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Monday, January 28, 2008

you are talking too much

I've done a bunch of interviews recently with candidates who sank their chances by not knowing when to stop talking.

Your answer to the interviewer's question should be direct and to-the-point. It should not result in you rambling on for five minutes, giving tons of background and tangents. If there's more to tell and you believe your interviewer would be fascinated, after giving your direct, concise (two minutes at the very most) response, you may ask, "Does that give you what you're looking for, or would you like me to go more in depth about this?" If the interviewer wants more, believe me, she'll say so.

You must also pay attention to cues. If your interviewer is looking bored, looking at her computer screen, or looking anything less than happily engaged, you might be rambling.

Rambling is the kiss of death because it turns the interviewer off, signaling that you're not good at picking up on conversational cues about where she wants to take the conversation, and raising doubts about your ability to organize your thoughts and convey needed information quickly.

But this is not license to turn into your opposite, the candidate who barely talks and makes me pull information out painfully, sentence by sentence. The middle ground is around one to two minutes per answer, unless you get the signal for something longer.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

denied a promotion

A reader writes:

I starting working at my present company about 1.5 years ago. Before working here, I was doing recruiting for about 2 years at an agency. I came into my current company as an assistant to the recruitment team because I was told I didn't have enough experience as a recruiter in this specific industry. I wouldn't have accepted this position, but the money was the same and the benefits were better and it was a shorter commute. I also thought my career path would be better here.

At the time the person who recruited me turned out to be my manager. I told her I understood she would like me to have more experience, but I also made it clear that I wanted to recruit. She told me that the plan was to stay in the assistant position for 1 year and then move into a recruitment position. Well a year came and went and then it turned into 1.5 year. Well, that looks like it's going to come and go and nothing. In this time they promoted the other HR assistant who was here before me. I have no problem with that b/c she put her time in (2 years), but she had no recruiting experience and I suspect that was their plan all along.

I have since gotten a new manager, but he seems to want to keep things as is and he plans on bringing in a more senior recruiter. I told him I would like to be considered for this position, and he straight up told me I am not qualified for what he needs. I tried every angle, "I know the company, promote within, bla, bla, bla". He stayed at no. I get great evaluations, no one ever complains about my work. Without me doing the administrative things for the group, it would fall apart.

I feel like I am being jerked around. I am not the only person this has happened to in my HR department. My question to you is, is this a common practice among companies? and what do you think I should do? should I wait it out? I am fairly happy with the company and my co-workers. I get paid decent for what I do, but I am not at the top of the scale and I could be making more money recruiting or working for an agency.

This gives me a chance to say something that I think people often lose sight of when they're in the middle of it: You cannot make your company promote or compensate you in the way you want. But you also don't have to stay there. You can lay out your case and ask what you need to do to get what you want, but ultimately, you must decide whether or not you want to stay under the conditions being offered.

Here's how this applies in your case: Go to your manager and ask him to tell you what you would need to accomplish in order to earn a promotion. What specific experience would you need to get, or what areas do you need to improve in? If he's able to give you a specific answer, decide if you're able/willing to do what he's asking. If you are, tell him you're going to make it your goal to meet those criteria in __ months, and ask him if he'll agree to reviewing your progress and considering you for a promotion at that point. But if he's not able to give you a specific answer about how you could earn a promotion, take it a good sign that it's probably not going to happen in this job, for whatever reason -- and start looking at other jobs.

In fact, no matter what his answer is, start looking at other jobs. See what else is out there. Nothing says you have to take a new job if it's offered to you -- but you'll likely feel much more in control once you have more options. Good luck!

chronological resume?

A reader writes:

Having been in the working world for 7+ years (post college), I've racked up a variety of professional experiences (have had 4 different full-time jobs, as well as done some complementary contract work on the side). I'm currently considering a new opportunity in which not ALL of my professional experiences necessarily apply. Likewise, some of my non-professional experiences from college are VERY applicable. My resume is getting quite lengthy these days, but I'm hesitant to remove any of the jobs that I have because, a: it would result in seeming gaps in employment, and b (more importantly): even though these experiences don't necessarily speak directly to this new opportunity, they've still been an important part of my professional development. I'm curious as to whether you have any advice for how to organize a resume in this situation. To date, my resume has always been organized chronologically, but I'm beginning to think that perhaps a different approach is more fitting. (ie, most applicable to least applicable).

Some people will disagree with me, but I hate resumes that are organized in any way other than chronologically. It makes it look like the candidate is trying to disguise something, and it makes it difficult for me to sort out the person's career progression. So keep the chronological organization.

