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Can one bad person ruin a career?
February 20, 2013 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Job Filter: What am I getting into?!

After two interviews, I'm pending an offer for a new middle-management job (hiring manager said I'll have an offer by Friday). Yay!

The new job is a small company (20 employees). I interviewed with 9 of the 20 employees, so I think I got a good feel as to the people. I would be reporting to the department director who has one other management report who would be my peer. This Peer has been at the Company for 3 years. NewBoss has been at the company for one month. NewBoss reports into the Vice President who has been with the company one year.

After two postive interviews, I was super pumped because the environment is exactly what I'm looking for, the people were energetic, positive and intelligent. I could see myself working well with them and fitting in well - we would be a very strong team! I even met with the CEO who was a very nice person. The benefits are decent and the money is great. The commute is awesome. The hours seem reasonable. In short: it seems like such a perfect fit for me. In every conversation I had with NewBoss, it really felt like we had chemistry if that makes any sense. VP and I had similar chemistry. Peer seemed pleasant to work with.

SO.

I was going back through my notes from the interview. During the interview, I learned that Peer also used to work at a company that I used to work at that I left 6 years ago. Looking at my notes from our discussion, I realized that she must have started just after I left. Because I was curious, I emailed a few very trusted ex-coworkers from OldCompany who are friends. One didn't write back, which I thought was strange because he's usually very responsive. Another wrote back about Peer, telling me to "Run as fast as possible the other way because she's manipulative and passive-aggressive, or proceed with caution if I take the job." The third was Peer's superior at the time and said that she recommends never to work with or for Peer because Peer caused a lot of turmoil within OldCompany causing lots of people to leave, including herself. Gulp. Peer seemed pleasant during the interview, although she did grill me on several topics, but I typically expect that during an interview.

I kindly asked them both to elaborate a little more because now I'm really curious, and am awaiting more information. And worried! I really wanted this job, everything seemed like a perfect fit, and now this. What should I do? I'm considering still taking the job, but I really don't want to find myself in a new job search in another year because I have moved around quite a bit and just want to settle in and grow with the company (this company completely offers that). Can someone change after 6 years? The VP did comment that Peer has "Made it extremely clear that she just wants to work on her assigned project." I would be assigned a different project as well as logistical projects (e.g. department infrastructure stuff) by NewBoss. NewBoss point blank told me that her management style is what-you-see-is-what-you-get and I will always know where I stand with her. Her expectations seem very reasonable and something I would have no issues working under. She also told me that VP is wonderful to work for and is also a straight shooter. However, she's also only been there a month and well...no one really KNOWS a work dynamic after a month. Should I be worried? Should I not take this job because of this woman? :(

I've been job hunting for MONTHS now and really want to get out of my current situation and I'm trying hard not to let that be my driving force of potentially getting into something bad. I have no other offers and it's been a rough hunt because I work in a pretty specialized field.

What do I do? Is this one of those leap of faith situations?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Either

a) the reports of Peer's horribleness are overblown,
b) the reports are correct, but she's changed in 6 years, or
c) she's so terrible that you won't want what's otherwise a great job for you.

If it's c), and you end up leaving, you're right back where you are now. Anything else, and you're happy. So what's the downside for you of accepting this job?
posted by escabeche at 2:58 PM on February 20, 2013 [17 favorites]


Good luck trying to find a job that doesn't have at least one Peer skulking the hallways. I think you should take it and see what happens. Be nice but not too nice to her; don't let her turn you into her minion and you'll probably be fine.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


So... A couple years ago I got offered a job. Tough field to find work in, job seemed great, interview went well, everybody seemed nice, pay was good. My first day of work, my boss tells me nightmare stories about her boss, how her boss would make people cry, everybody hated her, she was manipulative, couldn't make decisions, etc. I went home and cried thinking I'd made a terrible mistake. Guess what? My boss's boss was all those things (mean, manipulative, etc.) but she and I had a fine work relationship because I knew what to watch out for and what kind of things would set her off. Take your former co-worker's advice and "proceed with caution," but don't let what other people say deter you from taking what sounds like a great job. Just be on guard for manipulative behavior from Peer and keep a professional, but not too chummy, relationship.
posted by jabes at 3:03 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Turning down a great job because someone you wouldn't be working closely with is toxic? Totally self-defeating. You are now forewarned and can go in and be very cautious about Peer, enabling yourself to do your job well while not letter her poison splash back against you.

