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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

help! I'm getting confusing and conflicting resume advice!

A reader writes:

Last week, I did a complete overhaul of my resume, specifically to cut it down from 2 pages to 1, because I keep hearing (from friends who work in HR, as well as in articles on the subject) that now more than ever, employers want a really clear, concise snapshot of each candidate with as little "fluff" as possible.

I decided to use a functional/chronological combo in order to highlight very specific areas of expertise, but to still lend a sense of when and where these skills were obtained.

I sent it to my father in law who has worked in HR for nearly 40 years for some feedback, and he in turn sent it to nine of his friends and colleagues (also in HR). The feedback has started coming in and it's SO MADDENING! Not because I don't appreciate their constructive criticism, but because so much of it is conflicting.

One person will say "great idea to cut it down to one page" while another says "don't be afraid to use two."

One will say "I love that she started off with a clear, concise profile highlighting her experience," while another says "skip it."

One will say "I love functional resumes because they really give me a sense of what the candidate's greatest strengths and best developed skills are" while another says "I hate functional resumes because I feel like the candidate is trying to camouflage gaps in their employment." (Which, by the way, is not at all the case here, since my resume does include a chronological component outlining my employment history.)

One will say "use a sans serif font," while another says "garamond is a great font choice."

It's been maddening to read this feedback, because it often feels very "damned if you do, damned if you don't," and also highlights how much we as applicants are at the mercy of the readers' whims. Clearly, much of writing a "great" resume - one that will capture the attention of the very first person looking at it and pique their interest in meeting with you - is subjective.

What advice do you have for navigating the various personal preferences and pet peeves of HR professionals and hiring managers? There doesn't seem to be any hard and fast "rules" when it comes writing a great resume that is going to get you a call back, but what - if anything - would you characterize as best practices or safest bets?

You are living out exactly what I tell friends about their resumes: You can give your resume to 10 different people who know what they're doing, and you'll get 10 different sets of advice.

There are no hard and fast universal rules aside from the obvious (no typos, no illegible fonts, no 10-page monstrosities, no inappropriate sharing).

What there are instead are preferences. Often deeply held preferences.

But the reality is that when it comes to actually reviewing a candidate's resume, a reasonable hiring manager isn't going to reject a candidate because she used a san serif font even though the manager personally thinks a serif font is the smarter bet and recommends serif fonts to her job-hunting friends. For instance, I hate resume objectives -- hate them, preach against them, want to rid the world of them -- but am I going to reject a candidate simply for having one? Of course not. Because everyone knows that there's a huge variety of accepted practices in how you do your resume.

So what does this mean for you, as a candidate seeking advice on her resume? First, don't take any of it as absolute dogma (unless there's something that the 10 people are all in agreement on). Second, ask your resume reviewers why they're giving a particular piece of advice. It's much more helpful to hear their thought process than to just get random, conflicting rules thrown at you. From there, make your own decisions. None of it is gospel, and any hiring manager who rejects a resume for not conforming precisely to her preferences is someone you don't want to work for anyway. (It's also not a mindset you're likely to see much, or no one would ever get hired.)

That said, there are trends, conventions that are starting to gain majority support (although fewer of them than you'd think). For instance, in my experience, more hiring managers than not do think functional resumes are frustrating and possibly hiding something. And two pages has grown a lot more acceptable than it used to be, to the point that it's really not an issue unless you're dealing with someone very old-school.

But again, even these trends aren't hard and fast rules.

The best you can do is get a feel for the types of things people care about and why and make choices that feel reasonable to you. Good luck!

Monday, September 28, 2009

feeling sick over typo in job application

A reader writes:

I just made the worst mistake ever and I feel so sick about it. I found a job that I really want. I spent two days drafting my cover letter and adjusting my resume for this position. The directions on the job posting were the send your resume directly to the president (its a small non-profit) so I wrote a short little email attached my letter and resume and then hit send.

Once I hit that send button, I saw a typo. I guess in my excitement to get my resume sent, I re-read the email too fast. So unlike me. When I saw the typo it seriously took my breath away. I frantically looked for a cancel button, but there isn't one. So I fixed the typo and re-sent the email a minute later. If someone sent you an email with a typo, and then re-sent it with the typos fixed, what would you do?

I know I just wrote about how little things matter in job searching, but honestly, do not feel sick over this!

Everyone makes a typo now and then. Your letter wasn't littered with them; it was one typo -- and then you corrected it. Now, some may say that the correction is overkill, but I would actually be a little bit charmed by your instant correction: Hiring managers are human, and we've all had that sickening feeling of realizing one second too late that we made a mistake on something. You spotted it, and you corrected it. Good -- that's what we want employees to do. (Personally, I don't mind a little proofreading neurosis. Okay, I love it.)

And what you did is also exactly what I recommended in the post on why little things matter: acknowledging the error, showing that you care, and indicating that it's out of character for you.

You're fine.

are employers wary of the formerly self-employed?

A reader writes:

I'm 35 years old and have been self-employed for the past five years as a sole proprietor. My business entails providing career and educational counseling to students and immigrants. I have a true "brick and mortar," not a virtual office. Though I have enjoyed the challenges that come with running a business, I'm ready to close up shop and work for a traditional employer.

