’s too late for this advice now, but that was the crucial error — because you could be thinking $X would be reasonable, and he could be thinking 10% of $X. It’s more fair to both of you to iron that out before anyone does any work — so you don’t end up not getting paid fairly, and so he doesn’t end up incurring a financial obligation far higher than he realized would be involved.

At this point, you should simply propose what you would consider a fair discounted rate. Send your normal invoice showing what you’d typically charge and then subtract the friends and family discount. Email that to him with a note saying something like, “I promised you a hefty discount, and that’s reflected here.” You could add, “If this doesn’t work for you, let me know what does fit your budget” — but that’s opening the door for him to counter-propose something much lower (and again, is a conversation better had before the work took place not after). You should also be prepared for the possibility that you’re not going to get paid; the fact that he hasn’t contacted you about payment in two months is not a good sign. But you’re concerned about being respectful of the relationship, so let’s hope/assume he will be too — but send that note as soon as possible, because the more time that passes, the lower your chances of working it out.

3. HR misused my emergency contacts

I’m in upper management. I took some approved PTO time to be with a family member having surgery.

While I was gone, a HR person who I know from work texted me that they hoped all was well. I didn’t respond for few days, and in the interim she accessed my emergency contacts, called them, and left a message. She also did an internet search, located my and my family’s home addresses, and shared that with other coworkers, while bragging about what she’d found. The person she called was upset as they didn’t know about the surgery and wanted to know why they called them when it wasn’t an emergency for me. I had no answer since I hadn’t known that had been done, until that very moment. I feel violated, and my HR doesn’t feel anything wrong was done. What are your thoughts?

That’s a huge violation. Emergency contacts are for emergencies — like if you have a medical emergency at work, or a natural disaster kills people in your area and they can’t reach you, or so forth. They’re not for wishing you well while you’re away tending to a sick family member. Nor should they be given out to random coworkers. I don’t know what the “bragging” piece of this about — that could have been more “I was able to get this number if you want to send her well wishes” than “haha, applaud me for doing this sneaky thing” — but the rest of it is a problem. And she’s in HR?! You’d be on solid ground escalating it above her head. Use the words “privacy violation” and “misuse of confidential information.”

4. How honest to be when interviewing during a leave of absence from school

Please help save my family from endless arguments about this. My dad has been diagnosed with a terminal illness so my brother has taken a leave of absence from his PhD program to move back in with my parents (on the other side of the U.S.). He’s been applying to local jobs and internships for the past six weeks and finally got a call for an interview. My family is at odds about what he should tell this prospective employer if they ask about his leave of absence. My dad and my brother (both from STEM fields) think he should be very honest about his plans to return to his PhD program. He’s planning on saying something like, “I want to finish my PhD program but if you’d like to sponsor me, I’ll sign a contract and promise to work here again after I graduate (date of graduation very TDB).” He thinks once he has a PhD they’ll like him even more, so they’ll be happy with this arrangement.

My mom and I (humanities) think he does not owe them his entire life story in a first round interview and that saying all this will hurt his chances — since it’s very expensive to hire and train people, they probably want someone who sounds a little more permanent. I also don’t think his proposal to work there after he graduates will carry any weight in an interview before they even know if he’d be a good fit and before they know if he’s a good worker, but my brother says these kinds of arrangements are very common in his field. But it’s not like he’ll be the only candidate, and he’ll probably be up against people who aren’t planning on going back to school, and everything else being equal, why wouldn’t they hire someone who was planning on sticking around? So my questions are: Who is right? And if it’s me and my mom, what would you suggest saying in an interview so that you’re not straight up lying, but you’re also not taking yourself out of the running? He does need a job after all. Thanks for breaking the tie!

It’s possible that this is a normal thing to do in his field, and he’s better positioned to know that than I am (or than you and his mom are). In general, though, and not specific to his field, no — “I’ll sign a contract and work here again later” would be odd and unpersuasive (he’s essentially saying “believe that I’m so awesome that you’ll want to do this out-of-the ordinary thing because it’ll obviously be worth your while,” but they don’t even know him yet) and “I’ll only be here for a short time before I’m gone for maybe years” would be a significant strike against him, since they want someone who will stay in the role for a while. But again, it’s entirely possible that it would be fine in his field; I don’t know and since there’s a question about it, it makes sense to defer to him and assume he knows his own field.

Generally, though, I’d recommend saying that he’s on a leave of absence from the program (it’s fine to explain about your dad) and isn’t sure what he’s going to do next, but he’s interested in this job and could see staying in it for at least several years because ____. If his plans change, they change — but right now it doesn’t sound like he has a solid timeline for returning to school, and he doesn’t know what will happen or when. (If I’m wrong and he’s committed to returning to school in X timeframe, then he has to decide if he’s comfortable fudging this or not; I’d feel ethically uneasy about that, but he has to balance that against how much he needs a job now.)

5. Screening out bad recruiters

I get contacted by a ton of recruiters (typically three a week) and I use the following email screening: “Thanks for reaching out. Right now, I’m fairly satisfied with my job. If you have a specific opening you’re trying to fill, send me the job description, pay band, and benefits information and I’ll take a look. If the job looks like a good fit, we could schedule a call.”

About 50% never respond. 25% try to convince me I don’t actually need all of this. Only 25% send along a job description, and most of the time it’s a) not what I do, b) not the right seniority level or pay band, or c) some place notoriously awful.

Hope this helps someone!

Yep — some recruiters operate almost like spammers, spraying as many people as possible with their messages in the hope that some will be interested and the right fit. Those are rarely recruiters you’d want to work with, so screening them out is a good thing. A recruiter who’s done their research to correctly target you as a candidate and has a real opening to fill will be happy to send the info you asked for along. The ones who don’t aren’t generally worth your time.

{ 250 comments… read them below }

  1. maelen*

    #4 (Ph.D student on leave of absence)

    My background: I have 2 STEM degrees (BS/MS) and work at a science/tech-related company (software for use in research and in general by all sorts of companies, organizations, and people).

    Does he know whether this company has a fellowship program or sponsors employees to get degrees? If not, I wouldn’t bring it up. My company does have some fellowships, but people have to be recommended for it, and usually need several years tenure. This might not fit his timeline. It could also depend on on where he is in his program. My guess is that he’s in the 1st or 2nd year and either hasn’t passed or recently passed his qualifying exam. A company might be more willing to sponsor someone who’s passed the qualifying exam. They’d also have to be interested in the research topic–they’ll want something out of it.

    1. BubbleTea*

      What’s a qualifying exam? I suspect this might be one of those US/UK differences but I’ve not heard of it – is it STEM specific?

      1. bamcheeks*

        No, it’s the different structure of North American and European doctorates. In the North American system you still have to complete taught courses for the first two years, and at the end of that you do a huge set of exams. After that you progress to the dissertation.

        1. Beany*

          This is what I did in grad school in the US (physics PhD). We had the set of qualifying exams after the graduate-level courses, before we could start research proper. Later on we had a “candidacy exam”, which involved a small oral research presentation to a committee and a related set of oral questions — a bit like a mini-defence. This was supposed to gauge whether your proposed PhD research project made sense.

          I couldn’t be sure how standard the terminology was, though. Another physics grad at a different (US) institution described “quals” as being more like the candidacy exam above. I don’t know what they called the earlier coursework exams …

      2. CityMouse*

        The form varies quite a bit depending on the program. I’ve heard if it done as a written and/or oral exam, as someone given a subject in the field but outside of their sub specialty and given a week to write a paper and do a presentation on it and so on.

      3. WeirdChemist*

        Qualifying exams vary is different programs, but overall they are meant to test whether the student is capable enough to continue on in their PhD. They are usually in your second year, and meant to be an off-ramp for students that aren’t doing well or who want to get a masters instead of a PhD. They are usually a combination of: a written exam meant to test your mastery of knowledge you’ve learned in classes, an oral presentation on the beginnings of your research project as well as your research plans for the next few years to test how likely you are to produce successful/impactful work, a written document outlining your research plans for the next few years, or an oral exam being grilled by a committee of professors on any of the above.

        Honestly, in my program the quals were WAY more stressful/harder than the actual PhD defense lol.

        Also, I think it’s more common in Europe for students to apply for a masters degree program, receive a masters degree, and then apply for a PhD program. Whereas in certain fields in the US, you don’t specifically pursue a masters, you only apply for a PhD program and get a masters if you leave early. The quals are meant to be that dividing line between a masters and PhD student

        1. amoeba*

          Yes, that’s definitely the standard here! There are some “fast track” programmes but in general, you need a Master’s to do a PhD (which is then also typically around two years shorter than in the US). PhD typically is research and teaching only, maybe a handful of selected lectures in some places if it’s organised in some kind of doctoral school/”structured PhD” thing.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Yes, also a master’s is still sort of the standard goal of going to uni here in most fields (as a replacement of whatever the 5-year degree was called in that country historically).

            At least in the natural sciences, getting a bachelor’s is often understood as tapping out early. Getting a PhD is when you’re really, really serious about research. A master’s is juuuust right.

            1. bamcheeks*

              In England and Wales, the three-year bachelors is the standard undergraduate qualification. Doing a one-year masters is popular, but it’s funded through a different route and significantly increasing your student debt and re-payments. >:-(

              1. Emmy Noether*

                It’s kind of the reverse on the continent – as people at the master’s level start to be useful to science, they can often get internships or a small research or teaching job. So there starts to be some net income (though of course not as much as a fulltime job).

                1. PhDRequired*

                  Interesting. You must have a Ph.D. to do anything remotely scientific in the US.

                  Signed, ABD in physics who works in tech :)

              2. Irish Teacher.*

                It’s similar in Ireland (although of course, our funding is completely different and we don’t usually have student debt), but a four-year bachelors would usually be the standard here.

                Diplomas used to also be common, but those have now become three year bachelors, not as prestigious as the four year ones (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but…that’s the gist), but what is wanted in some fields. My sister’s field doesn’t have the option of a four year degree, for example.

                A Masters, in most fields, is considered pretty advanced, though the old Higher Diploma in Education for secondary school teaching has now become a Masters, so all teachers of most secondary school subjects who graduated in…the last 5 or 10 years will have Masters.

                I’m not actually sure if Masters degrees come under the free fees initiative – I don’t think they do – but a lot of people are eligible for free fees under the grants scheme. And given that post-graduate students are older, it is more likely that they will be assessed on their own income only.

        2. Flor*

          How long does a PhD. tend to take in the US then? IIRC it’s about 3 years in the UK; my friends who did them went straight from undergrad, but that was in Scotland where it’s more common for an undergrad to be a Master’s, so they had a total of 7 years of study after high school before earning their doctorates.

          1. Prof*

            The average length of PhD in my field (Anthropology) is 9 years. Mine took 8- I was in a foreign country conducting research for 2 years of that time (and I had lab work when I returned), that’s why it takes so long…

          2. Rock Prof*

            Generally a PhD in the US is expected to take 5 years, and that can be even beyond the masters (particularly if you did it at a different school and not along the way). I’m my program, the fastest person to exactly 5 years and some took 6-8. I was personally on the longer side because I switched disciplines (within stem) from BS to PhD and didn’t have a masters.

          3. CityMouse*

            It depends on the subject matter and honestly it can also depend on your advisor and individual program. I worked in a Chemistry lab with PhDs where most people finished in about 6 years.

            1. Flor*

              That’s a good point about subject matter; the people I know who’ve done it in 3-4 years have ranged from art history to computer science to psychology to engineering, but none with something like anthropology like Prof said above, with separate research and lab work components.