But four jobs and some work on the side should easily fit on a one-page resume, as long as you're being choosy and concise about what details you include about the work you did there (by the way, to whatever extent possible, include achievements rather than a job description).

But if there's work on there that doesn't relate to the jobs you're applying for -- and which wouldn't leave a sizable gap if you excised them -- you could leave those off. Definitely do include the relevant college experience, though, even though it wasn't paid -- I'm continually surprised by how often I discover "hidden" experience in a phone interview, which the candidate left off the resume simply because it wasn't paid work. Good luck!

leadership style in Afghanistan

A reader writes:

I have been working with First Micro Finance Bank of Afghanistan for the last 8 months and I am leaving this organization because of personal problems. The leadership style in Afghanistan is very authoritative and I have brought a new sort of leadership style in this company where everyone is open and free to speak up. I think I have spoiled my employees a little. Now that I am leaving, they are hiring another Training Manager for my department. How do I talk to the new manager and what should I tell him/her how to handle the training department’s employees?

What an interesting dilemma. You probably can't change the new manager's management style, since you'll presumably only have a limited period of overlap with him or her. But you likely have the most chance of having an impact if you talk to him or her about how a more open style has benefited the company. Are there bottom line results you can point to, as support for a less authoritative leadership style?

Of course, many incoming managers may have their own plans and reject this advice, particularly if the advice is contrary to the dominant culture you're operating in. So to get the best results, frame it as much as possible as being the approach that got you the best results, rather than a personal preference that you're pushing on the new person.

You might also talk to the department employees and prepare them for the fact that the new person is likely to bring his or her own style to the job.

Beyond that, I'm not sure how much of this is in your hands. Any ideas from anyone else?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

be honest about employee problems

Do you have an employee whose performance you're unhappy with? Tell them.

Do you have an employee who you strongly suspect isn't going to work on in the long-term? Tell them.

All too often, managers avoid being candid with employees about concerns over performance or fit. They want to avoid a difficult conversation, or they don't believe the person can fix the problem, or they're hoping they can ignore it a little longer.

This is horribly unfair to the employee, who deserves the chance to know about the issues, and it's unfair to your company, which has hired you to, in part, address employee problems head-on.

Yes, a conversation about performance problems isn't pleasant. It sucks for anyone on the receiving end, and it sucks for the manager who has to deliver it. But it is far, far worse to be an employee whose boss doesn't care enough to speak candidly with her about areas in which she needs to improve in order to do well.

Even if you're convinced such a conversation would be fruitless and the employee can't change, she deserves to know. She deserves to know because maybe you're underestimating her, or maybe it would be useful for her to understand the ways in which she's a bad fit for this work, or maybe she just deserves a chance to see the writing on the wall so she can start looking for other positions.

The worst thing you can do when you're unhappy with an employee is stay quiet. Tell the person, and tell them now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I've been tagged

I have been tagged by The Ethical Slut.

The rules:
Link to the person who tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs.
Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So let's see.

1. I own three copies of Pride & Prejudice. I keep one at home, one in my desk at work, and one in my car. The last two are in case I ever get caught somewhere without reading material. It can be opened to any page and immediate literary bliss will result.

2. I know all the words to all the songs from the musical "1776."

3. I am a terrible driver. Yet oddly, I am an excellent parallel parker. Once I was so proud of the extremely tight space I parallel-parked in that I took a photo of it on my cell phone, showing the mere half inch between my car and the cars in front of and in back of me. I spent the next week insisting that people admire the photo.

4. In high school, I was the editor of the school newspaper AND the underground newspaper. Which is weird, since the whole point of an underground newspaper is supposed to be to go head-to-head with the legitimate one. Yes, I am that much of a dork.

5. I once appeared in public naked, in Aspen in 12 degree weather.

6. My new favorite charity is The Innocence Project. I think they're amazing.

I hereby tag The Career Encouragement Blog, HR Wench, and the Evil HR Lady, who I fear is tagged way too much.

Carnival of HR

The Carnival of HR is up over at 8 hours & a lunch.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

you need to wear a suit

Yes, you have to dress up for the interview.

I don't care if the office where you're interviewing is business casual. You can wear business casual when you're working there, after you impress them in the interview where you wore a suit.

I don't care if you don't feel suits reflect the "real you." I would wear head-to-toe fleece to the office if I could get away with it. But I can't.

I don't care if you don't like arbitrary rules like this. I'm not thrilled with them either, but I don't make those rules. I just want to know that you know what those rules are.

