Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option, archives, or categories at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Monday, August 31, 2009

does the font on your resume matter? what if it's Comic Sans?

A reader writes:

A friend of mine has asked me to critique his paper resume and cover letter.

Both documents used Comic Sans font. I suggested he use something more businesslike, such as Arial, but he's sold on Comic Sans.

To me, Comic Sans sends the implicit message "I think this is a joke" or, at least, looks too casual. Am I getting too picky?

Ugh, Comic Sans. For those who don't know it, Comic Sans looks like this.

It's not a professional font. It was designed to imitate comic book lettering. It's informal. It's despised by graphic designers. There's a movement to ban it.

Am I going to disregard an otherwise great candidate over it? No. Is it going to mildly annoy me? Yes. Do you want to be mildly annoying hiring managers by using an unprofessional font on your resume and making them wonder why you don't know it's not professional? No. Does it potentially contribute to an overall impression of you as unprofessional? Yes.

The test of a good resume font is one that doesn't make the reader think about what font you used. Comic Sans fails that test.

how to stay on an employer's radar after a job rejection

A reader writes:

I had a great interview with a company, but unfortunately did not get the job because they wanted someone with more experience. The HR manager said to check in with her from time to time. What is the best way to do this without seeming pushy? What is the best thing to say? My interview was at the end of June and I don't want her to forget about me!

Read my answer to this question over at U.S. News & World Report today.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

can job offer be rescinded over a misunderstanding?

A reader writes:

My husband has been offered a new contract via email. His response was:
"With all honesty I cannot but accept this offer."

The employer replied:
"I don't know how to interpret your reply, but what I understand is that you decline the offer."

He replied to this email clarifying that his answer was positive and that he wants the job. Does the employer have the right to ask somebody else for this job? We thought that my husband's email was very clear. We replied immediately clarifying the situation. This took place on Saturday. Today is Monday and we still haven't received a reply.

We tried to call him but there is no reply.

Any info/advice would be grateful appreciated. Since we clarified with an email straightaway that he wants the job, can the employer still say that he declined it?

The issue isn't whether or not the employer "can say" he declined the job. The issue is that there's been a major miscommunication that your husband needs to clear up immediately.

You husband should call this guy, and the HR person, immediately. If he doesn't reach them, he should leave each a clear message saying something like, "I think there was a misunderstanding. I replied to accept the job, but my wording seems to have given the opposite impression. To be clear, I accepted your offer. I am now quite anxious that my reply was misunderstood, so please get in touch with me as soon as you're able -- I'm eager to set a start date."

No reasonable person would rescind a job offer in this situation. But, on the other hand, there are plenty of unreasonable people out there, so one never knows. You can't force an employer to be reasonable, but then your husband shouldn't want to work for someone who would pull an offer over a small instance of confusion anyway, so sometimes things like this are good screening mechanisms to keep you from working for an ass.

(By the way, when you write "we called" and "we emailed," I hope you mean your husband, not you or both of you, given that a spouse should not be contacting the employer.)

Of course, your letter was written more than two weeks ago, so my advice is coming way too late to be of use to you (an unfortunate effect of my mail overload). I hope you'll write in and let us know what ended up happening.

Friday, August 28, 2009

should I tell recruiters I was laid off?

A reader writes:

I just graduated in December, and started work in January. The company lost a large contract, and my site had to lay off 20% of the work force, myself included. Any recruiter is going to ask why I left, and a friend of a friend who works for a staffing agency said she always chooses a candidate who already has a job over one who doesn’t. Of course this is true or she wouldn’t have said it, but I’m not sure how common it is.

I’m also not sure it’s good advice, particularly in my case where it looks like I’m looking for work only 8 months into the job. I recently had a phone interview and the recruiter asked why I was leaving after only 8 months. Not only did she emphasize “only,” but her tone was mildly disgusted. I had planned on saying “I just needed a change” or something like that, but told her I was laid off (though I beat around the bush a little), and she sounded relieved.

The pros I see to telling the truth (besides telling the truth) are that layoffs aren’t the employees' fault and a good recruiter would understand that, and I think they also might see it as their company getting a deal on “talent” lost by another company that can’t afford to keep it. The con, for lack of a more professional way of putting it, is looking like a loser. I don’t know if anyone has heard this advice before, but I’m really curious to hear your take on it.

That friend of a friend who said she "always" chooses a candidate who already has a job over one who doesn’t? She's a jerk. And short-sighted and probably not very good at her job.

Yes, it's true that it's often easier to get a job when you already have one, a cruel reality in an economy like this one. But for a recruiter to make that a rule? It's ridiculous.

Most recruiters, HR people, and hiring managers aren't going to freak out that you were laid off, especially right now. Half the people we're seeing were laid off. It's become the new normal. Explaining that you left your last job because you were laid off is far better than answering that you were fired, left because of differences with your boss, or left with no job lined up (which looks really odd in this economy).

Your idea about saying you left because you "needed a change"? Really bad idea. First of all, it's a lie. And what's going to happen when they check your references, ask why you left, hear that you were laid off, and wonder why you told a different story? Plus, when I hear that someone left because they "needed a change" -- in any economy -- I wonder what the real story is. Did they need the change because they couldn't get along with their boss? Because they're easily bored? Because they make rash decisions? Of course it can be a legitimate reason to leave, but it does raise these questions in my head, and I'd rather not have red flags to worry about. And especially right now, in the middle of such a bad job market, if you really left with no job lined up just because you needed a change, I'm going to wonder about your judgment.

For some people, the truth about why they left a job is sticky and they have to give a lot of thought to how they frame it. For you, that's not the case. It's straightforward and not a red flag. You were laid off. Say it and move on.

