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

1. Should I promote an employee who has a history of problems with coworkers?

I am a general manager of two quick service restaurant locations of a small local chain. Running two locations has left me stretched very thin. Last September, I lost my assistant general manager (AGM) due to her wanting to go back to school. She helped me with all the day-to-day to make sure things ran smoothly at both stores. Now enter my employee Abby. Abby is a shift supervisor at one location and the most senior employee beside myself. She made it known before my AGM resigned that she wanted this position and would do anything to get it. This made my former AGM very uncomfortable and she ended up leaving before her two weeks had been worked out.

Abby is an extremely hard, dedicated, and reliable worker. She is very good and efficient at her job, but she lacks formal manager experience. She is also immature and instigates drama. Almost any and all drama, whether between other workers or our clients, usually has her at the center of it. She has bullied people in the past and would talk unprofessionally about coworkers. I have sat down with her several times and coached her on how to talk with her teammates and have seen slow but gradual improvement. I believe the team I have now does respect her, and much of the drama has subsided. However, I am now in the market to hire for the AGM position, which she has has been clear she wants and believes she deserves. If I hire someone new, it would devastate her. Morale would tank and she would regress to her formal unprofessional self and potentially quit. But I hesitate to offer her the promotion due to her past transgressions. Her feelings surrounding this have caused me to leave a position I desperately need filled empty for several months. Do I take a chance, offer her the promotion, and risk her going on a power trip and reverting back to her bullying ways? Or do I simply hire someone new who is qualified and let the cards fall where they will with her?

“She really wants the job” isn’t a qualification for a manager role. And you can’t hire someone to manage others who has a track record of bullying, stirring up drama, and talking unprofessionally about her coworkers — not unless years have passed since the last signs of that behavior (and even then I’d be concerned about the message it sends anyone who was around for that behavior). Your fear that she’d revert back to that behavior if she doesn’t get the job is a sign that she’s not right for it — you can’t put someone in that role where you’ll have to worry they’ll behave badly if things don’t go their way.

Fill the role with someone more qualified, and be willing to lose Abby over it.

2. I’m about to manage someone who thinks we’re good friends

I have accepted a management role in a new team my company has set up. My coworker also applied for the role (unbeknownst to me at the time). She was not offered the job, but was offered one of the team roles so now I will be her manager. I found this out before her and was initially concerned that she might be upset that I was chosen over her, but the opposite problem has occurred: she is delighted and is telling everyone that if it wasn’t to be her, she would have wanted it to be me as we are so close and great friends. She is also saying that our team will be amazing with both of us on it.

I am not a very demonstrative person but she is and up until now I have been fine about her suggesting hugs when she’s happy, one of us has a birthday, etc. I wouldn’t have described us as any closer than any of my other colleagues, but I think she feels differently. Previously it seemed mean to make this clear since it wasn’t causing a problem.

I am concerned that unless I nip this in the bud before we start our new roles we will both end up looking unprofessional, other members of the team will be upset at our being “close” (according to her), and she is going to get a horrible shock when it comes to performance management, etc. She is great at what she does and I think she will be an asset to the team, but I want to sensitively address this so she doesn’t become defensive or lose face. Do you have any tips on how to do this?

Have the “our working relationship needs to change” talk, which is a conversation a lot of people end up needing to when they start to manage former peers. You can frame it as, “I hoped we could talk about how our relationship needs to change now that my role is changing. I know you’ve mentioned to a few people that we’re close friends — and I’m concerned that could make people worry that you have special access or that my relationship with you is different from my relationship with them. It’s important to me that everyone feel they’re on equal ground! And of course, I’ve got to be able to be unbiased and fair in managing you and have us both feel okay about that. So our relationship does need to change to one with more distance. But I’m excited about working together in this new way and hope you are too.”

3. Should I tell a job applicant about an error in their materials?

I work for a small company in a specialized field. People will occasionally email their resumes even if we aren’t actively advertising any openings. This is fine, I keep them, and sometimes when we are looking to fill a position we will look through these resumes to see if there might be someone we want to interview.

I recently received one such resume, opened it up, and saw that it includes a cover letter addressed to … one of our competitors. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I can understand how a slip-up like this occurs when someone is emailing their resume to every employer in their field in their region. My question is: should I email this person back and tell them? They are recently out of school and looking to get their foot in the door somewhere. A mistake like this won’t help. (We have no openings so it isn’t impacting their chances here, but to be honest, if I receive something like this in response to a posted ad, my chances of bringing them in for an interview are very, very slim. I think the least an applicant can do is get the name of the company they are applying to correct.)

I used to occasionally email people about this kind of thing, but no longer do. Yes, it’s a kindness to let them know about the error … but the more you hire, the more you see this stuff and you can’t email everyone. And ultimately, you’re not their proofreader or their job coach. (That sounds callous! But it’s just not your responsibility to point out errors, particularly when you have other demands on your time.)

4. Following up on a job during coronavirus

Is it tone-deaf to follow up about a job you’re in the running for in the age of coronavirus? I was supposed to hear back by mid-March and I’m not sure if it would come across as self-centered to check in about the status.

Additionally, I have not yet been reimbursed for my cross-country trip and would like to address that (also in a non-tone-deaf way, if possible).

You can follow up, but assume things are taking a lot longer than they normally would. For a lot of companies, hiring has moved way down on the priority list, and many hiring managers’ focus is elsewhere. If the reimbursement weren’t in the mix, I’d wait at least a week more and then check in with wording like, “I know your timeline has probably changed with everything that’s going on, but I wanted to reiterate my interest and hope to hear from you whenever you’re ready to move forward.”

But given the outstanding reimbursement, you could follow up now (as long as it’s been at least a couple of weeks since you expected to receive it) and add something like this to the language above: “Whenever you have a moment, I wanted to check on my travel reimbursement; I haven’t received it and wasn’t sure if you needed anything else from me to process it. (But I also realize you’ve probably got your hands full right now!)”

5. What does it mean that a job I interviewed for was cancelled?

I applied for a job about six months ago and had a longer than average phone screen with the whole search committee (this is a non-faculty, full time academic role) and then an in-person interview about a month later, which involved a preparing a presentation and completing two tasks related to the role and lunch with the committee, in addition to the standard interview. I think it went well, though they were clear that their timeline might be longer than anticipated due to constraints around the role. When I did not hear back from them, I assumed I did not get the job, though I did notice that it was reposted every few weeks on the university’s job site.

Last night I got an email from the hiring manager (who I know personally and professionally) and she stated the position has been cancelled. What does this mean? I had moved on but now I’m trying to figure out if this means that they thought I was such a bad fit that they decided to not even fill the position. Also, would it be out of line to ask the hiring manager, who I have worked with in different capacities if there is any information about the cancellation or feedback she can offer?

There are a bunch of reasons they could have canceled the position — a hiring freeze, a department reorganization, a person who was going to leave deciding not to, budget constraints, deciding to restructure the role, etc. Or sure, it’s also possible that they just didn’t find the right candidate, but in that case they’d be more likely to keep looking than to cancel the role altogether.

I wouldn’t ask for feedback; since they canceled the role, they’re not really thinking in terms of how you could have been stronger. And I wouldn’t ask for more on the cancellation either; it might not be info they’re comfortable sharing, and it’s not info you really need. (Basically, when you’re just curious about some aspect of a job that you’re no longer in the running for, you should let it go rather than asking them to spend time satisfying that curiosity. They’ve likely got their hands full with other things, particularly right now.)

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promoting a bully, job searching during coronavirus, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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