          4. Student*

            It’s important to understand that the people who provide PhDs in STEM in the US have zero motivation to allow them to go quickly, so when they have the leverage to do so they will try to drag it out. It tends to be 5-10 years. Most people will just stop at 8 years, one way or another, so that tends to be where the line gets drawn on the high end. While you are a PhD STEM student, you are also (usually) a below-minimum-wage, highly motivated employee of the PhD-granting University with few external commitments and poor work-life balance. When there’s an external employee sponsor, then instead of being an exceptionally low-wage University employee, you are effectively a free part-time University employee, and your employer’s participation often helps them get grant work they wouldn’t otherwise necessarily be eligible for.

            Fields with high demand/lots of jobs/looser professional networks will go faster, because people in the PhD programs can usually leave without a degree and still do very well. A computer science related degree would be an example of one of these.

            Fields with small or tight-nit professional networks, fewer job openings, and where the PhD (rather than masters or bachelors) is required to get a job in the field of study, will take longer because they can hold all that over you. A physics-related degree is an example of these.

            1. big deal*

              On the one hand, this is a super-cynical take. On the other, I completely agree with everything you’ve said :)

              I have a physics PhD myself ….

            2. Flor*

              That’s interesting. In a lot of fields in the UK my understanding is you’d be hard-pressed to get funding for that long, external or otherwise, and the universities also seem to expect the thesis by a certain date (IIRC my husband had three years of funding and was permitted a fourth year, unfunded, by the university to complete the thesis).

              1. yeep*

                It’s not necessarily one project that provides that long of funding, it can be a string of projects. I’m a research administrator for a lab and right now I have more grad student funding than I have grad students.

          5. ItTakesTime*

            It depends on the field, but 6 years of post Bachelor’s degree is considered lightning fast in any scientific field in the US. Most folks I knew took 7.5-10 years, and I know a few folks who took 12-13. Qualifying exams usually take place at the end of year 2 and, depending on where you go/what field you’re in/if you take any electives you may still need to take some classes in year 3. Most research projects are 4-5 years at least, and it can take several years beyond that to analyze/collate data.

            My mother got her Ph.D. in educational counseling and it only took her 5 years (post Master’s degree) and she was seen as a prodigy.

          6. Wrangler*

            I worked at a well-known state funded research institution for several years – they were trying to get normative time (the time to complete the PhD) down to something like 5-6 years at the time I left iirc.

        3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          Yes, as a PhD in STEM (astrophysics) the quals were absolutely more stressful! People could and did fail (they were given an opportunity to retake it in six months, or to leave with a master’s), while no competent advisor would allow a student to schedule a defense if they thought there was a chance the student wouldn’t pass.

          1. CityMouse*

            My husband was on a committee where someone failed their proposal defense and afterwards the committee kind of tore into her advisor for letting her present when she wasn’t ready.

          2. WeirdChemist*

            Yeah no one outside of academia believed me when I told them I wasn’t that stressed for my defense, and that the hardest part was years ago lol. My dissertation was just re-formatting already edited and published papers, and my oral defense was cobbled together slides from the 80000 other presentations I had given on my dissertation topic! My committee was the same profs from my quals to my dissertation, and they were wayyyy nicer in my dissertation lol.

            I also did know someone who was explicitly told by their advisor not to try defending because they wouldn’t pass. They scheduled their defense behind advisor’s back and surprise, failed! It was huge drama in the department because it’s so rare that someone schedules a final defense and doesn’t pass

            1. big deal*

              I’ve known 3 people who failed their defense. In two cases the advisors were right jerks. In one case, *all* the other advisors – including the external examinor – passed the student, it was only her own supervisor that failed her. (Reason: he thought he was hot stuff, and didn’t want anything “slightly inferior” to be associated with him. ) She was eventually awarded a degree when he retired. Another case, the advisor was climbing the ranks of bureaucracy, and wasn’t paying attention to the student; the student had been working in an external job for two years waiting for the advisor to read the thesis. The student was (sadly) under the impression that the defense was just a glorified presentation, and couldn’t answer key questions about the experiments. (after that, the department instituted a rule that advisors had to read theses within a month or two of submission).

              No one will be surprised that this is in physics

            2. yeep*

              I’ve seen one person not pass and it was the same situation. Scheduled it against their advisor’s recommendation and failed spectacularly. So awkward.

          3. sb51*

            My STEM grad program didn’t allow retakes. I was 99% sure I only wanted a Master’s anyway, but I never even took them. My undergraduate specialty and my grad specialty weren’t exactly the same (and it wasn’t the same school), and the quals expected you’d done exactly what Grad School’s undergrads did, most of which I hadn’t done. So I’d have needed to spend at least a year auditing undergrad classes to have a chance of passing the breadth-y quals in order to do an in-depth-y dissertation, which made zero sense.

            My Masters thesis advisor was supervising some PhDs as well, and was great about making sure people had good thesis/dissertation topics and got practice presenting papers–you had to do the work but if you did you’d have something very fitting. I don’t expect I’d have struggled with proposing or defending a thesis working with him.

      4. ee*

        Qualifying exams are a typical part of bachelor’s-to-PhD programs in the US. The exams vary in format (they often have both written and oral components), and typically mark the transition from mostly taking classes to mostly doing research. Some schools give out master’s degrees when you pass quals; many schools don’t automatically give you a master’s degree, but will grant one if you drop out of the PhD program after passing quals (but not before passing).

        1. AngryOctopus*

          That’s what I did! Passed my quals, did a couple years, realized the PhD was not for me, and dropped out with an MA. Best decision of my life.

        2. ResearchRequired*

          I had to do a master’s thesis with original research if I wanted a master’s degree to show for my time when I decided to leave my Ph.D. program early. Thankfully, I found a professor willing to sponsor/work with me on it. Otherwise I just would not have had a degree out of my time in grad school.

      5. Selina Luna*

        It’s not specific to STEM because when I looked into PhD programs, all of the ones I looked at required qualifying exams, usually between the formal classes and the independent research portions of the program. And I would have been in education or literature which both fall under humanities, mostly.

    2. WeirdChemist*

      Honestly, I think being pre-quals would be the most likely to return to a PhD all together (on his own, not necessarily with a company sponsoring him), because it would be mostly slotting back into classes and picking up where he left off there. The only person I every knew who returned to a PhD program after a break (8 months due to health reasons) was in her 1st year when she left, and just slotted back into classes when she returned and carried on. The deeper in you are, the harder it will be to get any momentum back, especially with regards to research projects, publishing, etc.

      Agree that *if* a company would agree to sponsor his degree, it would be only to do research that they wanted. If he has already done his quals it is almost certain that he would have had to have some kind of advisor buy-in on a project that may or may not align with the company’s goals. Also, if the company is in the habit of sponsoring degrees for employees they likely have a agreement with a local university, and would be less likely to agree for a program on the other side of the country.

      But my PhD is in a field where it’s quite uncommon to sponsor someone in that way, so idk

      1. big deal*

        Agree that *if* a company would agree to sponsor his degree, it would be only to do research that they wanted.

        This is correct. I used to work for a company that partnered with universities/sponsored grad students. Our questions were *very* specific to our needs, and if you weren’t interested in researching that particular question, we weren’t interested in sponsoring the research. There was actually an incredible amount of back-and-forth hammering out the research questions and specific parameters the research would have before we’d agree to sponsor. (the question specifications were with the advisor, the students weren’t part of that discussion). Those discussions could easily take a year to finalize the scope of research the student would do.

    3. Garblesnark*

      I’d also say it’s relevant whether he already has a master’s degree or is at a stage where he could be conferred one with no or minimal headache.

  2. SemiAnon*

    STEM type here (physical science, PhD).

    To be honest, unless I know someone and their situation very well, being told that they’re on a leave of absence from their PhD program but plan to go back doesn’t mean much, as the odds are high that they won’t return. Losing momentum and getting used to people paying your for your work are both working against you. Conversely, someone applying for jobs and saying that they can only stay for a short period of time is not that appealing, because it takes time to train someone.

    It depends a bit on where they are in their PhD. First year or two, particularly before the qualifying exam, I’d say apply for jobs as you would normally, and don’t describe details. If he’s in the very late stages (completed all coursework, in the writing the thesis stage), then he can be more open that he’s most of the way through a PhD, had to leave for family reasons, but is hoping to finish writing up at some point in the future. If the company values PhDs, they might be amenable to rehiring him once he’s got the degree, but don’t bring it up as a promise – the wording the family provides comes across as very arrogant. If he’s applying for limited term internships, he can go more towards the later wording.

    It also depends how small the field is. If it’s a tiny niche field where everyone knows everyone else, I’d lean more towards transparency, because they’re likely to find out anyways.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Lol at “adjacent”. For sure my loved ones that I pulled into my suffering became experts on the subject as well.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Even in non-STEM fields, this is quite common. I had a band director in college who had been writing his PhD thesis for ten years for a program he started at another university before he got a job at my school. I think he finally finished it during the pandemic, when the realities of being a band director when you couldn’t have people in the same room meant he kind of had a forced leave of absence from work anyway.

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        Makes me think of Brian May, who took an ‘short’ break from writing his astrophysics thesis to play bass in his friends’ band, and finally finished writing it up, oh, some decades later and many, many orders of magnitude more famous.

          1. anoncosthisissospecfic*

            Random fact, my old flat mate got his Physics Phd in the same ceremony as Dr Brian May….

            (he did not take a break to go join a band….)

      2. Anon for this*

        There was a professor at my university who had taken so long to write her dissertation, her university finally had to threaten her with no more extensions to finish. She had taken some time off to have kids, but also had extended a few more times and the school was over it. I don’t know if she ever completed, because I graduated, but I remember her being equal parts understanding of their position and annoyed.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          In fairness, most of life for me is “equal parts understanding and annoyed.” Heh.

        2. Evan Þ*

          My dad actually wound up in that same situation. He completed his quals a little before I was born, and went to work at a job that promised he’d have time to write his dissertation… and then he didn’t.

          By the time I was nine or so, about two jobs later, the university threatened him with no more extensions. His response – at least, the part visible to me – was mostly “yeah, that makes sense; I should’ve made different decisions and gotten it done earlier.”

          So, Dad took a leave of absence from work, Mom took me and my sister on vacation, and Dad finally got it written and graduated.

    2. WeirdChemist*

      Also a physical science PhD here, and I absolutely agree. PhD students are mostly treated like hot garbage, with very little (or no) pay and crazy expected working hours. Everyone I ever saw who tried to go back to a PhD program after a long break, or who tried to start one when they were older never made it. Not because they weren’t smart/competent/hard-working enough, but because after having a real job where you’re treated like an adult and compensated properly for your work, they couldn’t find it worth it to go back to the prospect of being treated like that for another several years. I did not realize the extent to how miserable getting a PhD was until I had graduated and in a real job where I was treated better! Had I stopped for any reason I don’t think I would have been able to go back.

      Also agree that it depends on where they were at in their program. In my field, most PhDs are 1-2 years of classes and 3-4 years of working full time (50+ hrs/week) in a professors lab. Honestly I would find it more likely for him to return pretty early in his degree than later. Does the brother already have a professor sponsoring him? Has he discussed the possibility of returning to school with the professor? Have they already started on any sort of research project? Is the professor cool with said research project going on pause for any length of time? Because in my experience the prof would want work to continue on said project to avoid someone else in the field coming up with the same idea and publishing it before them. So if the break was too long the brother’s work is more likely to be given to someone else to finish, and then what will the brother return to?

      I mean maybe this is all being colored by experiences in my own field, and other STEM field have PhDs that work very differently, but IME the brother is unlikely to finish his degree unless the break is a few months max (in which case why push so hard for jobs/internships?)

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I knew a professor who told his grad students that the lack of money and time in grad school was what he had really loved about it–you couldn’t afford to do anything, had no annoying family distractions, and so just ground it out in the lab 24 hours a day.

        He was sincere about this.

