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Two weeks ago I interviewed with a large company. The interview went well and I felt that the company would be a good fit for my needs. Some of the interviewers during the process seemed like they were impressed with my skill set and I walked away feeling pretty confident it would work out for everyone.

Earlier this week HR sent me a job offer with the request that I make a decision within a week. The pay didn't exactly blow me away but the benefits package is pretty good and it seemed like there was good opportunity for advancement. However, shortly afterwards I got an email from one of the current employees who interviewed me. (It was from his personal email, so I wouldn't have even realized it had he not had a memorable name). In this email he basically "warned" me against taking the job, saying that the company puts on a good face for interviews but is actually "soul-sucking" inside. He finished by complimenting my previous experience and telling me I shouldn't "shackle" myself to this company; to instead pursue "bigger and better things." For more background on this guy he was very nice/competent in the interview, looked about 10 years older than me, and works as a project manager in a department separate from but related to that of my offer.

This raises the question of not only whether I should take the job (lest it turn out to be a "trap" like this manager is saying) but also how I should treat this message. Should I tell the company that one of their managers is potentially sabotaging their hiring process, or just take his advice and walk away from the whole situation? I don't really see how this guy gains anything from me declining the job so it seems like he has genuine motives. On the other hand, I can hardly imagine the company is happy about this and would like to know.

What are my ethical obligations here?

How much stock should I put in this person's advice?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Apr 21 '17 at 16:24
  • Try to get in contact with other employees of said company and try to get a confirmation/rejection of the allegations in the email. Don't disclose your source. – Trilarion Apr 24 '17 at 6:34
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    "I don't really see how this guy gains anything from me declining the job.." He may want to hire somebody else for your position - someone that he has personal reasons to prefer. – insanity Apr 24 '17 at 12:11
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    So this person warns you about this company being a bad place to work, yet they work there? – Dmitry Grigoryev Apr 24 '17 at 13:27
  • Are you positive it was actually from that guy? An email address matching a name is hardly definitive proof that it belongs to that person. – David Starkey Apr 24 '17 at 20:48

14 Answers 14

250

Ooooh.

That was Alison Green's first reaction to a very similar question she covered on AskAManager and I happen to share it. The situation is so similar that I'll reproduce part of her post here to answer your question. Emphasis is mine.

But this is tricky because it’s hard to know how seriously to take it. You can find disgruntled people even at healthy organizations — for example, someone who’s disgruntled because she’s rightly being performance-managed out, or someone who’s having a personality clash with a manager. So it’s possible that you could take the job and have a very different experience than this person has had.

One the other hand, this is the kind of warning that people in really dysfunctional companies fantasize about giving to job candidates, and you ignore it at your own peril.

The mail in that article mentioned Glassdoor reviews which is something you'll want to check as well if you haven't already. As Alison states, this kind of contact is a clear sign that you need to be very diligent in evaluating and re-evaluating the company and the impression you got from your interactions with them. Any potential issues that you ignored or overlooked should be re-examined. Be brutally honest with yourself about your fit for the job and the culture.

Alison goes on to say that one approach to take would be to ask your contact at the company, ideally the hiring manager, about this:

One possibility is to be up-front with the person who would be your manager at the job and say something like, “I feel like I need to ask you about something. I received an anonymous email warning me about taking the job, saying that people are pretty unhappy there and that most people have one foot out the door. I don’t put a lot of stock in anonymous emails, but it was such an unusual thing to receive that I wanted to mention it to you and see if you have any insight.”

That person’s reaction might tell you a lot. If she takes it seriously and it feels like she’s approaching it in an honest way with you, that’s a good sign. If she brushes it off or seems more focused on being annoyed or outraged about the email itself than about talking to you about what might have prompted it, that would worry me.

I agree that this is the way to go in this case. You got a legitimately worrying email and you owe it to yourself to look into that. The best way to do so is to gauge the hiring manager's reaction to it. That person should understand why you asked and be willing and able to assuage your concerns.

