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Monday, September 29, 2008

should you tell your boss you're job-hunting?

A reader writes:

I have a good relationship with my boss and enjoy my current job and employer, but I’m about to interview for another job that is both a career “step up” and a shorter commute. The organization requires an “assessment” on a Wednesday followed by initial interviews that Friday, which means I would need to schedule time off on both weekdays. Since I haven’t yet had a first interview, it’s not certain whether I’ll be among those chosen to go on to the next round.

My question is: Do I tell my boss the real reason I’ll be requesting time off as a courtesy to her, or do I wait until I find out whether I’m a finalist? If I don’t tell her the full reason for the time off, what do I say? I won’t lie, and I suspect that being vague will tip her off anyhow.

The answer to this is highly dependent on the culture at your workplace and your relationship with your boss.

The standard answer to this -- and the answer for you unless you have concrete reason to believe otherwise -- is that you don't tell your employer that you're job-searching until you have accepted another offer. This is because many employers, once they know you're looking, will begin treating you differently -- for instance, giving you fewer plum assignments or no long-term assignments, curtailing any investments in your training or development, seeing you as disloyal or a short-timer, and in some cases, even letting you go. And after all, you may not get this job, and then you could be stuck in an awkward situation for quite some time.

However, there are some organizations, and some bosses, where this is not the case. (If anyone who works with me is reading this, we're one of them.) I believe that in most cases, smart employers should cultivate an atmosphere where employees who are ready to move on can freely share their plans. Why? For two reasons:

1. When employers do this, they get employees who give them really long notice periods. I've had employees give me as much as eight months notice that they planned to leave! This is fantastic for me as a manager, because it allows me to structure the hiring of their replacement so that the new person starts with a week or two of overlap with the exiting person, which both helps with training and eliminates the vacancy period we'd otherwise have. (And since vacancies cause strain on other employees who have to pick up the extra work, this is good news all around.) When employers penalize employees for giving lots of notice, they guarantee that they will just get the standard two weeks, which leaves the manager scrambling to cover the vacancy and rushing to hire.

2. It's good for morale for employees to know that when they're ready to move on, they won't need to sneak around, and that they can even seek help from the person who may be best equipped to find them their next position -- their current manager. If a good employee comes to me ready to start looking at other options, I will likely try to persuade them to stay -- but if I can't, I will go all out for them as far as helping them network into their next job, giving interview advice, etc. I do this partly because I like helping people professionally (hence, uh, this blog), but also because I believe it is good for my organization to have employees who know that this is how we treat people.

So there's the argument for employers creating an atmosphere where employees know it's safe to speak up when they're job-hunting. But how do you, as an employee, know if your office is one of those?

Pay attention to how your employer has handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, assume the same may happen to you, and give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that. Some employers "earn" long notice periods and employees who keep kicking butt through their final day ... and some don't.

Oh, and if you decide you shouldn't risk being candid, the usual options when you have to take time off for an interview are to say you have an "appointment" or "something personal that you need to take care of." If your office is one where they'll push back at something like that, then they deserve being lied to.

how to deal with a micromanager

If you, like many people, feel your boss is a micromanager, head over to my post at U.S. News and World Report today for some advice. (Warning: You may not like the answer.) As always, I'd love your comments, either here or there.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

stuck in my backlog

I am now officially so far behind on answering questions that I have given up all hope of ever catching up. I have added a disclaimer to the sidebar warning that this may happen, yet I still feel strangely like a slacker.

questions from a recent grad

A reader writes:

I am a recent grad, working as a full-time intern in the field of my undergrad major. I couldn't have asked for a more nurturing and empathetic department; they give me semi-challenging jobs, find time to answer my questions, give me many opportunities to take initiative, and really prioritize me to have a meaningful intern experience. However, this was only supposed to be a summer internship, and my manager has already extended my employment to the maximum six months.

He jokes about a permanent position afterward, but, honestly, the long commute is much too draining and I'm not sure whether this is the field I would like to stay in. I wish I had this internship after graduate school because the internship has a lot of potential to become a full-time job offer, with good perks (and great pay). At my life stage right now, I want to explore other fields, such as art or teaching, both of which require time to develop a portfolio or get some professional training.

With that said, I have a series of questions that I hope you could offer your advice for:

1) Is it alright to let my director know I'm looking for other offers after the internship? I have the impression that job hunting is a hush-hush operation. Also, in that case, what are some steps I can take to leave my foot in the door at this agency to come back in maybe... 4 years or so?

2) Should I be looking for a job while I am still working? I have three months left, and from what I can tell, most job opportunities (a lot of really good job opportunities) would probably like the position to start earlier than three months. Do people ever interview, find out the timing isn't right, and then ask to be considered in a month or two?