        1. WeirdChemist*

          Yes, IME the reasons that fresh out of undergrad students get further in PhD programs is for the same reasons certain companies try to only hire new grads… much easier to get taken advantage of when you don’t have the work experience to know any better! Even well-meaning professors start out as absolute tyrants because that’s what they experienced in their PhDs

          My undergrad adviser literally told me “don’t worry about the location of where you go to grad school, you’ll never get to see it.” She got her PhD in 3.5 years, so I guess it was worth it to her (and she was an absolute rock star in our field), but damn lol

          1. Beany*

            Your last paragraph reminds me of going to conferences in interesting/exotic locations. It doesn’t matter where the conference is if you’re stuck in a generic huge hotel or convention center for the whole thing.

            1. Boof*

              As someone with a spouse/family who review my conferences and elect which ones they want to come along to (well, to the location), it’s not for me ahaha but someone gets to enjoy the cool setting

          2. AngryOctopus*

            Yeah, I worked for a few years before going back to grad school, and even going from academia to another academia, I was like “ummm, I never worked these hours in my job and I got 4 papers published in 4 years, two of which I was first author for? Why do you think people need to work like this?”. My advisor disagreed but was also a passive-aggressive habitual banana suit wearer, so when she finally pushed me over the edge I quit (I think she thought I was going to buckle down and do it her way. I did not). Got a temp job at a biotech, loved it, never went back to academia.

            1. Boof*

              I was in a joint md-phd program and when the phd project started going off the rails I just called it a masters. The phd was only going to enable me to continue peak grant-research grind… which I hated. The MD ended up being what I really wanted to do, and all my bench research experience allows me to understand my oncology field pretty well and propose translational research, etc.

          3. Zero Calories*

            My son learned that lesson the hard way. Doing undergrad in the NE where the winters were brutal, he knew that he wanted to do his grad work somewhere warm. So he went way south. I don’t think he’s outside enough to even know if it’s hot or cold, snowing or not! He’s at a great school with a top 3 program in his field so it’s all good but the weather consideration was a moot point!

        2. GradSchool*

          yes, I worked from 7am to 3am 7 days/week (with a so-called sanity break on Thursday afternoons one year when I had a 5 hour break between classes that let me hop a bus to the movie theater for a matinee and get back just in time – I had popcorn for lunch). They had ~20 sofas in the grad school lounge and most were used most nights because school shuttles stopped running at 3am or because people would hit a wall and need to stop immediately.

          I worked >90 hrs/week at my first job and it felt like I was on vacation.

      2. Hyaline*

        Plus also—if you stay in the academic bubble, you might not realize a) other interesting fields where you can use your education exist and will pay you well and b) academia in most areas is horrifically bottlenecked and you may have a better chance of meeting a unicorn than getting a tenure track position, and even then have fun on the postdoc roller coaster for a few years. Sticking with the PhD program and getting an academic job is treated as the only path by a lot of programs (mostly because a lot of professors truly don’t know any other way) but people who spend some time outside the school often realize their goals change.

        1. Prof*

          Don’t forget about adjuncting….makes postdocing look like fun. Been doing that for years myself (and am currently interviewing outside academia, cause I want off the hellish carousel….)

          I do however, have a friend who got a real, non-academic job that was related to the PhD while finishing their PhD (were on the write up stage)- and they did it (took them years but they finished)! So that’s an option!

      3. Boof*

        Yes at a certain point, the rewards of getting a PhD are not worth the cost (in time and lost salary). My sense is more PhDs are trained than are really needed so it often doesn’t give a huge job boost, unless you’ve done research and can see specific jobs that really pay a lot more for [specific PhD].

        1. Lydia*

          My friend has been worried about having work now that she’s officially defended her dissertation and finally, FINALLY, all the promises she’s been getting for the last six months have come through and she has an actual faculty position where she’s been working forever. With an actual salary that isn’t completely dependent on whether or not she can write that grant perfectly.

    3. AngryOctopus*

      If he’s at the end stage of a PhD, the company could also be amenable to giving a leave of absence for him to finish it up, but it’s pretty company specific. He could ask about schooling benefits if he gets into a second round, as many biotechs around here will offer a tuition assistance program (generally lets you complete a degree part time, in agreement with your workload and manager), so it could be an extension/modification of that as needed.

    4. el l*

      As a refugee from an econ PhD program (never finished), completely agree. Once I figured out that I now had money to do things I wanted and now had time for things besides work, it was impossible to go back. Brother would be foolish IMHO to close the door to “I like working, I’m not going back.”

      I think what to say to the family: Unless this job is a very specific sub-industry with very specific codes, this is just a skilled entry-level position. For those positions, employers are making a move and seeing if it works out. They not assuming employee will be there in 3-105 years, etc, there’s no point. All that therefore matters to employer is hearing, “I want to start my career now, I think I could be a fit here because x.” That’s the message that has to come across loud and clear. The rest, especially the leave of absence, is details and TBD.

      1. Lisa*

        “They not assuming employee will be there in 3-105 years”

        I know this is probably a simple typo but I still LOLed. Thanks. :-)

    5. Nonanon*

      Neuroscience PhD, and agree; he might find the job lucrative enough to not return to the program, he might want to complete the PhD, he might unlock a third option of being allowed to work on his thesis while at the new job (it’s happened to a couple of students adjacent to my institution; the PI moved over, and because the student was ABD, they were allowed to stay at the institution to defend; VERY case-by-case basis and highly depends on subject matter, PI, and institutional policies).

    6. I Am On Email*

      I totally agree with this (UK based, bioscience PhD)!

      Also reading the other PhD experiences on this thread is very soothing for my still wounded soul.

    7. Smithy*

      This was my mother in the 1980’s….but she left a PhD program in the physical sciences because my dad was ill and she needed a full time job.

      By the time she decided she wanted to go back, it was about 7 years later, in a new city with different university options that had different PhD track options. So even though she did go back and eventually got her PhD (in the early 2000’s – graduated at the same time my brother did from high school), it was an entirely different subject connected to her job at the time (which had tuition reimbursement).

      Putting aside academic burnout reasons – I think that people who do leave for family reasons do so under such wildly unique situations that it’s unlikely for employers to think there’s going to be an obvious A to B trajectory.

  3. Ygcvhu*

    “the fact that he hasn’t contacted you about payment in two months is not a good sign”
    Why would he? IMHO he’s probably just waiting for the invoice.

    1. Missa Brevis*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t read too much into that. It could be a really bad sign that he never meant to pay in the first place, or it could be a sign that he just forgot, or that he finds it too awkward to send a message saying “hey how much money do you want”, or that he’s waiting for an invoice like Ygcvhu says.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I picture when our dog met another dog in the woods and they both settled down into play bows, 20 feet apart, waiting for the other to initiate chase. And got stuck there.

        (I agree with the top line advice re time travel and spelling out the rate before doing the work. But having not done that, I think they’re both responding to the awkwardness by waiting for the other person to initiate the discussion of money.)

      2. TeaCoziesRUs*

        I just had this awkward conversation as the customer. I set up a service for later this summer, was told to pay an initial amount on 1 May… and just sent the check yesterday. I felt like a heel texting her to admit that I forgot and it was in the afternoon mail, but I was also vaguely surprised that she hadn’t sent me a nudge. Totally 100% my fault, but I was still surprised.

    2. Allonge*

      Yep. I place lots of orders; I regularly have to remind commercial suppliers to invoice us – there are lots of delays in this. Waiting for an invoice is a very normal thing.

    3. Tippy*

      Seriously. He might be fine with the invoice as is or follow up to negotiate it down but he doesn’t know because LW hasn’t sent the bill yet!!

    4. Saturday*

      Maybe – I would think a friend (or friend of a friend who is getting a discount) would bring up payment. Seems odd to wait to be billed like a regular customer.

      1. Reebee*

        Yep. He knows he owes something, and it’s kind of low to not check in on what that might be.

    5. Laura LL*

      Yeah, if i were him I’d be waiting for the person to charge me for the work. They’re the one setting the rate, after all.

  4. Banksie*

    Request a Zelle or Venmo payment for the amount you deem fair or send him an invoice. Always inform clients up front of your expected payment. Even your grandpa.

    1. CB212*

      Absolutely agree that you need to discuss payment up front (and then it’s still on you to invoice for it, most clients will wait for your paperwork and not try to push money at you). This one may not result in a good ending, based on unspoken expectations on both sides.

      That said, for a partner’s father’s teacher, who came to your house for a rush project as a family friend, you need to write a note, not just send an electronic request. Invoice with a gracious letter, when the project came out of a personal relationship.

      1. TeaCoziesRUs*

        Yup! Something along the lines of, “I was so pleased to be able to help you with your portfolio and was so glad to hear that it did so well! I am sorry for the delay in sending you this invoice – May-cember truly is a thing! Thank you, again, for the opportunity to work with you and create a product both of us could be very proud of.”

  5. Kella*

    OP2: While I understand feeling awkward about bringing up payment and feeling worried about the fact that two months have passed and he hasn’t brought it up, your story reminded me of a situation I was in.

    I used to rent a room in a house owned by a rather eccentric woman. Several months after I moved in, she wanted to renegotiate our payment arrangement but I couldn’t afford a higher rate. She asked if I’d be open to doing some kind of work trade and I said yes, and the conversation ended there because I went to eat breakfast. Another few months later she told me she was frustrated that I never asked her for what work I should be doing to pay for the room. I assumed that making the determination of what kind of work she wanted to be paid in and how much was her job and that she’d inform me when she had the specifics.

    All that to say, there’s a good chance this client has no idea that you want him to come up with a number and is assuming that you’ll send him an invoice, given that making sure you get paid is ultimately your own job.

    1. Reebee*

      In both situations, the person could check on the progress of things.

      Being daft about it, especially in the case of the family friend, is a crappy and smug way to treat people.

    2. Boof*

      IDK I think a friend helping you out in a rush vs a strictly economic transaction like work or rent etc are different; onus is usually on the one who sets the rates to communicate what they are, but if a friend was rushing me a favor I’d be pretty conscientious about asking what I owe etc. Of course, they didn’t even do that to start with so who knows; LW just needs to send the invoice and work out what can be worked out. In my experience with the arts, I am betting the friend is planning to pay a pittance if that, but who knows. That’s why it’s important to work these things out up front.

      1. ferrina*

        Agree- I think Kella’s circumstance is totally different from LW.

        1) Kella had already negotiated a set price up front, whereas LW didn’t.
        2) Kella’s landlord was already receiving payment (the payment that Kella had originally agreed to), whereas LW hadn’t received anything yet.
        3) Kella held to the bargain they had initially agreed to- i.e., Kella was paying the rent amount they agreed before the landlord decided to renegotiate and change the terms. The music teacher promised to pay LW an unspecified amount at an unspecified time, and never paid anything, so it was an unfulfilled promise.

        fwiw, Kella, that was crappy of the landlord to change the terms of the rent once you were living there for a few months. It’s one thing to adjust rates on an annual basis (very common), but it sounds like the landlord did a poor job knowing what she wanted and tried to pin that on you.

  6. pennyforum*

    #3 I know you are likely not based in Europe but this whole situation screamed GDPR violation. But that is likely because my company just had our annual (virtual) GDPR retraining.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      I don’t live in Europe, but my company makes our best effort to comply with GDPR in case we have any clients or vendors based there. And I had the same reaction as you — big yikes.

      1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        LW3 I said some words ruder than “yikes” when I read your one! The HR people so far are very very mistaken to think that was okay! Even regardless of the legal side, just on a human level that was an enormously inconsiderate thing to do. How dare they go dishing your private business & your relative’s private business to people you hadn’t told.

      2. soontoberetired*

        Our HR department wouldn’t give out someone’s address or use it for something like this. Found that out when someone who worked remotely lost a family member due to an incident and there were a large number of people who wanted to send cards/letters and they refused to give us the address. None of us had thought about the implications of them giving out addresses. We did find an alternat way of sending the cards/letters.