And send this post to your friend's friend at that staffing agency.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

manager asking me to discipline my coworkers

A reader writes:

Several of the employees of my office (including myself) have been approached by our department manager, who has asked us to talk with specific employees about their attendance, personal phone calls, hygiene, etc. I feel this is the manager's job to do but he has become down right insistent that we "handle" it for him. How do we tell the manager that he needs to control the employees with the bad attendance, personal phone calls, etc.?

Really? Wow, your manager sucks.

I'd say this to him: "I'm confused. I don't have any authority over Jane, so I really can't be the one to address this with her. You or someone else with authority needs to talk to her."

Given that he's clearly a d-bag, he may respond by claiming that she'll take it better coming from you, or that he doesn't have time, or any other similarly ridiculous excuse to not to do his job. Just pleasantly and firmly repeat, "I don't have the authority to have those kinds of conversations with my coworkers."

And if he tells you that he's giving you that authority, say this: "I'm not sure what you mean. Are you saying you're making me her manager?" (He's not. He's trying to give you the authority for this one situation, because he's an ass who doesn't want to do his job.)

And because I'm in a cranky mood, if this guy keeps this up, feel free to complain to someone -- HR or whoever. Couch it in terms of confusion -- you're confused about why your manager keeps asking you to exercise authority you don't have.

No matter what your job is, it's unacceptable to refuse to do what you've been hired for. But managers who won't manage are the worst, due to the massive and destructive impact that they have on everyone around them. And unfortunately you're working for one of them.

Look, it's me

Look, it's me.

Talking about my work, which I never do here.

Thanks to Creative Chaos Consultant.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

can I use my ex as a job reference?

A reader writes:

On the application I have been asked to return immediately before what appears to be my final interview, it asks for three references that are not relatives or former employers. I would like to use my ex-wife, but I am concerned if this may be acceptable from the eyes of a recruiter. I am not one who normally keeps good contact with former co-workers or even long term friends. My ex who I have known nearly 20 years is very professional and would give me an excellent reference despite our marital problems. She is well aware of my work ethic and technical abilities. What are your thoughts?

Absolutely not. Using an ex looks really unprofessional.

It's also assumed that she'll be biased in your favor, so any reference she provides isn't useful.

Frankly, I don't get the point of asking for references that aren't professional ones -- I think "personal references" are just about worthless when you're evaluating someone for a job -- but since they're asking for non-employers, you should give clients, non-manager colleagues, or people who know you in your community.

I once called a reference I'd been provided with and discovered during the course of the call that the person was my candidate's ex-boyfriend and had never worked with her professionally. Not only did I disregard his feedback, but it made me wonder about her judgment and professionalism. Don't do it.

offer changed once I was on the job

A reader writes:

I just finished my second week in my "dream job," but there are some complications, and I'm not sure how to proceed.

The job required moving from the Midwest to the West coast; I both received the job offer and accepted it by phone. At the time of offer, I was offered a salary for a 10 month interim position with no benefits. To compensate for the lack of benefits, the company offered me a rent-free apartment for the duration of my employment there in a very attractive location if I would like. I accepted, but did mention that the housing opportunity would be necessary for me to relocate.

They needed me to start right away--a week later I began my new job, but was told by my boss that the housing opportunity had fallen through, and that the company could no longer offer me housing. I tried to discuss that this was unacceptable--housing is astronomical in my area and cutting housing from my offer equates to cutting my salary by a third. My boss replied that because housing was not included in the written contract, but was rather an additional "perk" that they had hoped to provide to sway the best candidate to accept, that he was not liable to hold up his end of our verbal agreement. I was quite flabbergasted at this response, which I find unethical. It is important to me to work for someone I can trust. He further asked me not to discuss the matter of housing with anyone else at work, as this is something he apparently did under-the-table, without approval from those above him, so basically, there's no one to advocate for me. I definitely got the sense when talking to him that this conversation is closed and that there will be no room to negotiate in the future.

But it's a job, and the first offer in my field I've had in almost 2 years of hunting; I'm not sure if I'd rather stick it out than stay with my parents and resume the job search.

What are my options here? And how can I gracefully exit if need be?

Okay, everyone repeat after me: Always, always, always get every detail of a job offer in writing, if you want those details to be respected.


If they don't offer it in writing, ask them to send you an email outlining what's been agreed to. Or send your own summary, asking them to write back with confirmation. Otherwise, later on, it can be like the conversation never happened. As you've discovered.

Okay, lecture over. What should you do now?

Option #1: Go to your boss. Say the following: "I'm extremely concerned about this. As I mentioned to you during our negotiations, the housing offer was 100% necessary for me to accept the offer and relocate. I did make that clear at the time, and you made a clear offer to me of housing. No one indicated it was anything but a definite part of the offer. I accepted the offer with that understanding. Removing that aspect of the package now essentially cuts my compensation by a third, which obviously isn't practical. What can we do now?"

This is your boss' problem to deal with. He made an offer he apparently didn't have the authority to make -- but the fact is that he made it, while acting as a representative of the company. If he refuses to deal with it, you need to discuss it with HR or someone above him. Frankly, I would do that without bothering to tell him you're going to, as you don't want him to get there ahead of you and do something to undermine your claim.

When you take this over his head, he may claim he never promised you that, so be prepared for that to happen.

Option #2: The alternative, of course, is to suck it up and not fight it, especially since you have nothing in writing.

If you do fight it, you may not win. If you win, you may have permanently poisoned your relationship with your boss. Either way, this may not be a man you want to work with anyway.

(I'm assuming that your version of events is correct. If it's possible that your boss didn't give you a firm commitment on housing, even though you thought you heard that, that changes things.)

It's hard to advise someone to quit a job in this economy. On the other hand, this job was only slated to last 10 months anyway. You have to weigh all of these factors and decide how you want to proceed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

why I am losing at interview phone tag?

A reader writes:

I wondered if perhaps you could shed some light on a situation that I've just encountered for the second time since I got laid off last October.

