please disregard my accomplished but potentially backstabbing classmate as a possible co worker!
January 30, 2010 2:38 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell my manager to disregard a former classmate as a potential candidate at work without directly saying so?

My manager has talked about hiring another person to fulfill some programming and project management duties in my work group. Today I found out that they are considering one of my classmates from my graduate program. I'm not good friends with her - although I have tried to socialize with her - but I know her well enough to not want to work with her.

On paper she is a great candidate: does well academically, has some programming skills, interned at a good company, already has work experience before graduate school, and is liked by many professors. However, we have taken many classes together and I've gleaned enough to feel that she does not work well in group projects or with people who aren't professors. More disturbingly, she sports an attitude that suggests she would eat her firstborn to get ahead with her career. One of my friends who used to be close to her has also confirmed this.

I am new to my job; it took me seven months after graduation last spring to get this one offer. I enjoy the work but it stresses me out at the moment because I'm required to know how everything works in the entire company. While I understand there is a breaking-in period, I feel incompetent for not knowing everything yet and constantly wonder if they are going to fire me. I also work with one other classmate from the same year - we were in different programs - who tries to one-up me on a regular basis. He's pretty transparent about and doesn't have the same role I do so even though I don't feel threatened, it does contribute unnecessary stress. We're only a work group of five right now so I know if she is hired, she will make my work life miserable.

How do I tell my manager I don't think she should be considered for this position without exactly saying "Don't hire this woman, she'll make my work environment miserable!"? I don't want to come off as vindictive or spiteful but I really don't want to increase any chances of working with her. The only other angle I can come from is that while the position requires the ability to communicate between laypeople and IT people, it really needs someone proficient in programming.

(If it means anything, I know she had also applied to the job I have now and was not given an offer. I also know that when we were applying for internships as students, the company she interned with had offered me the internship first. )
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on how close you and your team are with your boss, it's possible that your manager will ask you if you have any experience with this woman, especially if you were in the same graduating class. If he/she does I would say something like,

"She is a pretty good programmer, but I don't think she'd do well as a team player."

I'm not sure about contacting the manager to tell him/her this, I feel like if the manager respects your opinion they will ask you.
posted by kylej at 2:51 PM on January 30, 2010

How do I tell my manager I don't think she should be considered for this position without exactly saying "Don't hire this woman, she'll make my work environment miserable!"?

I think you're going to have to suck this one up. Taking the position that someone is going to make your work environment difficult is not going to win you any points with your supervisors. Demonstrating how you can roll with the punches in a stressful environment will.

You're going to end up working with lots of people who make your life miserable. Now is a good time to develop the skills you'll need for dealing with them throughout your career.

This woman will fall on her own weight if she's awful enough.
posted by corey flood at 2:55 PM on January 30, 2010 [9 favorites]

Why not trust the person in charge of hiring to do his/her job? If she has work experience, she will have references, and those references will know her work style and accomplishments better than you and a former friend of hers do.

Being an adult means working with people we don't always like personally. Nothing you have said about her suggests that hiring her will be disastrous for the company. Maybe she's different outside a classroom? Maybe your company is looking for an employee who puts her career first?

Trying to essentially blackball her from your company seems "vindictive and spiteful" to me. I would suggest keeping an open mind about her; maybe once you get to know her, you'll discover you work well together after all.
posted by sallybrown at 2:57 PM on January 30, 2010

It really depends on your relationship with your supervisor.

If your relationship with your supervisor is one of mutual respect and trust, simply tell him/her straight up that you know the candidate and don't believe she's good match for the job based on her communication skills and performance in groups. Don't talk trash about her but give an honest and professional opinion.

If your relationship with your supervisor is less than that, keep quiet unless directly asked for your opinion.

Regarding your confidence at work, relax. It takes at minimum a year for me to feel comfortable and confident in my performance at any new job. I've had some jobs take longer for that feeling to set in. Give yourself some time.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2010

You aren't kids in school anymore, this is a workplace you are talking about. But it kinda sounds like you are talking about the schoolyard. One person trying to "on up" you even though they work in another area, another about to be hired who used to one up you ... all sounds like a lot of school age drama.