Under no circumstances should you disclose who sent you that email. You simply don't have enough information to make that call and it's just not your place to report this, even if you end up accepting the job. There are so many ways that 'tattling' could backfire and you have nothing to gain. Don't do it. If you mention it at all, claim that it was anonymous. If it would be obvious who contacted you, such as if you only spoke with two people, don't even mention that.

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    +1, also to the last paragraph - especially if you have no reliable way of verifying that the email doesn't actually come from an impersonator who actually want to harm their colleague – Tobias Kienzler Apr 21 '17 at 10:51
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    I definitely agree not disclosing the email - the individual (assuming they're being honest) has taken quite a large risk to help someone out. Going back to the company and asking for more information about their culture, or making sure you've got a good probation get out is probably worth while doing. – Ian Apr 21 '17 at 11:59
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    Simply revealing the existence of the email you received could cause problems for the sender in a number of ways, for example if the email got logged in a way the company can trace or if the sender can't keep a straight face when questioned about it. You might want to consider the possible consequences to the sender (and the possibility that you'll be perceived as "that guy who snitched on [sender]") before doing that. – user2357112 supports Monica Apr 21 '17 at 16:52
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    Instead of saying it was an anonymous email, it would probably be better to say "I heard from someone" or "an associate/acquaintance told me" or the like. – fluffy Apr 21 '17 at 21:35
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    @fluffy Even with good intentions, don't lie. There is no need to lie. Say "I don't want to reveal the name of the sender". If they insist, that's a bad sign - don't do it and don't take the job. – Konerak Apr 23 '17 at 22:08
55

You have two decisions to make:

1. Tell the company?
You can't know if this manager has an agenda or not. No matter how much time you invest in thinking about it - you will not know. Since there is a chance he went out of his way to help you - don't tell the company!

2. Listen to his advice?
As I stated in #1, You will not know the reason behind this email, so I suggest you try to get more feedback on the company. You can try searching such information in websites as Glassdoor or check in LinkedIn if you know someone that works in this company and can tell you more.

I hope this helps a bit.

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    Best answer. Trust, but verify. Informing the company about this manager now is malicious in the worst case (if he's genuine) and does nothing for OP in the best case. If he takes the job and he later has problems with this manager, he has have something up your sleeve. – pmf Apr 21 '17 at 8:09
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    Well there is a third option. Act as if you have never received the email and make a decision for yourself. – Summer Apr 21 '17 at 8:50
  • @JaneDoe1337 best answer and true, make your own choice and think about everything you know now about the company and situation. – user66194 Apr 21 '17 at 8:57
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    @JaneDoe1337 the e-mail has already effected judgement, you can't put something like this aside and pretend it never happened. After reading the e-mail the thought has already set in and to remove such a thought is an impossible task. – Yates Apr 21 '17 at 9:49
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    @JaneDoe1337 Nova didn't say there's two options, but two decisions, leading to four options: tell and join; don't tell and join; tell and move on; don't tell and move on. – TripeHound Apr 21 '17 at 11:24
51

It's certainly an unusual situation and one that raises multiple questions:

1. Is the e-mail really from him?

You can't know for sure but most of the scenarios where it isn't (e.g. someone else at the company or another candidate pretending in order to sabotage you or the purported sender) feel rather outlandish and I'm going to go with it being horses rather than zebras and say that without any evidence to the contrary you might as well assume it really is from him

2. Why did he send it?

Well, it could be genuine and he's trying to "save" you from getting into a situation he thinks would be bad for you. This isn't impossible - while I've never warned a relative stranger off about a potential employer while I've been employed there I certainly have for friends and family so I can see how it's feasible that the e-mail is exactly what it says on the tin. That said however I'd be wary of reading too much into the e-mail, after all you have no context as to what drove him to send the mail. It could be the result of a a sustained period of "soul-sucking" misery but it could just as easily be the result of a bad day, or of being turned down for a raise or promotion or being disciplined for something - those reasons wouldn't make his intentions any less altruistic but would certainly affect how much weight I'd give to the advice from my own perspective. Context is everything!

