employer lied when rejecting me, should I apply for a job in my partner’s small company, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. An employer lied when rejecting me

I interviewed for a job a while back. It was a second interview, this time in person where I was flown out to the campus overnight. A few days later, the search director called me to tell me they were going to repost the position because they needed someone with significant experience in two particular areas (in which I have over 10 years of high level experience, which they knew). However, she said the most significant thing preventing them from offering me the job was that none of my references called me back despite multiple inquiries.

I was aghast, especially since two of them are among my best friends. How could they do that to me? They knew I was interviewing and told me to use them without me even asking them if I could. I immediately texted one and told him he had cost me an offer because of his failure to respond. He called back immediately, saying he’d never gotten anything from them. He did a check of voicemail and email over the previous three months to confirm that. The other said the same thing, she had never been contacted.

I wasn’t going to accept an offer anyway, but to lie to me like that seems beyond disrespectful. Not only did they lie to me, but they also lied about my friends who were my references. I know one of my references sent an email calling them out and telling them what they’re missing by passing on me, but I’d really like to call them out in some way. I have friends and colleagues that are connected with them in the industry but have not told them what happened. Should I or should I just let it go?

Whoa, your reactions here are a little hotheaded! First you accused your friend without checking the facts with him, and now you want to rebuke the employer publicly. And your friend sent them an email “calling them out”?! This is … a lot.

It’s very likely that there was a miscommunication, rather than the employer deciding to flagrantly lie to you … particularly since they would have known you would be likely to follow up with your references to find out what happened. Who knows what did happen — maybe they assigned the reference check to someone who confused you with another candidate, or had the contact info wrong, or otherwise dropped the ball. That’s obviously not good, but it’s not an attempt to lie to you. It’s also the kind of thing you potentially could have fixed if you wanted to (“that sounds really out of character for my references and I suspect signals got crossed somewhere; would it be okay if I contacted them myself and asked them to call you?”).

If you want, you could attempt to correct the record now (“I talked to my references and they both say they were never contacted; it sounds like something went wrong”); that would be useful info for them even though you don’t want the job. But this isn’t “call them out publicly” territory, especially with the framing you’re using.

2. My coworker seems to mentally check out when we present together

I work for a state government agency in a small niche department. We spend a lot of time traveling between facilities of our agency to provide mandated training. As with many state government agencies, there is a hierarchy with titles. I am a 1 and the coworker I am writing about is a 2, which is supposed to be the more experienced title. She came from another state agency and has no experience in our line of work, while I have done a variety of things in our realm for the past 20 years, though this division is newer to me.

During trainings when she is not presenting, my coworker engages in behaviors that are very off-putting to me and other participants, including near constant twirling of her hair and inspecting the ends of her hair. During a small group session when training participants were teaching us material, she appeared so engrossed in her hair inspecting that she did not answer when she was asked a direct question by the participants, who we were tasked with rating on their performance. I feel like I should have addressed this after the session was over, but I also worry that my feedback would be disregarded, as I am not her supervisor nor technically her peer.

Another weird layer to this is that we end up spending time together eating meals while traveling, and I don’t want to make things awkward. At the same time, her behaviors are SO off-putting that I find my tolerance for her getting lower and lower! How should I address this?

Well … you might not have a ton of standing to, since you’re not her boss and she’s senior to you. That said, you’re presenting together and you’re presumably jointly charged with meeting certain goals in your training sessions, so there’s room for an attempt. You could try something like, “I’ve noticed you seem distracted when you’re not presenting — you’ve been looking at your hair a lot, and you missed a question someone asked you. I’ve seen it distracting our participants, and I wondered if everything is okay.”

If that doesn’t solve it, your only other real option would be a discreet conversation with your manager; ideally someone would be periodically sitting in on your sessions to give feedback, and this might nudge them to observe a few.

3. Should I apply for a job in my partner’s small company?

My partner works for a small (15 people) company in a relatively small sector, doing a pretty niche role. They’ve been in the position for about three months and are loving it and doing very well in the role. It’s kind of a dream job for them and the organization is supportive and a great place to work.

Two months ago, I was made redundant through no fault of my own. I have been unsuccessfully job searching since, receiving many interviews but no offers. My partner’s skills and experience overlap with mine, and we’ve always worked in relatively similar/complementary sectors and organizations. It’s common in the sector we are in to know candidates who apply for roles, and for there to be professional overlap between people who know each other outside of work.

Their company is now hiring for a role I would thrive in, and I am of two minds about applying. If they didn’t work there, I would not be giving it any second thought, but I am very nervous about applying because I don’t want to impose on them and their career. This is further complicated by the fact that I know a few of their colleagues personally, and it is relatively common that we see each other outside of professional environments. My partner has said they are okay with me applying. Is it a terrible idea for me to apply for a job in my partner’s small company? We would be doing different roles, working together sometimes, at the same level of responsibility, and we’d have different managers.

I’d avoid it if you can, primarily because it’s such a small organization. With only 15 people, that’s a lot of overlapping your professional spheres and your day-to-day, and that can be a lot for a relationship to take, including making it harder to disconnect from work talk when the day is over — and it can be a lot for coworkers too. It could also constrict you professionally; neither of you should be in a position where you have influence over the other’s work or opportunities, and in a small company that could be limiting.

Plus, you’d be putting all your financial eggs in one organization’s basket. If the company has financial problems and/or lays people off, you could both be out of a job rather than only one of you.

If it’s your dream job and/or you don’t have other options … maybe. But I’d be very cautious about it.

4. Should I include jobs on my resume that are known in the area to be awful?

I have had two jobs that both are known to be bad companies. One had a culture where everyone had to be the boss’s friend, except I was the odd one out who just simply did the job and ethically. People who know the company know that most, if not all, employees from there are sketchy. The other company I worked for is a store known to be always messy and a bit unwelcoming. Everyone knows that the employees at this store are useless and will avoid helping or working. I was the exception and ended up being the only person who will help customers, much less say hello.

I don’t know if I should include them on my resume. If I do, it would be hard to not basically say, “I was better than everyone.” And if I don’t, it would be hard to explain a two-year gap.

You should include them. People generally know that even bad companies have some good employees. But to whatever extent you can, try to use your bullet points for those jobs to illustrate the good work you did there. What was the difference between what you did on the job and what your coworkers did? Talk about the stuff that made you better! (You don’t need to add “and no one else did this.”) For example, maybe it’s things like “lauded for focus on customer service” or “sought out by repeat customers to assist them with X and Y” or “became go-to staff member for solving X problem” or “regularly garnered unsolicited praise from customers for helpfulness and approachability.”

5. When does the workday begin?

My spouse and I have recently begun to work in the same place (different employers) and have a disagreement about when the work day actually starts. Our workplace is located on a big compound. You drive past a gate with guards, drive for a while in a big garage, then walk back to the stairs to get to your desk. A total of 15ish minutes one way from the guards to my desk. I’ve always thought my work day started as soon as I got to my desk. My spouse thinks the work day starts from the time you get into the gate — “we are now on their turf, subject to their rules.”

What do you think? It is not a huge deal overall, and our bosses are certainly not looking that closely at arrival/departure times, but with daycare pick-ups having a strict timeline, these minutes start to count.

Courts have held that the workday begins the moment an employee engages in an activity that is an “integral and indispensable” part of the first principal activity of the day. Walking to your desk normally wouldn’t count. (The Supreme Court even found that Amazon employees were not engaged in their workday when they waited for 25 minutes at a security checkpoint at the end of their shifts.)

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