This job market is particularly tough and I am wondering whether there is a bias against hiring those formerly self-employed. My colleagues have stated that the self-employed are deemed to be too independent to work with co-workers and the perception is that those who now want to work for someone else do so because they have failed in running a business. What is your take on this and what's the best way to sell myself as a team-player in an interview?

I think this is one of those areas where different hiring managers have different opinions. Personally, I see self-employment as often being a plus: People who have run their own business tend to have strong work ethics, get what it takes to make an operation run well, often empathize with those aspects of management that can irritate other employees because they know all too well the reasons behind them, and so forth. So I like it.

If I'm interviewing someone who's been self-employed, I want to know things like: Why are they moving out of self-employment? Have they thought about how they'll adjust to having a boss again, and how do they feel about that? What did they learn from running their own business?

There are good answers and bad answers to these questions, of course, but assuming their answers don't raise red flags, I lean toward seeing self-employment as impressive.

But as with anything, some others feel differently. But your colleagues claiming that you'll be branded with a scarlet E (for entepreneur, get it?) that all or even most hiring managers will run from are wrong.

why little things matter in your job search

I’ve been thinking lately about the nature of candidate mistakes in the hiring process. The fact is, everyone makes mistakes. A single mistake generally says very little about you. It's patterns of mistakes that matter. But when you're on a job search, a small blunder can take on far greater importance than it would in most contexts. This is hard on job seekers, who can't possibly attain a superhuman level of perfection. It can seem unfair to be judged so harshly for mistakes everyone makes--typos, stupid comments, the occasional late arrival.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about why these little things matter so much. Please check it out and leave your own thoughts over there!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

coworker accidentally called me -- to complain about ME

A reader writes:

I recently had a very strange situation at our office. Could I ask how you might handle the following situation?

Let’s say you call a co-worker on his/her extension during office hours. You think you are talking with someone who is a friend, and you whisper something about another co-worker. Your comments are, at best, not uplifting. You mention the person by name.

The person you have called informs you that you have called the person that you have just said something ugly about.
So, you deny that you said what you said.

More specifically, I received the call. The woman on the other end said, "Her very existence annoys the *#!$ out of me." I said "Who?" She said, "Did you not see your e-mail?" I said, "Whose?" She said, "Jane's!" I said, "This IS Jane." She said, "Oh, I thought you were [name]." I said, "Obviously. If I have offended you in some way, I hope we can discuss it at some point." She said, "Oh, no. I was talking about something else."

We have a small team, and I don't want to make a big fuss, but there is obviously a problem of which I'm not aware.

Ugh, that had to be upsetting.

I'm a big believer in being straightforward. I'd just talk to her -- in person -- and say, "Hey, I know that was really awkward and you hadn't intended to call me. But since now it's out there, can we talk about what I'm doing to piss you off? If it's something I can change, I'd like to. I figure we all annoy people at times without realizing it, and I'd appreciate the chance to see if there's something I could do differently."

If she lies again and denies saying what she clearly said, then I'd say, "Look, I understand feeling awkward about this, but if you do ever want to talk to me, I'm open to hearing it."

Then you drop it. That's all you can really do. You'll have taken the high road and acted like an adult, and if she doesn't want to join you there, well, so be it. Either way, she's probably mortified, and not everyone has it in them to be straightforward about this stuff, especially when you throw in the added challenge of her mortification on top of it.

But as for you, here's the thing: We're all annoying other people in some way, especially in the workplace. We often don't know precisely how, but it's a safe bet that every single one of us does things that irritate others. You just got a glimpse of it that you normally wouldn't get (and from someone particularly catty).

If you feel like it, you can take this opportunity to look at your relations with your coworkers, particularly this one. Are there things you're doing that might be legitimately annoying that you could/should change? Or is this woman just catty/petty/a fountain of negativity? Use what you know about her and what you know about yourself to draw your own conclusions, if she won't talk to you about it. (The email you'd just sent her -- the one she referred to on the call -- probably provides some clues, as it seems to have triggered the call.)

Maybe you'll ultimately determine that she's just an ass. (So far, it sounds like it.) Or maybe you'll spot things that coworkers might have legitimate reasons to want you to do differently. Either way, you can use this as a chance to get a bit more insight into workplace dynamics that all of you play a role in.

Plus, you now have a really good story to tell people in the future.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

does this seem weird?

A reader writes:

Recently I applied online for a job as a librarian at a local career college. The college is part of a chain and this is a new local branch that just recently opened. I got a call today from the dean asking me to come in for an interview and something about the whole situation just does not feel right.

When I spoke to him, he stressed that they need someone ASAP and wanted me to interview today! I told him that was impossible and agreed to come in tomorrow after work. He then kept saying how much I would love it there, as if I had already been hired. He also asked me to bring my drivers license, social security card and college transcripts for the interview. I have never been asked this before.

I'm interested in the job but this whole thing seems incredibly rushed and weird. What do you think?

I'm a big believer in trusting your gut, at least if your gut has a good track record. So I'd go into this with some healthy skepticism.

Let's break this down:

* Same-day interview request: Unusual but not totally unheard of. Being a jerk about you not being able to come in that same day would have been over the line, but it doesn't sound like he was. (Hopefully he also gave some acknowledgment that he knew this was very last minute and appreciated that you made tomorrow work.)

