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Resist the Temptation to Tell All on Your Way Out

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Send questions about the office, money, careers and work-life balance to [email protected]. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters may be edited.

It is not unusual for my new firm to interview candidates from my old firm and I am often asked what I think of them. I do not mind the question. Given that we all need jobs, how much is reasonable to share? I’m not talking about the rock stars or really problematic employees. I’m talking about the ones who are good but maybe not great. In a recent example, I was asked about a colleague who had previously had trouble with her manager. While I was not privy to the details, management issues were a huge problem in the department. She may have been “difficult” to manage, but there were also a lot of bad management practices. This all seems like a lot to share.

What do people expect? What is the right thing to do?

— Kate, Atlanta

You ask a good question. When giving this kind of informal recommendation, you should be honest about what you have directly observed or experienced. Everything else is conjecture or hearsay. You noted that you weren’t privy to details about your colleague who had trouble with her manager. In such instances, it is better to say nothing on that subject. You don’t have enough information, and to share partial information might adversely affect your former colleague’s chances. Lots of people have trouble with managers for all kinds of reasons. Because she isn’t one of the really problematic former colleagues, no harm is done in sharing what you know that is positive. Trust your instincts. They have guided you to ask this thoughtful question and they will guide you as to what to tell whom and when.


I was recently promoted to a managerial position. We have backfilled my old position, and this is my first time managing another person. We are a smaller company, and nearly every department relies on the two of us to support its work product. We never replaced the marketing director role, so I am the de facto lead for all of our promotional efforts.

I want to rise to the challenge and steer our marketing efforts in the right direction, but I am becoming increasingly convinced I am not ready for this role. Most critically, I worry that I am not providing the new associate with the guidance she needs and should expect from this role. I report to the head of all the company’s business efforts, who is great but does not focus entirely on marketing. I want to ask him if we can hire a new marketing director — someone who can help lead our strategy and I can run ideas past. I want to keep in mind my own career path as well; I would like the opportunity to succeed and grow.

How can I tell my boss that the best thing for me, and the company, would be to look for a new marketing director? I am worried that bringing this up will show a lack of ambition and ownership. I can contribute positively to the company, but I am getting overwhelmed, a little burned out, and worry I am not doing a good enough job. Is this something I need to just toughen up about and figure out a way to make it work?

— Anonymous, Washington, D.C.

It can be terrifying when we are thrown into the professional deep end. I hope you take some time to acknowledge the great work you have done in assuming more responsibility and managing your first employee. This notion of toughening up to grit our way through untenable circumstances is incredibly overrated. Your well-being, both professionally and personally, matter. I trust your concerns, though it does seem like you’re doing a wonderful job in a challenging situation.


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