I received a call late Tuesday afternoon and was not somewhere that it was convenient for me to take a professional phone call. The caller left a message that she was from company X, had received my resume for position Y, and wanted to schedule an interview with me. I returned the call first thing Wednesday morning (I wasn't in a good spot to return the call until very late Tuesday evening), and was sent to the woman's voicemail, where I left a message saying who I was, that I was returning her call, expressing interest in the position, and how to get in touch with me. I tried again Wednesday afternoon with the same result.

Thursday I did a little more research and discovered that the person I was trying to reach is actually the HR person (among other things), and the poor person who kept having to put me through to her voicemail is the secretary. I still hadn't heard back by Thursday afternoon, so I called again. I got the secretary (big surprise) who told me she was on the phone and I could leave a voicemail. I explained the situation to the secretary, emphasizing that the other person had called me first to set up the interview, and the secretary apologized but said there really wasn't anything she could do but put
me through to voicemail, so I left yet another message. Now it's Monday evening, and I still haven't heard back from the woman. I'm probably going to try one more time tomorrow, but then I'm just going to write the whole thing off.

I just don't understand why someone would do this...even if there's something in the voicemail I left that made her decide she wasn't interested she could at least send me an email. Even if she's not comfortable telling me whatever pushed the wrong buttons with her, just tell me the position's filled, or put on hold, or whatever. I guess my question is, how often and how many times should I try to get in touch to schedule this interview? Also, do you think it would be worth it to try to circumvent the HR person and email the head of Marketing directly (the position is in the Marketing department)?

Thanks for any light you can shed, and even if you can't, I still love your blog.

Here's what I suspect is happening: The HR person has way more qualified candidates than she can interview, and lots of demands on her time. So she's interested in you, but when she doesn't reach you immediately, she's moving on to calling other candidates, and once she reaches enough good candidates, she stops. And probably moves on to the other positions she has to fill or whatever other work is on her plate.

I'm in a similar situation right now myself: I'm being inundated by really great candidates. It's like nothing I've ever seen before, and it's clearly a reflection of the current job market. I have a limited number of interview slots, and once I've filled those slots, more good candidates keep coming in. I'd love to talk to all of them, but the reality is that there are only so many hours in the day and a ton of other demands on my time. So there are good candidates who I'm not even able to speak with, just because my time is already booked up with other good candidates. This makes me nervous because I don't want to miss out on great candidates who might be even better than the other great candidates. But I'm in triage mode.

Of course, I'm emailing them all and not leaving them hanging -- and it's really rude to not get back to you once they've already reached out to you -- but I'm pretty sure this is what's happening to you. You were clearly a strong enough candidate to get their interest -- but there's this constant ocean of strong candidates streaming by, and the reality is that their goal is just to get the position filled with someone great, not to give everyone a full and fair hearing.

So what can you do about this? Well, silly as it sounds, do whatever you can to take the calls when you get them -- don't put it off for later, given that this is going on. You could also email the hiring manager directly, but there's a good chance that the HR person is just going to tell her that they're up to their ears in good candidates as it is. (But doing so shouldn't hurt you, so you might as well give it a shot.)

Any ideas from anyone else?

how to deal with job rejection

If you're a job seeker in this economy, in addition to knowing how to write a good cover letter, talk winningly about your accomplishments, and follow up without being too stalkerish, you'll probably need another skill too: dealing with rejection after applying for a job, maybe even one you really wanted and thought you were perfect for.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I give five pieces of advice for dealing with job rejection. Please check it out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

contracting vs. full-time job

A reader writes:

About 9 months ago I was let go from a great full-time contracting position I held for three years with a large corporation. At the time, the company was laying off hundreds of employees and contractors like myself were the first to go, and I was sad to leave the work and the people there behind. After a couple of months of job-searching I landed a new job at a much smaller company and have been reasonably happy at this new position, minus the longer commute and less than half the pay I was making before as a contractor.

Now my new company is transitioning to a smaller location and is struggling financially, and I've been led to believe through several conversations with my boss that my job could be in peril. I've been searching for openings at several companies through my network contacts and have been notified of a position that is opening up with my old company (which seems to have stabdoing relatively the same work I was doing as a contractor. The manager for this position called to ask if I was interested to contract for them to start, although they would be opening up a search to fill it permanently both internally and externally. I responded that I was interested in both the contract and permanent position and would give my final answer to my availabilty within a few days.

So, after a year of being in a precarious position career-wise, I'm still uncertain; do I take the contracting position that could either lead to a permanent spot, or leave me with a month or two of work and out job-hunting again after they hire someone other than me?

P.S. Your site was a life-saver during the months I was job searching. There were so many helpful tips that provided me with guidance from cover-letter writing to how to handle phone interviews -- I learned a lot. Thanks for your help!

People who write nice things get their questions answered faster. Usually. I'm currently really behind on my mail, even among people who have said nice things (sorry to those people!). There are currently 161 emails in my in-box, so I may need to go on a posting frenzy soon.

My immediate thought is that you need more information from both companies.

Your old company: Tell them you're extremely interested but concerned about job security since they previously laid you off. Ask what they can tell you that can help you comfortably accept their offer. Ask if they're willing to commit to employing you for a specific period of time (can't hurt to ask; guilt from laying you off might lead them to say yes, and sometimes asking for things results in you getting them). See how you feel about what they say.

Your new company: Ask your boss candidly what your prospects are for still being there in a year. Since he may not be straightforward with you, let your knowledge of his past candor (or lack thereof) guide you as you evaluate his answer. You might even tell him that your old company approached you about contracting again, that you don't want to leave your current job, but that you figured you'd be crazy not to check in with him, given what's going on with the economy and this company. If he knows lay-offs are coming, this may prompt him to hint you should take the other job. Pay attention to hints and hesitation.

I think you'll be able to make a decision once you have both these conversations. Good luck!

companies that interview with no intention of hiring you

A reader writes:

Today I experienced something I had before. I felt tricked and cheated after I found out that the interview I had 3 weeks ago was fake - they had a candidate, but arranged to have interviews nevertheless. This already happened to me twice.

