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Sunday, December 19, 2010

short answer Sunday - seven short answers to seven short questions

It's time for short answer Sunday! Here we go...

How important is what school you go to?

I am currently a Captain in the United States Marine Corps and am looking to start my MBA. I wanted to know how important school choice and accreditation is. Webster University offers an MBA program on base that would also be very affordable, but I do not want to waste my time or money if earning my MBA from Webster is not going to give me any advantage when I get out of the service. Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

From what I've seen, school choice matters an enormous amount when it comes to MBAs. (And accreditation is everything, but Webster is accredited.) I don't know enough about Webster to know how its MBA program is perceived by employers in the field you want to go into, but that's what you want to find out.

Giving notice and the holidays

I have been looking for a job for about 2-3 months and have been offered a position. I would like to resign Monday and offer two weeks to transition out. I have already requested vacation time 4 days of vacation due to the holidays. Would it be expected that I come in on those vacation days to complete the full 10 business days? Should I wait until after the holidays?

Probably not. Some companies do prohibit employees from taking vacation time once they give their notice (to prevent someone from, say, giving two weeks but taking one of those weeks off ... which partially defeats the purpose of notice), but (a) you've already had vacation time approved and (b) it's the holidays, when tons of people are taking time off anyway. I can't promise that it won't be an issue, but it's unlikely to be. 

If it is an issue, they're not likely to insist you extend your notice period; rather, they're more likely to tell you that you have to take those days unpaid, if their policy prevents resigning employees from using paid leave. (Check your employee handbook and see if this is addressed.)  Congratulations on your new job!

Questions for third-round interviews

I have a third-round interview in early January for my dream job working with disadvantaged students at a prestigious school, and I have no idea how to prepare for it. For my first and second interviews, I prepared per your suggestions in How to Prepare for an Interview. But I am at a loss when it comes to what to expect and how to prepare for a third-round interview.

Also, do you have any suggestions for questions to ask the interviewer at this stage in the game? Between the two interviews, I've pretty much asked all 10 of your suggested questions to ask an interviewer (and my interviewers appeared blown away by the "good vs. great" and "reservations about my fit" questions!). The school is in the middle of a strategic re-organization, so I intend to ask about how that has/will impact the position, department, and/or campus community. But other than that, what are appropriate questions for a third-round interview? If it makes a difference, my interviewer will be the Department Director, the "boss' boss" for the position I'm interviewing for.

Two pieces of advice:

1. If you're interviewing with different people, which it sounds like you are, it's fine to re-use questions. You'll probably get a slightly different take on them, which can be really helpful in giving you a more well-rounded picture of the job and the employer. 

2. When you picture yourself being in the job, what do you wonder about? Do you have a good sense of what a successful first six months would look like? First year? How are those goals set? What kinds of obstacles have previous people in the role run into? What hasn't been done with the position previously that they'd love to see done?  Really dig in deep to the work they need done.

References when you're only had your current job

I know that listing references from my current supervisors won't do for a job search, because I don't necessarily want them to know that I'm looking for a job at this point. Trouble is, this is the only job that I have held since graduating college 5 years ago. Who would be an appropriate reference? For my last job search, former college professors made sense, but it no longer does at this point in my career. Would former coworkers at the same level as me be ok? Current coworkers at the same level as me who I would be comfortable telling that I'm looking for a job? The only problem with that, though, is that I know our HR department only allows managers to give neutral references (basically just confirm that the person did/does work there). I wouldn't want to get any of my coworkers in trouble, but as they aren't management they haven't been specifically instructed about this rule by HR (if that makes sense) and of course I'd prefer a positive recommendation than just confirmation that they work with me.

Well, first, don't provide prospective employers with your references until you're in the final stages of interviewing for a job. Most employers aren't going to check references until they're seriously considering making you an offer anyway (it's time-consuming and there's no point until you're seriously considering hiring someone). Don't list them on your resume or offer them up before you need to.

Second, it's very, very typical for job-seekers to ask that their current employer not to be contacted for a reference, since in most cases the current employer doesn't know the employee is looking. Commonly, once you're a finalist for the position, a prospective employer who is determined to speak with your current manager before extending an offer will tell you that you're a finalist and explicitly seek your permission to do so.

Third, a prospective employer checking references is likely to want to speak with former managers rather than coworkers. However, with a first job, they're also going to understand that you don't have any manager to refer them to other than your current one, and they're likely to work with you to find a solution that works for both of you.

Is the job mine?

I interviewed with a local company about 2 weeks ago, and I hadn't heard from them so I called to check the status of my application last Friday. I spoke with the person who did my interview and he said, "I'm pretty sure that we are going to give the job to you, but I have to talk to my boss to see when we are actually going to fill this position. Don't give up on us." As a manager, what does this mean to you, do I have the job, or what do you think?

I'd take them at their word; you're their top candidate and they're leaning toward making you an offer, but there's a question about timeline. However, never, ever count on a job offer until you have a formal offer in writing, because things can always change. This means you should continue job-searching meanwhile, because there's no guarantee.

By the way, you should feel free to follow up to ask what their timeline is for getting back to you.