3) Is it alright to apply for jobs that I might be under-qualified for? Most often, I don't meet the "years of experience" requirement. Looking at the job tasks, I am really up for the challenge; I could do a good job! Yet, with work, I can't find enough time to write so many cover letters, especially if I'm just under-qualified anyway.

4) Recently, my design work and all my back ups either got lost during moving or during liquid mishaps. Thus, though I am interested in working in design jobs, I have no portfolio. I'm taking a class right now to start getting some work samples, but was wondering whether you had any experience in this field and had any advice (since it takes a very long time to develop a portfolio).

5) Also, the experience I have that I feel demonstrates my skills and passions the most, such as leading groups, marketing events, planning campus art exhibits, and mentoring, all fall under one organization... that is religiously affiliated. Moreover, it is volunteer work. I am comfortable with putting the word "Christian" into my resume, but don't want to be screened for it. What is your advice?

5) I had the privilege of working at two solid institutions during college. Some acquaintances have asked, on a number of occasions, to help give them a reference for a full-time job. I'm not sure how this networking really works. Do I just email my manager and tell them, "Hey, I have a friend who wants to work here. She's a good worker"?

Okay, let's take these one at a time.

1. Because your director knows that the internship has a definite ending date, it's absolutely okay to him know you're job-hunting. It would be odd if you weren't (see #2 below), and he knows that. And as far as keeping the door open to come back at some point, you should let him know that you love the organization, are grateful for the experience they've given you, and would love to come back some day. And when you leave, make sure you keep in touch with him; email him periodically to check in and let him know what you're doing.

2. Yes, you should definitely be looking for a job while you're still working! If you have three months left, this is a good time to start. You should assume that job-hunting will take a while; even once you get an interview, the process can take some time -- I'm talking months at some places, although ideally only weeks -- so three months ahead would be completely normal. The absolute worst that can happen if you start too early is that you get an offer way too early and turn it down; the worst that can happen if you start too late is that you end up unemployed with no income. You're better off risking the former.

3. Regarding being under-qualified and applying anyway: Job advertisement are like wish lists. They will look at people who don't perfectly match all their requirements. Within reason, of course -- if they're asking for 10 years of experience and you have one, that's too much of a jump. But if the postings says four years of experience and you have two, and you think you could do the job, apply anyway.

4. Is there any way to reassemble your portfolio? Can you get in touch with others who might have samples of your work? If not, is it feasible to simply create some samples on your own, just so that you have something to show people?

5. I wouldn't worry too much about having a religiously affiliated organization on your resume. Some people will like it, and most won't care. If you run into the rare person who has an issue with it, you don't want to work for them anyway. (And I say this as a non-religious person.)

6. Last, if a friend asks you to recommend them for a position, first make sure that you really want to recommend them. Remember, when you recommend someone, your own reputation is at stake. So only recommend people if you have a solid opinion of their professional abilities. If you don't, or if you don't know anything about their professional abilities, you can always just pass on their application to your manager with a note saying something like, "I wanted to pass this on to you, but I should note that I don't know her well enough to give you a meaningful recommendation." You don't want to be the person who recommended the guy who embezzled from the company.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

answering "have you ever been fired?" in an interview

A reader writes:

I was in a job interview the other day and everything was going well, until I was asked if I had ever been fired, and if so what were the reasons. Having never been asked that question before, my initial reaction was to feel that my privacy was being invaded and that this was an inappropriate question. Additionally, I was asked to sign a statement that I had not answered this question honestly, or it would be used as a reason for dismissal.

Since that interview, I have learned that this is a common question. The idea behind that question is that whatever happened before will happen again. (This was also said in the interview and not "may," but "will.")

I was indeed fired from a job about 10 years ago. I did the job well, I contributed to the organization, but my relationship with my supervisor was not good (this really can happen). Since then I ensure that I do both -- I do the job well and work at my working relationships.

So my question is, how can I answer this question honestly? Is it a trick question?

It's not a trick question. It's exactly what it seems to be -- a genuine desire to know if you have ever been fired before and, if so, why. If you put yourself in the employer's shoes, you'll probably understand why an interviewer would want to know this. It's not that no one who has been fired could ever be the right fit at a different job -- but it certainly does provide useful information about problems that the candidate has run into in the past (even if only personality conflicts). And perhaps most importantly, there's a lot to be gleaned from the way the candidate discusses it now. Do they just seem bitter and angry about it? Have they learned from the experience? How has it changed how they conduct business? And so forth.

It's hard to tell you how you yourself should answer this question without knowing more specifics, but one option might be talking about how you ended up in that situation, what you learned from it, and what you do differently now as a result.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

company cuts pay after one week

A reader writes:

I was just hired for a job last week, a job which I really enjoy thus far and it looks like a job that I will continue to enjoy. Though it is not my "dream job," it is pretty good so far.