I feel frustrated for my wasted time, effort and the negative outcome of the interview. I hope you understand my frustration. I was just wondering - should something be done? And what can be done?

What do you suggest? It's not really any different from when candidates go to job interviews when they're pretty unlikely to accept the job. It wastes everyone's time, but there's no federal interviewing board that's going to start fining people for it.

Yes, sometimes companies have a candidate in mind but feel like they should do a full round of interviews anyway (or in some cases are required to). In some cases, they're not actually open to any of the other candidates they're interviewing; in other cases, they are.

There aren't really any ways you can find out ahead of time whether this is the case. Companies that do this are unlikely to tell you they're doing this, and companies that aren't (the majority of them) are likely to take the question as odd and paranoid.

It's a risk you take when you interview -- but then so is rejection, no matter how open to hiring you they are. I'd let it go.

Friday, August 21, 2009

bad interviewee behavior: more tales

My friend writes:

I call a lot of people to interview them for various positions. I could have an admin person set up these interviews, but I prefer to do it myself. Lately, I've noticed a rash of bad behavior -- applicants think that because I'm the one calling, I have nothing to do with the hiring process.

In one recent incident the applicant (married mid-30ish male) flirted with me of the phone, flirted with me during the interview (despite ring and mention of Wife and Kid), then asked half-way through about the organizational structure. When he realized I was in a position directly above the position he was applying for, you should have seen the look of horror on his face. So much so that my supervisor (who was in the interview with me) said after he left "what is wrong with men these days that they still can't fathom that women could be anything but secretaries. society has failed."


If you are an applicant and I call to set up an interview, don't ask, "why has it taken you so long to call me?"

If I say the location of the position is X, please don't ask if you the job is REALLY in X, can work from another office, or if you can work from home. Nor should you show up at our office surprised about the location. You applied for the job --the location is stated on the application.

If you have multiple questions about the position, that's fantastic. Do not call me 7 times in 4 hours. That is what the interview is for.

If I repeat the question during the interview, it means you didn't answer the question. Just answer the question.

Ok. I feel better now.


Thank you.

Since we're complaining, I'm going to chime in:

I had an applicant this week who was extremely hard to set up a phone interview with -- none of the days or times I suggested worked, despite repeated tries. Since I have tons of strong candidates for the job, I finally asked if she had any flexibility at all, since otherwise I'd need to just focus on the other candidates. She agreed to make a time work today (after telling me in detail how hard it might be for her). Then, once we finally got on the phone, she told me that she knew the position was in D.C. but she didn't see any reason why it couldn't be done from her city, many, many states away. I explained that in fact this was not a position that could telecommute, and explained why. She then proceeded to lecture me about how there was no reason for that, and how she was quite sure she could do it as a telecommuter, while I repeated over and over, "It's really not possible." I finally cut her off and told her we were going to need to end the call.

Now. First of all, she could have mentioned this up front and we could have avoided all the scheduling drama. Second, during the scheduling drama, she at one point suggested we do the call at 8 p.m. If I'd made time to do it during my evening, only to discover she wasn't even willing to meet the clearly stated location requirement of the job and hadn't bothered to say that earlier, I would have been quite annoyed. And thirdly, I did 20 phone interviews this week. That's a lot, and it's my absolute limit -- and she took one of those slots from a candidate who might have gotten an interview otherwise.

This is bad behavior.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

complaining about work on Twitter

A reader writes:

I'm a fan of twitter and have recently started a departmental twitter feed for my branch library. I'm encouraging my student staff to come up with ideas for posts, and they've been very enthusiastic.

However, one of them sent a tweet from his personal twitter account, while he was at work, which talked in a disparaging way about another department.

I approached him and asked him not to say negative things about our workplace and fellow staff on a public account, or if he wanted to, not to mention any specifics that would link it to our library. He is 19 or 20, and though he said he would refrain, I don't think he got the picture.

How can I say this without sounding like I'm snooping, but let them know it's not appropriate? I don't want to say "no tweeting at work," but I also don't want the privilege taken away from myself too, when the higher-ups see negative tweets from workers during working hours.

As his account is public, has his picture, and he mentioned both departments by their proper names, it seemed in poor taste, especially since he tweeted it during his shift. It seems akin to someone complaining about work on facebook, while at work, when you're friends with your boss.

I'd just be straightforward. Tell him, "I know this is your personal Twitter account, but the fact is that you're connected on it to many people at work. Sending out a message that disparages another employee isn't okay, just like it wouldn't be okay if you printed up a flyer about him and passed it out in the parking lot. Just because it's your personal account doesn't mean that it doesn't have ramifications or affect the way you'll be perceived."

You'd also be doing him a favor to spell out for him that this stuff isn't private, now or in the future. If he's job-searching and a prospective employer searches for him and pulls up his twitter page, it's not going to look good to have posts like that there. As many others before me have observed, this generation is so comfortable with social media and so used to living their lives on it that they don't always understand the need to censor themselves in public spaces where they might be observed and judged by people they want something from (like a job, professional respect, etc.).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

more resume shenanigans - leaving off dates of employment

I'm seeing what might be a trend of people using a chronological resume format but leaving off any indication of how long they held each position.

This is really not a good idea. It looks like you're trying to hide a series of short stays and in a pretty inept way, because it jumps out like it would if you left off any other important piece of information (like an email address, which I've also seen some people do).

As of today, I'm going to start emailing candidates who do this and asking them to submit a version of their resume that does include the time periods they held each position, since otherwise I'd need to spend time on the phone interview having them walk me through it for each job, which is tedious and not how I want to spend interview time. These shenanigans will not stand!