* Constantly saying how much you would love it there: Odd. Yes, you want to woo the candidate a bit, but this sounds over the top for someone he hasn't even interviewed yet. Plus, what does he know about you that makes him so sure you'd love it? This would rub me the wrong way too. He's either desperate or inept at hiring, or both. I'm guessing both.

* Asking you to bring your driver's license, social security card, and college transcripts: Driver's license and social security card -- premature, and you should avoid giving out your social security number until you're actually hired, because of identity theft. It sounds like he's hoping to hire you on the spot and have you start filling out new employee paperwork right then and there. But your college transcripts? Who keeps copies of those lying around? You have to order them. This makes me think he doesn't know what he's doing and just assumes it's a normal thing to ask people to bring to their last-minute interview. I'd recommend handling that by saying, "I've never been asked for that before and don't have any copies on hand." Maybe he'll get the hint that it's not typical.

So, so far we've diagnosed him as desperate and inexperienced/inept. Those things aren't necessarily the kiss of death in this situation, but they're definitely signs that you need to do a lot of probing. At your interview, ask about the rush. ("It sounds like you're in a real hurry to fill the position. What caused the rush?") You should also find out why the last person left. And you should absolutely find out if you'll be reporting to this guy or to someone else. If someone else, this guy's oddities may be a non-issue. If he's the manager, ask a ton about his management style, expectations, how your performance will be evaluated, etc.

Please write back and let us know how the interview goes. I have a feeling it's going to be an interesting story no matter how it plays out. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

dealing with a cranky, unpleasant coworker

A reader writes:

A new employee (I'll call her Dana) has just been added to our department this year. This person has worked in the company for almost two decades but wanted to transfer to our department before retiring. The "word" is that she had completely alienated all of her previous coworkers and was miserable, but of course she claims a totally different reason for wanting the change. After one week around her, I have absolutely no doubts that alienation was probably the case. (She has now been working with us for about a month.)

Although she was new to our department (several other people have decision-making but not hiring/firing authority over her), Dana immediately criticized and questioned all of our stated objectives without ever asking for our rationale. She brought up these topics in a completely defensive manner behind our department leader's back, with a highly angry tone, and then started questioning the objectives of other departments as well, without having any authority on the matter. In other words, she consistently acted as if she had the only right answers and everyone else was flat-out wrong, repeatedly ignoring information we gave her that would have cleared up her uninformed concerns.

On top of this, every time you talk to her, Dana drops something subtly insulting into the conversation. For example, on a non-work related topic, but with co-workers, she was talking about her first child. Another co-worker mentioned that when she had her first child, she had to keep working for financial reasons. Dana replied that she "stayed home and made it work", with a tone that practically implied the other woman had been a bad mother. A work related example sounds more like this: "The work you do in your department is mostly busy work compared to the challenging things I used to do in my old department." (Sorry, but it's not busy work!)

Add on the fact that she loves to name drop about how important her spouse is in the company, or what her former job was and how important it was, and you combine foot-in-mouth conversation skills with monumental arrogance. The "best" part is that she is personal friends with our boss.

While all of us tried to be cordial, patient, inviting, and understanding, conversations like this are an every time occurrence. It quite literally started her first day on the job, and hasn't let up since. She does this so frequently, that it sometimes feels like living in a sitcom. I never knew people could be this rude, but be so completely oblivious to their actions. At this point, I've ceased initiating conversation with her because it's just too aggravating. When she speaks to me, she still manages to be highly condescending, but I do my very best to make the conversation as short as possible without to any retaliatory comments. I know the rest of my department feels the same way.

Is there any way to discuss this increasingly miserable/hostile situation with our boss, even though Dana has been in the company for so long (and is slated to retire in about a year) and is personal buddies with the boss?

This woman is miserable. Happy people don't behave that way.

Remembering that might make dealing with her somewhat easier.

If at all possible, I recommend trying to be entertained by having an office curmudgeon. She sounds like a caricature of an office grump, and there can be real entertainment value in that if you keep it in perspective.

But when that fails, keep in mind that this woman doesn't seem to have any power over any of you. So when she says something personally insulting, respond calmly, "Wow, that came out sounding rude." (You can also just try, "Wow." Nothing else. Try it -- it gets interesting results.) When she complains about all your objectives without knowing anything about them, laugh and say, "I guess it's good that you have all the answers." When she brags about how important her husband is, say, "He sounds extremely important." You might throw her off her game.

You don't have to convince her to come around. She's not going to come around. You just need coping strategies that help you feel not so much at her mercy.

As for talking to your boss, who's friends with her -- enh. (Is that a word? That's the noise I made in my head. ) I doubt it'll get you anywhere, unless your boss has a track record of being objective about her friends. If she does, sure, raise it with her. You can say Dana seems really unhappy and that she chronically takes it out on others, to the point that people avoid her now. You can even throw in, "I know you have a good relationship with her, so I thought maybe you could help." But otherwise, I'd stick to what I laid out above. The exception to that is if Dana crosses the line from grumpy to actually disruptive, in which case you can go to your boss with specific examples of how she's disrupting the workplace.

But really -- your best bet is to think of her as your very own Eeyore/Angela Martin and enjoy the show.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

when a recruiter misleads you and wastes your time

A reader writes:

I've been fully self-employed as a freelancer for about three and a half years. Over the last year, however, my income has dropped by a good bit (thanks to moving and to the economy). I'm doing fine with what I'm making, but it feels like that could change any time. In a perfect world, my freelance business would be predictable enough that I'd never consider another salary, but it's a far from perfect world so I do think about returning to the salaried world some times.

