Can my career recover from this?
November 20, 2020 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Last month I asked this question about facing someone who harassed me in the workplace. The situation is still eating at me and I'm truly starting to worry that this experience has wrecked my brief career. I'm wondering how my career can recover from this? How can I, personally, get over this?

This entire harassment experience has *really* done a number on me. My self-esteem has been awful since it happened. I still feel like shit.

(Long story short... I was a temporary replacement for someone on a medical leave of absence from an organization, person I replaced harassed me online, due to weird scheduling the harassed and I have a 1-month overlap before my contract ends and I leave the organization)

The harasser has been quite easy to avoid at work. Apparently my "grandboss" and "boss" had a sit-down with them about everything, this person was/is not allowed to approach me or communicate with me in any way at work. On one hand it has worked out well because I haven't had to interact with them at all. On the other hand, it just feels fucking embarrassing to be in a situation like this.

My job at this organization is coming to and end and I just feel... so lost. My "grandboss" and "boss" have told me MULTIPLE times that I did noting wrong in this situation, the harasser would have been shitty to no matter who replaced them. Apparently they are just *like that*. I think this should make me feel better, but it really doesn't. I feel like I've been a shitty Teapot Maker and this entire experience has made me completely regret getting into Teapot Making. I feel so awful about myself, if I had just done a better job... this wouldn't have happened.

What is starting to worry me about this situation and the harasser... is that I'm worried they might try to sabotage my career! I KNOW I sound very paranoid, but I can't get the thought of my head. It's really messing me. Recently, I applied for a job at Another Teapot Making Organization for a position I had the exact experience for... so I was hoping to at least get an interview. But nothing. I know this person has a friend who works at Another Teapot Making Organization. When I realized that it was like... well, duh, of course I didn't get a job interview! No wonder! (I do know there was an internal candidate for the position as well, so maybe not...). I applied and interviewed for another job locally in the town at Different Teapot Making Organization we live in and, well, it went to a friend of this person's! Again, there could be a legitimate reason for why I didn't get it (I didn't have a lot of experience in an area they were looking for), but it just makes me... wonder?

There are logical reasons for why I didn't get an interview (an internal candidate) or why I didn't get the job (more experience),and there are all these connections to this person and it could be a coincidence, but I'm concerned it's not!! I feel completely crazy for thinking this.

Even if I am over-reacting, I don't know how to really recover from this experience professionally. I feel genuinely worried that this person is going to sabotage my career. All because I didn't do EXACTLY what they would have done in this position. I feel so frustrated and sad.

Can my career recover from this? How do you bounce back from facing harassment like this? This person can't know EVERYONE in the field. I know that my "grandboss" and "boss" have encouraged me and assured me that they'll be positive references. My "grandboss" is particularly well connected and respected in our field. I am sure her professional opinion of me would go further than the harasser's, but I am just scared.

How do I go on professionally after experiencing something like this? I can't constantly be paranoid and worried forever. But alternatively, what do I do if this person is ACTUALLY trying to sabotage me?! I'm seriously considering changing to a completely different area of the Teapot Making industry after this, because I HIGHLY doubt she knows anyone in that area. The problem is I have much less experience in the other area of the field and all my experience up until now feels like a waste of time, if that's the case.

I am in therapy, but I'm afraid it's not going to be enough.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are there organizations in your Teapot expertise you could join? Online, like on LinkedIn or other sites/orgs like that? I'm wondering if connecting with other Teapot Makers, outside of actively looking for a job, might help set your mind at ease with regards to how far-reaching your work nemesis' sphere of influence is. I think it would take a lot, outside of having an especially small, focused line of work in a very small area, for someone to sabotage anyone's job prospects too far out of an organization, and connecting with others who are doing work in the field may help to show that there are many people and places that have no knowledge or interaction with this person at all.
posted by xingcat at 8:38 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]

This is not exactly the same situation, but perhaps hearing about my experience will help.

I was a senior director of engineering, looking for a position at that same level outside my company. I applied to a company and had an in-person "coffee chat" interview with the hiring manager at their workplace. The meeting went really well from my perspective -- HM and I connected and we talked longer than the planned time (usually a good sign IMO).

I applied thru a local recruiter and the next day met with them, expecting to hear next steps on the interview process. Instead, I heard that I would definitely NOT be considered for the position -- that this was a small company and that there was someone there who had worked with me before that absolutely positively NEVER wanted to work with me again.