Monday, August 17, 2009

new HR coordinator without resources asks whether to leave

A reader writes:

I graduated in 07 with a BA. Since than, I’ve been working FT while completing my MBA in HR as well. I began my HR career working as a recruiter for a staffing agency for about a year, but soon found out that sales is not what I really want to pursue. As a result, since Nov. of last year, I found another position working as a HR Coordinator for a local company. As for my MBA, I will be done with it this Sept. My ultimate goal is to work in corporate HR.

Now, you may ask me what is the problem? Everything is sounding to be on the right track. Well… the problem lies with my current position. I accepted this position thinking that I would learn a lot from it and that it would prepare me for a future corporate position. However, to my surprise, that is not the case at all. I get no guidance from this position. Besides me in the HR department, there is only one other person and she is solely responsible for payroll. So as a result, I have to rely on myself to research on things. For instance, right when I started, I was asked to redo the employee handbook by myself. Everything that is going here, I have to research and figure it out on my own. Now I know some people will say that this is a good learning experience but I really don’t think so. There are so many aspects of HR and I would rather work for someone who’s experienced and not put the company at risk.

So for the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to apply for other positions but have found no luck. I think the main reason for that is because my length of employment. I’ve only been at this position for 8 months and already I’m applying somewhere else. If this is the case, do you advice that I should stay with this position longer and apply later or should I continue my application? Does short length of employment really raise a red flag?

First, let me say that I'm not in HR and so I'm hoping that people who are will weigh in here as well.

For what it's worth, you wanted a position you'd learn from, and having to figure stuff out on your own is a damn good way of learning. There are a lot of people who'd love to have a job where they're given that kind of autonomy and responsibility. (Although I hope they're providing you with access to legal counsel so that you have someone reviewing your work to ensure you're complying with the law.)

Out of curiosity, did you realize when you accepted the job that there would be no experienced HR person working with you? I'm trying to figure out how this ended up being a surprise.

But in any case, if this really isn't what you want and you just aren't the type of person who wants to teach yourself (and you're not alone if that's the case), you can certainly look for other jobs. Yes, short stays are a red flag, so you'd want to make sure that you stay in your next job for a good long period. And obviously you shouldn't quit this job before you have another one lined up.

(I want to really emphasize that to everyone: Do not quit your job without having another one lined up. The economy is astoundingly bad. I'm advertising for several positions right now, and I've been blown away by the swarm of highly qualified applicants for relatively low-paying positions. You do not want to be jobless if you can help it.)

But I'd stay. It sounds kind of awesome to me, as long as your boss is willing to give you access to legal people when you need them. But maybe actual HR people are about to tell me I'm wrong, so stay tuned in the comments section.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

emotional after performance review

A reader writes:

Some background: I am in my mid-twenties and I work as an assistant for a small, nationally renowned non-profit. I love a lot about my job: I get to research topics I love, and I get to apply skills that satisfy me. I have a heavy workload that has increased substantially over the past few months. I often work straight through the day without a lunch break, stay late when I need to, bring work home when I need to, and check my work email from home constantly.

I had my first ever annual performance review last month. Before this formal meeting, my boss and I had met sporadically, and our discussions tended to focus on particular projects she had planned for me. The only explicit feedback I received about my work was in November, and it was that I was "doing excellent work." Since that comment, I had not received any pointed feedback about my performance, negative or positive. Instead she would casually ask, "How's it going?" and I would say something like "I'm working on a lot right now, but I feel good about everything." As my review crept closer, I was naturally somewhat anxious, but felt I had reason to believe that I was going to receive generally good feedback.

Boy, was I in for a surprise: my boss told me that there was an issue with follow through, citing a few examples of minor tasks I had failed to execute, and said she was worried a pattern was emerging. She said I needed to participate more at staff meetings, and that I'm not a team player. My grade was "needs improvement." I felt completely blindsided, and was so shocked and hurt by the feedback that I burst into tears. She also asked me if I'm really serious about working in this field. In my emotionally vulnerable and unstable state, I admitted that, while I do value a lot about my job, I sometimes think about other paths. My boss told me we would meet again in a month to reevaluate my standing.

I took the review really badly: I was on the verge of tears for the remainder of the workweek and couldn't sleep at night due to anxiety. I felt like I had been working quite hard, that for each of her examples of my failures, there were dozens of things that I had executed well and promptly. My job can be very stressful, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well. I thought I was succeeding; to be told the opposite was demoralizing and mortifying. Looking back on my tears makes me cringe; I fear that I came off unstable and incapable of hearing criticism.

I've reflected on my feedback and concluded that some of it was valid. The next week I requested a follow-up meeting with my boss: I told her that I had let some things slip due my increased workload, and that I was going to make an extra effort to make sure nothing falls through the cracks in the future. I asked her for more regular feedback, suggesting that she call to check in with me like she does with my colleague (my boss works three-day weeks). This plan seems to be helping, and I've gotten some good feedback related to my areas in need of improvement.

But my despair persists: my department is very small, and I'm now concerned that everyone perceives me in the way my boss described me. I feel sheepish and embarrassed around my colleagues. I'm also worried that my boss shared my emotional response to her criticism with them, which compounds my paranoia. Finally, I'm concerned that my admission to considering other lines of work set off an alarm in my boss's head. Is there anything I can do, besides doing my job well, to improve my standing? I'm worried about being blindsided again.

It sounds like you're doing all the right things here, aside from being really, really stressed out about it. Being open-minded about the feedback, asking for a follow-up meeting, and requesting more feedback were all exactly the right ways to respond to this.

Based on your boss' feedback, it sounds like you were doing the big things well, but forgetting about some of the little things. If you were letting smaller tasks slip through the cracks, she was right to point out that it was becoming a pattern -- but this is exactly the kind of performance issue that's really easy to fix, and she probably knows that. I cannot tell you how many people I've had to have that conversation with -- it's probably the most common issue I have to address with people. The vast majority of people are able to fix it once they're focused on it -- and you sound like someone who's fixing it.