When we moved to our new city, I signed up with a couple of creative placement agencies. I've never used that kind of agency before because they mostly place people in full-time and on-site temporary jobs and I'm usually able to fill my calendar with higher paying projects that I can do from my home office. I signed up when work was slow and I would have been able to do something on-site and full-time. They call me with various projects from time to time, but I've usually passed on the their opportunities because I'm busy enough not to have to take them. They also charge pretty high commissions, so the pay to me ends up being lower than I'm used to even when the client is paying my usual rates.

A few months ago, they called with an opportunity to do some freelance work for a big local company. I could do the work from my home office and it was a dream client that I'd love to work for and had no other access to. I agreed to the interview and was very excited. When I got there, it seemed clear that a) the client wanted someone with a much more extensive science background that I had and b) the "freelance" opportunity was really just an audition project for a full-time position. It was a waste of my time and theirs for me to go there. And, even worse, it made it impossible for me to approach that client about any other business because the placement agency would want a huge chunk of any fees I'd ever earn from them.

I haven't agreed to meet anyone they've wanted to introduce me to since, but they called me yesterday to ask if I'd be willing to talk about something full-time. I said yes, if it was the right fit. They told me about a position that sounded like a good (but not great) match for my skills with a "medium-sized company." I specifically asked about the client and they said "medium-sized." They asked for a specific kind of writing sample, which I provided. They schedule a phone interview for me this morning, which I did. The phone interview went well, but it turned out that the "medium-sized company" was actually another recruiter who is trying to find someone to hire for a HUGE local company (Fortune 500 public corporation). The recruiter didn't even have my resume when we talked, but she did have my writing sample. We talked for about 30 minutes and she asked if I could come meet with her boss for an interview TODAY. I tried to put her off but she pushed hard and I agreed to meet this afternoon.

Then, I thought about the HUGE company, the hour it would take me to get there and back, the client deadlines I need to meet this week, the fact that she didn't even have my resume, and I started to have big doubts. I think if I put in the time to get over there today, there's a good chance that a) she'll be wasting my time because she doesn't really know enough about me to know if I'm a good candidate and b) this isn't really the job for me even if she's right that I'm who they might want--the HUGE company isn't where I'd been thinking my next move would be.

I called the placement agency and explained what was happening. They pressured me and pressured me, they told me what "great opportunity" this would be (even while saying they didn't know it was for HUGE company when they told me about it, so I doubt that they have any idea if this is a good opportunity or not). I told them that I'd be willing to meet with this other recruiter tomorrow but that I cannot make the appointment today.

I'm feeling guilty for backing out after I agreed, but I'm also getting really frustrated with these recruiters. I think they're all pressuring me to spend hours on this interview without having any idea if I'm the right fit for this position. They just want to be able to say they found a candidate, any candidate, and they don't care if they're wasting my time or not. And I don't want to potentially sour a relationship with a huge local company by showing up to interview for something I'm not the right fit for because the recruiters aren't paying enough attention to me or what I'm telling them.

What responsibility should recruiters have to respecting the time of the candidates they send for interviews? Is this kind of lackadaisical "just do the interview" attitude the best I can expect from these kinds of placement agencies?

Well, like most industries, it depends on who you're working with. There are terrible, lazy, incompetent recruiters out there. And there are fantastic ones. It sounds like you've hooked yourself up with a bad one, and I'd recommend unhooking yourself.

Do keep in mind that recruiters ultimately don't work for you. They work for the employer, because that's who pays them. So their goal isn't so much to work to find you a great fit at a job you'll love as it is to find the employer someone they'll love. Now, there's a lot of overlap between those things -- a good recruiter will be open and honest with you about the jobs they talk to you about, because doing that is part of doing a good job for the employer. But when you encounter an incompetent recruiter, they don't get that. Instead, they see their business as presenting the employer with any reasonably qualified candidate they can find, and if that means fudging the details a bit, they may.

You've had enough experience with this agency know to know that you can't trust them. They're not competent or ethical. End your relationship with them. If you want to work with a recruiter, ask around to people you know about who they recommend for your field. Get online and see what recruiters are writing good stuff on blogs and Twitter. Ask them for recommendations. There are great recruiters out there, if you look -- but you don't want to work with just anyone. Good luck!

Monday, September 21, 2009

interviewing with a company that doesn't know what it wants

A reader writes:

I'm in a bit of a post-interview limbo. After a month had passed on submitting an application, I received an out-of-the-blue phone interview (with HR) and an immediate scheduling for 5 hours (with 10 people!!) in-house interview.

I was sick the day of the in-house, but I medicated and prepared to try my best (I also, respectfully, declined hand-shakes). They all seemed nice, but it was quickly revealed that I was their first interview for this position. Furthermore, it was a technology position they had never done in-house before, and it appeared that they had little idea how to choose a good candidate.