When employers ask for "sense of humor"

I just saw a job ad that lists "good sense of humor" as a requirement. Is this code for "the boss/co-workers for this position are notoriously difficult"? That is how it reads to me, in particular since the company is known for a straight-laced culture. I would love to hear how the requirement reads to you.

I do not think companies are likely to use "good sense of humor" as code for "difficult environment"; that's parsing it way too much. I think just genuinely want someone with a sense of humor and a personality that will fit in with their culture.

What does a good thank-you note look like?

I just graduated from college and I'm currently looking for a job. I got an interview at a small company recently and I was wondering, What does a good thank you note after an interview look like? 

The ideal thank-you note tells me that the job candidate went home, thought about what we talked about, digested it all, and concluded that she’s still enthusiastic about the position. So you want to reiterate your interest in the job. You can also use the note to follow up on points from your discussion. For instance, if the interviewer asked you about an article you wrote, send it to her along with your thank-you -- but that's more of a bonus, not a strict necessity.


Anonymous said...

Re: References when you're only had your current job

Every single application I submitted in the past year asked for references in the initial application. Sure, only one actually checked my references (I know because I asked them). But the applicant either has to provide references or risk having their application discarded sight unseen as incomplete/not followed direction. Sure, it shouldn't be this way (to the detriment of everyone involved), but what can the *applicant* do about it?

Anonymous said...

Re: Thank you note. A good thank you note is written and mailed the same day of the interview, if at all possible!

Anonymous said...

Re: Sense of humor. I have to disagree. Last job I had asked for a "sense of humor" because the boss really like to pick on/razz/joke/tease/give a hard time to every employee in the office. He was the most insecure boss I have ever worked for and couldn't handle it if someone didn't like him. A lot. He thought teasing employees aobut their short-comings was hilarious. In the interview I was told to laugh at his jokes, no matter how many times I'd heard them, and make sure I could "take a good ribbing". I am so thankful I am no longer working there!

Ask a Manager said...

Sure, but there's no reason to assume that that's always what it means (or even often what it means). There's a danger (that we see playing out here a lot) of taking one personal experience and extrapolating from that to assume that that's how it'll be every time!

Ex-Fortune 500 said...

Re: 1st question (MBA) --

With only a few exceptions, what school you go to is EVERYTHING for your MBA.

If you can't get into one of the big names, you shouldn't waste the money or time. If I say HBS, Kellogg, Tuck, Booth, Stern, Sloan, Fuqua and you don't recognize any of them, do a LOT more research before applying.

The exceptions:
- if you plan on starting your own business somewhere down the line. Financial backers will trust you more if you have an MBA (from anywhere).
- if the school provides a strong network in an area where you want to live. For example, Fox (Temple U.) is not a prestigious MBA, but they have a HUGE alumni network in PA and NJ -- so if you plan on making your career in PA or NJ, it'd be worth considering Fox for the value of the local connections.
- if the school has some kind of specialized MBA or dual-degree (MA/MBA, etc.) program for a field you want to go into. Players in that field will know where those programs are.

I absolutely DON'T mean to put you off applying! Good business schools want a diverse class with all kinds of experience (and military experience is NOT the typical profile -- it will help you stand out). And good test scores can often hide a multitude of other sins on one's application ;) If you want it, go for it! Good luck!

Richard said...

A 'sense of humour' mention to me just means that they're looking for balanced people who will meld well with the culture of the company. Very few decent places to work are looking for uptight folks who are unwilling to socialise and will have issues developing a social rapport with their team members, which makes training, communication and team building difficult.

Anonymous said...

Re: Sense of humor

I was asked a similar question in an interview. I answered positively, although my humor doesn't really shine through until I get to know you. I have to sense how others are first as I don't want to step on others' toes or feelings. Got the job and I had no idea as to why they asked the question. The office environment was the complete opposite. Maybe they were looking for someone to change it around for them. It wasn't me who was going to do that.

Anonymous said...

I'm the OP about the 3rd round interview questions. After digging deep and some additional research/prep, here's a few of the questions came up with and genuinely want to know the answers to:

Can you name a few ways in which the company’s values are practiced or acted out?

Six months from now, how will you know you’ve hired the right person for the job?

Is there anything else I can elaborate on so that you would have a better understanding of my qualifications and suitability for this position?

And my favorite: Is there a question that you think I should have asked but didn’t?

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:01, I'd have to disagree that a good thank-you note is "written and mailed". In this day and age of instant communication, I think a hand-written letter which won't be received for a couple of days is not the way to go. I think a thank you email has become the expectation.

random hiring manager said...

Re: References when you're only had your current job

Even though college was 5 years ago, if you did any volunteer work or internships in college that are relevant to your career now, those would be completely appropriate places to seek out references. Current relevant volunteer work would also be fair game. Don't limit yourself to paid or full-time work only.

I imagine that your current position is not the only thing on your resume, so would those other positions be sources of reference? As a hiring manager, I'd be really skeptical of someone with a solid resume that couldn't provide me with references to back it up.

Anonymous said...

I'm the asker of the 'sense of humor' question. Thanks, Alison, for taking my question!

I admit I still can't quite shake my suspiciousness especially since the requirement was listed in the title of the ad and because the company is notorious for a strait-laced, almost grim culture. It's too bad I'm not interested in the job; I'd be very curious to find out whether Alison is right that I am reading too much into it.