Now, I'm not sure what she meant by "not a team player," and if you're not sure either, get details from her about that one so that you know specifically what she'd like to see you do differently.

But remember -- this is what bosses do: they give feedback and tell you about ways you could do better. It's normal.

It can also be a shock if you're not used to it. I think many smart people go through this right around your age: If you're like a lot of smart people, up until now you've been used to hearing exclusively positive feedback. You were smart, school and peers affirmed that, and it's part of your self-identity. And then when you start working and come across a boss who sees areas where she wants you to improve, it can be really jarring. It can make you doubt yourself or think you're in the wrong job. Don't think that way. Instead, take the feedback for what is it: matter of fact information about areas where you need to focus your attention more. Take that feedback and use it, and you'll find that stretching yourself to grow in that way can be pretty gratifying.

Seriously. Don't freak out. You're on the case here, and it sounds like it's going to work out fine.

About your two other concerns --

It's unlikely that the rest of your department has even noticed or thought much about the points your boss made. Your boss' job is to pay attention to your work and think about these things; theirs is not, and I promise you they're not scrutinizing you like that. Most of the time when I talk to an employee about performance issues, the issues are ones that their coworkers wouldn't have much way of knowing about. It sounds the same here. And unless your boss is hugely unprofessional and a jerk, she didn't tell them that you had an emotional response originally -- I can't tell you how inappropriate it would have been to do that, and unless you have some specific reason to believe she did, err on the side of assuming she conducted herself normally in that regard (meaning that her conversation with you is none of your coworkers' business).

And last, regarding whether your boss is alarmed that you acknowledged that you sometimes consider other lines of work -- unless you're working in the mafia or something, this is not a big deal. If it's bothering you, go back to her and tell her that your conversation made you realize how much you want to stay in this field and ask her for her continued help via feedback and advice.

But really, I think what's going on here is that you're smart and conscientious and horrified by what I suspect is the sort of feedback you've never encountered before. Keep telling yourself that this is normal, bosses have these kinds of conversations with people all the time, and generally the issues raised get fixed and people just roll forward. Not a disaster, not even close to a disaster. You're doing all the right things, and now you just need to stop beating yourself up.

Good luck!

Friday, August 14, 2009

EmailYourInteriewer success story

An update on, which lets job-seekers send an anonymous, polite letter to employers who interviewed them and then never bothered to get back to them: It's now generated 95 letters to employers.

A couple of employers have written back to apologize. Here's one of those replies:

Please let your candidate know that I apologize if this occurred. I conduct second or third interviews around the country and make it the responsibility of the hiring manager to follow up w/ all candidates. I will follow up w/ the managers who currently have opening to ensure they are communicating w/ all applicants.


If you've been frustrated yourself by not hearing back from companies after interviewing, why not politely let them know. Go here, and the work will be done for you. (Just make sure to follow the rules.)

being intentionally late to an interview as a strategy

A reader writes:

I'd like to share a job search tip with you (or at least receive your opinion about it).

A resume attempts to showcase past achievements but it doesn't do much to demonstrate a candidate's character.

So I deliberately call in late to the interview. About a half hour before the interview time, I will call the company and say I'm in traffic and would be it ok to arrive about 15 minutes late. They, of course, always say no problem and they will let the interviewer know.

So I arrive and sit down with the interviewer and I thank him/her for the reschedule. If that interviewer makes special effort to note that extra effort and that most people don't do that (which certainly has happened with me) I have both an indicator or the character of that interviewer and an instant segue to ask questions about the personal qualities that management values.

The point is that just because you're a candidate doesn't mean you can't create some trigger event that gives you feedback about the inside. (In the science/tech arena this is called 'blank box' testing. I'm saying it applies to human interaction and the job search market as well.)

Uh, I think this is a really bad idea.

You're deliberately arriving late for an interview? In order to see if the interviewer thanks you for calling to warn her?

First of all, as an interviewer, I often allot a specific amount of time for an interview, and I can't go over it because I have other meetings scheduled right after it. So if I've allotted an hour and you arrive 15 minutes late, you've just shortened our time to talk by a quarter. Not only is that not good for you, but it's also annoying, frankly.

Second, it doesn't reflect well on you to be 15 minutes late. You should be planning to leave yourself enough of a buffer that you don't need to worry about getting stuck in traffic, because you've planned for the possibility -- because you know that arriving on time for an interview is important. Now, if there's an incredibly unusual traffic jam, that's different -- but as someone pointed out in the comments on another post recently, many cities are small enough that your interviewer is going to know if this is the case or not.

Third, you're expecting the interviewer to note the "extra effort" that you made to call them and alert them that you'd be late? Since that's the bare minimum expected from a candidate running late, that's a little like expecting to be thanked for making the extra effort to brush your teeth that day. You should be apologizing; they shouldn't be thanking you.

And last, you're doing this to test the character of your interviewer? There are a lot better ways to do that than to intentionally disrespect someone's time when they've set aside a block of their day to meet with you.

What do others think?

Monday, August 10, 2009

4 biggest myths about job references

I get a lot of mail with misconceptions about job references—how they work, who gets called, and what the reference can say. I encounter four myths in particular, over and over. My post at U.S. News & World Report today explains these four common myths and what the facts actually are.

Please check it out and leave your own thoughts in the comments over there!

Friday, August 7, 2009

how do I ask my boss for the money they owe me?

A reader writes:

I am currently interning with a small environmental non-profit. I started the internship in February, at a time when essentially none of my target organizations were hiring, and I was looking for a position where I could gain experience in the field. Throughout the interview process, my contact and other staff members who interviewed me were very honest about the fact that although normally the internship comes with a stipend, it was going to be an unpaid position due to the organization's financial situation. I was offered $50 a month to cover some of my transportation costs getting to and from work, but that was all. I accepted because it IS a great experience with an outstanding small nonprofit, and I was really excited about the opportunity.