You need to slap on the suit and look professional. It signals that you take the job seriously. Sure, you might get hired if you wear a sweater and pants instead; I've hired people who wore that to the interview. But why wouldn't you want to play it safe and wear the suit? It's like thank-you notes -- if you're the right candidate, I'm going to hire you even if you didn't send a thank-you note after the interview. But if it's a close call, why wouldn't you want to do everything possible to give yourself an edge?

Just wear the suit.

(Disclaimer: This doesn't apply in certain fields, often tech-related ones. If you won't wear the suit, maybe that's the field for you.)

train people on day one

I recently had a new employee comment that he was pleasantly surprised by how prepared we were for him on his first day -- that we gave him the materials and training he needed to be able to jump right in. I knew exactly what he meant, because our preparation stems from having worked for too many companies that do the opposite -- the many companies that tell new employees, "Oh, you're here today? Sit over there and read these brochures for a few hours to familiarize yourself with our company while we figure out what to do with you."

This is a ridiculous approach. Not only is a waste of the employee's time (you're paying this person now), but it sends a terrible message about the company culture. The message you want to send from day one is that you're organized, efficient, running a tight ship, and care about using employees' time effectively.

So in order to never be that company that leaves a new employee feeling unwelcomed and sitting around wondering when the work will begin, we have managers create training outlines for each new employee. The training outline lays out what will be covered, in what order, during the person's first week. And the new employee gets a copy of the outline so that they know what to expect.

In addition to job-specific information, our training outlines usually include things like:

- an overview of the department the person is in (what the department does, how they do it, and who does what)
- any recent history of the department they should be aware of
- the specifics of each component of their job
- tips they should know about working with other departments
- how to handle particular personalities outside the office they may have to interact with and things to be sensitive to
- how to locate important files
- what kind of communication is expected and how often
- what they do and don't have the authority to do on their own
- types of emails and phone calls they're likely to receive and how to handle them
- common problems they'll encounter and how to handle them
- what to do if deadlines can't be met
- what to do if they need help
- expenditure authority and approval

... and much more.

It's often good to spread this out over a couple of days, since most people can only retain so much their first day on a job, when everything is new.

Doing this has revolutionized our training of new employees (and I suspect the impression we make on them as well). I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the ethics of editing writing samples

My cousin gave me pause today when he asked me to edit the writing sample he's sending to a prospective employer.

I know, of course, that job applicants -- the good ones -- get their materials edited by other people all the time. It's part of showing due diligence in making sure you don't have typos, etc. But somehow writing samples feel different, and as a manager, I felt obligated to say: No! Do not do this. Your writing sample should reflect your writing, not writing that has been edited by others. Otherwise a hiring manager can't make a good decision about whether your writing is the right fit for the job (and ultimately, even though you want to get the job, it's more important to get a job that you're the right fit for).

But as his cousin, I want him to get the job. So ultimately I said the above to him, and then sent him my edits.

Monday, January 14, 2008

leaving Hooters off a resume?

A reader writes:

I have been in the job market for about 6 months now. The most recent interview turned out to be horrible due to the fact that I worked at Hooters for two years. The man interviewing me sexually harassed me and just degraded me to no extent. It seems the only reason I was asked in was because I had worked at Hooters and not that I have a degree in Mass Communications and was an ideal candidate for the job I was applying for.

Since then I have left Hooters off of my resume. I find that I may not have been put into an "interview" pile because of it or that I was only put into that pile because of it. It was my last job in college so the "gap" in my resume just makes people assume i didn't work for those two years.

I have now made it to the next round of interviewing for a job I really want. They want me to fill out an employment history for the past 7 years. Do I add it in there? I would feel awful if I left it out. Would they be understanding to the situation? Thanks for your help.

What a horrible experience! I'm sorry to hear that.

The vast majority of interviewers aren't going to see this as a factor one way or another. But since you're concerned about it, there are some precautionary measures you can take for the tiny fraction who might be asses. (And that guy who interviewed you was the ass of all asses.)

It's ridiculous that you would have to do this, but rather than having a gap, can you simply put "waitressing" for that period, without specifying the employer? If you're not applying for jobs where those skills are relevant, chances are good most people won't ask where you were waitressing; they'll just be satisfied to know you were employed during that period and roughly what you were doing. Especially because it was while you were in college, this isn't likely to be a major factor in assessment of your resume.

Regarding the employment history form you have to fill out, you could likely take the same approach.

For this record, it isn't fair or right that this is posing this sort of issue for you, but it's also likely the most practical way of handling it.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Today I did a phone interview with a job applicant who spent a good part of the interview telling me why his close friend, who is also applying for a job with us, shouldn't get it and he should.