I was stunned. I racked my brain trying to figure out who it was, using LinkedIn to try to find out who that might be. A few years later and two jobs later (in the same field, in the same geo area), I figured out who it was. I can understand why they had that perspective -- I laid them off and didn't recognize them in their new workplace or even recall that they had worked in my organization (not directly for me, but for a manager who worked for me).

Not the same situation but I did experience getting blackballed and still was able to get hired. So sorry for your crummy experience!
posted by elmay at 9:09 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]

I actually was blackballed for a while after getting fired, but I was still able to get jobs easily. I'm not sure what your career is or how much power this person has in this company or in the field in general but unless they are a HUGE player across the board, like, nationally I doubt you should be worried.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:20 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Unless this person and/or their friends are fairly senior or you are in a tiny industry with tiny companies, it is unlikely they are influencing the hiring process. Even if those things are true, two no-gos is not a sign that your career is in a downhill spiral and needs recovery. I wonder if your anxiety and stress is preventing you from perhaps interviewing at your best.

I once had to let someone go, and when they were interviewing somewhere else I was asked if I would hire this person again. I explained why I would not. The person was hired anyway, because my reasons were not compelling to the person asking. I think it is actually really hard to actually stop someone from eventually getting a new role unless you are expending a lot of time and resources on it, which would probably strain your own professionalism... and most people aren't willing to take that risk.

One last thing: perhaps you could inquire with boss/grandboss if there are any specific orgs they can refer you to? Even just the networking opportunity could be helpful in getting your foot in a new door.
posted by sm1tten at 9:58 AM on November 20 [3 favorites]

Was Harasser's Friend the hiring manager at Another Teapot Making Organization? If not, it's unlikely that Harasser's Friend would have received your name or resume. Usually those are confidential.

Which scenario is more likely? =)

1. When you submitted your resume, it got sent to Harasser's Friend, even though resumes are usually confidential.
2. Harasser's Friend injected themselves into an unrelated hiring process.
3. Harasser's Friend stuck their neck out at their own job to blackball you (a stranger), based solely on what Harasser said. They risked their own reputation, in order to further Harasser's vendetta.

- Another Teapot Making Organization preferred the internal candidate.
posted by cheesecake at 10:03 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

cheesecake, the scenario you posted isn't at all unlikely. It has happened plenty of times in organizations where I've worked. Resumes get shared with people in the departments that are hiring. This is especially true if the person looking at the resume knows that an existing staff member has worked at that same organization as an applicant.
posted by sardonyx at 10:36 AM on November 20 [3 favorites]

So listen... did you end up talking to a therapist like you said in your last question? I think you are focusing on potential sabotage and retaliation when you are giving us some evidence that that's not necessarily what's happening. This was an extraordinarily stressful situation. The fact that your boss and grandboss told this person to back off and stay away is an indication that this is not about you. You have to work on believing them. I'm particularly worried about this:

My "grandboss" and "boss" have told me MULTIPLE times that I did noting wrong in this situation, the harasser would have been shitty to no matter who replaced them. Apparently they are just *like that*. I think this should make me feel better, but it really doesn't. I feel like I've been a shitty Teapot Maker and this entire experience has made me completely regret getting into Teapot Making.I feel so awful about myself, if I had just done a better job... this wouldn't have happened.

This is really sad. You are blaming yourself, as if you have control over how people treat you, even though multiple people who know much better have assured you that is not the case. I know it's really hard to move past situations like this, but I think therapy is super important right now, if you can afford it. Do you have an employee assistance program you can use for a few visits?

Let's say your friend came to you because they were walking down a random street one day and a limb from a tree fell on them and they ended up with a broken leg. Then let's say they said, "It was my fault; if only I had been walking better or had taken a different path, this wouldn't have happened." You'd tell them that was nonsense; it was super random, and had nothing to do with their actions, and it could have happened to anyone. Well, that's what your bosses are telling you. You need to work on believing them.

Because what's happened is you've decided, despite evidence, that this is your fault, and that therefore you are bad at this job and field, and that this person is now going to be your forever enemy.

Even if I am over-reacting, I don't know how to really recover from this experience professionally. I feel genuinely worried that this person is going to sabotage my career. All because I didn't do EXACTLY what they would have done in this position.

What you've said here is in exact opposition to what your bosses said. They have told you this would have happened to ANYONE in this position.

Here's what I think and what I've experienced with terrible, bullying, controlling coworkers: other people know they are terribly, bullying, and controlling. So I wouldn't presume that this person has this kind of sway. As you said, there are lots of reasons you might not have gotten those positions.