And while I understand not wanting to move again too soon, if that's the worst outcome, it's better than remaining stuck where you are just to avoid potential problems.

Lastly, anecdata: I took a job once where the boss was rumored to be horrible. Worked for them for years without any problems - turns out that they'd changed a little - and I was forewarned, so we had better chemistry than previous employees.
posted by ldthomps at 3:06 PM on February 20, 2013


If your friends' reviews of Peer are the only thing giving you pause about the new job, and if it's been over a year since they've last worked with her, I'd say take the job anyway. The worst case scenario is that she is as awful as they say, in which case you'll be forewarned.

But people definitely can change over the years. What's more, people's behavior at work can be heavily influenced by whether they like their job and their coworkers. I've seen people change from friendly to mean and back with personnel changes, new duties, even different desks. Peer might have been miserable at the old company and taken it out on her coworkers. She might have matured since then.

If you end up working with Peer, use caution but not prejudice. If you assume she's going to be unpleasant and act accordingly, she could easily pick up on that, and it will not endear her to you. Allow her the chance to prove your friends wrong (or right).
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:12 PM on February 20, 2013


Unfortunately toxic colleagues are a fact of life, and become more common the larger your department (over 20 is usually the tipping point between a collegial workplace and factionalism).

Deal with it, or work for a smaller company, because this issue is never going to go away.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:31 PM on February 20, 2013


You don't know her, have never worked with her, and are relying on rumor. (Ok, it's from people you know and trust but it's still rumor.)
posted by Ideefixe at 3:41 PM on February 20, 2013


You need the job. You have extra information and you can proceed with caution. Just keep your head up and do good work. If you are offered the job, take it. If you turn it down based on this and it's another year before you find work you'll really regret it. Paycheck is better than no paycheck! Best of luck to you -- I hope you get it! (And I hope Peer turns out to be no trouble for you.)
posted by amanda at 4:13 PM on February 20, 2013


The last time I worked with someone like this, they actively tried to make sure I would never work again. I was only out of work for six months and I did discover the lies in the reference, so he didn't succeed, but six months of unemployment preceded by severe bullying wasn't great for me on a variety of levels. Therefore, I personally would recommend staying away from such a person if half a dozen of your peers are so vehement about it.
posted by tel3path at 4:19 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was working for a toxic boss, I found the book Working With You is Killing Me to have some excellent insight and advice. I echo the advice of most upstream, go for it and be forewarned. You may get along just fine. You may learn new skills about dealing with jerks in the workplace (and there is always at least one). Or, you might just get some cash to fund your on-going job search.
posted by elmay at 4:36 PM on February 20, 2013


Being forewarned is an advantage most don't get. Proceed with that information.
posted by mattoxic at 5:35 PM on February 20, 2013


My instinct is to say "Go for it! What have you got to lose?" because the job sounds perfect for you and the people seemed good, too.

On the other hand, several years ago I applied for my dream job. After the interview but before the job offer, I talked to friends I knew in the field and the person who had done the job before me. The friends told me that people were pretty unhappy at the company in question because the boss was kind of awful. (Mine is a specialized field, too.) My predecessor more or less said that he had stayed at the job too long and possibly that was what soured him on it. He also mentioned something about the boss coming into your office and yelling at you, but then you just did what she asked and everything was fine.