Since some of the prospective tasks they mentioned for this position were, quite honestly, incomprehensibly large for a one-person job--I took a rather honest approach in my interview. I mentioned that, if I was hired, it would require some significant setup to get going. I also mentioned that the position sounded much higher level then what the ad suggested (I went in thinking it was a middle management position in an existing division, and it turned out it was a non-existent division which they were looking for a new hire to create). Frankly, I'm just out of grad school, and it would be shocking to have to put together an entire division with my limited experience (and a bit mind-boggling that they thought I could). I like challenges, really, but knowing the scope of technological expertise it takes to pull something like that off...I think I would be sorely short-handed.

There was also a weird moment in the interview when I was directly asked to reveal who I was interviewing for (note: I declined to respond with names, just made an ambiguous statement: "some other local industries and non-profits").

Other then these rather large points of concern, I felt that I reasonably communicated my abilities and how I could be useful to the company. I also tried to show them what could be done with the talents I had. Furthermore, I really liked the fit of the people I would be working with, and see a lot of interesting learning opportunities for me. After the interview, the HR person left me with a serious impression that I'd get a hiring notice the following week.

However, that didn't happened.

I was contacted post-interview, and the HR representative informed me that I was "still in the running" but they were looking at "other candidates." Since, I was the first that they interviewed, they wanted to try a few more and see how I "measured up." She emphasized that she'd like to be updated if any other companies made me an offer, and...that was it.

So, yeah. Very weird response, I thought. I'm use to a straight "yes" or "no"...not a "maybe." I really have no idea how to respond to this, or if I should even bother calling them back (my friends say this was a very unprofessional interview, since they clearly didn't know what they were hiring for, and they asked me to reveal my interviewing companies).

Any thoughts?

Yes. You don't want this job. You may not know it, but you don't. Although actually it sounds like you do know it.

They don't really know what they want. You think you'd be in over your head. They don't sound like they're equipped to make a sound decision on whether you're right for the job or not. And it sounds like they wouldn't give you the resources you'd need to do the job well.

This has all the makings for a disaster, and the last thing you need in your first job right out of a school is a disaster. If you're set up to fail, it can still look a lot like your fault to outside observers. You don't need that.

Regarding the HR person's response that they're looking for other candidates but want to know if you get any other offers -- each of those things are fine on their own, but I'm not crazy about combining them. So they're looking at other candidates; that's fine. People look at other candidates. They should give you some idea of their timeline for making a decision about you, but okay, not completely weird. But then you throw in "let us know if you get another offer," and the picture becomes murkier. That's what you ask a candidate to do when you're really interested in them and want to have a chance to make them an offer yourself before another company snatches them up. They're mixing their signals a bit, and I suspect it's because they don't know what they're doing.

I'd run.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

being given only 4 hours to decide on a job offer

A reader writes:

Earlier this year, I was interviewing for IT internships, and got into the final stages for a large international document handling company. I was one of six people, out of over 3000 applicants. I did thoroughly well throughout the day, but a few days later found that I did not in fact get the job.

Cue several weeks later, a Friday lunchtime; I get a phone call from my contact there; their first choice had rejected the offer and they wanted to offer the position to me instead. I asked for a week to think it over, which I believed to be reasonable, considering that it would be affecting where I would be working for the next year. I was told that they needed an answer by the end of the working day - four hours away. I told them that I would call them back; I took some time, spoke to my placement advisor, and ended up reluctantly calling them and verbally accepting.

I called another potential employer (another multinational in another, more stable market) I had previously scheduled an interview with to let them know that I had accepted another job; they asked if I had signed anything yet, and I confirmed that I had not. They offered to move my interview forward as they were keen to see me. I decided to attend, if only for interviewing experience, and it also went very well.

That Friday, I decided that the second company was a far better fit for myself, and sent a professional email to the first one stating that I had felt pressured into giving a response due to the incredibly limited time constraints set for a response, and that I would have to politely turn down their kind offer. It took them 2 weeks to respond with a standard 'We are sorry to hear...' reply.

I am sure that it caused them a considerable amount of hassle, seeing as the first candidate had also declined, however I feel justified in my actions due to the pressure placed on me for an answer. It does worry me, however, that I have potentially soured my professional relationship with this company, and may cause issues should I decide to apply for any positions there in the future, post-graduation.

What is your opinion regarding this? What's done is done, but any advice on how to handle similar situations in the future would be appreciated!

(As a side note, I was only just beaten at the interview stage for the second company by another student, which was a shame, but it was a gamble I was willing to take. I was however offered positions at two other companies soon afterwards in the same week; one of which I accepted and thoroughly enjoy!)

I'm looking forward to your take on this matter, and thanks for running an excellent and incredibly useful blog!

Well, yeah, you've probably burned their bridges with them as far as future opportunities go. But at the same time, giving you four hours to make a decision was unreasonable of them, and if they're going to pressure people to give them an answer that fast, they're pretty much setting themselves up to have this happen.

You originally asked for a week, and a week can often be too long, especially for junior-level positions. (They have other candidates they need to get back to, candidates with timelines of their own, or they may need to know that they're going to need to re-advertise or whatever the case may be.) But a few days is completely reasonable, even standard.

Insisting that you give them an answer in four hours (especially when they must have known that you'd already mentally moved on from the job after being rejected earlier) is unfair. Ideally, you would have said to them, "I'm very interested, but I need at least a day or two to think this over, and I wouldn't feel right giving you an answer I hadn't had time to think about." It's hard to imagine why they would have been unable to do that, but let's say for the sake of argument that their next choice after you had a timeline of her own and was accepting another job at 6 p.m. that night, so they really did have no choice but to push for an immediate answer from you -- if that were the case, they owed you an explanation, at least. But I suspect that they had no such time constraints and just wanted to be able to wrap the whole thing up.