It's really hard to be in this situation, but I think you are catastrophizing. I don't think any one person has that much power and control over your future career options. But, even more, I think you've had a really shitty experience and you need to process it in therapy, as soon as possible. Good luck to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:45 AM on November 20 [18 favorites]

If your "grandboss" and "boss" both indicated that this person would have done this to anyone, then it's likely they have.

And if this person does have a history of bullying and really off-the-wall behavior (multiple anonymous complaints), then it's just as likely that this person has a reputation as a trouble-making, drama-creator, time-suck. So even if this person did try to interfere with the hiring process their comments were likely dismissed.

I would think about the things you can do to inoculate yourself against this person's nonsense:

Ask boss & grandboss to write recommendations/testimonials on your Linked In profile.
Go to a virtual conference in your field and meet people.
Reach out to people in companies or positions you're interested in (who don't currently have a job opening) for informational interviews.
Invest in a certification or do some free online courses to build skills in new technology that would make you a more competitive candidate.
Find a way to volunteer with a non-profit where you can use your teapot making skills and build your resume/connections.

The more people you have out in the world singing your praises the more harasser's voice will be drowned out (if anyone is listening to them in the first place).
posted by brookeb at 10:57 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]

The fact that you and your harasser have both a boss and a "grandboss" (great term, btw), and you're not referring to the grandboss as "the CEO" or "the owner of the company", indicates to me that this position is not terribly senior (at least in terms of responsibility, if not actual length of employment). I find it pretty unlikely that someone several degrees below upper management would have such far-reaching influence throughout your entire industry, unless your industry is something mafia-adjacent like garbage collection or casinos and your harasser is a ranking member of the mafia. (And if that is somehow the case, you've got bigger problems.)

Depending on the industry and the size of the town you live in, what has happened so far in your job search is exactly what you should expect. It's entirely normal for people in the same industry to know one another. If you're, say, a bank teller in Manhattan, it might be a little more surprising that your harasser knows *everyone*, but if you live in even a fairly large city, that's not unusual at all. I used to work at a screenprinting company in a large midwestern city, and I knew people at several other screenprinters in our city. Some were people I'd worked with who moved on to other companies, but some were people I knew socially (not professionally) who just happened to have similar jobs at different companies. It happens. And if you live in a small town, it's almost guaranteed to happen. My mom is a paralegal in my hometown, and I'd be surprised if there's a single law firm there where she doesn't know someone. It would be nearly impossible for someone who had worked at my mom's firm to apply for a job at another firm in town without running into someone my mom knows. That's just how social networks work. Based on the fact that you actually know who the positions ended up going to, I'm going to assume that you're in either a small town or a very specialized field, and so yeah, it's not unusual at all for people at different companies to know each other.

What's missing in your post is any indication that your harasser and their various professional acquaintances had any sort of conversation about you. You're just making an assumption, and on quite thin grounds. At the company with the internal candidate, you were unlikely to get the job even if your harasser had somehow given you a glowing recommendation. It's just not very common for external candidates to beat out qualified internal candidates. As for the other company, if the person who got the job was a friend of your harasser, that's an indication that this person is at least somewhat experienced in the field and is probably qualified for reasons beyond their social life. There are entirely plausible, non-paranoid reasons why this played out the way it did.

One thing to keep in mind is that it's extremely rare to get the first job you apply for. It's pretty rare to get the second job you apply for. As a lot of people have experienced this year, you can send out hundreds of applications before you even get an interview. The fact that you were not hired after two applications indicates nothing except that you're normal. Depending on your industry, the mere existence of a job posting doesn't actually mean there's an open position. A lot of public-sector employers, for example, are required to post "openings" publicly even if they know who they're going to hire. (This is how I almost applied for a head football coach position at a Big Ten university once.) It's entirely possible that both companies knew who they were hiring before posting the jobs, and the postings were just a formality.

What you do have going for you is that both your boss and your grandboss both think you're well-qualified for similar positions. That's in direct opposition to your feeling that you're a shitty Teapot Maker. That's why this is a mental health issue and not a work/career issue. Your anxiety and paranoia is causing you to disregard objective fact. That needs to be addressed, because it's having a pretty major impact on your life (making you consider a career change). This is what your therapist is for.

And besides, any hiring manager who takes the word of a fairly junior employee of another company over both a direct supervisor and a more senior manager deserves what they get. If they are listening to your harasser, you shouldn't want to work there in the first place, because they're probably dysfunctional places to work.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:22 AM on November 20 [4 favorites]

You can recover and exist on the planet with this person in the same field. Frustratingly, all of your concerns are valid but the situation (though vague and disguised) is incredibly common no matter what industry. More insight in a moment, sit tight, stay calm, remember why your particular perspective or skills are invaluable.
posted by Wichienmaat at 12:19 PM on November 20

It's very possible that this person felt threatened by you as well, worried that you might end up doing the work so well that the company would find a way to keep you on instead of taking them back after their leave. Whether or not that was actually a possibility, it could have motivated them to devote time and energy to trying to make it sound like you weren't doing competent work. If so, they wouldn't have a motivation to think about you at all going forward.