The friend, by the way, referred him to the job opening. He repaid him for the favor with statements like this one: "He didn't do anything last summer except go to Burning Man."

(Yes, these are recent grads.)

This is not a good strategy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Carnival of HR

Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of the Carnival of HR. We've got 11 posts on a wide range of HR- and management-related topics, so here we go...

"Why the Girl Scouts Think HR People Hate Them"
Kris Dunn at the HR Capitalist, who has a serious talent for coming up with post titles that compel you to read, addresses how to handle solicitation policies in your company.

"Diversity Thoughts"
The Evil HR Lady presents her excellent Evil HR Lady school of diversity training.

"New Year's Resolutions for Managers and Supervisors"
Execupundit offers 10 new year's resolutions for managers. I'm angry that I didn't think of that idea.

"What would you do with Queen Frostine?"
The Career Encouragement blog says: "If you are a manager or just a professionally minded go-getter, it can be tempting to jump in when you see problems between co-workers and get involved with get involved with monkeys that don't belong in your tree. But think twice!"

"'Assist' is the Operative Word"
Lisa at HR Thoughts argues that those using HR's services need to bring something to the table too.

"The Apprentice Leader: Training for New Leaders"
Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership says that even though an apprentice leader will learn more on the job than anywhere else, there's still a need for training. Here's what it should cover and how it should be structured.

"China Specifics for 2008"
Talent in China teaches you what to expect if you do HR or recruitment in China.

"NLRB Rules that Employees have No Right to Use Employer E-mail for Union Solicitations and Announces New Standard for Discriminatory Policy Enforcement Charges"
The Pennsylvania Employment Law Blog examines a new NLRB ruling on workplace union activity.

"Transient Leadership"
"We believe it takes a single leader to make a difference and we've made superstars of business leaders such as Jack Welch who were in "leadership" positions at successful companies," writes Incentive Intelligence. "But I wonder if this is all history - and the future will be very different."

"Cognitive Reserve and Intellectually Demanding Jobs"
Sharp Brains explores how stimulating jobs can protect our brains against decline as we age.

"What to Do When You Make a Mistake at Work"
And last, I take a look at how to handle it if -- when -- you make a mistake at work.

The next Carnival will be on January 23rd and hosted by Deb at 8 Hours & a Lunch.

asserting authority with bullying employees

A reader writes:

I am a co-owner of two bowling alleys with my husband. I actually started working at the first one as an employee, because I was only friends with my husband at the time. I worked my way up in the company being promoted to general manager by my now husband and his wife at the time. They later divorced, and I began dating him after he was single so it's not like I slept my way to the top, etc. After we were married, we changed the officers in the company to reflect he and I as co-owners. We also purchased a second bowling alley of which I am the president and he is vice president.

My problem is, I have two part time employees at the first location who view my husband as the "Boss/Owner" and anything I do or say to them that they may have a problem with, they go to him and complain about me. Almost like they're expecting him to reprimand me. They also say things to me like, "What did Joe say about that?" Joe being my husband. I usually respond with something like, "It doesn't matter what Joe says, I'm telling you." But then they go and try to complain to him when I respond that way as well.

When Joe is confronted with a complaint he usually says something like,"What did Andrea say? And did you do it? Why not?" Or he'll say something like "If Andrea already told you why are you asking me?" But this doesn't seem to be working. Any advice or suggestions?

Yep: You need to assert your authority, because you're being bullied by your own employees. You need to stop allowing these employees to act as if you don't have the authority you do have. If you buy into their game, it's as good as conceding that you don't have authority! And since you do, you need to act like it.

What does that mean in practice? Sit down with these employees (individually) and say something like, "Bill, I'm concerned with a pattern I've noticed lately. You've been asking Joe to reverse my decisions when you're not happy with them, which makes me think we might not be on the same page about how we make decisions here. I make decisions about scheduling and policies (fill in anything else relevant here), and I expect you to abide by those, or discuss them with me if you have questions or concerns. We can't have you going to Joe when you don't like those decisions. If there are issues, I need you to address them with me, not with Joe. This is not negotiable. You've been a good employee and I hope you will be here for a long time, but that won't happen if we don't get on the same page about this."

If they argue with you, nicely explain that this isn't their decision to make, and that if they're not able to work happily under those conditions, this may not be the right job for them. See this post for some ideas on this.