I was hired in at what the company calls 3/4 time. I am not part time, nor full time. When they hired me I was told that they expect me to work 30 hours a week as a salaried employee. The reason that they offer 3/4 time as an option is because they offer benefits to 3/4 time employees, albeit not quite as good of benefits as what full time employees. For example, the full time employees receive more vacation time, and get more of their health insurance paid for.

I was quoted a salary and was told that the salary was based on me working 3/4 time (30 hours a week). Today I was called in by my immediate supervisor and the head of the HR department. They told me that an error was made in the hiring process and that the salary they offered me was for a full time equivalent for this position, not a 3/4 time employee. The HR director told me that there was simply a misunderstanding between the CEO and the HR director regarding my salary. I was then told that I am now going to have to work as a full time employee with no salary increase.

This sounds very fishy to me. It appears as if I only have two options, quit, or accept what they told me. I did not sign any type of employee contract when I was hired. I will say that the HR director and my immediate supervisor appeared to be very apologetic and embarrassed over the situation. Do I believe that they are being honest with me? Mostly, yes, but after just one week on the job I can't say that I know them well enough to determine their level of honesty.

What do you think of this situation? Do you have any advice or should I just accept the situation? Do they sound like they are trying to scam me?

I don't have any reason to believe they're trying to scam you; it's possible, of course, but that would be pretty weird.

What I think is that they screwed up twice -- once on the salary they quoted you, and then again when they tried to "fix" it. You don't go to an employee and say, "Oh, by the way, we're giving you a pay cut because we made a mistake. Sorry!" The fact is, this error is theirs, and if I did this, I would decide that I had to suck it up and pay you what I had agreed for the number of hours I had agreed. I want employees to know that they can count on my word, especially in matters as important as job negotiations.

And if for some reason, they just absolutely cannot do what they promised you, they need to frame it differently. I would feel better about them if they had said to you, "We're mortified about this, and normally we would want to just accept the consequences of our error, but we can't because _____, and if you can't stay in the job under these circumstances, we completely understand." (Actually, maybe they did do this; I'm not sure from your letter.)

In any case, you can try to argue it -- "I accepted this job at a specific salary for a specific number of hours, and I turned down other offers to take it." I'm not a lawyer, but a lawyer might even tell you that you could have a breach of contract suit, even if the offer wasn't in writing (which it sounds like it wasn't) ... but lawsuits are rarely an option I advise, as they require huge amounts of time and stress (and often money), and the payoff -- if it comes at all -- can take years.

I think you're better off asking yourself this: If this had been the original offer, would you have taken it? If no, there's no reason you should accept it now. If you were prepared to walk away a few weeks ago, why not walk away now? But if you would have accepted it, then there's no harm in considering accepting it now.

On the other hand, you now have info about them that you didn't have originally: namely, the way they handled this very sticky situation. So I think you have to include this in the larger picture of what you know about them, as well as what general feeling you have about them, as you figure out how to proceed. (And I'm not saying this should absolutely damn them in your head; it depends on the nuances of how they addressed this with you.)

And in the future: You must get all job offers in writing, with a comprehensive listing of terms. Always, always, always.

Monday, September 22, 2008

dealing with a bad reference

One of the most common questions I receive here is what to do about a previous boss who is likely to give you a bad reference. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I give some tips on how to control the damage. Check it out, comment, etc.

interviews obtained by force

A reader writes:

I work for a large corporation. I have been a unionized employee for over 12 years and have had 4 different jobs with in the city, throughout my career there. There was a job posting for cemetery clerk in May, and I applied for it. I learned shortly after that the position had been given to a fellow union sister, with less seniority and no experience in the cemetery field. (Nor do I.) However, the corporation interviewed and hired her. She then started on the job, a few weeks after her interview.

I filed a grievance for this job and the union and I went to 3rd step. This is where I met my prospective boss. Very uncomfortable indeed, but we all remained very professional. I was given a letter from the H.R.dept that they were going to close my grievance, by interviewing me.

I had my interview today, and “crash and burn” is an understatement. I knew the circumstances would be tense, me having filed a grievance on the position, and the corporation knowing they screwed up by not interviewing me from the start, but it was previously decided that we proceed as usual. My interview was at 1:00 pm and the manager for the cemetery didn’t show up until 1:25 with no apology. I went into the interview, and I noticed the seating arrangements were off. I was at the end of the table, and the manager and his assistant to my right and the H.R. recruiter to my left, none of them facing me.

I did my best at staying calm, polite and upbeat. I won’t go into a lot of boring details here, I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. But interviews are my strong point. I’ve always excelled in them.
Today, I couldn’t get my prospective boss to look at me, except to ask me his “questions” and then he would look down…and write his answers. It was impossible to get him to smile, or even be friendly to me. The lady to my right was fairly decent, saying “good answer” a few times threw out the interview. (Why do they say that? To reassure a person who is really failing, or looks to be a nervous wreck?)