    2. JSPA*

      The phone number is some short of violation in any case, as is sharing the fact that you’re out for a family member’s surgery with a third party (regardless of their family status).

      But unless the web search required private info as the input, “finding your address on the internet” is in no way a data breach or violation. Unless they violated the terms of service of (say) a property assessment site, I guess?

      You could still say, “it’s a breach of common sense and decency to find and spread contact information when someone has given no indication that they’d prefer well-wishes to privacy.” But enough people prefer the well-wishes, casseroles, thoughts and prayers etc that you risk a class-gap culture war in the office by complaining too vehemently, when a lower-level person does “for” you, what they and most of their lower level coworkers would want done for them.

      (The thinking was, almost certainly, “poor Director X was so overwhelmed they forgot to leave their well-wishes contact information,” not, “hah, I have an excuse to dox Director X.” To be clear, that’s bad thinking. But you can and should recognize the likely good intentions behind the bad thinking.)

      1. cheap rolls*

        Calling up someone at a phone number you found online legally and letting them know about a surgery another person is having is a privacy violation: not legally but in reality it is.

        1. JSPA*

          Letting any third party know random information that comes to you through work is almost certainly against work policies, and potentially illegal, and certainly inexcusable. Whether or not the phone number was gleaned from a phone book or from that private information.

          But the person did two separate, and separable, things. neither one of which are your hypothetical, FWIW.

          Sharing a coworker’s freely-available / online contact info, so other coworkers could easily show support directly to the coworker, is unrelated to the (major, strange, inexcusable) violation of contacting a third party at some (different) emergency number.

          I’m not giving anyone a pass on sharing private information (full stop). Only suggesting that both the LW and the commentariat not transfer or extend our (justifiable) outrage to also cover the mere social faux pas of “searching and sharing public information.”

        2. fhqwhgads*

          It’s two separate things. The HR person got the name and number of the emergency contact due to their position in HR, not from the internet. They then called that person and told them about the other relative’s surgery. That’s a big privacy violation and misuse of the information.
          The stuff the HR person found on the internet was the employee’s home address, which they then shared with multiple coworkers so they could send cards or flowers or whatever. Since theoretically any of the employees could’ve also googled this if they wanted to send a card, it’s not really a privacy violation. But it is an error in judgement because even if the info is findable there’s no reason to find it and blast it out. The whole thing is like “why did you think this was necessary or a good idea?”

      2. spotted turtle*

        But emergency contact info is useful, and “well wishes contact” has never been a thing in any company I’ve worked at for 20 years.

      3. Cj*

        I agree that finding an address online isn’t a violation of privacy. if you own the house that you live in, your address is a matter of public record, and you can get it from the county office, you don’t even have to use one of those search firms. it wasn’t all that long ago that everybody’s address was in the phone book, and it still is if you have a landline and don’t have unlisted number.

        but I still have a couple of issues with the HR person sharing the OPs address with coworkers. most importantly, unless the HR person knew for a fact that the op had told coworkers why they were out, it was absolutely a violation of sharing confidential information.

        also, unless they were taking time off to care for a very close relative, like a spouse or a child, it seems really strange to me that coworkers would have wanted to send well wishes to them for something other than the OPs own medical issue.

        And while it is a tradition to send food if somebody is sick, a lot of people don’t actually appreciate this due to allergies or other food restrictions, or simply because they don’t like a lot of food they receive and just end up throwing it out.

        looking up the Opie’s emergency contact information and calling them is beyond the pale, and there is absolutely no legitimate reason to have done this. doing this makes it seem far less likely to me that they actually did have good intentions when sharing the address.

    3. Thegreatprevaricator*

      In the Uk and I was :o at the privacy violation. Big violation! Huge! In fact I think it is against the Data Protection Act? Googling on this yields:

      Section 170 of the Data Protection Act 2018 makes it a criminal offence for a person to knowingly or recklessly:

      (a) obtain or disclose personal data without the consent of the controller,

      (b) procure the disclosure of personal data to another person without the consent of the controller, or

      (c) after obtaining personal data, to retain it without the consent of the person who was the controller in relation to the personal data when it was obtained.

      I suppose it would depend on who is the data controller but definitely would be Unacceptable in my workplace at least

      1. bamcheeks*

        I suppose it would depend on who is the data controller

        I don’t think it would– AIUI, this section isn’t really about saying that it would be legal to use the data this way if the data controller gave permission, just saying where liability would lie. If the person whose data it was hadn’t given permission for it to be used this way, it would be illegal full stop. This section just means that if an individual employee of the company accessed and used personal data in this way without the company’s permission, they can be held personally liable, but if the company gave permission for her to do it, the company would be liable.

    4. Grey Coder*

      I thought GDPR as well. We recently had a request from HR for permission to use our home addresses for the purpose of sending us company branded swag (it was phrased more formally than that). They had to ask because that purpose had not been specified when they originally collected the information. I was happy that they were being careful!

      1. londonedit*

        Yep. When I turned 40 my line manager had hoped to send me a bottle of fizz as a surprise, but she ended up having to ask me for my address because there was no way she could access it. HR don’t give people’s addresses out, even to people’s line managers.

    5. KTurtle*

      I’m in the US. A few jobs back, HR called my emergency contact because…they needed to know where a set of keys were, and I had missed their (one) call. I was pretty upset because that wasn’t what I had given that number for.

      Also, they got me mixed up with another coworker with the same name. I was in a completely different department, and there was zero reason why I would have any idea where their keys were. Just, you know, another level of…whatever that is.

  7. CityMouse*

    My spouse has a STEM PhD which was sponsored by his employer and many of his colleagues also completed employee-sponsored PhDs. The job is research heavy so it lines up.
    However, all of them have completed the PhD part time and worked full time for the employer while doing the PhD (this does make it take a couple years longer). My sister is also in the process of a STEM PhD and is doing research at her likely post graduation employer. Again, though she’s doing this as part of her PhD and not fully separately.

    I don’t know where brother is in the process (there are a couple common drop out points like the Qualifying Exam and proposal defense, as pointed out above). But I don’t think an employer is going to support someone leaving full time. Obviously STEM is a wide and varied field, but in general companies want active work from someone they’re sponsoring the whole time, they don’t really send someone off with the hope they will return. I absolutely would not propose that to employers in interviews.

    1. Hyaline*

      Yeah I feel like (in general, I’m sure there are exceptions) he’s thinking of sponsoring degrees backwards—it’s often used to help develop current employees, not to recruit students.

      He might be a bit overly optimistic about this plan at best and come off arrogant and clueless at worst.

      1. badger*

        yeah, I had a friend whose employer sent her to law school with a job waiting for her on graduation + bar passage – but she’d already been there 4-5 years and really needed the degree to continue on in the compliance track she was in. I think this is pretty rare compared to STEM degrees, but when I’ve seen it happen it’s always been someone who already worked there who is going to develop specific skills for their employer.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Yeah, I think the only chance would be if he’s truly at the end stage of the PhD and they can give a leave of 3-6 months for him to finish it up. He’d have to stay on that timeline though, they’re unlikely to give any sort of extension. And him having the PhD will have to be a valuable asset to them as well, not just to him.

  8. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Strong agree with #5.

    I like to be polite but very clear, because you never know when a recruiter will actually have The One True Dream Job Vacancy. But I’m not moving for anything less than that, and certainly not an entry level role at half my pay with a 3-hour daily commute.

    (it doesn’t help that nearly all jobs in my field have the same name whether you have 0 or 20 years of experience)

    1. Anon a Fed*

      I’m the same! I literally have one of the vaguest job titles in my country, in U.S. government. I once sat at a table with 4 people with the same title as me in various govt agencies, and none of us did remotely similar work. I won’t have a conversation with a recruiter without at least a brief job description, so I can assess whether we’re wasting each other’s time. The last few I’ve been spam sent with the “stumbled across your profile” type outreach from a recruiter, have all been in areas I don’t want to work in, in roles that don’t match my experience at all (that a quick glance at my profile would tell you), or that pay shitty. No thanks!

    2. MassMatt*

      Ugh the time I used to waste talking to bad recruiters out of politeness and hoping they might actually have a great opportunity. I remember one that really would not take no for an answer—the “great opportunity” involved a 25% pay cut and zero benefits. Which according to him was a GREAT thing—I wouldn’t be burdened with premiums and copayments for “all that stuff you never use”—-Um, you mean like health care, sick leave, dentistry, and saving for retirement?

      I also dislike recruiters that say they want to “grab some coffee” to “talk about the industry” or “pick your brain”. Just say you’re looking to hire for a role.

      1. Lisa*

        “I also dislike recruiters that say they want to “grab some coffee” to “talk about the industry” or “pick your brain”.”

        My limited experience with these (limited because I stopped doing this pretty quickly) is that they aren’t actually that interested in you, they’re interested in who in your network you can refer them to.

    3. Ama*

      I don’t have to interact with recruiters often but the email is similar language to what I use when people in the for-profit arm of my field (I’m in nonprofit medical research funding) reach out with vague language about “I’d like to talk about how we can work together.” What they are doing is fishing to see if we will offer them access to either our researcher or patient contacts — both are BIG ethical no-nos for the for profit people to ask for directly, and so a lot of them hint around to see if the nonprofits will offer it (which no one will if they are well trained, but sometimes if they get a newer employee who is just trying to be helpful bad things happen). So I ask them if they have a specific project in mind — if they have one we can talk, if not sorry I’m too busy.

    4. I Have RBF*

      I have chewed out recruiters that email me to pitch low paying temp jobs on the opposite side of the country that are only barely within my field. Seriously, if you have any copy of my resume from the last 20 years you will know that I’m not interested in a six month contract data entry job in New Jersey for $15/hour.

      I usually just block them, by domain, because their jobs are such garbage. They have wasted my time with wildly unsuitable job reqs, so I will never place with them.

    5. TeapotNinja*

      90% of all recruiter contacts come from spammers. Do not spend any time with those. They’re so easy to identify as well, because they are contacting you about positions you could’ve been interested in 20 years ago (e.g. jr. teapot painter), or something completely unrelated to what you actually do or ever did. They will do this to 100 more people and do not know you, remember you or your experience afterwards, or in any way proactively help you find anything. You only exist to them as a +1 on their productivity metrics.

      It’s a complete waste of time to engage with them at all. Do not reply to their emails, LinkedIn messages and hang up if they somehow manage to call you.

  9. Enescudoh*

    RE LW5 – I have used a similar script in the past but often get met with “we can only do that once you’ve registered as a candidate on our system, please schedule half an hour for a call where we will take a verbal account of your CV and effectively interview you ourselves”. I get that they don’t want people running off to apply for the job off their own steam once they hear what the role is but this always feels excessive to even find out if the job is of interest to me!

    1. Your Mate in Oz*

      In Australia the contract between recruiter and employer is written so that if the candidate so much as breathes near the recruiter that recruiter gets paid should the candidate be hired. Generally if a candidate tries to bypass the recruiter the employer will count that as a red flag (“candidate likes fraud. Hmm”).

      My current experience is that most recruiters have the same pool of jobs, but the few that are specific to a recruiter are fairly randomly distributed. It’s extremely annoying when an interesting job means you have to deal with the worst recruiter.

      1. Media Monkey*

        same – all jobs in my field are handled by about 4 or 5 recruiters plus internal hiring/ talent teams. ideal to go in for a big company/ agency group is via the talent teams directly, but i reckon most people have recruiters they prefer to work with (and a few they will never work with). A lot of smaller companies will havce an exclusive contract with one recruiter as it’s cheaper on the company end so you need to keep in with most. however recruiters you don’t know don’t tend to contact you without a role in mind and it’s generally pretty obvious whether something is right in a 5 minute conversation, even without knowing the agency being hired for.

    2. Quinalla*

      Yeah, that’s BS IMO, they can give you some information without giving away the employer most of the time.