This conversation will be most effective if you can do it without sounding angry. You want to sound matter-of-fact -- concerned but not angry. (There's no need for anger when you hold all the cards, which you must remember you do. You are their boss. You can fire people who aren't working out. Hopefully it won't come to that, but knowing that you have tool available to you should help your resolve.)

Good luck!

why did a company say they'd call when they didn't?

A reader writes:

I recently had two phone interviews with a company, which went well from what I could tell. There was lots of talk about my experience and how I could apply that to the position. The hiring manager told me that the Department Manager would call me to set up the next steps and the company seemed interested in what I had to offer. Then almost an hour later a recruiter called and said they were passing on me.

So what I am trying to figure out now, is why end a call with false information regarding the next steps?

I wouldn't assume anyone deliberately gave you false information. The company could have decided to pursue other candidates after internal discussion, either about you or about other candidates.

On the other hand, sometimes an interviewer will end an interview with that sort of statement, because it's the "I'll call you" of the interviewing world. In other words, it's a way of avoiding direct face-to-face rejection -- which can be awkward not only for the interviewer but also for the person being rejected. I agree with you that it's nicer to get an answer up front if one is known, but I think this is a pretty understandable course to take, especially since they did get back to you with a clear answer.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

what to do when you make a mistake at work

When you make a mistake at work, how you handle it can often say much more about you than the mistake itself.

Reasonable bosses understand that no one is perfect and mistakes will occasionally happen -- what they care about is how you follow up on that mistake. As it happens, there's a pretty foolproof formula for handling it well. If you follow this formula (and have a reasonable boss), you'll likely be surprised at how well he or she responds.

Here's the formula:

1. Tell your boss what happened -- immediately. Do not put it off out of fear. I will be far more upset if time is allowed to pass before I'm informed. Delaying sends the message that you value your own comfort over the needs of your work.

2. Take responsibility for it. Don't make excuses, and don't be defensive.

3. Tell me how it happened. Not only do I want to know, I want to know that you know.

4. Most importantly, explain how you plan to ensure it doesn't happen again.

This formula works because when someone makes a mistake, what a boss needs to do is make sure that the person understands the seriousness of it and knows how to avoid it in the future. If you take the initiative to cover those things yourself, then your boss doesn't need to do it herself (and having your boss impress upon you how serious a mistake was tends to be much less pleasant than saying it yourself).

In other words, do your boss' job for her -- eliminate the need for her to reprimand you by reprimanding yourself.

Why don't more people realize this?

Carnival of HR submissions due Monday

Just a reminder: The next Carnival of HR will be hosted here on January 9. Please send me your submissions by January 7.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

five things to leave off your resume

Here five things job seekers should leave off their resumes:

1. An objective
I've never seen an objective that made a candidate more appealing, and often they're downright horrible. They usually fall in one of three categories: (1) objectives that are all about what you want ("a position that allows me to develop my interest in international relations"), which is at odds with what this stage of the hiring process is all about (what the company wants), (2) objectives that aren't tailored enough to the position or even have nothing to do with it (which makes it look like you're blasting your resume out without enough of a focus), or (3) objectives that simply don't add anything compelling (and therefore just waste space). The resume is about showing your experience, skills, and accomplishments. If you want to talk about how this particular position is the perfect next step in your career, use the cover letter for that.

2. Any mention of references, including a statement that "references are available upon request"
This goes unsaid; no one assumes that references could possibly not be available. You're not causing any harm to have it on there, but it's a waste of space that you could use for something else (including some refreshing white space). The exception to this is if you have a particularly impressive reference (such as a local politician, head of a Fortune 500 company, or someone personally acquainted with the person reviewing your resume).

3. Any mention of high school
I don't care which high school you attended or how accomplished you were there. If you're more than a few years past your high school graduation date, no mention of high school belongs on your resume. Move on!

4. Extra documentation
Unless the company has specifically asked for something other than a cover letter and resume, don't send it. Candidates sometimes include writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcripts, even photos on occasion. Bring these sorts of extras (well, not photos) to your interview or wait to see if you're asked for this sort of extra documentation, but don't send it preemptively. In most cases, it won't help you, and in some cases it can actually hurt -- for instance, when a candidate attaches an unsolicited 20-page writing sample, it looks naive and makes me think he or she doesn't understand the hiring process.

5. A third page
If you're in your 20s, your resume should only be one page; there's not enough experience to justify a second one. After that, two pages are fine, but you go over that limit at your own peril. Hiring managers may be only spending 20 or 30 seconds on your application initially, so extra pages either (a) are ignored or (b) dilute the impact of the others. Yes, you have much impressive experience, but the resume is for highlights. Cut that thing in half.