In any case, if you'd made that request and they'd refused you (with or without explaining why), at that point you would have had to decide whether or not you could make that kind of major commitment in such a short time. I preach all the time about why you shouldn't renege on your acceptance of a job offer, but in this case, with this kind of pressure, it's very hard to fault you for later backing out. Again, they kind of set themselves up for it.

(They've also demonstrated that they're not great at managing this kind of thing by the fact that they rejected you before their first choice accepted the offer. This is why you wait to send out rejections to second and third choices until you have a firm acceptance in hand from your first choice.)

So the upshot: Yes, you probably won't be well-received there in the future, but you can at least take some solace in knowing that the whole situation is at least partly of their own creation.

is taking an internship on top of a job unethical?

A reader writes:

I received my BA this May, and after searching, got a job as an Administrative Assistant. I'm really very grateful to have gotten this position as it seems like getting an entry level position right now is a bit of a crapshoot: so many people could perform this job admirably, but they can only hire one.

However, it's a tiny company (I'm one of five full time employees,) and it's in a slightly random industry, one that I was not planning to go in to. I suppose I should have planned better, but I had bills and I was in a bit of a scramble to find work.

The people I work for seem to understand that it's unlikely I'll be at the company forever as there are really no opportunities for advancement, given the size.

My question is this: I recently received an offer for an unpaid internship for a completely separate industry that I'm more interested in. The internship would be in the evenings, but it would require that I leave my job twice a week about 15 minutes early. I would really like to take this internship, because I'm still not sure what career path I want to pursue and I'd like to learn about different options. I thought perhaps I could ask my employers if I could come in a half hour early and leave a 15 minutes early.

(Note: As an admin, part of my job description is to answer phones. This is true, but at this particular office protocol is that I handle the phones from 8:30 to one, and then it defers to another employee. I'm not sure why this is their practice, but that's what I was told. Also, the office is rarely flooded with calls.)

My friends and parents say that I should refrain from telling my employers about the internship. They've mentioned that some companies have policies against employees working second jobs (although I reviewed the employee handbook and it made no mention of such a policy.) They've also mentioned hat my employers might worry this is me setting up to leave them and thus cut me loose before I do.

I commute about an hour to and from work every day - it should be less, but I live in LA, where traffic is attempting to stage a world takeover. Because of that commute, my friends and family are recommending that I tell my employers I want the time change because of traffic issues.

This feels sketchy to me. I don't want to mislead my employers. But it's tempting, because I can't afford to be fired at the moment.

I'm not planning to leave anytime soon - I'm learning some good stuff here, but I would like to learn more about other industries. Should I forgot the internship and just keep working? It's starting to feel like taking this internship would be like cheating or something.

Lying is rarely, if ever, a good idea. Here are some of the things could happen if you lie to your employer and say that you need to leave early because of traffic issues: Someone at your workplace could meet someone at your internship and realize they both work with the same person. A reporter could do a story about the place you're interning with and you could end up in it. The internship could call your current employer for a reference before hiring you, without alerting you that they plan to do so. Your current employer could ask you to stay late one day and you'd have to explain why you couldn't. And so forth.

And then you're not just "the admin who we know will leave us eventually" (which they already know), but rather "the admin who lies." A lot of managers would feel obligated to fire you at that point, even if they understood perfectly well why you wanted to take the internship -- the lying part of this would be the problem.

Plus, there's another consequence: You're going to feel guilty about it. Every day that you leave early to "fight traffic," you're going to feel guilt that your coworkers accommodated your request when you lied to them. (If you wouldn't feel guilty, you have a whole different problem, but I don't get that sense from your letter.)

Talk to your boss and explain the situation. Make it clear that your first priority is your job and if this would cause a problem, you won't do it. Say you don't plan on leaving the company any time soon but that this would be a great educational opportunity for you. Offer to do other things to make up for it (such as coming in early or taking a shorter lunch on the days you leave early). Ask what she thinks.

She'll probably say yes, although be prepared to be okay with it if she says no.

Openness is almost always better. Good luck!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

mentioning your interest in sadomasochistic sex in your resume

Perhaps I'm being close-minded here, but it strikes me as a bad move to devote the top third of your resume (or really any part of your resume) to the various leadership roles that you hold in your local club devoted to sexual dominance, submission, and bondage.

The resume is otherwise completely professional.

reapplying for a job you were rejected for

A reader writes:

I applied for a job that was posted internally in my company. I was called for an interview but did not do well (I misunderstood a couple of questions and did not provide sufficient details). I did not get the job and it appears neither did any other internal candidate. The company has posted the same job externally now. I am more prepared for the interview now and would like to apply again. Would I be considered by the hiring manager?

You can give it a shot; just be prepared for it not to go anywhere. An employer might consider a candidate who was previously rejected for the same job if: (a) what they're looking for has changed, and while you weren't the right match before, you might be now, or (b) they've discovered that what they're looking for doesn't exist, so they're being more flexible.