There are however some potentially nefarious reasons why he might choose to send you that e-mail. He could have a preferred candidate who was passed over in favor of you and is looking to eliminate the competition for example. I'm not sure how much you are paraphrasing in the question but the references to not being shackled to the company and "bigger and better things" as well as the general praise of you have me wondering whether he is planning to leave or set up on his own and is looking to poach you. You don't say where you are in the world but certainly here in the UK it's not uncommon for employment contracts to have clauses preventing leaving employees from taking others with them, if you are never employed by them though you'd be fair game so to speak.

3. Should you take the job?

If you would otherwise be happy with the offer and the role then I don't think you should let this e-mail alone dissuade you. Even if the e-mail is 100% genuine and he really does have a "soul-sucking" experience working there that doesn't necessarily follow that your experience will be the same. Different individuals can experience working at a company very differently, I once lived in a shared house with two colleagues. We all worked for the same relatively small company but in different departments - two of us had utterly horrific times there but the third was completely fine! The company will almost certainly have been putting their "good face" forward in the interview, they want to attract the best candidates after all - and assuming the e-mail is genuine an employee who is unhappy there (for whatever reason) is going to give a much more negative view and the truth is probably somewhere in between.

4. Should you inform the company?

At this point I'd say definitely not. I'd need some pretty compelling evidence that he's acting maliciously before I'd be willing to throw him under the bus and at the moment there's nowhere near enough evidence of that. As it stands all you have is comments made from one private individual to another and while the company might want to know about an individual saying negative things about them that's not the same thing as them having any kind of right to know. If he'd sent it from his company e-mail then that would be a different story of course.

From a purely pragmatic point of view if you reported it and it got back to him that you had done so then you've just planted a huge marker saying that you aren't someone who can be trusted to be discreet and I'd expect anyone who knew about it would be vary wary of saying anything around you that they might not want the company to know they have said and I can't see that leading to a pleasant working environment for you if you went there.

5. Is there anything else you can/should do?

If the e-mail is bothering you then one option would be to reply to the e-mail without giving any opinion yourself but asking him to elaborate on why he thinks you shouldn't take the job. This might give you some more information and you can better assess whether the things that make him unhappy would affect you similarly.

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    Why did he send it.... +1 – Mister Positive Apr 21 '17 at 15:46
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    ... you've just planted a huge marker saying that you aren't someone who can be trusted to be discreet ... +1 – Sebastien DErrico Apr 21 '17 at 16:12
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    Ask the sender for elaboration. +100!! – FreeMan Apr 21 '17 at 18:08
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    When you do ask him to elaborate, try to get him to tell you something that you can verify independently. – Dan C Apr 21 '17 at 21:03
14

First, you should drop the idea of telling the company about this.

As pointed out by others, the email sender may be an impostor and you'll create unnecessary trouble. It could be the person himself, but might deny it if faced with enquiry.

The impression you'll be creating in the first few days at work should rather be without such controversial topics. Also there is a chance that the person genuinely feels what he said, in that case you'll be harming a potential friend who could be useful later.

Try calling up this person at an appropriate time and ascertain what exactly are the issues he's worried about. If he's got some real reasons, you might as well try to get them verified with others before you join, if they are important for you. If he's not willing to discuss it further, you don't have any incentive to believe him.

So, you should join the new company if it suits you apart from these "revelations". If you do join, inform this person that you respect his views but in your circumstances, this decision had to be taken.

14

OK, I'm going to go in a totally different direction than most. Simple, simple, simple... Get on linkedin and search the company. It will give you a list of current and past employees. Look at their profiles and see how long people stay at this company vs. other companies they have worked for. If you see that most of the people hang out for a while, don't put too much faith in the email. Even if the guy is being honest, he's being honest using his personal value judgment.

Do a google search using an open ended search "Company Name accused of " and see what comes up. If you see a bunch of lawsuits and bad press on issues that go against your values, run like the wind. (by the way if you get a bunch of hits, but each is a different news outlet's version of the same story, that should count as 1 wrong).

Bottom line, research the company first and see what the general consensus is! If you find that the consensus contradicts this guy, then feel better about the company, but wonder what his motivation is.

9

It's a really bad sign

This mail seems like a red flag, whatever was the purpose behind it.