      I will be honest, I don’t usually respond to anyone as I’m not looking. If they want me to respond, they need to send me more details to get me interested in responding on their own and the good ones usually do and they have usually actually looked into what I actually do and have a relevant job to talk to me about. I have talked to a couple here and there the past few years, but none of them can offer another fully remote job with equivalent benefits and better pay, so I’m not interested :)

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Yeah, if a recruiter:
        A) has a real opportunity, and
        B) is operating in good faith,

        they can easily provide *some* info: target salary range, general description of the role, geographic area, shifts, hours, work conditions, in person/remote/travel and even general vague info about the company, ( if they don’t want to provide the employer name)

        Those who claim they can’t or refuse to until you’ve jumped through their data gathering hoops I’ve found are generally a waste of time to deal with, for a variety of reasons. (Eg They don’t actually have an active position and are just trying to get resumes/candidates to shop, or emails so they can spam you, they are tangentially involved in a recruiting process someone else is driving and don’t have access to the info, are sketchy or not on the ball and likely to not represent you well even if they do happen to stumble upon a position that would be a good fit, etc, etc)

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Yep, they can use those same black highlighters the government uses when they fulfill a FOIA request. This is not high-tech.

    3. Student*

      I had one of those Zoom calls with a recruiter this week. The first thing she did was ask for my address to “set up your profile.” I wasn’t comfortable with that before we’d even had a conversation.

  10. r.*


    while all what was already written is true you’ll also need to have a long, hard look at that professional development opportunities will be made available to you over the next six month.

    Should no such offers be forthcoming there’s a significant risk of your current position having no upward mobility, at least with your current (grand)boss if not employer, either; whether that is acceptable to you or not is obviously a decision for yourself.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Refusing to promote due to lack of experience is one thing. But when OP specifically asked about getting the experience, they were met with only vague non-answers. This is more telling than anything.

      Maybe they literally have no idea to do career development. Or maybe they just don’t want to do the effort. But its pretty clear OP that if you want to be promoted you need to go elsewhere. This may not be easy in your area/field. But you need to consider it.

      1. LW1*

        @pastor petty – exactly this. I wasn’t expecting a detailed five year plan, but something like “keep an eye out for trainings in these topics that we thought you need more experience with” or “let’s schedule a follow up meeting to discuss this in more detail” would have been easy off the cuff responses that would have been less dismissive.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, I just left a job that had no upward mobility and they had no interest in promoting me to a less junior position (like, from a coordinator to a manager, even though it’s data I manage and not people) even though I’d been in the position for three years and was extremely good at what I did. I got a professional certification from an outside org and they didn’t even give me a raise, so at that point I stepped up my job search from casual to applying to any job that interested me and was in my pay range. Then as I was leaving they decided to hire for my replacement as a senior level position with a significant pay raise (despite the job being exactly the same) and I realized that someone (and I know exactly who) had it out for me there and no matter what I did they weren’t going to treat me with the respect I deserve.

          Also, before I gave notice I’d be trying to do my job, trying to rise above my position (b/c, you know, I was hoping for a promotion or at least a raise), and I asked the rest of the team several times if they had any improvements on our system that I could create for them and they were like, “Mm, nah, we dunno,” which was another sign that I needed to get out (and I’d already gotten close to a job offer at that point anyway so I was half out the door already). They had no idea what I did for them and no idea what they wanted me to do; it was ridiculous. So in a similar vein as you, the fact that they have no concrete feedback for you is something of a yellow or orange flag that you might need to go elsewhere if you want a higher level position (and salary). Looking for new work is such a pain, but oftentimes necessary, unfortunately.

          1. Miette*

            Agree with this advice 100%. Moving out is sometimes the only way to move up, particularly in some industries.

            I came here to express support for you, LW1–this really sucks and it’s unfair, but they really are telling you more about themselves than anything. If possible, see if there’s some kind of professional development course or certification they’ll front the money for that will help you ultimately find a better job. Hopefully, it will have no strings attached (i.e. that you will have to stay for a period of time afterwards), and you can get something out of this BS situation.

      2. My Useless 2 Cents*

        This is why I disagree with the advice on this one.

        1) Perhaps the job/situation did change from the recommendation and the interview stage that LW wasn’t aware of. But, if that is the case, manager could have just said that rather than a vague “need more experience”.
        2)And unless the job/situation change was anything other that a big swing in the other direction, I would think a known, hard-working, competent employee who needs a little training should be preferable to leaving the job unfilled. Again, if LW is unfit for the role, there needs to be better feedback than “need more experience”
        3)My read of the letter is that LW has been given this feedback for at least one other promotion opportunity. LW, did they ever hire someone for the other position? If so, what were they like? (a unicorn, or someone with objectively more experience?)

        All this to say, LW, resign yourself to your current position or start looking outside the company for opportunities, because for whatever reason, it looks like you’ve been pigeonholed.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yes, pigeonholed is a good term for it. I do agree that maaaaybe they’re just bad at professional development, or maybe the two bosses didn’t agree on what they want, or it could even be that your boss isn’t looked upon very highly so his recommendations don’t have much clout with grandboss. It’s tough to say, but in any case, can’t hurt to start looking at other positions and see what’s out there.

        2. LW1*

          this is the first promotion that has come up. Boss has always known I’m interested in upward mobility, and there’s a promotion that I had my eye on previously (less of a specific position and more of a gaining more experience/responsibilities until you can pop up, kind of like a Jr vs Sr position – where, honestly, “not enough experience” and not promoting seems reasonable”) that is not the non-existent position. The position I applied for opened up due to some restructuring, but the possibility of me filling that role at some point in the future had been brought up to me by my boss early on. If boss had said, I think we should focus on this other senior promotion first so you are more prepared for this position in the future, that would have been one thing, but I was being redirected toward a non existent position that isn’t likely to exist anytime soon. If they had filled the position I applied it would be different, but they haven’t. I also know that they have filled equivalent positions in other areas under my boss.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            They’ve already clearly signaled at a minimum that they have no clear vision of you in a higher position or any idea what the path to it looks like. While that is not necessarily their responsibility you don’t have to wait around until they figure it out either. Interviewing externally will give you a much clearer idea of where you stand.

  11. Ex-prof*

    #3– This made me shudder. You know that family member that nobody ever tells about the surgery because it will lead to an endless barrage of forwarded journal articles about studies of baking soda in mice, plus mournful dirges about how this was all caused by vaccines?

    Hope she didn’t call that family member.

    1. Artemesia*

      This was such an egregious violation that I hope the OP took it well above HR since HR was in error. Heads should roll for this one. And yes, people are not in contact with some relatives for good reason.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! This is something that any decent HR would be livid about. This is a gross violation.

  12. Managing While Female*

    “Yep — some recruiters operate almost like spammers, spraying as many people as possible with their messages in the hope that some will be interested and the right fit.”

    SO MANY are like this. It’s really crazy. It’s the vast majority of recruiters who have contacted me and it’s always for jobs wildly unrelated to what I do (for example, one was looking to fill a role for a DENTIST. I am in NO WAY associated with the medical field or dentistry specifically). It’s so lazy and annoying. I’m sure there are a lot of good recruiters out there, but there are a lot that are simply terrible and I wonder how they actually make a living when they clearly don’t care about doing a good job.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      Ditto. I have more than 20 years experience in office support specializing in finance and data, and my previous job had been as an analyst. During the pandemic, I took a couple of temporary data entry jobs.
      I got recruiters contacting me for other data entry jobs. The first two or three I sent back polite messages, saying what I was really looking for. Then I realized they were doing the reverse of résumé-bombing, and just ignored them.
      I am most definitely NOT interested in doing business with a recruiter doesn’t even read my frigging LinkedIn!

      1. I come in here I give these things to you*

        Recruiters can be a total mixed bag, but to be fair it doesn’t seem outlandish that one would contact you about a data entry job if your current role was data entry.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          If they had even skimmed my LinkedIn, they would have known I’m wildly overqualified for an entry-level data entry job at $13/hour. They just searched data entry and spammed the results..

      2. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Its even more amusing to me that they have read my LinkedIn (by citing several former employers)…but still manage to propose an advanced VP director level job, a relocation’s distance away, for a pay scale of questionable validity, and a good likelihood that (and here’s the kicker) I AM NOT EVEN REMOTELY QUALIFIED FOR THE SPECIALTY.

        I will say that the most amusing one was one that was so clearly for our partner on a project that I told the recruiter “yeah, this is going to cause lawsuits because of the NDA situation if its with XYZ”.

    2. Ro*

      your dentist comment reminded me of the time I was forwarded a role that required fluency in Swedish (video game voiceover). I do not speak Swedish, I have never been to Sweden, my name is not one that could be mistaken for being Swedish. Nor am I am actor, voice-over or otherwise. Nothing on my profile would have mislead them.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, just this morning I got a mass email for a role in finance. I’m an engineer in pharma, completely unrelated. At least previously the roles were tangentially related to my work experience. This one was mass emailed to every email address they had in their database, it seems.

      1. Random Dice*

        Ha ha ha oh that is the perfect visual. Just clouds of yellow pollen in the air for weeks.

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      I love when a recruiter messages me through LinkedIn (where you can see I have a full time job) about a part-time contract position. Who wouldn’t want to leave your steady job for a few weeks of part time work?

      Bonus if it’s fully in-person nowhere near where I live.

    5. Delta Delta*

      I got a similar spam recruiter email for a job posting for an Arabic interpreter position. That’s a fabulous job that I absolutely can’t do since, you know, I don’t speak Arabic. At all.

    6. AngryOctopus*

      Yeah, I love when the message begins “I ran across your LinkedIn profile” as if to say “I read this and thought you’d be great for this job!!” and then the job is a principal scientist in the immunology field. I’m not qualified for and do not want the former, and I’m highly unqualified in the latter.

      I did once also get an email from Indeed proclaiming that they had found me the perfect job listing. I live in the northeast and am a research scientist. The listing was for a DMD in Indiana. Good job Indeed, you really nailed that one. /s

    7. badger*

      I get a weird number of emails (they always land in my spam box but I sometimes look just out of curiosity) that are proposing franchising opportunities for my current role.

      I work for a non-profit on a government grant.

    8. Hannah Lee*

      ^ This! It’s like they or their employer have a bad business model or are monetizing something other than finding and recruiting qualified candidates in suitable role in a win-win situation

      Totally not worth bothering with. And if they are annoying or squirrelly about stuff from the get go, that’s a big tell.

    9. Just a PSA*

      Many of these are likely actual scammers that want your information and SSN. I would not recommend replying to those.

  13. Seashell*

    That HR person sounds wacky and not too bright. If they actually needed to get in touch with you (which doesn’t sound like the case here, but in theory), wouldn’t they try more than one text or a phone call or two or an email or two?

  14. Lorax*

    LW #2, what about this language: “Hi ______, I was so excited to hear about your fourth place finish in X competition. Although it didn’t win, I felt really good about the film, and if you ever want to work together again in the future, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I know we didn’t have time to hash out the details earlier, but you mentioned wanting to pay for the filming and editing, so I’m attaching an invoice that shows my usual discounted rate for family and friends. Let me know if this works for you, or if not, what you had in mind for a budget.”

  15. ecnaseener*

    Great script LW5, I’m saving it! It really is amazing how reluctant some recruiters are to send you the most basic information, even a job title. (I get that they don’t want to lose you if you find the job posting yourself, but then they should be responding to your basic questions quickly, not dragging it out for days trying to convince you to get on the phone — those are days you could be looking at job boards.)