You can only control what you do. If you are professional in your job, your work is at a high standard etc etc etc then you have nothing to worry about.

Of course, if she gets the job and does try to undermine you, theoretically it should reflect badly on her. But in reality it doesn't always go that way.

To be more helpful, think about these points: "I know she had also applied to the job I have now and was not given an offer" - think about that. You and her applied for the same job, you got it, she didn't. You have it all over her! If she tries to pull any one-up-person-ship games with you, you can quietly pull that one out of your bag.

Also - you've been there for a period of time already, in terms of learning the ropes, you are a long way ahead of her.
posted by Admira at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless you have been specifically solicited for advice on the hiring by your manager, I don't really see where you have any chance at input in this decision.

Also, the tone of your post and the other information that you share suggests that you are indeed stressed out. The fact that you have issues with another coworker, and the weird bit at the end of your post where you basically state that you are better than her (the possible new hire), raise a few flags. I'm not necessarily suggesting therapy or that you are crazy but I do think that you need to step back from this situation and maybe get a more objective opinion (of the whole thing, the coworker one-upmanship, the stress, the paranoia about being fired, the dislike and rivalry with this possible new hire).
posted by anansi at 3:08 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I see a couple of issues here. 1) You don't want to work with this potential hire because she'll make your life miserable. 2) You don't think she has the necessary skills to be a good hire.

If this is just a personal bias, then you really don't have a leg to stand on. However, if teamwork is important to your workgroup, then you could suggest to your boss that any final candidates meet with other members of the work-group. Hiring managers are invested in finding someone with not only the best qualifications, but also someone who will 'fit' with the existing members of the group.

If that's not a possibility, then you could talk to your manager and find out what qualifications he/she is looking for in the successful candidate. Disclose that you know this candidate, and have had experience with her. You could tactfully suggest that the manager ask her some questions around her teamwork experience, how well she works in a group, how competitive she is, communication skills, etc...

There are a lot of angles you can use. Just don't make it too personal, and trust that your hiring manager will see some of the things you do. Good luck.
posted by Cheeto at 3:11 PM on January 30, 2010


I am new to my job; it took me seven months after graduation last spring

So like two months new?

Nobody in management gives the first shit what you think yet. If anything, your opinion carries negative weight. Even if they do ask about this candidate, evade the question. There's nothing you can say where you don't come out sounding like you're holding a grudge, which, no offense, you are. And so when they do hire her against your recommendation, you're doubly screwed.

Take consolation in the fact that, while a significant percentage of your future colleagues will be incompetents, liars, backstabbers, ass-kissers, climbers, or generally weasels, at least you know what categories this one fits into right out of the gate and can plan accordingly.

(That said, it sounds like you're being way too hard on yourself about your job performance. In quite a few positions it's months before until you're not slowing down the rest of the team, forget about making active contributions. Unless you're actually getting negative feedback from management, just keep on keepin on.)
posted by a young man in spats at 3:23 PM on January 30, 2010 [11 favorites]

If I were in your boss's position, and you told me what you just wrote here, I would actually be much more likely to hire her.

Of course I'm not anyone's boss so it hardly matters.
posted by delmoi at 3:37 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep your mouth shut.

If a junior employee came to me to volunteer an unsolicited negative opinion about a potential new hire - particularly complaints as ambiguous as the ones you have listed here - well, I'd have a negative opinion of someone after that conversation but it wouldn't be the new hire.

Seriously, consider this from their perspective. If it took you seven month after a spring graduation to get hired then you've been there, what, 3 months? And you're going to go tell them that this woman is too ambitious? That she only works well with professors on group projects?

"Too" ambitious is in the eye of the beholder and the other is a "he said she said" kind of contention. And you'd be better off if they don't start wondering whether the problem in the collaboration is you, not her. If you have never actually collaborated with her then you REALLY come off looking bad - then you're someone who will claim she works poorly with others based on nothing but hearsay.