Then the plane crashed. It was totally my fault. I was in a rush getting my application in and let a hired professional do my resume up, and she made some very serious date errors on my resume (like when I graduated college). The H.R. recruiter tore me apart. Dates were flying around, I was getting flustered, the boss looked pissed off. Until I saw my resume, I didn’t realize the serious mistake the company had made. It was my bigger mistake of not checking it over. I looked like an utter idiot in the interview. The H.R. recruiter at that moment lost all interest in me and her body language showed it. Her tone of voice changed. At that point, I literally wanted to get up and leave the interview, Out of pure embarrassment. And feeling so flustered. But, after all of the history and my personal character, I saw this interview threw till the bitter end. I went through some other questions with ease and at the end, asked my prospective new boss some typical questions about his management style, my duties, any projects, etc.

I was then asked why my volunteer experience from over 10 years ago wasn’t on my resume…and if I had “read the posting.” (This is the burn part of my crash.) I explained as best as I could, that I did not see the connection between a cemetery clerk and helping grieving people at a retirement home/hospital as equivalent. I was looking at “cemetery clerk experience” as very literal. Not thinking that volunteer experience would be a parallel. I walked out, and had a good cry in my truck, determined to never let the above happen again. I am almost 100% positive; I will not get the job.

My question is, should I let the recruiter call me and let me know I failed the interview, and ask them why (re-live all my mistakes), or call them, thank them for the interview, but say that I’ve decided to not pursue the position any further?
I can see from this interview that there are some bad feelings in my new boss. If this interview is any indication, on my new boss, I’m not sure I want to join their "team." I like the job I’m in now, get along with my colleges and have a terrific new boss. The only reason, I was looking into the cemetery position, is for straight day shifts, an extra $5,000 and it’s a block away from my house, and I generally am interested in the field.

Oh geez. I don't even know where to start.

Of course the interview didn't go well. You forced them to interview you against their will. Had you somehow managed to force them to hire you, the job wouldn't go any better. What do you think the working environment would be like with these people feeling you had battered your way in, against their preferences?

The errors on your resume probably would have been a deal-breaker regardless, but in this case, they were looking for something to nail you on, and you handed it to them. (In case this still needs to be said, you should never let a professional resume writer redo your resume without you scrutinizing it. I have to hold you accountable for this one. You turned in a resume that you hadn't checked over for accuracy -- they were entitled to have a huge problem with it, although they were clearly more jerky with you about it than they would have been with a candidate they didn't already resent.)

I agree with them that your volunteer experience was relevant, although in a normal interview you wouldn't attack the candidate for leaving something off. You wouldn't attack a candidate for anything in a normal interview -- but this was an interview with a group of people who you yourself had already attacked (by filing your grievance and forcing the situation), so it's hard to be surprised that they don't like you very much.

After all this, you are still not sure that you don't want the job? These people have a huge problem with you and would make your life miserable. It doesn't matter if they're right or wrong (although I happen to think that companies should be able to interview and hire who they want, provided they don't violate anti-discrimination laws). The point is that they have a seething resentment against you. Why would you want to force your way into a job where you're not wanted? What sort of professional success do you think you're going to have in that context? And on top of all this, you already have a job that you love.

In answer to your direct question, if you just need to put this behind you, it's fine to call and proactively withdraw (they'd probably appreciate that, in fact, as they're probably stressing over how to reject you without you bringing further grievances against them). And in the future, remember: You don't want an employer who doesn't want you.

(Disclaimer: There are exceptions to this, such as large companies that discriminate against legally protected classes. I don't see this as being one of those.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

following up when you have a friend on the inside

A reader writes:

I have been out of the corporate world for two years. I have been a stay-at-home-mom and have only done some (very) PT work, here and there. But recently I have found myself in a position to where I need to return to work full-time.

One of my best friends works for a large and prestigious hospital in our town, in their marketing department. He needs a partner, as the last person who worked as his partner has just quit. It would be my ideal job. I’m qualified for the position, and the hospital has wonderful benefits. He recommended me to the hiring manager, who really likes him and respects his input. The manager said that I needed to follow protocol and put an application through the company’s website. It took a long time for the job opening to post on the website, but when it did, I applied that very morning. I also sent a very well-written and articulate cover letter. My friend immediately informed the hiring manager that I had applied, who in turn, called down to HR and specifically requested my application and resume. Later he summoned my friend into his office and showed him that my resume was sitting on his desk. It sounded pretty promising, and so I anticipated a phone call to set up a first interview.

That was almost two weeks ago, and I have heard nothing. My friend asked the hiring manager today when he would be getting a new partner, as he is inundated with work. The hiring manager replied that he was sorry, and had “lots of irons in the fire,” but asked him, “Have you talked to your friend?” My friend, not wishing to make me sound desperate, said that we had spoken once about the position and that I was still very interested in it. And that was about the extent of the conversation. Why hasn’t the manager called me, if he is asking my friend about me?