The first day of my internship, my contact - the only person with whom I had contact outside of my interview - left to go to the field for a month. That first month, I had trouble getting assignments from the staff, and no one brought up the transportation reimbursement. It wasn't an important issue and I figured the organization needed the money more than I did, so I didn't push the staff about getting the $50. When my contact returned, I reminded her about our agreement to cover transportation, and she agreed to speak with the EVP of our department about getting that money for me. She also helped me find assignments, and my workload has been fine ever since.

As time progressed, it became more apparent to me that because of the high volume of candidates, I was not going to get a job offer from my favorite organizations in the first 8 weeks, like I originally (and naively) believed. So I agreed to extend the length of my internship to 6 months, pending a job offer. That is, I would stay until the end of August unless I got an offer for a full-time job. Again, I spoke with my contact and she promised to speak with the boss about getting my transportation money.

Now it's nearly the end of my internship, and it turns out I need that money; I'm moving into a new apartment and need it to cover some initial expenses. I know that the situation is partially my fault, because I didn't push harder to get the reimbursement in the beginning. Things are complicated by the fact that the EVP has since become the Interim President & CEO until a new CEO is found, and I have been acting partially as his assistant so he is my direct manager. He is (understandably) maniacal about the organization's budget; in all seriousness, last week he told a staff member that she couldn't buy a microphone to talk to our field staff in Africa over Skype, even though it would save the organization thousands of dollars to avoid the telephone charges. At this point, I'm owed $250, but I'm nervous about asking him for a lump sum.

Should I go back to my original contact or should I approach my boss directly? Should I just accept the fact that I'm not going to get that reimbursement?

The contract I signed didn't contain a mention of the transportation money, but I do still have a copy of the email in which that offer was extended.

You need to take this up with them right now, today.

This is not okay. They made a financial agreement with you that they are not honoring.

Go speak with the person who originally made this agreement with you. Say something like this: "We made an agreement at the start of my internship, and I've been counting on that money. It's now at the point where I can't put it off any longer; I need this resolved right away." Insist on having a concrete plan for when that check will be issued.

If she tries to put you off, don't let her. Say something like, "I would feel much more comfortable if we could resolve this right now. We talked about this earlier and it was supposed to get resolved, but then it never did. I really need to resolve this right now."

And by the way, there's no reason it should take longer than next week. If someone brought this to my attention, I'd be mortified and have the check for them that same day. If they put you off or tell you it'll take a month, stand up to them. There's no reason why they should have trouble writing a check for such a small amount of money. Do not let them mess around with this any longer.

If they balk over paying you $250 that they agreed to pay you? In any case, but especially when you've been working for free? Run.

By the way, it's possible that your contact never got official authorization for the offer she made you, and that's why she's dragging her feet now. Doesn't matter. You accepted the offer contingent upon that, and they need to honor it.

Now, go to talk to them right now.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

gift for boss after he got me a raise and promotion

A reader writes:

My boss got me a spot raise and a promotion this year. I'd like to give him a gift--is it appropriate? I was thinking either a bottle of booze or one of those inspirational prints (the former being old school and latter being wimpy/politically correct). What kind of gift do you think is appropriate? Obviously the first thing I should do is to continue deliver results for the company ;>

Hmmm, I wouldn't give him a gift. After all, you earned that raise and promotion! A gift doesn't feel right.

However, what I would love in his shoes (far more than even a bottle of booze) is a heartfelt note telling him that you appreciate that he went to bat for you, as well as noting anything else you appreciate about working with him. That would have a lot more meaning and I'd keep it for years. Being the boss can be a thankless job; when people notice the ways you've helped them, it really feels great.

how to answer "what do you look for in a manager?"

A reader writes:

I was recently asked in an interview, "What do you look for in a manager?"

My honest answer is "consistency." My last boss was fine - but she was renowned for changing her mind. I challenged her about it at times. She admitted that sometimes she changed her mind because she hadn't thought things through. Other times it was because situations changed. Other times she denied saying one thing and was now saying something else. She had many good points but was frustrating.

But this is not something to talk about in an interview. I can deal with a crabby boss, a moody boss, a lovely boss, someone who delegates and someone who micromanages. But I do like a bit of consistency.

In any event, in the interview I talked about wanting a boss who was supportive, who delegated work and who communicated. So - sorry to ramble - but what should I have answered in the interview?

Well, it depends. If you want to be sure you don't end up working for a boss like that again, then I'd be honest. Don't go overboard of course, but if you really don't want to be in that situation again, it's fine to say something like, "I've found I work well with a lot of different management styles, but one thing I've found challenging is someone who reverses their own decisions a lot. Obviously, sometimes situations change and there's nothing that can be done about that, but otherwise I like to make decisions by thinking through a situation and considering pros and cons, so that I feel confident in the decision and can stick to it, and I like to work with people who work that way too."

By being forthright about it, you'll screen out jobs where you might find yourself with exactly the sort of boss you don't want. In other words, don't focus on giving the answers that will get you a job offer, any job offer -- focus on giving the answers that will get you a job you'll like.

But, on the other hand, if the reality is that this is more of a nice-to-have than a must-have for you, and you'd want the job even if you knew your boss would be as inconsistent as your old one, then I think the way you answered was fine. It really comes down to how important this is to you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's here: the You-Suck-As-An-Interviewer Automatic Letter Generator

It's here!

The You-Suck-As-An-Interviewer Automatic Letter Generator ®, which will anonymously email that interviewer who never bothered to respond after your interview, has now debuted:

Spread the word.

(By the way, suggestions for improvements welcome.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ask a Manager needs your I.T. expertise

If you're an expert in Apple Mail Scripts or otherwise a technical genius, and you want to help me create the You-Suck-As-An-Interviewer Automatic Letter Generator ®, as described below, please email me. Together, we will shake the world of rude interviewers to its very core.

how late is too late for an interview?