    My favorite was the one who contacted me about an Administrator opening. What kind of administrator? We can talk about that on the phone. Well, here’s the type of “administration” I currently do, is that what your posting is for? We can talk about that on the phone. Finally he caved and sent me the description, and what do you know, it was for an experienced database administrator. Couldn’t be further from what I do. Like, dude. This could not have been the best use of your time, trying to set up phone calls with all the Something Administrators you could find on LinkedIn.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      I bet $10 he doesn’t know what a database administrator is, let alone what they do. ;)

      1. Student*

        Exactly. The recruiter I talked to this week said, “I’ve never heard of anyone volunteering for that!” It’s a well-known national program. People in the industry know what it is. How can the people gatekeeping these positions do a good job of matching candidates if they don’t know anything about the industry?

    2. pally*

      Yeah, I’ve had similar experiences with recruiters. I think they match words between the resume and job description and figure that’s all that’s needed to fill a position. There’s no understanding of the industry itself.

      I’m in Quality. Biotech. So they reach out to me for anything with “Quality” in the description: Quality Assurance, Quality Control. When they do, I explain the difference between the two-because- they don’t know. Had more than one ask me to repeat myself (“gross simplification: QA sets the bar, QC sees to it the product/service meets the bar.”) followed by a lightbulb moment: “Ohhh, I get it now!” Then I explain that I’m in QC so your client won’t like seeing my resume for the QA position you are trying to fill.

      Biotech ranges from drugs, devices, IVD, therapeutics. It is possible to work in positions in each of these; however, some don’t play well with others. Drug companies are loathe to bring in folks with IVD backgrounds. Therapeutics too- to some degree. But folks with either devices or IVD backgrounds do well crisscrossing between industries. I’ve explained this (“Your drug company client is gonna laugh you out of the room if you present me with my IVD background.”). Some are most insistent to present my resume regardless. Ends up being an “I told ya so” moment for me (for those who do get back to me. Most I never hear from again).

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      lol same but “paralegal” – they don’t seem to get that (eg) real estate and probate specialists have different experience and qualifications…

    4. Saturday*

      Looking for someone who administrates… things. Sounds like a perfect fit for you!

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, I’m a “Linux Systems Administrator.” The number of job pitches I get for administrative assistant is not zero. It’s like a mechanical engineer getting a job pitch for a railroad engineer to drive trains. The skill sets are NOT the same!

    5. Abundant Shrimp*

      Meanwhile I have database design and development experience in my LI profile, and have received messages and emails in the past about “a great opportunity for a server position at XYZ restaurant.” Wrong server!

  16. I should really pick a name*

    It sounds like you’ve been waiting for them to offer payment instead of requesting payment yourself. It’s quite possible that they’re waiting for you to tell them what they owe.

    I’m mostly echoing the official response, but reach out. Requesting payment is a normal thing and the more normal you make it, the more likely they will respond in kind.

    If you do something like this in the future, in addition to figuring out the price before doing the work, send an invoice for payment as soon as the work is done.

    Generally speaking, I suggest avoiding doing work for friends/family because any issues that come up feel more fraught.

    1. Hyaline*

      I agree with thinking very hard about whether you want to take work from personal contacts. As a general rule, I decided years ago that I will either do work for free for friends or family or decline the work. I know that’s an extreme position but it’s been helpful in balancing personal relationships and not taking on anything out of obligation.

      1. CB212*

        This is also what I do. All too often I’d offer someone an 80% discount…. only to find they imagined that what I was asking for would be the actual ‘retail’ cost and I’d be offering a discount on THAT. (Think a $5K job for less than $1K, for them to say they’d actually hoped I could do $250.) Better to just say, I’ll do this for free, gratis, no pay at all – and here are the boundaries of what I can offer you (limited hours, one set of revisions, delivery when I can manage it; whatever).

      2. londonedit*

        Yep. When I was freelancing a friend asked me to do some proofreading for their business (they were also freelance) and although we both had the best of intentions it still got really awkward because they did things like delaying sending stuff to me, and even though we’d agreed an hourly rate that was lower than what I was charging actual publishing companies I felt like they were still a bit ‘Really? It really took you this long to do it?’ about it. Grim. I think I’d avoid friends and family altogether.

  17. GythaOgden*

    My current boss met me once for a professional development meeting and suggested I apply for a £60,000 senior analytics manager role — when I only had recent experience of being a part time receptionist and had never made it past entry level anywhere else. She was adamant that they could train me up once I got the job. It worked well enough that I applied, and that gave me the courage to also apply to positions that weren’t so completely out of my league, including one that got me a polite rejection but attracted the interest and curiosity of recruitment (I kept hearing ‘what’s an LSE graduate [with a Master’s from a top 10 law faculty and who had to let a PhD place at another prestigious university slip through my fingers for lack of relevancy and, thus, funding] doing sat on reception?’ — I was good at theory but not at the practice…), and then an interview for something else, from which I also got rejected, but will probably be the next step up from my admin role. I’ve seen her encouraging one of the site supervisors to go for a secondment to an adjacent region for the step up, and seen her appoint an interim manager after an unexpected resignation who really flourished in the role with her encouragement but went back to his old supervisor role when it came to an end. So I know what she’s doing is encouragement rather than setting people up to fail.

    My boss is VERY good at finding creative solutions to knotty problems. She took me on as her admin to give me a hand up out of the doldrums on reception and I owe her my undying loyalty, but she needs people with more realistic assessments of capacity and practicality to dot all the is and cross all the ts. My role is going well enough that it’s become a template for parallel teams across the region and I’m being headhunted by HR because I take good thorough notes for their needs.

    Bosses showing encouragement to go for promotions that might be a stretch does not mean they don’t care — it shows they think you might be capable and want you to at least try. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained: for us women as well, it can be self-defeating if we don’t try for things that end up out of reach, don’t think we’re qualified because we don’t fit ALL of the qualifications, or take that kind of rejection as an outright failure rather than a speed bump. The most absurd argument I’ve ever witnessed was my dad trying to — aggressively — convince my mum to go for a headmistress position and my mum backing away and protesting she wasn’t ready. It was so weird that it’s the strongest memory from my teenage years. But she went for the job, got it, and both she and her students flourished as a result.

    You weren’t competitive this time, but you may also come away from the interview with an understanding of what will make you successful next time. Over successive attempts at applying for internal jobs I refined my own instincts and my understanding of the org structure.

    You’re not going to get everything you go for. Blaming your boss for leading you on would be a bad lesson to take from this; you don’t even have to take this as a signal that there’s no place for you to move on at the company. You have to go away and lick your wounds in private (I have a tub of Ben and Jerry’s in my freezer for these occasions) and then get back in the game and prove to both yourself and them that you’re resilient enough to warrant another chance.

    I totally know how it feels and I was in your position a year ago after I didn’t get that job I’d interviewed for and was at my wits’ end not knowing what I could do to get any experience at all without just quitting to temp for a bit. I was angry at everyone at work (my colleague acted as the siren voice of resenting them for not giving me feedback until a few weeks later) but I didn’t let it stop me doing a good job, particularly because the summer is a time for us where people are off on leave and most of the work on this sort of thing will speed back up in the autumn. Waiting out three months while people had their holidays and postponed any more hiring decisions until September was torture and by the end of it all I was ready to hand in my notice because I was just coming apart mentally if not physically.

    In the mean time, though, someone edged you out of the promotion and that’s crappy but it’s actually also on you to bounce back and not let it dissuade you. I wish you all the best. It can be really horrible to have a build-up of corrosive resentment and frustration during a long job- or promotion-search, when it’s the absolute least useful thing to have happen. It makes the end result — the actual promotion — so much sweeter and more rewarding.

    I’m sending best wishes, love and solidarity, and hope to hear a successful update. And for the demons of resentment to be put in their place.

    1. LW1*

      I’m not resentful or angry, but I am annoyed about the lack of communication and mostly just taking this as a data point that they are inconsistent. Also, as I stated, they didn’t fill the position. If they had brought someone in with more experience, that would be understandable but they didn’t, thus my confusion.

      I also didn’t indicate that I was going to let it stop me from doing a good job. I take great pride in my work and wont stop that. I am, however, going to pull back on the things I was doing above and beyond my current position to indicate I could take on the promotion. I am also going to be more open to the recruiters that have been reaching out to me and considering other opportunities that I would have dismissed before.

  18. Typing All The Time*

    LW2: Does this person have PayPal or Venmo? You can create and send an invoice for the payment as a record.

  19. Hyaline*

    LW1–it really reads to me like boss and grand boss (or other higher ups involved in the process) were not aligned and/or that they are not set on filling the position unless they have a stellar candidate, if at all. Your boss encouraging your application suggests they do see potential, and I would let the dust settle and then approach them again about how to gain the kind of experience you need to develop in your career. (If you didn’t before, make sure this isn’t a “quick question” but set up a time in advance so they can prepare—if that didn’t happen before, vague answers might have been not lack of enthusiasm but lack of solid information.) And at that point—if you’re still getting “we like your work but there’s no clear path anywhere here”—you can start to think about whether this org is a good fit long term.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Best advice. It’s possible that when you asked, you got a vague reply because the boss hadn’t spoken to the grandboss about the “why” and “what we’re really looking for in this position”. So your best bet is to schedule specific time for speaking to your boss about how you can go after higher positions in the future. If they still blow you off there with vagueness, given time to think and prepare, you can consider that, whether there are positions to move up to for you or not, your boss may not be any help and your best bet may be to move on somewhere else.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        These are good points. I commented above that it may be time for OP to move on since the boss didn’t have any good feedback for them, but this is a good idea, to take a few weeks and then circle back, before you make any decisions.

        Of course, it never hurts to start looking for a new job, because something might come up in the meantime that is an amazing opportunity for you, but talking to your boss again wouldn’t hurt either.

      2. Lisa*

        “whether there are positions to move up to for you or not, your boss may not be any help and your best bet may be to move on somewhere else.”

        100% this. Employee development is an actual skill. I have had managers that were great managers to work for but terrible at career development, and I have had managers that are horrible on a day-to-day basis but fantastic at developing their reports.

  20. I come in here I give these things to you*

    I couldn’t tell from the letter, but on #4 is the job related to the field OP is getting the PhD in, or is it just any old temporary job while they are taking care of dad? I would have thought the latter but they said “internships” so not sure.

    If it’s related to the PhD, i guess he’ll find out quickly enough whether current enrollment is a requirement or not.

  21. Ruby Tuesday*

    Re:LW 4
    I am in a STEM field (pharma) with a BS and MS, and I’ve never heard of anyone doing this. There are a lot of good points mentioned in previous posts, but I want to add another. How well does the brother know the field in real-life? If he went from a BS to a PhD program, I’d think there’s a possibility he doesn’t have much work experience and wouldn’t really know if it’s common in his field of choice. And if that’s the case, asking for this approach is even more unlikely to work if he has little work experience.

  22. Trout 'Waver*


    There is going to be a wide range of advice here, but I’ll throw in my two cents. People in academic style settings give advice geared towards that setting and people in industry give advice geared towards industry. And there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between the two.

    I lead STEM teams in a manufacturing company. If your brother is applying to academic style labs, either in academic or government settings, it makes more sense to listen to advisors from that side of things. Based on the advice your father and other brother are giving, I hypothesize that they’re used to the academic side of things.

    Out in industry, (unless you find one of those academic style jobs at a large corporate company) it will be hard to find a job if you’re intentionally a short-timer. It takes a long time and a lot of resources to get a STEM PhD level employee up to speed. I’d advise your brother to be honest and tell employers that he left graduate school to provide care for a family member. I’d add that they need to be local, but it won’t impact their ability to work regular hours. When asked if they plan to complete their degree, I’d give the truthful answer of “I would like to, if circumstances allow in the future. But for now, I’m committed to finding a job here.”

  23. Jennifer Strange*

    #1 – I can see how that would feel like a bait and switch, but it’s always important to remember that someone saying “You should apply for this job!” isn’t a guarantee of getting it, even if it goes unfilled. You know your boss better than any of us, so I would look at what your experience has been with them. Do you think they normally give good advice and seem to have your back? If so, I’d guess that either the specifics of the position changed between when they made the comment and when you were interviewed, or their view of a good fit for the position differed from your grandboss’s view.