Here’s my dilemma: I have no idea how to effectively follow-up with this. It’s kind of a weird situation. HR makes it to where there is absolutely no way to contact their department. They send you a confirmation e-mail stating that they will be in touch should they require an interview. Would finding a way to contact them sound pushy? I’m thinking so, but I have no idea. And I have never met the hiring manager, so it would be kind of odd to try and get in touch with him, right? Should I just wait and see if he contacts me? I’m unsure because while I feel reasonably confident that I will get an interview, I have no way of knowing what other applicants have applied – who have more marketing experience and who haven’t been staying at home, like I have, for the past two years.

I just don’t know how to proceed. I would like to keep the thought of me fresh in his mind, but I don’t want to appear pushy or high maintenance before I even get an interview. But I really, really, really want this job. And I know many other people are clamoring for it. Can you please advise me on what is the right thing to do – and also, what might be going on to where I’m not being contacted? I would greatly appreciate it!

I think your friend is your best tool here -- he works there, he has recommended you, and he has an understandable personal interest in getting the job filled. Put him to work on your behalf -- he needs to push for hiring to move forward (this is legitimate, since he is stuck doing extra work while the position is vacant) and ideally he'd imply that he's concerned about losing good candidates, particularly you, the longer things take.

However, on top of that, you can absolutely reach out to the people involved in hiring on your own. Trust me, candidates do this all the time. Simply follow up to reiterate your strong interest in the position and ask what their timeline for interviewing is likely to be. It's not pushy.

Also, keep in mind that the hiring process often takes longer than a candidate would like, for all sorts of reasons. Nerve-wracking, yes, but don't read too much into it. Good luck!

cold calling versus sending a resume

A reader writes:

I am a recent graduate who is still in the process of looking for a job. My interest is in event planning and I realize this is a hard field to get into without any experience. I have done a couple of internships and have a few companies that I would like to send my resume/cover letter to in the following weeks.

My question is in regard to cold calling companies at random to see if they have any entry level/internship positions open. Is it better to just give the companies a call, or send an email with my resume/cover letter? Do people still send their resumes through regular mail? I would just like to have my resume looked over by the companies and to be considered. Any advice you would have on this would be great!

Personally, I hate cold calls. They interrupt people at a time that likely isn't convenient, and in many cases, the information the caller wants ("do you have any openings?") is available on the company's Web site, specifically to discourage calls like this. So I'm not a fan ... but plenty of job-hunting guides advise them, so maybe someone is.

I would instead send an email with your resume and a really strong cover letter. Regular mail is fine if you prefer it, but it's become so rare that in a way it stands out as a little weird, almost naively old-fashioned. (I'm sure some hiring managers will disagree with me on that, but for your purposes, what you need to know is that everyone is agreed that email is perfectly acceptable.)

Also, take advantage of your college's career office. They should be able to put you in touch with alumni who are in your field and might be able to help. You just paid them tens of thousands of dollars; make them keep working for you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

interviewers who don't interview

A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a position that I think I'm under-qualified for. The position is to be a dean of department at a university which requires 7+ years experience in a similar post and a great deal of knowledge about financial markets. I graduated from the top ivy league school in the country and have a Ph.D. in educational administration with varied and limited actual work experience in finance. ( I don't think graduating from a top ivy is a big deal, by the way).

Anyway, during my interview for the position, the vice president of the university couldn't stop talking about the fact that I graduated from this top school. She didn't ask me any questions about my qualifications at all. She was more interested in "selling" the position to me and asking me about my recent vacation in Turkey. The interview lasted two hours and we spent 1 hour and 30 minutes talking about Turkey. At the end of the interview, she said she definitely wanted me to come back next week to meet with the rest of her staff. She also mentioned that I was first person she interviewed for the job and that she has 60 resumes waiting on her desk to be reviewed. She is also interviewing for 7 other available positions at the same time.

After the interview I went home, did some top-notch painstaking research on some issues related to the needs of the university, and sent her a thank-you letter that included my research findings. The research I presented in the thank-you letter was powerful. I felt that I needed to express that I did have knowledge about the job and would be able to contribute in a meaningful way because I did not get the chance to talk about it during the actual interview. I also wanted to take away any doubts she might have about my abilities just in case she actually gave my resume a second look and realized I have no direct experience.

Anyway, the interview was Friday afternoon and it's now Tuesday afternoon and I have not heard from her. What do you think of her interviewing technique? Do you think that she is still interested ? Is it too soon to follow up? Was presenting the research a good strategy? What's the likelihood that I stand a good chance getting this job?

Well, first, the fact that it's been two business days and you haven't heard from her means nothing. Get in touch with her at the end of the week if you still haven't heard anything.