Everything else about the job seemed fantastic, and at the interview both the boss in question and her boss seemed pretty great, so I took it. It turned out to be a nightmare. The boss was a terrible bully. She was never actually all that horrible to me, but she was so horrible to people around me that it didn't really matter. I spent most days dreading that my turn was coming. I was also convinced that she was going to completely wreck my chances to leave because she'd give me such an awful reference, so I felt stuck in my job there. She got someone suspended without pay based on a lie, several people who had worked for the company for 10+ years left, and another person took early retirement to get away from her. I ended up taking stress leave for 8 months and didn't return until after she had retired. It took me a long time to get my confidence back. And I was forewarned!!

So, I guess my advice is to proceed with caution. You say you have been looking for a job for months but it sounds like you are currently working somewhere now? If that is so, maybe the best course is to be sure and leave where you are now under the best possible circumstances, be super professional and awesome about it, and then keep your eyes peeled at the new place. If it looks like things are going to go to hell, get out before you get sunk, and before your references from the place you are at now gets cold. And while you can still plausibly say "bad fit" at subsequent job interviews.

I would also get more detailed information from your trusted friends and co-workers. I appreciate what people are saying about how everyone can change, but I will also say that the reason I disregarded the advice I got from people about my old boss was because I assumed it was just office politics and I never get sucked into that kind of thing. I honestly believed that whatever the problem was, I'd just rise above it. Only some things you just can't do that with. Before you accept the job, get an honest sense of whether the issues with Peer are surmountable or not.
posted by La Marquise Marionette de Chaussette at 9:33 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Either

a) the reports of Peer's horribleness are overblown,
b) the reports are correct, but she's changed in 6 years, or
c) she's so terrible that you won't want what's otherwise a great job for you.


Or d) the reports are correct and she's saving her bullshit for after you get hired and settled in. This is the least appealing possibility, but look at it this way: you want the job, so take it. Even if this person gives you grief, there could be any number of ways to combat that. Ways that you probably can't even imagine at the moment.

And you have foreknowledge! This is probably the best thing for you: this intel that Peer is a jerk. Now your defense (and offense?) can be at maximum whenever you deal with this person. And remember the old adage that a bully is a coward at heart. If faced with real, genuine attacks from her, fight back. Fight. Back.
posted by zardoz at 11:32 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would also add that not every workplace does have someone like this.

I have to 2nd La Marquise here:

I assumed it was just office politics and I never get sucked into that kind of thing. I honestly believed that whatever the problem was, I'd just rise above it. Only some things you just can't do that with.

Now either I've been working in (several) places that just don't have much office politics, OR there are politics flying around but I'm never made aware of it because hey, I never get sucked into office politics.

Knowing what I know now, I would never intentionally walk into a situation where I had been warned by several reliable sources that one particular person was malicious and dangerous and that I should have nothing to do with them. I am sure these other coworkers have as much life experience as anyone on the green, and that they're aware that "every" office has a difficult person, but they're still urging you not to accept the job. Every office may have a difficult person but not every office has someone who's seriously destructive and until you cross paths with the latter, you may not fully understand the difference.
posted by tel3path at 3:23 AM on February 21, 2013


Either

a) the reports of Peer's horribleness are overblown,
b) the reports are correct, but she's changed in 6 years, or
c) she's so terrible that you won't want what's otherwise a great job for you.

Or d) the reports are correct and she's saving her bullshit for after you get hired and settled in. This is the least appealing possibility, but look at it this way: you want the job, so take it. Even if this person gives you grief, there could be any number of ways to combat that. Ways that you probably can't even imagine at the moment.


and e) the last place, where Peer worked with your friends, was such a poor fit for her that things went horribly all round.

There have been jobs where I've been everyone's pet favorite worker bee. There have been jobs where I faded into the background. And there was one job where I was universally despised -- my boss was somehow left out of the hiring loop, resented my very existence, we clashed constantly, it rubbed off on the whole department. I don't think he's an irretrievable bastard; I am not an irretrievable bastard. But it was a bad fit, and anyone who worked with me there probably despises me.

Just a thought.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


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