Please listen to what your boss and grandboss are saying, and let that drown out all of the negative words that you have heard from this person and that you are continuing to say to yourself. The future will get better once you are past the immediate situation!
posted by past unusual at 1:04 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

Yes. Your career can recover from this.

Also, you can recover from this.

Try not to let this bad experience inhibit your search for new and better opportunities. The major damage from this type of experience is that you limit your own career explorations out of fear of being rejected or having the horrible experience repeated. (I know this from personal experience.)

You could stand to be a little angry rather than embarrassed. Why was this crazy-acting person not fired? Why were they not forced to apologize, in writing, for their misconduct? Why were they not at least disciplined? The answer: because the crazy-acting wrongdoer has more power than the normal employee they chose as their victim. Or should I say, their current victim, because that is what the bosses mean by “this is just the way this person is.” They mean the wrongdoer has done this or similar misconduct multiple times, and is likely to keep doing the same, and no one is going to do anything about it. There is no way that could possibly be your fault. I suggest you reframe this situation to think badly of your bosses, not yourself, and to consider this a badly managed company that you are glad to be leaving.
posted by KayQuestions at 2:01 PM on November 20 [6 favorites]

I actually think you could do with leaning on boss and grandboss (awesome term btw, I’ll be stealing that!) in terms of using their connections for another job outside your company. To be honest, they’re lucky you’re not suing the company for mental anguish and allowing the harassment to continue. I think they realise this which is why they’re falling over themselves to tell you they’ll give you a positive recommendation. They owe you so I’d be politely hitting them up for any help they may be able to give.

Put it this way, if I ran a company where an employer was telling me that they needed therapy because the harassment they experienced was so severe they weren’t sure they’d ever be able to work again, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d be pulling every string I had to land them in another job with another firm to ensure I wouldn’t be on the hook for ending their career. Now obviously I wouldn’t be saying that to them, it sounds like blackmail. But your distress is already evident and if they can help you, they should be. You have leverage.
posted by Jubey at 4:41 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]

I actually think you could do with leaning on boss and grandboss (awesome term btw, I’ll be stealing that!) in terms of using their connections for another job outside your company. To be honest, they’re lucky you’re not suing the company for mental anguish and allowing the harassment to continue.

I came to say exactly this. Boss and Grandboss are lucky you are not holding them to account for running a workplace where things like this are allowed to go unchecked and unpunished. They're also lucky you have not connected with any of the other people that this person has harassed--yet. Why on earth is this company holding onto an employee who is known to be a disruptive bully? They're creating a major liability for themselves.

I think it would be worth having an explicit conversation with your bosses where you say you are worried about the effects of this situation, including your harassers continued presence in a position of influence in your industry, and ask for specific actions from them. Those could include endorsements on your LinkedIn profile, introductions to industry leaders, and outplacement help. As Jubey notes above, be careful in how you word things so it doesn't come across as extortion, but make your position very clear.

Finally, healing the emotional scars from this is a separate issue that deserves some attention of its own. You're blaming yourself and while that is common and understandable, it's not healthy. A trained therapist can help you get past this and see it for what it is--a piece of bad luck that had nothing to do with you or anything you did.
posted by rpfields at 11:09 AM on November 21

I'm wondering how my career can recover from this? How can I, personally, get over this?

So, humans are marvellous learning machines with pretty freaky hormones. Your brain has learned, as it is wired to do, that your harasser is to your career as a tiger is lurking in the forest, and it is trying to keep you from venturing into the woods so you don't get eaten. Go brain!

...except that the harassment you experienced is not a career-ender.

I echo that some therapy would help you, so that you don't have to feel this way for longer - it can help you speed up the healing process.

Professionally, do ask your boss and grandboss for help in your search. Just like "I wasn't successful in a couple of recent applications and I would really love to build on the experience here. Would you be able to help by reviewing my application material and/or helping me to make some connections?"

You can pivot if you want to and if you think it would help; there isn't really that much "wasted time" as your experience now will probably help with something in the future that you can't even see. But you don't have to.

Finally...look. This wasn't ever about you, you did NOTHING to deserve this. This is entirely your harasser's fault. And don't believe for a microsecond that there are not people out there who know how incredibly crazy this person is.