If that's not him, there is still someone devoted to have you not join the place, and it could be because the place is indeed a bad place to work for, or because he wants as mentioned in another answer to help a friend to be hired instead of you, using a manager's identity to do so.

If that's him, what he is saying about the company is a serious matter. You should double check that with another employee to make sure he's not alone on this.

What I want to say is I don't see how it could be a good sign.

Should you tell the company ?

If it's not him, you could make an innocent person fired over an imposture. If that's him, he took a lot of risks to warn you about the company, telling the company seems like a back-stab, except if you can for sure know his intentions were bad (such as helping a friend to get the job).

What should you do ?

Try to have more details from the guy, maybe try to find out about his identity through informations only him could know, like the questions he asked during the interview for example.

If all the warning seems legitimate, get feedback from other employees.

If not, ask yourself "Do I want to work for a company where people try to manipulate you into refusing a job offer through emails ?".

  • A possible way: somebody hates him a tries to expel him, exactly because he knows it is a good a place and he won't work with him there together. In this case, it is much more probably, that the goal is not only to ask him to not join the company; rather to sow the untrustiness, which can later escalate to a bad-standing leave. – Gray Sheep Apr 21 '17 at 13:28
  • Asking for exact questions asked in interview to ascertain identity - great! – DS R Apr 21 '17 at 15:17
8

What you have right now is an email with a suggested course of action without argumentation, from an unverified source, with an unknown agenda.

Judging from the fact that you posted this question, I'm going to assume the message has made you concerned, which means that "Ignore the message" probably isn't what you want to do.

Reaching a decision based on only this message sounds like a bad choice, since you don't have enough information to make a decision.

It seems the best thing to do at this point might be to contact this person (I would personally look them up on LinkedIn and send them a message there, but you can also just reply to the mail if you think it's genuine enough) and ask for a face-to-face.

Tell them the message has raised some questions and concerns and you'd like some more information. Tell them you want to meet over a cup of coffee to get some more information.

Meeting them in person would ensure that the message is genuine. It lets you ask whatever questions you have about why someone working at the company doesn't want to quit and wants to discourage new people from joining. It even lets you ask why they'd want to risk their own career for a person they've only met once.

Based on their reaction to the initial face-to-face request you might already get a lot of information; if they don't respond, become evasive, or get emotional then the mail is likely a scam. It's trivial to send email that pretends to come from someone else's mail address, so if the response is "I never sent this", you also know enough.

If they just don't want to meet for whatever reasons, I would discard the message as "suspicious, but unclear" and not let it change my opinion. Since this won't be a direct colleague, you can probably leave it there.

If they are okay with meeting, consider it another interview round. Try to get whatever information you need to decide whether this company is a fit for you, but keep in mind that this person might not be honest, but he also might be very honest. That's something you'll have to decide for yourself. Also, keep in mind that what's soul-sucking for one person might not be for another. If he's trying to steer you in a direction, that's a red flag. If he just wants to give you a fair warning about the true situation the company is in, that might be a rare opportunity and you should thank them for taking the risk of giving it.

  • Not sure why this was DV'd. It seems like a perfectly reasonable way to verify the legitimacy of the email, as well as to ask any follow-up questions it may have raised. Of course, you need to keep in mind that you're still only hearing one person's opinion (which may be unduly jaded) but, at least, in talking face-to-face you'd have a chance to assess the person and his general attitude, which would help to inform his potential intentions. It's not a full solution, but it's a good step in the direction of finding one. – Steve-O Apr 21 '17 at 14:19
  • Who says the insider doesn't want to quit? – Nicolas Barbulesco Apr 22 '17 at 6:56
  • @NicolasBarbulesco if they really wanted to quit, they probably would have. But they're still there. – Erik Apr 22 '17 at 8:30
6

What are my ethical obligations here?

None (yet). You're not part of the company. Just ignore your involvement in the process. If you learned that somebody on this planet is doing something that is against the interest of an organization on the planet, would you feel compelled to respond?

Maybe, for moral reasons, if you felt like a person was doing an evil act. So far, the information you shared hasn't provided enough details to indicate (to me) that there is some active evil here that really should be stopped.

