HR misused my emergency contacts, requesting payment from a family friend, and more — Ask a Manager


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

1. My boss encouraged me to apply for a promotion, then said I didn’t have enough experience

My boss encouraged me to apply for a promotion. It’s something that I feel like I could do but don’t have a ton of experience with, but my understanding was that it was something my boss thought I could do successfully.

In the interview, my grandboss asked about another (non-existent) position that I had previously been told had no upward mobility. I thought this was strange, but gave a generally positive response while still trying to indicate that I was really interested in the position I had actually applied for.

A month or more later, I was told that they were happy with my work and my interview went well, but I didn’t have enough experience and there was nothing I could have done to get the promotion. They have not filled said position.

If there was no way I could possibly get the job because I don’t have enough experience, but my boss obviously knows my experience, why would I be encouraged to apply and they go through the interview? It seems like someone would have said something about that sooner. And when I asked about career development after the rejection, I was just told something vague about needing to get more experience, but no specifics about training or mentoring. The “not enough experience” in this context seems like a line, kind of like “it’s not you, it’s me”, and is making me re-evaluate some things. Am I off-base with that interpretation?

The most likely explanation is that your boss rethought how well you’d fit the role at some point. That could be because they tossed out the original suggestion too cavalierly, without really thinking it through, and later realized it wasn’t as strong of a match as they need. Or they might have sharpened their vision for the role over time, and realized as they did so that you’re not quite the right match. Or they might have been open to you wowing them in the interview and you did fine but they weren’t fully convinced. It’s also possible that your boss and your grandboss simply weren’t aligned; your boss thought you were a good fit but your grandboss disagreed. With all of those, “not enough experience” could be true and not an excuse, although ideally they’d give you more specific feedback and talk with you about what you could do to move up in the future.

2. How to send a payment request to a family friend who hasn’t paid for my work yet

In April, the music teacher of my partner’s dad reached out to me to help him with a short film. He had four days to complete it. He came over and spent the entire day here, and I filmed an interview with him and then went through all of his B-roll, performances, and the interview footage to edit the video together throughout the next few days, working crazy hours into the night. Because of the tight deadline and since he’s a family friend, I never sent a contract and deposit request as I normally would do for clients. I also thought this would be a nice portfolio piece so I wanted to do it. He was submitting the film to a film festival. It ended up coming fourth and so he didn’t win the award money. However, when he came over and we discussed the film before starting the interview, he said he would pay us and perhaps we could have a dinner together with my partner’s parents.

It is now two months later, and he hasn’t reached out with his budget to pay me for the work. According to my partner, my regular rate is very high. I wasn’t expecting him to pay my regular rate since he’s a family friend; I had said I would help him within his budget. The dinner never happened and now I feel awkward reaching out about payment. Should I send a formal email or an informal text message? Normally when working for friends at a discounted rate, I send an invoice for the full amount with a line item at the end showing the discount and then balance. But for this musician, I don’t really know how much the discount should be so I’m unsure how to proceed. I want to make sure I am not disrespectful or hurting the relationship in any way since he’s a close friend and the teacher of my partner’s dad.

If I’m understanding correctly, you never nailed down a specific amount he would pay — just that he would pay something and the amount would be worked out at a later date? It’s too late for this advice now, but that was the crucial error — because you could be thinking $X would be reasonable, and he could be thinking 10% of $X. It’s more fair to both of you to iron that out before anyone does any work — so you don’t end up not getting paid fairly, and so he doesn’t end up incurring a financial obligation far higher than he realized would be involved.

At this point, you should simply propose what you would consider a fair discounted rate. Send your normal invoice showing what you’d typically charge and then subtract the friends and family discount. Email that to him with a note saying something like, “I promised you a hefty discount, and that’s reflected here.” You could add, “If this doesn’t work for you, let me know what does fit your budget” — but that’s opening the door for him to counter-propose something much lower (and again, is a conversation better had before the work took place not after). You should also be prepared for the possibility that you’re not going to get paid; the fact that he hasn’t contacted you about payment in two months is not a good sign. But you’re concerned about being respectful of the relationship, so let’s hope/assume he will be too — but send that note as soon as possible, because the more time that passes, the lower your chances of working it out.

3. HR misused my emergency contacts

I’m in upper management. I took some approved PTO time to be with a family member having surgery.