Regarding her interview technique, there are two possibilities:

1. She is a terrible interviewer who doesn't realize or care that she's supposed to be asking probing questions about your experience.
2. She recognized that you were under-qualified for the position and didn't consider you a viable candidate because of it, and so she filled the time by talking about things that interested her instead of conducting a serious, probing interview. (This scenario assumes that someone else selected the candidates for interviews.)

Either of these is reasonably likely. In this case, however, I'm strongly leaning toward #1, because she let the interview go on for two hours. When you're doing the courtesy interview (#2), you don't let it go on that long. Well, actually you might if you're inefficient and inept and don't value your time or the interviewee's. So I guess I'm back to thinking either option is reasonably likely.

Her mention that she'll want you to come back to meet with the rest of the staff could be genuine or it could have been said in the way people use "I'll call you" on dates they don't intend to call. (If it's that, I don't condone it, but plenty of interviewers say that sort of thing because they don't know a good alternative.)

So here's what we know for sure: This woman is either interested in you and a bad interviewer, or she's not interested and she's inept and inefficient. Either way, she fails interviewing.

Now, on to the more important question: Should you want this job? I'm skeptical that you should, because it does sound like you're under-qualified for it, based on their stated requirements. Be brutally honest with yourself: Are there good reasons for requiring experience in a similar post? If so, and you don't have that experience, are you sure this is a good fit for you? Remember, the goal isn't just to get the job, but to get a job that you'll excel in. Is this that job?

If you do advance in the hiring process, use your next conversations with them to get a really good idea of what the job entails and how your success will be measured. Don't get sucked into any more 90-minute conversations about Turkey. If your interviewer isn't giving you a real interview, start asking your own questions about the position, what they're looking for, and what it takes to do well in it.

If they're inept at hiring and are truly willing to hire someone without the experience they say they're looking for without doing a serious interview, you'll need to do their job for them and figure out for yourself if they should hire you. What you don't want is to find yourself in a job that you struggle with. Good luck!

Monday, September 15, 2008

should I tell on a coworker who might have lied about her qualifications?

A reader writes:

I am meant to sign my contract for a new job on this coming Wednesday. When the manager sent the email to me today, it was also sent to a number of people, as we will all be signing our contracts for positions of coordinators for an educational institution. I know someone on the list (say X) who did not have a degree few years ago in 2005. The likelihood that she has a degree now is very slim. One of her very close relative whom I also worked with before had cheated on her qualification. This seems to run in the family.

My manager did not seem to have thoroughly checked the qualifications of all of us. I am seriously in doubt if X has a degree and is liable for such a position. I have worked with colleagues who were not qualified before and have found it to be very depressing. I would not want to have this situation happen again.

What should I do? Should I email my manager and ask him to conduct a thorough check of all of our qualifications? Should I remain silent ? If I should email my manager, how do I approach him? How should I start the email ? Should I call him instead ?

You should do nothing.

You don't even know for sure that the person doesn't have her degree. The person didn't have a degree three years ago, you think chances are "slim" that she has received one since, and one of her relatives lied about her own qualifications. This is hardly conclusive. ("This seems to run in the family"? Come on.)

Besides, even if you did somehow know for sure -- which you don't -- is a degree even a firm requirement for this position? If so, for all you know, the manager waived the requirement for this person, due to her other qualifications.

More importantly, how does this affect you? If you were, say, doctors, and you knew that the person wasn't licensed to practice medicine, then the employer could be legally liable for allowing her to do so, and real harm could be caused to patients, and you would have an obligation to speak up. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

Addressing this with your manager (who you haven't even started working for, no less) would be unfair, make your judgment look questionable, and generally reflect poorly on you. You should drop this.

how to play the post-interview waiting game

You had the job interview, things seemed to go well, and you left expecting that you would hear back soon. But now ... silence. And you're left waiting around with no idea of when or if you'll hear from them. Check out my post over at U.S. News & World report today for handling the sound of silence. And as always, please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments section over there.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

verbally abusive boss

A reader writes:

I recently left a large internet company to join a well established, yet small creative agency. The company's philosophy of listening and constantly learning really connected with me and the team was very passionate about doing good work for a great set of clients.

The issue here is the level of verbal abuse that I have since found out is a feature of the work environment. The cool radio station playing in the background wasn't because the office was hip - it was to cover up the screaming coming from the executive office for even the smallest offenses. Late 10 minutes? Well, you are going to get yelled at for a half hour and have every other fault or perceived flaw flung at you along with a litany of questioning of your professionalism and dedication. Didn't convey the exact message that the founder force fed you before a client meeting? Well, that is good for at least an hour.

I have tried everything from being calm and reasonable, to trying to get a work in edge wise, to confronting him and telling him behavior is unprofessional and damaging, to just flat out ending the conversation and walking out. Unfortunately, because I am not willing to sit through these tirades with my hands folded and head down like all of the other executive team, I am being froze out of key meetings and now enduring work which is totally not in my job description suddenly becoming my responsibility (i.e. I am a producer and suddenly I am being told that site QA, customer research and architecture work is also part of my duties).