People work against the interests of other people all the time. As a generalization, you can choose to intervene, or not. Your call.

How much stock should I put in this person's advice?

Not much, because you don't know much about them.

Here's a much better idea:

Plan to spend some money, and offer to take the person out to dinner (or at least coffee/ice cream). Get more details, and then decide when you're more informed. You get information. The other person might get to unload some stress, and does get a meal out of the deal. The restaurant makes money too. The only costs are a bit of time and some of your money, but those costs may be quite negligible compared to what you're getting out of it.

Note: If the E-Mail didn't come from an interviewer: How did the sender know how to reach you? That would also be a bad sign.

4

Trust this manager but don't trust what he said, because it's quit subjective.

Imagine how it is possible you meet a stupid manager in large company with years experience, as he put himself in the risk of being fired. Rare.

To help his friend in candidate line? If I were him, I would refer my friend to HR and relevant managers, and my colleagues will treat him/her differently. I can also contact possible interviewers. It's easy because normally HR would tell interviewer name to candidate. It's much safer.

It's still possible you met a stupid or bad manager, but judge the probability by yourself, just as you walk in street how possible some one would attack you. It's rare but still possible.

4

I got an email from one of the current employees who interviewed me. (It was from his personal email, so I wouldn't have even realized it had he not had a memorable name).

His "personal email" address is not reliable unless you have independently verified it is the same person.

In this email he basically "warned" me against taking the job

He works there !

He should not be doing this. It's unethical to work behind his company's back especially when he was part of the recruitment process.

At the very minimum this marks his behavior as extremely suspect. I would consider this a person with very dubious ethics.

saying that the company puts on a good face for interviews but is actually "soul-sucking" inside.

So why does that individual work there ?

This raises a huge red-flag for me and suggests someone with a very selfish motive for contacting you.

He finished by complimenting my previous experience and telling me I shouldn't "shackle" myself to this company; to instead pursue "bigger and better things.

You're not "shackling" yourself. Your becoming an employee. You can change jobs later.

Never enter any employment with anyone and think of yourself as being stuck there or trapped.

Again I'd have to ask why this individual is doing this ?

I've worked in lousy places and it can be pretty miserable, but I wasn't stuck there and I did leave at my own time of choosing.

Why didn't this person ? And what will stop you from doing so ?

Every employment contract (and in some countries it's law) allows you to go your own way with minimal or no notice if things don't work out. There's no legal issue. Need an excuse for your next job interview ? Try "my doctor said I might be allergic to a co-worker's perfume". Don't get locked into a mental state of "I have to stick with this" is what I'm saying.

What to do ?

Like the interview ?

Like the vibe apart from this mystery email ?

Take it and see how it goes.

You might suggest meeting face to face with the person who contacted you and getting a better face-to-face idea of what's going on, but that's still one side of the story. It might be the right thing to do, because if this is an impostor you should then contact the real individual and let them know someone is faking their identity.

4

I find a couple of yellow flags here, as well as one obvious red flag.

"the request that I make a decision within a week." They're trying to rush you into a decision. Why do they need to force the process?

"Some of the interviewers during the process seemed like they were impressed with my skill set and I walked away feeling pretty confident it would work out for everyone... [but then] the pay didn't exactly blow me away." That supports the email message that they were putting a good face of things at the interview, that might not be followed up. A good benefits package smacks of a control tool, rather than a motivator.

I once had a similar experience with these two yellow flags. and the the company went bankrupt after a few years. My instinct, that the interviewers (and founders) were "full of themselves," proved correct.

Then there is one red flag in your case (but not mine): The "mysterious" email. Something is seriously wrong. Either the charges are true (the more likely case), or the company has a disturbed individual in an important position (possible but less likely).

What I did in my situation was to ask for another interview, and the chance to talk to more people. I didn't say why (doing this will protect the emailer). They became very defensive. That told me all I needed to know.

Please note: I am not an employment counselor and am only relating my own experience. Please do not construe this as advice, which you should get from a qualified person.

  • Good point. The interview is not only the assessment of the candidate by the employer but also an assessment of the employer by the candidate. – Crowley Apr 24 '17 at 16:04
3

How much stock should I put in this person's advice?