Seriously, take a look at your actions here and ask yourself - if you were in her shoes and heard she was trying to figure out ways to sandbag you from getting a job there... who would sound like the competitive and overly-ambitious one?

I'm not trying to attack or criticize you here - you just need to see just how poorly this can be perceived by others.

As far as I know if she is hired, she will make my work life miserable I would say file that under "prophecy, self-fulfilling."
posted by phearlez at 3:40 PM on January 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

if you're asked, volunteer your honest opinion. she's intense. no harm done saying how you perceived her. honesty wins.

if you're not asked, stfu. you always meet twice in life.
posted by krautland at 3:49 PM on January 30, 2010

It's honestly none of your business. You come off as petty, selfish, and arrogant in your question.

You really don't know what this woman is like (you admit to not having been close), but also admit she's talented, ambitious, and smart.

It's not about you. It's about what's best for the company. And like it or not (despite anything that has happened in the past) she might be it.

Decide if you want to hand in your resignation or not if she is hired, but don't meddle or you risk coming off negatively to your supervisor. Even a bit jealous.
posted by cmgonzalez at 3:53 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I ran into this situation before at a small company. And although I had never worked with the person directly, I knew enough of her (and enough people who knew her) to know that she would make our lives a living hell. Luckily, one of the people in charge of hiring knew her and said "No way, she's nuts" and she didn't get hired.

In short, if she's as bad as you and others say she is, she is building her own reputation, and as the new kid, there is no reason for you to intervene.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:12 PM on January 30, 2010

If I were in your boss's position, and you told me what you just wrote here, I would actually be much more likely to hire her.

If I was your boss, I would pull her resume out of the pile while you were talking to me, and ask if you wanted to have the honor of setting it on fire. Different strokes.

Of course, I would only do that if I liked you.

But even if I wasn't crazy about you, your opinion would still carry weight. I have been a manager and a key influencer in the hiring process, and I'm amazed that there are people here telling you not to speak up.

Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way. Yes, you should make it about her, and not about you.

"I hear that X is being considered for this position. I know her from school, and I just feel obligated to say, out of my loyalty to this company, that she's not a team player, and I don't think she would be a good fit here."

If they ask if it's personal, then you say no. If they ask if you would have a problem working with her, then you say "I can work with anybody. But she really can't."

Here's something really important. During the interview process, it doesn't take much to blackball someone. Lots of people are looking for a job right now, and any little thing that gives management a reason to take someone out of the pile is a big help.

Also, if they ignore your advice and hire her anyway, then you'll know where you stand. Even then, you will know the terrain better than she does, and can take advantage of that fact in your interactions with her.

This situation is great practice for all sorts of similar, but infinitely worse, situations that you'll have to deal with in your career. Feel free to contact me directly. Good luck!
posted by bingo at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think you have something of a duty to at least offer to provide the information you have, but only if you can do it with the intention of wanting them to make a decision that would really work best for the group. You have to remove your ego (the concern about competition and one-upsmanship) and want what is best for the entire project.

If you can do this and go into the conversation not wanting to badmouth her, here are the steps: let your boss know you have info and see if they want it. If so, honestly report her strengths while flagging the issue that concerns you. Don't offer actual testimony, just raise it as a topic for further investigation. Don't sound like you dislike her personally, and in fact, distance yourself from the past conflict as much as possible. You don't want them having to think of your feelings towards her as a problem in themselves. ("We really want to hire Judy, but oh God, is Anonymous going to be walking around with that chip on her shoulder? I guess Judy snubbed her once or something.") Make sure you're operating in the best interests of the team, and, as much as possible, give the impression that you would do whatever necessary to work smoothly with her. Proceed carefully, and at every step, say the minimum necessary and only if you sense they really want to know.

Workplaces are different, but in mine (which have all been relatively horizontal and collegial), this would be how I'd handle the conversation:

You (near the end of a regular meeting with your supervisor): "and how's the hiring going?"
Boss: "blah blah blah"
You: "And I heard Barbara Smith applied...? We went to graduate school together!"