However, if you didn't perform well in the interview last time, and so it wasn't a question of experience/skills, that's probably a disqualifier for further consideration. However, people often think they didn't do well an interview when they actually did (because people tend to beat themselves up about why they didn't get a job), so unless they're the ones who told you that, I'd say that you should try again. You have nothing to lose, right?

This brings me to a point I've been wanting to make for a while: A lot of questions I get can be answered by "What do you have to lose?" Should you tell your former boss you're interested in returning, should you reapply for a job, should you apply for a job that is slightly over your experience level, and so forth. In all these cases, why not just try? What's the worst that will happen? You could get told no, which means you won't be any worse off than you are right now. (This point was also made by the Evil HR Lady recently.)

Really. Just give it a shot. Maybe they'll say no, but maybe they won't.

Friday, September 18, 2009

giving notice when boss will tell you to leave immediately

A reader writes:

I am working in retail fine jewelry at present, and have secured another job. I know that my current manager will tell me to leave the day I resign, most likely call someone in to cover my shift. How do I resign gracefully, appearing to be giving two weeks' notice when in fact, it will only be a few days' notice? I cannot afford to lose two weeks' pay.

If you are confident that you're going to be asked to leave the day you give notice (because you've seen your manager do that to others in similar situations), then you should simply wait to give your notice until you're ready for it to be your last day.

This is the price managers pay when they handle resignations like that. Smart managers create an atmosphere where this doesn't happen to them -- because they treat resigning employees well.

There are some employers who do have a legitimate business need to have resigning employees leave immediately (for instance, those worried about trade secrets), but most don't. Smart employers will make it known that employees are welcome to work out their notice periods, since that ensures that employees will continue to give them that notice.

Employees can figure out what type of employer they're working for by paying attention to how your boss 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. But if your employer has a track record of behaving well in these situations, return the favor and give a reasonable notice period.

(Note: This is NOT license to skip giving notice in any situation other than one where your boss has a sustained track record of having people leave immediately. If 9 times out of 10, she has welcomed the notice period and just once told someone to leave that day, there were reasons for it that were specific to that one person. In that case, you still need to give notice -- at least if you want to leave without burning bridges.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

calling to follow up?

This. Read this immediately.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 has generated more than 200 letters! has now generated more than 200 letters to employers who never bothered to get back to job-seekers who interviewed with them! is a free service run by Ask a Manager that lets job-seekers generate an anonymous, polite letter to employers who interviewed them and then never responded to them in any way.

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.)

things that I will not be tolerating from you #3: persistent presumption

If you are applying for a job and tell me that you can do TWO jobs that I'm hiring for, combining them into one, and I tell you that's really not possible because the workload of each is a full-time job on its own, you should believe me.

I know that job-seekers are often told that they should propose new and innovative solutions to employers' problems, and that's great -- but if the employer assures you that you're off-base about something internal like workload, they probably know what they're talking about. Unless you've seen reason to believe them incompetent, you should believe what they say.

It's irritating when a candidate keeps insisting that they can do two jobs as one person, after I've already explained that won't work. Here's why: I am competent. I hire competent, efficient people who produce at very high levels. We don't have slackers sitting around with little to do. We have the opposite problem: too much work. I know this because I manage the organization, for the love of god. I monitor workload levels like teen girls monitor Robert Pattinson.

By all means, make the suggestion originally if you want to. After all, many places are mismanaged and maybe do have three people doing a job that could be done by one person. But I'm not that manager, and I don't operate that way -- so please don't persist when I explain to you why it's unworkable. When you insist that you are a better of judge of something very hard to perceive from the outside like workload, despite what I tell you, it's hard to think you're not being a naive and/or presumptuous d-bag. Cut it out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

can I be written up for spitting?

A reader writes:

I work in a small IMO insurance firm as a marketer and graphic designer. Today while outside smoking (I spit when I smoke), my boss came to me and told me that if he ever found me spitting on the walk way again he would write me up. We rent the building we are in and there is nothing in the lease (according to my office manager) about the condition the walk way is left if we should move to a new building. My question is: Can he really write me up for spitting out of habit?

I don't see why not. That's disgusting.

things that I will not be tolerating from you #2: correcting a grammatical error that isn't

If part of your job application strategy is going to be to point out a grammatical error on the employer's Web site, please make sure that it's actually an error.

I received a cover letter last week that opened this way: "Despite my eagerness to learn as much as I could about the position, the first thing that I noticed on your Web site was a grammatical error."

She then quoted the "error."

Except that it wasn't an error. It was perfectly correct. She had a misunderstanding of comma usage.

Now, I am obsessed with grammar and usage, and I am all for pointing out possible grammatical errors, but if you're going to do it in a cover letter, you really, really want to be sure that you're correct.

Otherwise you look both pompous and silly (and in her case, not very bright), and it's not a good thing when the hiring manager feels embarrassed for you.

things that I will not be tolerating from you #1: lying about why you're calling

You know what's not a good idea? Telling the person screening my calls that I'll "know what the call is about" and refusing to elaborate further, when in fact I have no idea who you are and we've never spoken before.

You know who does this, aside from overly aggressive salespeople? Job candidates who think that this brilliant trick to get them past the gatekeeper will help them get hired.

You know what happens when they get put through to my phone line? I let the call go to voicemail, listen to their message, discover they're calling about a job, and immediately forward their message back to the original person they spoke with, with instructions to call them back and tell them we don't take unsolicited calls about jobs.

