updates: the employee with too many ideas, the boss who wanted people to camp in tents, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Applying for a full-time job and asking to work part-time

I knew going back to this letter would be humbling, and it was. I remember feeling so strongly at the time, first about how stressful and difficult a situation I was in (as if this job posting was being done AT me) and then about how frustrated and upset I was with the advice and the comments that didn’t “get me”. Reading it all again… yikes.

I didn’t get the job. I don’t even quite remember how it went. I think I applied and got invited to interview, asked ahead of time if doing the role part-time would be possible and it wasn’t, so the process stopped there. In the end, it was a non-event and I was really worked up over nothing, both the perceived opportunity and imagined obstacles. I was just (unconsciously) inventing drama for my outside world that matched the drama I was feeling inside. Because the headspace I was in when I wrote in and when I was responding to your advice and the commentariat’s input was part of a deeper problem that I struggled with for years after.

I was asking for help, but I was scared of needing help. I thought I should already know what I was doing, have a master plan, and be completely on top of everything, and I was talking myself up out of a place of insecurity and fear and interpreting any advice or questions as a criticism and challenge to my worth as a human being (whoo boy). I remember feeling actual terror reading the comments the first time, that people were out to get me and tear me down and expose me. Reading through them now, all I can see is the kindness and people genuinely trying to understand my convoluted explanations and help me out! Apologies and thank you to everyone, and in particular to you, Alison. The gratitude I should have been offering you all then I can offer now.

After five years and some therapy and a lot of self-work, healing, and growth later, I’m doing okay. I have a much better understanding of my field and of professional norms in general and how to interact with other human beings like a human being, something that I’d forgotten after too many years of grad school in a very-not-good environment (including my first job, which had basically been an extension of grad school). I ended up consulting full-time, after experimenting with some salaried positions and finding that my mental and physical health were better served by the flexibility of consulting work. I’m weathering COVID-19 so far. I’ve built up a really strong professional network, settled into my work and find a lot of joy in it, and I get to do a lot of service work, including supporting new professionals who are trying to figure this all out the way I was. I learned a lot the hard way, so I want to make sure other people can learn from my mistakes (and then go make their own new ones instead!). Your blog is one of the resources I always recommend.

2. My team member is full of ideas and can’t prioritize (#3 at the link)

A boring/happy update for you.

Looking at the dates, I wrote to you when my indecisive team member was out on a month-long vacation and I was feeling a little nervous about him coming back. Things have improved a ton since then, I think for a few different reasons:

* He came back to the office way happier after spending a month off work and totally disconnected. Who would’ve thunk!
* We started doing periodic forced ranking to decide what work to take on.
* Over time, he got to see how well the forced ranking worked and that made it easier for him to let go.
* We now share him with another team. While it’s not always easy from a time management perspective, it means his ideas have twice as many potential destinations!

In your response you pointed out that I was being extremely hasty to jump to the “or else.” That was true, and I appreciated the wake up call to not be a paranoid jerk. It was nice to be reminded that I had more options than I was seeing at the moment.

3. Our boss told us to camp in tents when we travel for business

You gave me great advice – which, fortunately, I have not yet had to use since we didn’t have travel over the winter and now with corona virus, we won’t be traveling for the near term. My predicament generated many comments and I really appreciated the validation.

4. Can I call an employer back with additional questions about why I was rejected?

I really appreciated your take and those of the commenters on this letter. Based on some of the discussion I came to the conclusion that I was likely a “diversity’ interview and not really a serious candidate (though they did end up hiring another woman for the job!).

I interviewed again with this same organization recently, in a job I was extremely excited about, had a real interview that lasted a normal amount of time, and seemed to go really well. The interviewers told me they were excited that I had applied, and explicitly told me that they were impressed with how I answered certain questions during the interview. I left feeling awesome; it was the exact sort of interview that I’ve gotten offers out of in the past, and I got a great vibe from the people in the room. Definitely nothing like my first 10-minute “screener” with them a few years prior, which I now see for the red flag it was (note that this is a large organization and a totally different hiring team than I dealt with previously).

But there is no happy ending here – in the interview they told me I could expect a call in two to three weeks, and specifically promised it would be a personal phone call from the HR guy in the room, and that I’d have an opportunity to discuss any feedback if I wasn’t successful. They actually used the words “Don’t worry – we won’t leave you hanging.” However, five weeks went by and then on the Friday that all the local COVID restrictions started going into place, at 4:00pm I received what looked like an auto-generated email essentially reading “dear: candidate, you were not successful in: job, please do not reply to this email”.

I made one attempt to get in touch to find out if the job itself was cancelled/postponed, or if they did hire someone else (it’s a job that wouldn’t make a lot of sense to onboard someone into until a lot of restrictions are lifted), but did not hear back. I think it’s time to give up on my dream of working for this organization, but so frustrating to not know what happened yet again, especially when they specifically told me they wouldn’t do this.

updates: the employee with too many ideas, the boss who wanted people to camp in tents, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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