--------- Either they ask your opinion here, or they don't ----------
Boss: "Oh really? She's currently the top candidate. We are really excited."
[If they don't want to hear your opinion, just be supportive.]
You: "Great. It must feel good to have the process wrapping up."
Boss: "Yes, we're relieved to finally be fully staffed and ready to get moving."

--------- Or ---------
Boss: "Oh really? What do you think of her?"
[Try to really tell whether they are just asking to be polite, or whether they are assessing her as a candidate and really want your opinion.]
You (thoughtfully): "Hmm. She gave some great presentations and worked closely with her professors, so she seems really smart." [Pause thoughtfully.]

--------- Either they interrupt you here, or they don't ----------
Boss: "She does seem really smart. There are a few really smart candidates."
You: "Well, great! sounds like you have a lot of good options."

--------- Or, if you're not interrupted ---------
You: "... I did hear some issues around group projects."
Boss: "Oh really? Like what?"
You: "Well, [provide one sentence that describes the issue as generically and non-blaming and fact-oriented as possible: it seemed like some miscommunications might've occurred. / it sounded like there were differing ideas about how to proceed. / it sounded like people were not clear about who was doing what, and not everything got finished. / while the group product was very high quality, it seemed like the process of getting there wasn't quite as smooth as it could've been. / it seemed like occasionally group discussions didn't go as well as they might have.] I was never clear on the details. [As though you really don't know whether the rumors are true or not:] Maybe the interview or her references can let you think about how she works as part of a team. [Open-mindedly, as though you'd be fine with working with her:] But her code is impeccable."

On preview, I do agree that in your question, it sounds like insecurity and competition are intermixed with your opinion toward her, so I'd scrutinize your intentions closely, and not say anything if any personal anxiety, spite, or a sense of rejection is coloring your opinion. If the problem is not that this person actually caused problems but just that she has a different approach to life and to socializing than you do, or that her go-getter style makes your personal insecurities flare up, then I'd deal with your internal issues on your own time and resolve to relate to her as a complete professional. Separate your personal opinion and your desire to work with someone you really like, and think -- is this person going to cause problems? If not, don't say anything to your boss.
posted by salvia at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, I agree with bingo that it doesn't take much, and that's why I'd say so little. In my work environment, people are pretty circumspect and generally try to be positive, or at least constructive, about everything. So one very delicately-worded statement would actually be pretty damning. It'd be more damning than coming right out with a whole slew of details, because it implies that you're someone who would prefer not to be saying anything bad at all.
/sorry for the novel
posted by salvia at 4:31 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I was your boss, I would pull her resume out of the pile while you were talking to me, and ask if you wanted to have the honor of setting it on fire.

bingo, my workplaces tend to be like that too. Everybody is welcome to speak their minds. I'd be interested to know what the OP's office culture is like.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:33 PM on January 30, 2010

salvia has it. Make sure you talk about how she was in situations in general terms, but without you or your personality involved. You also need to decide whether they value you and/or your opinion, and/or the interpersonal relationship issues. If they do, they will likely be receptive to anything and draw you out, and it won't take much. If they don't, they won't. Offer them the bait and wait for them to draw bit by bit out.
posted by kch at 4:49 PM on January 30, 2010

Keep your mouth shut. You've never worked with her, and based upon what you wrote here, it sounds like you don't like her, not that she wouldn't be a good employee for the company. You sound pretty insecure and I think if you voice concern over the new potential hire, it may reflect poorly upon you. And if they do hire her, try to keep an open mind.
posted by emd3737 at 5:04 PM on January 30, 2010

If it were me, I would mention in front of the manager that you graduated from the same program. This opens it up for your manager to ask you if you know anything about her.
IF your manager asks you, Then you can simply say that she is very skilled; add as a minor afterthought that there is a bit of a personality clash between you, but if she's hired you will of course work around it in a professional manner.
Don't say anything else.