While I was gone, a HR person who I know from work texted me that they hoped all was well. I didn’t respond for few days, and in the interim she accessed my emergency contacts, called them, and left a message. She also did an internet search, located my and my family’s home addresses, and shared that with other coworkers, while bragging about what she’d found. The person she called was upset as they didn’t know about the surgery and wanted to know why they called them when it wasn’t an emergency for me. I had no answer since I hadn’t known that had been done, until that very moment. I feel violated, and my HR doesn’t feel anything wrong was done. What are your thoughts?

That’s a huge violation. Emergency contacts are for emergencies — like if you have a medical emergency at work, or a natural disaster kills people in your area and they can’t reach you, or so forth. They’re not for wishing you well while you’re away tending to a sick family member. Nor should they be given out to random coworkers. I don’t know what the “bragging” piece of this about — that could have been more “I was able to get this number if you want to send her well wishes” than “haha, applaud me for doing this sneaky thing” — but the rest of it is a problem. And she’s in HR?! You’d be on solid ground escalating it above her head. Use the words “privacy violation” and “misuse of confidential information.”

4. How honest to be when interviewing during a leave of absence from school

Please help save my family from endless arguments about this. My dad has been diagnosed with a terminal illness so my brother has taken a leave of absence from his PhD program to move back in with my parents (on the other side of the U.S.). He’s been applying to local jobs and internships for the past six weeks and finally got a call for an interview. My family is at odds about what he should tell this prospective employer if they ask about his leave of absence. My dad and my brother (both from STEM fields) think he should be very honest about his plans to return to his PhD program. He’s planning on saying something like, “I want to finish my PhD program but if you’d like to sponsor me, I’ll sign a contract and promise to work here again after I graduate (date of graduation very TDB).” He thinks once he has a PhD they’ll like him even more, so they’ll be happy with this arrangement.

My mom and I (humanities) think he does not owe them his entire life story in a first round interview and that saying all this will hurt his chances — since it’s very expensive to hire and train people, they probably want someone who sounds a little more permanent. I also don’t think his proposal to work there after he graduates will carry any weight in an interview before they even know if he’d be a good fit and before they know if he’s a good worker, but my brother says these kinds of arrangements are very common in his field. But it’s not like he’ll be the only candidate, and he’ll probably be up against people who aren’t planning on going back to school, and everything else being equal, why wouldn’t they hire someone who was planning on sticking around? So my questions are: Who is right? And if it’s me and my mom, what would you suggest saying in an interview so that you’re not straight up lying, but you’re also not taking yourself out of the running? He does need a job after all. Thanks for breaking the tie!

It’s possible that this is a normal thing to do in his field, and he’s better positioned to know that than I am (or than you and his mom are). In general, though, and not specific to his field, no — “I’ll sign a contract and work here again later” would be odd and unpersuasive (he’s essentially saying “believe that I’m so awesome that you’ll want to do this out-of-the ordinary thing because it’ll obviously be worth your while,” but they don’t even know him yet) and “I’ll only be here for a short time before I’m gone for maybe years” would be a significant strike against him, since they want someone who will stay in the role for a while. But again, it’s entirely possible that it would be fine in his field; I don’t know and since there’s a question about it, it makes sense to defer to him and assume he knows his own field.

Generally, though, I’d recommend saying that he’s on a leave of absence from the program (it’s fine to explain about your dad) and isn’t sure what he’s going to do next, but he’s interested in this job and could see staying in it for at least several years because ____. If his plans change, they change — but right now it doesn’t sound like he has a solid timeline for returning to school, and he doesn’t know what will happen or when. (If I’m wrong and he’s committed to returning to school in X timeframe, then he has to decide if he’s comfortable fudging this or not; I’d feel ethically uneasy about that, but he has to balance that against how much he needs a job now.)

5. Screening out bad recruiters

I get contacted by a ton of recruiters (typically three a week) and I use the following email screening: “Thanks for reaching out. Right now, I’m fairly satisfied with my job. If you have a specific opening you’re trying to fill, send me the job description, pay band, and benefits information and I’ll take a look. If the job looks like a good fit, we could schedule a call.”

About 50% never respond. 25% try to convince me I don’t actually need all of this. Only 25% send along a job description, and most of the time it’s a) not what I do, b) not the right seniority level or pay band, or c) some place notoriously awful.

Hope this helps someone!

Yep — some recruiters operate almost like spammers, spraying as many people as possible with their messages in the hope that some will be interested and the right fit. Those are rarely recruiters you’d want to work with, so screening them out is a good thing. A recruiter who’s done their research to correctly target you as a candidate and has a real opening to fill will be happy to send the info you asked for along. The ones who don’t aren’t generally worth your time.



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