    If this is a position that you would still be interested in down the line I would talk with your boss about the feedback and ask if they have advice on how to make yourself a stronger candidate. You also mentioned the other position. I know you said it doesn’t have any upward mobility, but if they feel it’s a position that is needed right now you might be able to talk about it further and see if there is a possibility of building in some upward mobility (especially as it sounds like it’s a new position to the company). This, of course, assumes you would otherwise be interested in this new position.

    1. LW1*

      Other position doesn’t exist. Think, teapot designer, but we have no teapot design facilities. When I was hired on several years ago I was told they were going to put in teapot design facilities, and I asked if they were going to have a teapot designer. My boss said yes but I shouldn’t pursue that because it had no upward mobility. Without teapot design facilities, there is no teapot designer position, and it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be one any time soon, so it doesn’t really matter.

      1. bamcheeks*

        LW1, I don’t think your boss necessarily did anything wrong in this specific instance, except perhaps not being clearer in managing your expectations. But it sounds like this was the last straw, after a lot of messing around, broken promises, disorganisation and lack of interest in your career progression on your employer’s part, and that’s the part I’d focus on. The ongoing pattern is more indicative of what you can expect from this employer.

  24. Elle*

    #1: I’m the boss that has done this and I feel awful about it. I was new to the job and my grand boss made a big deal out of me encouraging the team to apply despite not being fully qualified for the position. After I interviewed the team member my grand boss backtracked and wouldn’t allow me to hire them for the role. I thought they’d be great in the position and I’m worried about loosing them after this experience.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Did something happen in the interview that made your grandboss not want to hire your employee? Even if they just changed their mind on a whim, the more information you can offer your employee the better. I think leaving them in the dark is way worse – even if you don’t have any more information, I think you should be honest with them:

      “I’m sorry about all of this, I thought you would have been great in the role. Grandboss even told me to encourage you/the team to apply despite it being a reach. I’m not sure what made them change their mind, but I’m going to do my best to find out what happened. And in the meantime, let’s look for opportunities for you to grow your skills so next time that role isn’t a reach.”

      It shows that you weren’t just jerking them around and you’re invested in them. (And make sure to actually find those opportunities!)

      1. Elle*

        In my case we needed masters level education which the staff person doesn’t have. The grand boss made it sound like we would make an exception but backtracked on it. I explained that to the staff person but felt crappy about it.

    2. LW1*

      I mean you should be. For me specifically I have been getting head hunted for similar positions at other companies that I have turned down because I thought I would get more guidance where I’m at. But it sounds like I may have been better off at least interviewing for those positions. And while I’m not actively looking for other jobs, I am revaluating how much I enjoy where I live now, and have set up a couple of job search alerts for other cities I might want to move to so I at least have an idea of the job market in those places should I decide I want to move.

      1. J*

        Should be feeling awful about it, or should be worried about losing them? Seems a bit rude either way.

    3. AngryOctopus*

      IMO the follow-up can make all the difference. If you’re able to sit down with this person and tell them that you were encouraged to have them apply, but after the interview it turned out [grandboss wanted something different, turns out you don’t have X and they realized they need X the most, funding was pulled, grandboss just decided not to hire anyone, what have you], even if you don’t know but are trying to find out, that can make a difference. And then you can have the employee come back in a timeframe that makes sense to you so you can talk about what they do want to do, how they see themselves moving up, etc.
      One of the reasons I left OldJob was that I’d actually had conversations about what I wanted in terms of moving up and being promoted (not to be a people manager, but could work on being an SME), and then the last year I was there during upcoming promotion cycles, my boss first said “Do you even WANT to be promoted?” and then when I somewhat surprisedly reiterated that yes, we had talked about this, he then said “Well, I guess send me a list of your accomplishments this year and we’ll see if I can make a case”. So frustrating that he would act like that. Had he said “let’s make a case this year, so let’s sit down and put the list together in order of importance/bigness of project/other style”, that would have been fine. But acting like he didn’t know anything I did was just the last bit for me.

  25. Didi*

    OP#1 – this happened to me too. My grandboss encouraged me to apply for a promotion role even though she knew I wasn’t going to get it.

    I was put through interviews with four people in her inner circle. She did this because she wanted me to make connections with her inner circle, and for them to get to know me better. To establish what they saw in me and to get me on their radar. To judge whether I might “fit in” with them.

    If this sounds cliquey, you’re right – it was. It was a good experience to meet this inner circle, though. One of the four I interviewed with was pulling for me, the other three were not. The one who was in my corner later gave me feedback on what I could have done better to make a good impression.

  26. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    #3 is horrifying. A huge overstep. This person does not belong in HR. Definitely escalate this.

  27. I come in here I give these things to you*

    #3 is weird to say the least but is there a plausible explanation? Like did this HR person somehow not realize you were on PTO and thought you were missing? Or did they think they you were the one having surgery and were worried that there wasn’t an update?

    Anyway obviously an overstep either way but it seems more a misguided attempt at well wishing than anything more nefarious.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      Honestly, I don’t think it matters if it was well-intentioned or misguided. Maybe if this was just a random coworker who did some overzealous internet sleuthing? HR’s job is to know better.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. It would be MORE excusable in another team member but absolutely inexcusable in HR.

      2. Ann Onymous*

        I think the intention matters in terms of how the HR person is dealt with. If they were really well-intentioned or misguided and they now understand why they were wrong, maybe it’s a super serious this can absolutely never happen again conversation instead of an immediate firing.

    2. LaurCha*

      If ANYBODY should know she was on PTO, it should be someone in HR. None of these excuses is okay.

      1. I come in here I give these things to you*

        Agree, I was wondering if this is more “junior HR person screws up but needs better training on policies” or “colleague opened my paystub, found my home address, and tracked me down”

        1. Observer*

          “junior HR person screws up but needs better training on policies” or “colleague opened my paystub, found my home address, and tracked me down”

          The first is almost not possible. More likely “Junior HR person who doesn’t understand boundaries” or (to use your scenario) “Junior HR person who is too incompetent and immature to be in a responsible position.”

          So, possibly not nefarious, but still more that just a reasonable mistake that some basic training should take care of.

          1. I come in here I give these things to you*

            I suppose my question was more Is this a firing offense, serious warning, something else?

            1. 1LFTW*

              I’ve worked some really bad jobs, with really worker-unfriendly HR, and *none* of those workplaces would have tolerated this kind of thing. Best case scenario for the HR person would have been “serious warning” followed by quietly managing them out.

    3. Observer*

      Like did this HR person somehow not realize you were on PTO and thought you were missing? Or did they think they you were the one having surgery and were worried that there wasn’t an update?

      That’s not a much better explanation. Because she would have to be flamingly incompetent and lacking in basic reading comprehension to make that kind of mistake.

    4. Bruce*

      I was thinking about this story, and had some questions, but when I went back and read it again I don’t see how the HR person could have possibly been justified. They texted him just for some sort of personal greeting, and then went full emergency mode? Not OK.

      What I was going to ask was:
      Is the culture to go straight to text messages for business questions, or do they start with email first?
      Do people usually set up an “out of office” email when they are away so that an email gets a response?

      But in this case it seems like the HR person was being an intrusive busy-body and the LW is justified in escalating it. There may need to be more formal policies on how to contact people who are away and how to alert when you will be away, this incident should not be blown off…

  28. Jellybeans*

    “It’s possible that this is a normal thing to do in his field, and he’s better positioned to know that than I am (or than you and his mom are). In general, though, and not specific to his field, no — “I’ll sign a contract and work here again later” would be odd”

    That is incredibly normal and not remotely “odd” in academia.

    1. I come in here I give these things to you*

      I’m not in academia but for this letter it sounds like the brother/dad know the specifics of the field better than the LW/mom, so I would probably stick with their advice.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      It’s still odd if you’re saying you’re going to take an indeterminate amount of time to finish the PhD. Academia can’t afford to hold a grant funded position for someone who wants to finish up but isn’t clear on timelines.

  29. NotBatman*

    LW3 – I am so sorry that happened to you, and while you’re dealing with medical awfulness!

    I had something similar happen when an old job with incompetent IT published our full set of contact information, including emergency contacts’ home addresses, on their website. I found out when a client who called me on my personal phone, sobbing, at 3:00 AM because she’d forgotten to fill out a form. Several of us went to senior leadership to get that information taken down, but I don’t love the thought that it might still be archived somewhere.

    Anyway, your coworker shouldn’t be in HR. They shouldn’t necessarily be in any job that requires personal judgment without further training, but they definitely shouldn’t be in HR.

    1. Observer*

      IT published our full set of contact information, including emergency contacts’ home addresses, on their website.

      WHAT!?!??!? Yes, that’s the screech in my head.

      I just . . . . How on earth does that happen?! And why did it take “several” people to go to “senior management” to get it down? That should have taken one call / email to HR or IT leadership to get that taken down stat. The fact that it took this much pushing speaks to some serious dysfunction.

      1. NotBatman*

        In their defense (I guess?) this was a clear case of the website having been built ca. 1995 and no one understanding what parts were private vs. public. They needed to have the contact info on file, so they just stored it in a file… that was publicly accessible. When individual complaints occurred, IT would respond that you could delete your own information — true — but didn’t seem to think there was ever a scenario where one would want one’s boss to have that info, but not for the whole freaking world to have it.

        Also in their defense (kind of) it did take a massive months-long rebuild of the whole system to undo the mess, so I could see why they were dragging their heels about it.

  30. Daniel*

    LW #1 – There used to be a time when companies would look for someone who was capable of filling the role because they would receive training once they started.

    Now companies expect for every new employee to have done that exact job before.

    This trend needs to change.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Hm, I’d disagree. Depending on how far back you’re going, I think it used to be the case that people who fit a certain demographic profile (white, male, right religion / class) were promoted based on “potential”, and nobody else was regardless of ability or track record. Whilst that quite obviously still happens to a certain extent, far more hiring is now done based on evidence and track record. I absolutely recognise the frustration when you feel like you’re stuck because “everyone wants experience but how do I get experience without experience”, and I’ve been there myself, but I promise you, people all over the place are starting jobs they haven’t done before because they’ve managed to convince an employer they are ready for it.

    2. Bruce*

      I know several people who went through their Phd while working for a big company. There was one big aerospace company that was well know for this, to the point where it it may have been abused… People would work there while getting tuition reimbursement for an MS or support for a Phd and then “bail out” (pun intended!).

  31. Nancy*

    LW4: He and his father are saying that is normal for their field, so believe them. It is not abnormal for academia, if those are the jobs he is going for.

    If I were him, I would not listen to the advice of a bunch of stranger who don’t know my situation over my own father, who does.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Cavet: If he’s not clear on the timeline for his return from finishing the PhD, this won’t fly, academia or not. Academia can’t hold a grant funded position on a nebulous timeline, they need the position filled and the work being done, so if he’s “well, it should take 8 months, but maybe 12” probably won’t cut it.

    2. Boof*

      The person knows their own field best but, I’m just going to say my mom and I ended up in the same field; some advise she had I wish I’d paid more attention to. Other advise made perfect sense for her/her goals, but wouldn’t work for me (and she could be pretty pushy about it!). In the end everyone needs to evaluate their own individual situation as best they can.
      But I’ll agree unless there’s a very specific environment/culture at play, they should focus on what they want to do with the job and not try to hash out any details about what happens if/when they decide they want to finish their phd. (slight exception if it’s only going to take, say, 3 months because the phd is very almost done)

  32. Audubon*

    “but my brother says these kinds of arrangements are very common in his field”

    to paraphrase The Simpsons: there’s your answer, fish-bulb.
    Your brother knows what goes on in his field. You and your mom are not in his field. So how would you know what happens in it?