As a manager who has hired, a slight tip-off about the personality of a possible new hire was useful to me. But you can't overdo it.
posted by Billegible at 5:30 PM on January 30, 2010

*that there MIGHT BE A bit of a personality clash between you...."

Important not to speak negative statements as definites, but possibles.
posted by Billegible at 5:31 PM on January 30, 2010

I'm a junior member at a firm and those of us from the same institution get asked to evaluate potential new hires. There's been a case where all of us agreed that a candidate was brilliant but impossible to work with.

However, this hinges on our management A) asking our opinion and B) respecting said opinions. They believe that, since we're compatible fits for the culture of the company, we can adequately evaluate other people's personalities for potential culture fit.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:11 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

My field often has a lot of folks who will, at the drop of a hat, without thinking twice, throw one another under the bus, over and over again.

They always end up working the same jobs on the same shows, weirdly enough.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:27 PM on January 30, 2010

If I was your boss, I would pull her resume out of the pile while you were talking to me, and ask if you wanted to have the honor of setting it on fire. Different strokes.

Keep in mind the guy's only been working there for two months. If it was a trusted, long term employee it would be different. Of course it depends on what not "being a team player" means in this situation. Being really demanding about getting her way, slacking off and coasting on others work, or taking credit for it? Just being unpleasant to work with?

We don't really know. The fact that professors seem to like her would indicate she does have some positive qualities.
posted by delmoi at 6:48 PM on January 30, 2010

I'm surprised that people are so strongly against saying something. Hiring a bad candidate can be death to a team (been there, repeatedly), and at least at the company I work for, the interview process is basically geared entirely toward finding reasons not to hire someone (not in a mean or confrontational way, just that we'd rather hire no one than a bad candidate). If I were a manager, I would certainly take your advisement under consideration, though it certainly wouldn't be the sole criterion I'd use.

This only works if you have a good boss, with whom you have a good relationship. You have to be tactful either way, but I think you should mention casually that you know the candidate from school. If your boss is interested in your opinion (and she should be at this point!), you explain that in your opinion, the candidate seems kind of difficult to work with, but that you don't really know her that well, and you aren't sure how she will act in this situation. If your boss is interested, she may ask for further details, but at this point, this is enough that your boss will look for it when speaking to the candidate, and may check her references more carefully.

If this was actually me and my boss, I'd be all "Dude, naw, don't hire this woman", and he'd be all "Of for realz? Okay, I won't", to give you an idea of how it works at me company—we're very informal
posted by !Jim at 6:58 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, agree with Bingo. If you're the one who's going to have to work with this person, any potential conflicts are entirely relevant.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:14 PM on January 30, 2010

One thing I've learned in life... don't take away a person's opportunity to earn a living. I wouldn't want karma biting me in the ass.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:21 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you were to approach management with your concerns, you would sound weak. For one thing, you can't predict the future. Secondly, why don't you focus on improving your game? This doesn't mean that you have to become a backstabber. However, you can be mindful of your own performance, the politicking that you need to do to get recognized, and how you will interact with more ruthless coworkers. This classmate of yours is not the only person you're going to work with who is like this - you need to toughen up. And if your workplace encourages and rewards behaviour that you don't like, why not find another job?

But focus on yourself, and don't worry about unknowns.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:38 PM on January 30, 2010

If you've only been there for 2-3 months, your opinions won't carry any weight, so I wouldn't volunteer anything. If your boss asks you about her, you can get your point across by saying, "Yes, I knew her at school. She seemed... ambitious" (the pause can say it all). Don't say anything negative and definitely don't say that you "heard" anything from a mutual classmate (gossip is bad).

I'm replying because I really wanted to give feedback on this comment you made:
"I enjoy the work but it stresses me out at the moment because I'm required to know how everything works in the entire company. While I understand there is a breaking-in period, I feel incompetent for not knowing everything yet and constantly wonder if they are going to fire me."