None in practical terms. This is a disgruntled employee and you have no idea what his agenda is. He may have liked a different candidate for your job and wants you to bow out. He may be telling the truth as he sees it (yet he still works there? And has risen high enough to be interviewing?).

Either way this should be taken on board but not allowed to affect your decision. Your contract will outline your protection and benefits, not a disgruntled employee.

Ethically you don't work there yet, you have no obligation to report this to the company and no reason to. So don't.

3

Note that this answer is predicated on the email actually being from manager in question and not spoofed/faked by any other third party.

and how much stock should I put this manager's advice?

This manager (assuming that the email can be proven to be from him) obviously has an agenda, but unfortunately you don't know if what he told you is the truth to save you, or a lie to get you to drop out of the hiring process. For all you know he could be best buddies with the next candidate in line and is trying to get the job for his friend.

What are my ethical obligations here,

As pointed out by @barbecue's comment I screwed up the difference between Ethics and Morals1. You have no ethical obligation as you have not yet accepted the position. What you do have is a moral choice. However this does not change my answer.

One thing you do know is that this manager is actively trying to subvert the companies hiring process. Personally I would let HR know what has happened regardless of whether you take the job or not as I feel it is morally the "right" thing to do. It could be possible that you could do this without mentioning the name of the manager - and hence lessen your feelings of guilt in calling him out.

But I also feel that this managers actions are a warning sign of some sort that indicates internal conflict within the company. But as I said before, at this point you don't know what the conflict actually is. So it's still up to you to make a decision on taking the job.


1. See Ethics vs. Morals for a comparison between the two

  • 4
    Without some way to authenticate the message, you don't know whether the manager is responsible for sending it. – Caleb Apr 21 '17 at 4:17
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    It's quit easy to send anounymous email these days. – qxg Apr 21 '17 at 5:25
  • Ethically speaking, it's not the "right" thing to do, because OP is not yet an employee of the company and has no ethical obligations to either the company or the manager. Further, it's possible that telling them could color their view of OP as a hire. Morality-wise, it's a bit more complex. Someone told them something in confidence, and choosing to betray that confidence is a personal moral decision as well as an ethical one. – barbecue Apr 21 '17 at 14:53
  • @barbecue Yep, I screwed up the difference between this and morals. – Peter M Apr 21 '17 at 15:40
0

I'd be looking at this from a what does this interviewer gain from revealing who sent the email? You mentioned that they had a memorable name, so you were easily able to identify the purported sender/interviewer. If you were in their position and truly wanted to warn someone away, would you reveal your identity other than "I'm one of the people you interviewed with the other day"? I don't see any upside to revealing his identity, and plenty of downsides. This suggests someone trying to sabotage the purported sender/interviewer, with reasons of their own for discouraging you from taking the job.

Were it me, I think I'd discount the email and take the job. I'm still not sure if I'd report the incident to my hiring manager since there's a good chance someone is impersonating the sender/interviewer, so at best the know there's a saboteur in their midst, but not who. They'd probably be grateful to know, but I'm not sure that's your responsibility.

If new job doesn't work out, well, you were looking for a job when you found this one, and it's generally much easier to find a new job when you've already got one.

  • If this kind of back stabbing is going on, do you really want to end up in the middle of a company like that?\ – boatcoder Apr 24 '17 at 21:19
  • The problem is, the OP has no idea (and no way of finding out) whether this behavior is common (and it truly is a soul sucking place to work), or if he's dealing with a bad apple with sour grapes or an ax to grind, or some other ulterior motive. If he's looking for a job, take this one and immediately start looking for the next if it turns out to be the soul sucking experience he was warned about. If he's already got one, maybe skip this one & wait for a better offer to come along. – delliottg Apr 24 '17 at 21:42
  • This kind of back stabbing is going on either way. Either the person that sent the email is truly disgruntled, or someone else is stabbing him in the back. when the gates are all down and the lights are all flashing, And the whistle is screaming in vain, You can stay on the tracks, ignoring the facts, But you can’t blame the wreck on the train – boatcoder Apr 26 '17 at 14:30

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