pretending not to know my old boss, waiting for a ride after an interview, and more

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

1. Can I pretend not to know who my old boss is?

I come asking for permission to be insanely petty to my old boss. I want your blessing.

Last year, we had a new director on my team for about seven months. She started when we were all remote, so I’ve never met her in person. We also never did video calls, so we’ve not even e-met face to face. She didn’t even introduce herself or get to know us when she started. She sucked. She went on leave for a month last fall, and then ghosted us for two weeks when she came back and then the chief of staff announced she was moving into a different role. She literally never acknowledged it with us and just bounced without a word. She’s been gone about as long as she was our boss.

Next month we’re going to start returning to the office, and I want to act like I don’t know who she is if I run into her. Nothing mean! Just a serene “oh it’s nice to meet you” and give zero impression I know she was my boss. I don’t have any working relationship with her now, I will never ask her for a reference, and I’ll do nothing catty to her. I just want one really petty interaction to convey how much she sucked at her job.

Is this allowed? May I be this petty at work?

If it will bring you some satisfaction after a frustrating seven months, I give you my blessing. Frankly, it might go right over her head! But in your head, it’s a pretty precise hit on her lack of contact with you. Also it’s funny.

If anyone is wondering why this is different from last week’s letter from the manager who wanted to ice out her employee during the employee’s last two days: that was someone who wanted to be unkind to someone she had authority over. This, on the other hand, is not a misuse of authority. It’s also quite mild. It’s the difference between punching down and punching flicking up.

2. I’m being tortured by endless revisions

I work in a department with five others, including my manager and one subordinate. Our last project was huge and the schedule unreasonably tight. It included the production of over 100 videos in several courses, and the content is unbelievably detailed. (I’m the content producer.) We have realized we all needed to review all of the content ages ago to find and fix mistakes. My time is too tight to sit and review it. Despite my efforts to explain the importance of reviewing carefully and early, and the importance of proofing early and reducing revisions, the process hasn’t worked. Instead I’m getting slammed daily now with endless nitpicking.

With only two weeks until the deadline, I received a barrage of revisions on content that was “approved” over a year ago. I fix a set of notes for each module, and the next day I get another full set of new notes on the same material that they could have included the first several times. This happens over and over. There are now four people reviewing the work over and over again, making even more notes every time they look at it. Unfortunately, some of it does need to be fixed, spelling errors especially. But some is just nitpicking. The fact that they weren’t caught a long time ago is something we all regret but here we are and I’m the one being tortured by this.

My manager is well aware of this and removes most of the notes but still leaves many and hasn’t discouraged the reviews. I don’t know how to make this stop, and I don’t know what my attitude should be since a portion of these notes are things I didn’t catch either so I feel like I must allow them to repair what should and could be repaired. At the same time, we need to be able to finish. The material is so technical and complicated, there is no end to the details.

You need to issue a dictate that the only things that can be changed at this late date are errors. Explain that people were given lots of opportunities to submit changes earlier and there’s not enough time to make more changes now if they’re purely stylistic. You should also say that for the stuff that truly must be changed, those changes must be submitted all together in one round. You will then make those changes, they can check to ensure you implemented them correctly, and that will be it.

If you don’t have the authority to announce or enforce that, then you need to ask your manager to. If you can’t get your manager on board, you can do a slightly softer version: allow stylistic changes but explain there is only time for a single round of them. Anyone submitting changes needs to compile their final revisions in one document, you’ll make those, they’ll check the implementation, and that will be the end. You could note that any deviation from that will bump back the completion date by X days each time. If your manager won’t support even that, then at that point you’re stuck with a hellish next two weeks (and a bad manager) — but this is a really common rule to implement and shouldn’t shock anyone.

3. Waiting for your ride after an interview

In 2015, you recommended not waiting in an employer’s lobby for a ride. With Uber, Lyft and similar so popular nowadays, do you still recommend not waiting after the interview?

Yes. If it’s a huge company it may not matter, but otherwise wait outside or somewhere nearby. Otherwise you risk raising concerns about whether you’ll have reliable transportation to get to work, and it can just feel “off” to be hanging around the reception area after your interview is over. (There are of course exceptions to this, like if you flew in from out of town and are obviously waiting for a car to the airport, or so forth.)

4. What is retaliation exactly?

I applied for an internal role that would have been a promotion for me and did not make it to the interview phase. The hiring manager (who was also my current manager) spoke to me about why, and after speaking with him I also set up a meeting with HR to get further feedback (since I knew from my manager that my HR rep had been involved in the decision). The meeting with HR went fine, and I thought the actions I took to seek feedback were normal and expected.

My manager heard from HR that I had spoken with them and told me that indicated I was indeed not ready for the promotion because HR is only for legal/compliance concerns, so by going to them I had made it seem like I had a concern along those lines. I felt like he was implying this could hurt me in a future attempt at the same promotion. I was really taken aback.

After feeling uncomfortable about it for a while, I wrote an ombudsman complaint stating that I felt retaliated against and describing the situation. My complaint was investigated by the ombuds team, which ended up telliing me that because my manager never took a retaliative action against me (like writing a negative performance review or tanking my chance at a promotion), what he did was not retaliation.

Sure, it was verbal and not written but does that not make it an action? Also, I had reason to believe he might take action against me in the future. Certainly at minimum he was threatening the possibility of future retaliation. Am I completely off-base here, and not understanding what retaliation is? Maybe the situation was just not bad enough for an ombudsman to care about it?

I wonder if they were only talking about retaliation in the legal sense. Legally, retaliation is when  (a) an employer takes a “materially adverse action” against you (defined as something that could deter a reasonable person from engaging in the activity in the future) because (b) you engaged in legally protected activity (which relates to reporting or resisting discrimination or harassment, talking to coworkers about those issues, or participating in a related investigation).

Your situation doesn’t meet (b), because the conduct that provoked the retaliation (seeking interview feedback from HR) isn’t legally protected activity.

So it’s very possible that the ombudsman team simply meant there was no legal violation. But your company should still be concerned that your manager said what he said, because there was nothing wrong with you seeking feedback from HR and it was bizarre for him to tell you they’re only for legal/compliance concerns, and it’s terrible practice for a manager to discourage people from talking with HR. But at this point you’re likely better served by not continuing to pursue it.

5. Writing a cover letter when you don’t know what the company is

I work in publishing, and I recently saw a job ad for a sub-editor position at a publishing agency. It was posted by a recruitment agency and didn’t include the name of the agency. I understand sometimes companies use recruiters and keep their name hidden, but in this case, the disadvantages seemed to outweigh the advantages. If I don’t know what the agency is or what they publish, how do I know if they specialize in an area I have any knowledge of or interest in? Also, I couldn’t imagine writing a cover letter if I didn’t know what the company did — what am I supposed to say when I explain why I want to work for them? At the same time, I thought if other applicants were writing cover letters, I would be at too much of a disadvantage if I didn’t write one, so I decided not to bother applying. What would you suggest doing when you’re applying for a job when the employer’s name is withheld?

External recruiters often withhold the name of the company they’re hiring for because they don’t want candidates to go around them and apply directly (since then they’d lose out on a commission after doing the marketing work that drummed up those candidates).

Often you can write a cover letter without knowing the specific company because you’re focusing on the work of the role; it’s usually more important that you tailor what you write to the role than to the company anyway. In a case like yours where you truly don’t know if it’s a good match without that info, then you’re just stuck just writing a crappier cover letter than usual if you want to apply; there’s no real way around that.