Since I infer from your questions that this isn't an owner of only two studios in a consolidated movie-making world, I really truly believe that this is in no way a career ender for you even if (unlikely) this person is making things tough for you. If anything, this person is setting you up to take over their job forever, because if they really are still focused on you (doubtful), they are probably about to kill their own career - they should already have done so and that your organization is permitting them to continue to work there is pretty bad.

I'm saying all that because I don't think you've yet grasped that this person is behaving so terribly that their career should end and that it is not about you. It is impacting you horrifically. But it's about them.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:46 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

Hi! I made an account just to answer this, because I really feel for you. I had a somewhat similar experience. Maybe it will help you to hear it.

Several years ago, I got my dream job. I'd been trying to break into this field and finally got hired, that too at a prestigious org. I had been hired to replace someone who was leaving -- let's call her "Jerk Josie" (JJ) -- but her plans changed and she ended up returning to the org (thankfully, my bosses and grandbosses were happy with my work and my job wasn't in any danger).

But for some reason, JJ couldn't stand me. At first, I got along fine with my colleagues. But then, it became clear that JJ seemed to influence several people (who were around my age) against me. During the time we overlapped, I was never invited to happy hour. They hardly acknowledged me. It was confusing, hurtful, and downright bizarre. To this day, I don't know what I did wrong (if anything).

I kept questioning myself: Did I talk too much about myself? Was I acting too happy to be there? (Did I mention it was my dream position at a prestigious org?) Did I talk about my partner too often? Was it because she somehow knew I was getting paid more than her for the same position? (I had more overall experience and more education, but was not an expert in that role. It was definitely a stretch role for me.) Was it because I sucked at the job? (My bosses gave me only positive feedback.) Was it my dressing style? Was I too earnest? Was it my dressing style?!

Even though JJ and I overlapped for over a year, after she left, it was as if the window of bonding with those who had ignored me had closed. When I made overtures, it seemed like there was a distance. If they made overtures, I was no longer interested.

I have since moved on from there to a different great opportunity elsewhere, but sometimes I think back to that time. I wasn't harassed per se, but there was something going on that was intentional, bullying-adjacent, and purposely targeted only at me. It lightly scarred me, in a way. But my bosses and grandbosses were never a part of it, and we remain on good terms. I have the secret triumph of knowing I worked there, did well, and took the opportunities I got there and moved onwards and upwards.

So, I do get it. I understand the feelings of anxiety, dread, and yes, even fear, that this situation has brought about in you. It's a form of trauma resulting from being singled-out and targeted, and the fact that you're new to this career and inexperienced probably doesn't help.

As mine and others' comments show, you're not alone in facing something like this. Your feelings and thoughts are real and valid.

Here is what I find really promising about your current situation.
(1) Your bosses and grandbosses are on your side (it will help to get written documentation of that, if you haven't already).
(2) You recognize that your anxious thoughts are veering into paranoid thoughts. This is the first step to working on reducing that paranoia.
(3) You're in therapy. Hopefully, you're getting some benefit from talking this out.

Now, if I may offer some advice:

Don't leave your field because of this person. Seriously. There are jerks everywhere (unfortunately). You will get through this; this too shall pass. I hate to say it, but it actually does make one stronger (though sometimes also more paranoid...). Your career hasn't been affected. You absolutely can and will bounce back. How will you recover? Well, I really recommend, if possible, spending time with loved ones (virtually or whatever you can do) and doing your favorite activities. Since you're in therapy, you could explore CBT. Also, try journaling. Make some art, if that's your thing. Write a hot, angry letter and don't send it. Work hard at your job, if it will make you feel good (it does for me), but remember, this job isn't your life. This person doesn't have all the power. It may not feel like it, but YOU have power, too. You have a life outside this and you are strong. You can do this. Bullies are assholes. Don't let them get you down.
posted by Taro at 3:58 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

I'm neither a management consultant nor an attorney but two questions I'd ponder 1) is the teapot making industry so small you will always have run ins with step-co-workers and half-coworkers? The likelihood of being "blackballed" for solo ranking positions in a niche industry may be litigated as slander, discrimination, prohibited personnel practices, etc. Talk to a EEOC representative and considering you are in therapy this outcome could lead to landmark decisions in protocols for dealing with workplace bullies if not monetary damages. 2) does this company/industry have a corp headquarters, union or HR delegate at an outsourcing company you could talk to? They may be just as well connected to competitors in order to salvage your self esteem.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 1:48 AM on November 23

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