One, you're not required to know how everything works in the entire company (unless you got hired as CEO). Two, I am a long way from college, but one of my interviewers at my current job told me that he wanted to hire me after I said in our interview that it would probably take me 6 months to learn the job. He's subsequently mentioned this, in the context of it being annoying that so many people in interviews act like they're going to run the show in 2-3 months. This is a long-winded way of telling you to not be so hard on yourself.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:26 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

The way that you’re framing this right now makes it sound like the company shouldn’t do something to make YOU feel uncomfortable. Then you’ll be seen as petty and there being something wrong with you. If you frame it as knowing that she wouldn’t be a good fit for the organization and the work culture, you have a better chance of having your opinion taken under consideration and respected. Frame it as, “This is what I know about her, take it or leave it” rather than “I don't like her, so don't hire her!”

Today I found out that they are considering one of my classmates from my graduate program.
How did you find out (similarly, how do you know about her interview successes in your last paragraph)? Were you informed by your boss, or was this through work gossip? This matters in terms of how you’ll bring this up with your boss. It’s better that your boss knows that you know this potential hiring decision before you approach him/her. If your boss doesn’t know that you know this, then you may have to explain how you know this. Which could get tricky, depending on all sorts of factors (e.g. work culture, what your boss is like, etc.).

I feel incompetent for not knowing everything yet and constantly wonder if they are going to fire me.
I also think that easing up on yourself will help you deal with this situation. It’s impossible, and kind of ludicrous, to know everything. Are you a perfectionist?

We're only a work group of five right now so I know if she is hired, she will make my work life miserable.
You don’t know how seriously she is being considered (or do you)? And you don’t know, even if you do say something to your boss, that could still hire her. So if you do have to end up working with her, having this attitude will not help (as others have suggested). This is where you have to learn how to deal with difficult personalities. If your company has an employee assistance program, it might be helpful to access those resources (or even right now, if you want help dealing with your stress).
posted by foxjacket at 10:31 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I totally agree with bingo, and think you should say everything s/he recommends that you say.

A good manager would want to know if you know what it's like to work with her, and would listen to your concerns. ESPECIALLY if the dreaded words "not a team player" come out. That's an absolute no-no any more. How is she not a team player? Does she not do any work and then take the credit for yours? Or try to hog the whole project? Or treat everyone like crap? It MIGHT help to elaborate on how she isn't one, if it's something that your organization would hate. Okay, "does her work but treats everyone like crap" may not be an issue for them, but "doesn't do the work with the team" would.

That said, if you aren't asked at all about this chick, and don't have any ins on the hiring process, it might be difficult for you to comment. How do you know that they want to hire this chick--did the manager tell you or did the rumor mill? You might have better luck if it was the former rather than the latter, especially if you're not supposed to know about who they might hire.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:31 PM on January 30, 2010

What bingo and some others are ignoring is the fact that it's been almost a year since these two were classmates. The former classmate may not have worked well with others before, but the OP isn't giving her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she has changed. Or perhaps the OP misjudged her in the first place.

This whole situation reeks of 'personal'. Sorry.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:32 AM on January 31, 2010

As a manager of a department in a small company that has been constantly hiring for the last four years, I am very surprised by the bulk of the advice given here. A hiring mistake is absolutely the worst type of mistake a manager can make. We spend the interview process trying to root out problems ahead of time. A person who presents themselves very well but is going to play politics within the team is the hardest to spot and no manager wants a person like that on their team.

Even though you are new, you are now part of the organization, and one of your key responsibilities is to ensure that the your company is a good workplace. That means it should grow with good, positive people. You should have an honest and open conversation with your manager, and give him all the information you can. Let him know, however, that you will respect whatever decision he makes. Managers like input for making decisions.

If you are in an organization where this kind of candor is not appreciated, that is very regrettable, but still you are better off finding that out sooner rather than later.
posted by yoz420 at 5:56 AM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might think she's Cutthroat Bitch, but talking behind her back to make her lose out on a job opportunity is something Cutthroat Bitch would do.
posted by pracowity at 2:01 PM on January 31, 2010

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