I am a senior level person with over 10 years of experience and have not had the experience of working for someone who only knows how to express themselves by yelling. I just started this job and really would like to get a year in before going, but this is taking a toll on my health and I dread stepping foot in this place. There were also a whole host of things that they flat out lied about during the interview process (no 401k, no flexible hours, team is widely dispersed) and I would have never taken this role if I had known. I am not sure what to do here - I am very on edge and don't think I have it in me to deal with another day wasted with these tirades.


Seriously, leave.

Okay, look for a new job and get an offer first, but ultimately, the answer is to leave.

I get that you want to stick it out for a year, so that you don't look like a job hopper to future employers. But you have a perfectly reasonable excuse for leaving now. You can tell interviewers, "The manager's management style revolves around yelling, and it's not for me." Assuming that the other jobs on your resume were longer stays, people are going to understand this and will realize that good people don't want to work for tyrants.

Chronic yelling should be a deal-breaker. It demeans the person being yelled at, and frankly, it diminishes the authority of the yeller because it makes them look out of control. And if anyone out there is reading this and thinking, "Well, there are some times when yelling is warranted" -- no, there aren't. If you're a good manager and you're confident in your own authority, you don’t need to yell; problems don’t get under your skin because you have effective tools at your disposal (such as performance counseling and moving out employees who aren’t the right fit). Yelling is the sign of a bad manager. And a jerk.

Leave, and have no qualms about doing it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

bad job vs. possibly unstable new company

A reader writes:

I took a job that I am not well suited for, but have done just satisfactorily elsewhere in the past. But personality conflict with my manager and my resistance to working hours that would eliminate any work / life balance ended up leading to my demotion.

I'm concerned that I've been irreparably labeled at this company. I am fairly uncomfortable there. I've had a successful phone interview with another company and my interview with the hiring manager is Monday. This position would be a much better fit for me, but the economy has been tough for a while and although this new company (it's a large company) has remained pretty successful, they had some salaried layoffs a year ago and could always end up facing more if the weak economy drags on (especially weak in my region).

I'm a strong match for the new position and its culture and I interview pretty well, so I think I have a good chance of getting an offer. Do you think I'd be better off pursuing the new opportunity or riding things out in my current situation until we have a stronger, more stable economy?

I'd say pursue the new position. You're in a job where (a) you aren't well-suited for the work, (b) you have a personality conflict with your manager, (c) you disagree about the number of hours you should work, and (d) you've already been demoted. This situation is not good. In fact, not only should you pursue the position you're interviewing for, but you should likely conduct a full-scale job search.

While the new company had lay-offs a year ago, your current situation is so precarious that it's certainly no better than a company with lay-offs a year ago and may in fact be worse. Of course, do your due diligence on this new company; do research into and ask about their financial outlook and so forth. And if the information you find doesn't make you confident, you may want to look at other options instead. But by all means, actively work to leave your current position.

Monday, September 8, 2008

reality-based management

I've become convinced that there is a major characteristic that distinguishes good managers from bad managers: being committed to living in reality, as opposed to some hazier alternative. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about reality-based management and what it looks like. Please check it out!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

new manager doesn't trust us

A reader writes:

I've been confronted with a situation at work that violates what I would consider a level of professional trust, but my direct management doesn't seem to agree, and now I'm left wondering if I'm the one who's wrong. Let me explain...

My organization puts on a yearly conference, nominally for us, but in reality because we believe our customers appreciate it. We had a new director come in last year about a month before the conference, and one of her pieces following that experience was her strong assertion that the conference was our conference and we needed to treat it that way. It was generally believed that this statement was a direct result of a couple of things: One, a lack of enthusiasm for the conference following last year's event was obvious among a number of us. Two, certain staffers were not seen throughout the conference (off-site), even though they were at the hotel and participating.

We're now a year later, about to head into the conference again, and the latest direction is that the entire staff is to submit their daily schedules during the conference to management. The stated purpose of this exercise is so that management knows where everyone is during the conference and who is available to help. I have difficulty believing that statement, given the experience of last year. If that was truly the intent, wouldn't it make more sense to ask for that information in an inclusive manner, such as "volunteer to staff a session or work the desk" and then ask for those who don't volunteer where they would like to help? I just feel like the actions of a few has caused an overreaction, and I feel that I and the rest of my organization doesn't have the trust of management, even given the stated intent. Am I overreacting to this?

Well, it indicates a belief by your manager that things won't go the way she wants them to unless she manages the conference differently than it's been done in the past.

I guess my question for you is whether this is really so offensive. Are there other things your manager is doing that make you feel she doesn't trust you to behave like a competent, responsible adult, or is it just this? If there are other things, are they things that could not be interpreted any other way, or are they things that might simply be the result of having a new manager come in, with different ideas about how to structure things?