    Your brother’s going to find out, one way or another, if his plan will backfire on him (even if it his common in his field). So you and your mom kind of need to just butt out about it.

  33. CzechMate*

    LW 4 – I work in higher ed. I don’t think anyone’s going to ask about/care about this. People understand that PhD programs are demanding and take a long time to finish and people will need to take breaks to deal with life stuff. If you’re asked, then yes, just say, “I took a leave to take care of an ailing family member.” The only reason I could see this coming up in an interview is if there is some doubt about your ability to do the work/commitment to the field, but that’s unlikely, especially if you otherwise have good references/a solid track record of research/teaching, etc.

  34. Margaret Cavendish*

    I was contacted by two recruiters in the past couple of weeks. Each of them had a specific position in mind, but their approaches were very different:

    Recruiter A: “Here’s the job description, let me know if you’d like to talk further.” I wrote back and asked about the salary – it was fine, so we had a half-hour phone call, and only then did he ask for my resume to pass along to the employer.

    Recruiter B: “Here’s the job description. If you’re not interested, I would appreciate a response so I don’t waste your time. If you are interested, please EMAIL me an UPDATED RESUME and DETAILED RESPONSE to the SCREENING QUESTIONS below. Answer with projects, work responsibilities, etc.”

    The all-caps are direct from his message. Then there were five SCREENING QUESTIONS, including (of course!) my salary expectations. And he didn’t even include the courtesy line of “please let me know if you have any questions.” So he reached out to me out of the blue, and asked me to put multiple hours into my DETAILED RESPONSE – before he’s even willing to talk to me? Yeah, no thanks.

    I know as a potential job seeker, I don’t get to choose which recruiters I work with. But given the choice, I’d take Recruiter A every single time.

  35. Observer*

    #3- HR over-step.

    Does the particular rep think she did nothing wrong, or the HR department as a whole? If you’ve only spoken to her so far, absolutely do kick it upstairs.

    Googling your information is not a privacy violation, technically speaking, but it’s still extremely inappropriate, especially sharing it and “Bragging” about it. Because that indicates that she is someone who specifically goes digging for information that she *does not need* when the person involved prefers not to share it. And it’s more that “idle curiosity” – if she “just wondered” where you are, she would not have spread it around like that.

    As for contacting your emergency contacts, it’s not just a privacy violation. I would hope that it’s a blatant violation of your company’s policy. I would check your handbook about how your company says emergency contact information is intended to be used.

    1. 1LFTW*

      All of this.

      Competent HR people are discreet above all else. They don’t dig for what they don’t need to know, and they don’t share what they do know – let alone brag about it! In other words, you don’t want gossips in HR.

  36. Bob*

    LW1 – some companies, including mine require N candidates before anyone can be offered the position. I hope that’s not the case for you but it’s possible. Either way if I were you I’d start looking, advancing here will be difficult and is it really worth fighting a grand-boss who doesn’t appreciate you?

    1. Artemesia*

      That would be incredibly unprofessional — to use the OP subordinate as canon fodder to tick boxes in the hiring process.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Agreed, but this happens. It may have happened here.

        I really think this is one of those situations where OP should probably be looking elsewhere.

  37. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – contract employment (for a specific duration of time) is VERY common in IT, and it wouldn’t hurt your brother to say that is what he is looking for. Some companies prefer contractors – sometimes because they want to control their growth or costs, or because they will need people for a specific project but not for longer than that. The types of roles may be different as well – sometimes, the contract opportunities are more interesting/exciting – eg. implementing a new system on a fixed term contract vs. maintaining a system as a permanent IT staff person.

    Explaining why he has left his PhD program in a coherent way is also important – there are various reasons why he could have done so (from realizing he doesn’t want to do the degree, to not succeeding at it, to conflict with his thesis supervisor, to financial reasons, to the reason your brother has – ie. family obligations). Employers are going to want to understand his motivation and why he is interesting in leaving the PhD program / joining their company. It speaks well of your brother that he is prioritizing family obligations vs that he’s not succeeding at the program, for example.

    Your brother could say that he is open to contract or permanent, and keep his options open. That would also be just fine. What he shouldn’t do is say he is looking for a long term role if he is not – since contracts ARE so common in IT, it would be seen as dishonest and disingenuous. He’d also have to say that he was leaving his PhD program, which is also untrue. He’s better off to look at contracts only, or to say he is at a decision point and is open to either contract or permanent.

  38. Helen_of_the_Midwest*

    Regarding LW #3, I’m wondering if the “bragging” from the HR person had something to do with there being something unusual or noteworthy about the letter writer’s home address or house, or their parents’ home address or house. If the letter writer’s coworkers didn’t know that the letter writer lived in, say, a swanky suburb or a notoriously rough part of town, or if the letter writer’s parents lived in a sprawling mansion captured well on Google Street View, I could see an HR person who’s this generally unethical feeling like this information was gossip-worthy.

    To show my work on why I’m thinking this: my aunt and uncle live in a massive, very expensive mansion (some ultra-wealthy older relatives of ours had it built, and my aunt and uncle got it at a discounted, though still high, price when the older relatives moved). There was a talk radio station in our metro area that once did a segment where people could call in about expensive houses in their area, basically just to gossip about how the homes were fancy and expensive, and someone called in about my aunt and uncle’s house. Also, on a different but related note, my best friend switched English classes midway through our freshman year of high school because her previous English teacher looked up her house on Google Street View during class and showed her that he could see where she lived.

    All this to say: gossiping about the price of someone’s house, as well as looking up houses on Google Street View for no good reason, are definitely things people do.

      1. Helen_of_the_Midwest*

        Yeah, after she and her mom brought the issue to the school administration, my friend was very reluctantly allowed to switch to a different English class on the condition that she didn’t tell anyone what had happened. For years, I was the only one outside my friend’s nuclear family who knew.

  39. Ahnon4Thisss*

    Maybe I’m in the minority here and maybe I’m way off base because I am also a humanities person and don’t know the STEM field well, but in the kindest way possible, LW4, I think backing off is your best bet. It sounds like your brother knows his field well enough to understand hiring norms that you aren’t familiar with.

    I know you are coming from a place of concern and there is a lot of stress on your family with the diagnosis, but he’s already told you this is normal and he’s an adult who can make his own decisions. If that backfires on him, well, that’s on him.

  40. Meg*

    Hilariously as I was reading #5 I got yet another recruiter spam email looking for urgent care relief vets in cities either 2.5 or 4 hours away from me. I don’t even practice small animal medicine and most regular relief vets aren’t traveling more than an hour for a job. This person emails me at least weekly begging me to work for them.

    A few years back I did post my resume on a vet career website and employers could pay to access it. I specifically said I did not want any large animal work, and no on call because I was severely burned out from making under $20/hr as an experienced veterinarian in that field. Amongst the ridiculous pile of recruiting emails looking for large animal vets because I have experience (and a non-compete that basically prohibited from doing that work anyway without moving to another county) I got one practice owner insisted I should come work for his mixed animal practice over an hour away. He started trying to negotiate my terms in his first COLD email by saying I would “only” have to do weekends on call (gee, thanks?), but I would have to see all species ALONE as emergencies because he couldn’t bear to make his clients drive an hour to the emergency clinic near me. Even though they would have to wait at least that long for me to arrive and have zero assistance like I could really do anything with no technician if it was truly an emergency. His email went on to say that he needed an associate because he was so burned out, but didn’t want to cut services. He also told me he was going to pay me $50k/year for the privilege of all this and he MIGHT grudgingly negotiate bonus or emergency pay.

    I didn’t even reply to that. I’ve learned to just block these people who don’t have a firm grasp on reality because some of them will ream you out over email for not jumping on their “opportunities” immediately.

  41. Ann O'Nemity*

    #3 – I would go even farther here and say the LW has an *obligation* to escalate the complaint about violation of privacy. As a member of upper management, the LW also needs to think about protecting other staff from similar violations. The HR person/team needs retraining at a minimum.

    1. Observer*

      As a member of upper management, the LW also needs to think about protecting other staff

      That’s a good point.

    2. Antigone Funn*

      Absolutely! Who knows what this loon is doing to other people, whose private information they have at their fingertips?

  42. Becky*

    #2: Why is your partner weighing in on what your professional rate should be? If they’re not in the industry themselves, their opinion on that is meaningless. It sounds like they are trying to discourage you from invoicing at all, which if that’s the case, they should discuss that with you directly rather than devaluing your work (!)

      1. Becky*

        It’s such a little throwaway detail but it seems like it must be holding a lot of sway here when it really shouldn’t

  43. HannahS*

    OP4, I’m really sorry about your dad.

    The truth is, your brother could have any intention or plan he wants with regard to his PhD, but in actuality, he doesn’t know what the future holds. I could tell my supervisor not to assign me XYZ project because I’m planning on getting pregnant in the next few months, but life and death don’t always happen at the expected time or in the expected way and are notorious for rearranging one’s priorities.

    I would advise him to simply say, “I moved back to [region] due to a family member’s illness.” If they ask about the PhD program, he should tell the truth that he arranged for a leave of absence instead of quitting the program. But other than that, I’d advise him to say little else, unless there’s a well-defined norm on signing the kinds of arrangements he’s proposing.

  44. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    #1 – I’ve been both the candidate and the hiring manager in this situation, and being given “no specifics about training or mentoring” during the “I’m sorry, you didn’t get the job” conversation is pretty normal. That second, more specific conversation typically comes at a later time, essentially once the candidate has time to process the letdown AND by initiating the second chat demonstrates they are genuinely interested in feedback and development.

  45. NotARealManager*

    LW3, How awful! I manage the HRIS at my office, so I have access to everyone’s personal data. You know what happens when a co-worker asks for another co-worker’s cell phone number? I have temporary amnesia and don’t know a thing about it. Definitely escalate the complaint.

    1. I Have RBF*


      I used to manage the LDAP installation for a large university. I had access to everyone’s home address and phone number. I never gave it out without direct authorization, in writing. Everything else? My memory is known to be bad, and no, I will not look it up for you.

      Anyone asking me for that information usually got pointed to the university directory web page, where people could decide what data they wanted available, and with different access for within the university and the public. If Professor Joe Schmoe only wanted his name and title visible, that was it. What was astounding how much some people allowed to be accessed not just by university people, but John Q Public too!

      We also had an approval process for anyone who wanted programmatic access to this data, like alumni outreach, etc. They had to convince a group of five key people that it was necessary.

      People with positions of trust with access to personnel data should be held to a higher standard of discretion, even if they are new to the role. What the HR person did in LW3’s letter should be grounds for firing – misuse of access to confidential data.

  46. WellRed*

    OP 2, what surprised me about your situation is that you have worked for friends and family before and managed to set rates, send invoices and get paid. What is it about this situation that prevented this? And to your random aside from your partner that “your rates are too high.” Are they also in the industry? Do they often tell you this or just in this one instance therefore leading you to freeze? Lots of good advice here to follow up now and get your money.

  47. Engineer*

    LW1 – What’s the general consensus with promoting within your company? At my last company they were notoriously fickle about internal promotions, using the “not enough experience” rationale a lot. IMO old company kept moving the goal-posts. When i finally started job searching externally, I found that lots of companies felt i had experience for a promotion. Left old job for promotion and $30k raise.

    Might want to do some job searching and really see what your experience is worth.

  48. Nichole*

    Man recruiters are the worst. I had one last month who took the cake though. Not only did she spam my LinkedIn (which is normal) she also somehow found my personal cell phone number and started texting me. I have no idea how she got the number. It’s unlisted and not on my LinkedIn/Social Media/Email Signature. Overall, left an incredible bad taste in my mouth.

  49. Elizabeth West*

    #3 HR misused my emergency contacts

    Catching up, and WOW. We definitely need an update to this one.

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