You're an interviewer. You have a 12:00 interview scheduled. Normally people go in the mildly annoying direction of arriving waaayy too early, but this candidate is late.

How late can the candidate be before you (a) hold it against him/her, and (b) cancel the interview altogether?

I consider lateness of more than a couple minutes very notable. And at 10 minutes, there better be a profuse apology so it doesn't seem like typical behavior for the candidate. If the person isn't there 15 minutes after the scheduled time, I'm likely to cancel the interview entirely. (If the person calls within the first 10 minutes to explain and has a reasonable excuse, I will cut them some slack, but not a huge amount.)

Where do you stand?

Monday, August 3, 2009

You suck, interviewer!

I'm on a bit of a rampage about interviewers who don't bother to send candidates notices of rejection after a candidate has taken the time to interview with them.

You put hours into preparing for the interview. Maybe you buy a new suit. Maybe you drive several hours to get there, spending gas money you don't really have or taking a vacation day to do it. Then you sweat it out through the interview itself. They tell you that they'll notify you of their decision in a week. And then ... nothing. It's like you don't exist to them.

This behavior is inexcusable -- it's callous and dismissive and lacks any appreciation for the fact that the candidate is anxiously waiting to hear an answer -- any answer -- and keeps waiting and waiting, long after a decision has been made. It's just not that hard to send a quick email, even a form letter, letting the candidate know she's no longer under consideration.

Employers owe interviewees a response, period.

This particularly pisses me off because sane job seekers aren't going to call employers like this on their rude behavior, lest they burn their bridges with the organization. So employers get to act like this with impunity, and the rare person who does complain about it is generally dismissed as naive or crazy, simply because no one else does it.

I'm seriously thinking of offering a service on this site that job seekers could use to generate an anonymous letter to the employer, telling them how rude they are. It would be a public service: the Ask a Manager You-Suck-As-An-Interviewer Automatic Letter Generator ® .

the ethics of cancelling remaining interviews once you find "the one"

Where do you stand on this question?

An employer is interviewing for a position. They have five interviews scheduled. Interview #3 is fantastic, and the interviewer's experience tells them that the other candidates won't beat #3.

If you were candidate #4 or #5 and your interview hasn't happened yet -- say it's scheduled for later this week -- would you rather that the employer continue on with your scheduled interview, even though now they're pretty sure it's going to be a waste of your/their time because they're almost definitely going to offer the position to the other candidate (who appears certain to accept)? Or would you rather they not make you put in the time when it's so unlikely to pay off?

(Assume for the sake of the question that if candidate #3 turns down the offer, the employer will resume the remaining interviews.)

I could argue this either way, but ultimately -- if I'm that sure about candidate #3 -- I'm on the side of not wasting people's time.

5 ways companies mistreat job-seekers

I've been in a rage lately about some of the ways employers mistreat job-seekers (more on this soon), and today my U.S. News & World Report post is about five of the ways that employers are rude to job candidates.

Please check it out and leave your own thoughts in the comments over there.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

bypassing the employment agency

A reader writes:

An employment agency listed a job on a generic website two months ago. At that time, they did not list what company the job was with. I sent my resume to the agency, left messages, and never heard from them. This is my dream job so I was very disappointed.

Today the employment agency re-listed the job and included the name of the company this time. I sent my materials directly to the company this time. How will this be viewed by the company ? I figure if they hire me without an employment agency involved they would save money. Also, I had no contact with the employment agency so I didn't breach any ethics there. (P.S. I am qualified for the job for sure.) What do you think?

The employer either won't care or will be annoyed that you didn't follow the instructions. If they just hired the agency to expand their pool of candidates for them, they won't care. If they hired the agency to handle the initial screening for them, they'll just forward your materials to them and may or may not be annoyed that you didn't follow directions.

On the other hand, if you get hired for this job, you've screwed the employment agency out of a fee that they should have had ... which is why most agencies don't include the name of the company in their ads.

when an employee isn't taking your hint

A reader writes:

I am a sales manager and have a team of 9 Territory Managers. I have one young man on my team without a whole lot of life or professional experience. His father did some consulting for our corporate office and is well known in our company and throughout our industry.

My TM has a habit of bragging about the account he is "about" to get and getting bigwigs involved in little projects. I know they do not have time for this and wish I could get him to understand that this is not a wise thing to do. If anything, he should be waiting until he NAILS the account to communicate with these people - but I feel strongly that he should let his actions speak for themselves. I am really good at bragging about my team and their accomplishments and would do that for him.

Any advice on getting this guy to chill out a bit? I have tried gentle coaching, but he does not get the long-term big picture!

You manage this guy? When gentle coaching doesn't work, you escalate it to something more direct.

You need to tell him directly that there's a chain of command and he needs to follow it. That means not going over your head to involve higher-ups; that's something you will do when the time is appropriate. Then you enforce it.

You're his manager. Don't hint. Tell him the behavior you expect and hold him accountable to it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

should we report husband's ex-wife to her boss?

A reader writes:

My husband's ex-wife has been breaking into his email for the past year. They have been divorced for 2 years. She just can't stay out of our lives!

Well, here is why I am asking you. She works as a managing editor for a publishing company that produces a Catholic health care magazine. My husband is a physician with all this patient information in his email. We have proof she has been doing this and we have proof she has only done it from her work computer. Should her boss know she might be getting information improperly? Actually it's called federal wire tapping act, and breaking HIPAA violations, which could be thousands of dollars in fines for her company.

Why doesn't your husband change the password on his email?

If for some reason that won't solve the problem (and I don't know why it wouldn't), he should set up a new email account.

These are much cleaner and more effective solutions. You're looking for drama when there doesn't need to be any.

Your issue isn't really that there's patient information in your husband's email account, and come on, you know that. Your issue is that she's violating his privacy, period, regardless of where she's doing it from or what she's finding. Don't engage; just change the email password or change the account if necessary, and move on.