I'm not prejudging the answer to that, but it's worth considering that there are situations where it would make sense that a new manager would be more heavy-handed than her predecessor. For instance, if the old manager was very hands-off and the results weren't as outstanding as they could have been, the new manager might be doing everything right in trying to run a tighter ship ... but it could feel to you and your coworkers like the new sheriff in town is a real pain in the ass, because of the way it contrasts with what you were used to before.

On the other hand, maybe that's not the case at all, and your new manager is being inappropriately heavy-handed/micromanagey. I don't know -- but you will, if you evaluate the situation and all the context you have (objectively, by the way, which is the hard part). If your objective evaluation leads you to conclude that she's not being an ideal manager, the next step is to figure out what to do with that info. The answer may be nothing, depending on the extent of the problem and how much it bothers you, or it may be to talk to her about ways you can better work together.

Good luck!

listing volunteer work on a resume

A reader writes:

I am currently doing freelance consulting to make a little extra money (and I mean little) and keep my resume active while I am job hunting. I also do extensive volunteering, but some of that volunteering has turned into more substantive program development and outreach that I am proud of, and I am even referred to as a consultant by some of the organizations (although, alas, unpaid at this point).

My question is: Is it appropriate to list this unpaid consulting experience on my resume together with my paid gigs as a freelancer without mentioning the monetary distinction, or does protocol demand that I keep the two separate or identify it specifically as "volunteer," even though they are both equal in terms of utilizing my skills and resources to help make good things happen for people? For some reason, I get the queasy feeling that some prospective employers will think I am resume-padding if I also highlight my unpaid freelance achievements along with my paid ones, although I would be more than willing to disclose this in the interview process. This is particularly true for the dreaded online application forms that ask for beginning and ending salary.

And maybe it is my own insecurity talking here, but do you think that prospective employers might devalue my unpaid work (no matter how substantive) when considering me as a candidate? I don't want to be disingenuous on my resume about paid vs. unpaid work, yet I don't know if I have to make such sharp distinctions, either, if I don't have to. I just feel that, even in the non-profit world that is supposed to be more progressive, people sometimes still judge you on how much you make, or don't. How to handle this?

I think it's fine to lump the the volunteer work in with the paid work. As an employer, the only concern I'd have here is whether the organizations you were donating your time to were holding the bar lower/holding you less accountable since your work was free. But that's pretty easy to address, by focusing on accomplishments in your resume, rather than just listing duties.

Your accomplishments are your accomplishments. It's no one's business how much you got paid for them, even if that amount is zero. But perhaps it would help to think of yourself as "taking on pro bono work" rather than "a volunteer."

And by the way, I'm glad you're listing this stuff. Sometimes in the course of an interview, it comes out that someone has highly relevant experience that they left off their resume because it was volunteer and so they thought it "didn't count." It counts.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

no, you really do have weaknesses

Apparently there is a new superhuman breed walking among us, utterly free of weaknesses.

In interviews, I always try to get candidates to speak honestly about their downsides. I do this because I'm trying to have an honest conversation about their fit for the job -- and about the job's fit for them. I do this not because I'm trying to trip them up, but because don't want to put someone in a job they're going to struggle in, never excel in, or that I'll end up having to fire them from.

I do this in a bunch of ways -- obviously, by delving into past experiences and probing around about their skills, approach, etc. But I also do it by asking questions like, say, "What kind of feedback have you received from managers, both in terms of what they say you excel at and things you've been encouraged to do differently?" Yeah, it's the old strengths and weaknesses in a not-so-good disguise.

Sometimes candidates can't or don't come up with critical feedback they've received. Fine, maybe they've had crappy managers who don't bother to give feedback. So then I ask this: "If you were your own manager and could wave a magic wand over your head, what would you tweak?"

Lately, I've encountered a lot of seemingly stunned candidates who are clearly at a loss for an answer.

This baffles me for two reasons:

1. If you're job searching, how are you not prepared to be asked to speak about weaknesses? Did you really have no inkling this might be coming?

2. More importantly, are you so lacking in self-awareness and insight that you don't have an answer to this? Or are you just unwilling to answer it honestly? Either way, you fail.

Today, a woman actually told me, "I really can't think of anything I'd change. It's hard for me to imagine something I couldn't do well."

Wow. I think pretty damn highly of myself, and there are still hundreds of things I could rattle off at a moment's notice that I'd like to be able to do better. Some of them are serious weaknesses.

This phenomenon is such a weird combination of naivete, arrogance, and lack of thoughtfulness, and it is happening so much lately that it's making me want to stab someone with a fork.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

6 reasons you failed the phone interview

Made it to the phone interview stage? Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about six things not to do. Check it out, and as always, please leave your own thoughts in the comments over there!