You know who immediately ruins any chance of me considering their application? People who do this, demonstrating total disregard for honesty or our clearly stated policies that we don't take unsolicited calls about jobs. I put that policy in place for a reason. I'm sorry that you don't like it -- but it's not there for you; it's there to help me. But at least now I know that I don't want to work with you.

I know there must be job search "tips" out there that encourage this ridiculous practice. I want to hunt down whoever is encouraging it and slap them.

I'm done talking about how to follow up after an interview

This is probably one of the most common questions I get: How and when do you follow up after an interview?

I've answered more times than I'd like, and I'm never answering it again.

You can find past writings on it here:

following up after an interview

when to follow up after an interview

calling to follow up after applying for a job

how to follow up after an interview

I intend to never write another word again on it. People will have to use the search feature.

how do employers choose when they have tons of great candidates?

I wrote recently about the fact that lots of great job candidates are getting rejected these days because there are more good candidates than there are jobs available in this job market. When I have tons of great candidates and only one slot to fill, it's a certainty that lots are going to get rejected. My point was that job seekers shouldn't beat themselves up because it's (probably) not them -- it's the market.

In response, a few people in the comments section asked how employers do make a decision when they have so many great candidates to choose from. Is it random selection or something else?

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I answer that question. Please check it out and leave your own thoughts in the comments section there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

can employer reject me because of my commute time?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a job for which my skills ticked all of the boxes. The salary was described as "highly negotiable" (with no equivalent industry salaries available) and was based in London (an 80 minute commute from my house).

Over the course of 2 weeks, I took part in 11 one-2-one interviews, either by phone, or in person, and both salary and working hours were discussed.

After this process, I was informed that I had not been offered the job. When I asked for feedback, I was told (in these words): "It ultimately came down to logistics (commute time) and salary demand. We were able to secure another candidate that fit our needs at this time. "

I have already responded to this email to inform them that I didn't believe commute time was their choice to make.

I would be interested to know if you have any advice on the legal ramifications (if any) of this, and if you have any advice about how to handle "negotiable" salaries which obviously aren't!

Eleven interviews?


I don't know what that's about, but it would definitely have me wondering if these people have their act together.

In any case, in answer to your question, maybe the laws on this are different in the UK than they are here, but I don't know of any law that would prevent an employer from taking commute time into consideration. I live in an area where an 80-minute commute time wouldn't be considered prohibitive, but I've certainly been concerned about candidates with longer commute times -- because it can get wearying and expensive and make people want to find something closer to home. When I have the concern, I'll usually just ask the candidate about it and see what they say -- if they've done it before and are used to it, that might set me at ease; if they haven't, it might remain a concern for me.

While in one sense you're right that if you're willing to do it, they shouldn't make the decision for you, but it's certainly legitimate for an employer to look at context like this and factor it into their decision. Maybe they've had bad experiences before with people quitting because their commutes became too much. You're right that it's not "fair" to have someone else's experience held against you, but hiring isn't a strictly "fair" process; it's all a series of judgment calls.

On the issue of whether they misrepresented things when they said that salary was negotiable: I don't see that they did. Just because they ultimately went with a candidate with a lower salary demand than yours doesn't mean that they wouldn't have been willing to pay more for the right candidate, or that the person they ultimately hired didn't ask for more than what they'd originally hoped to pay.

I think that, overall, you're taking personally something that isn't personal, and looking for some kind of strict fairness in a process that is more about them figuring out their needs than fairness to every candidate.


I have just deleted all but the most recent two weeks' worth of emails in my in-box. As usual, I had fallen so far behind on answering questions that there was no chance I could ever catch up. So if you had sent me a question earlier that you are desperate for an answer to, please re-submit it. Otherwise, my apologies for never getting to you.

(That said, I don't think I'll ever be able to answer everything I receive, not without quitting my job and blogging full-time, which seems unlikely. But questions that have the best chance of getting answered generally fit more than one of the following categories: short, interesting, well-written, infuriating in some way, and/or things that I haven't answered before.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

how can I get justice with my boss' boss?

A reader writes:

I work for a software company in their customer/technical support department. One of our customers was not happy with the way I handled an issue and contacted their account executive to complain. What the customer said was to the effect that she did not want me working on any of her future support issues (the customer was angry because a phone message I took for someone else wasn't returned, and that I didn't do enough to ensure it be returned, despite sending that person an email).

The account executive emailed the director of my department indicating that customers were becoming unhappy with the way my department was handling customer issues. Her email included the comment that a customer specifically did not want me working on her issues anymore. Rather than speak with me about this problem or compose an email to alert our whole team that our customers were unhappy with our performance, my department director proceeded to forward this email to my entire department, plus a few employees outside of our department (about 50 people total).

After getting this email, I was shocked, embarrassed, and angered. I couldn't believe that I would be singled out like this. I walked over to my department director to find out what was going on. I asked what I had been doing wrong (the email singled me out but there were few specifics about what I had/hadn't done) and what I could do to improve. He looked at the email he sent out, and realized THAT HE HADN'T EVEN READ THE WHOLE THING BEFORE FORWARDING IT. He had no idea that my name was in the last paragraph of the email he just sent to every single one of my coworkers. He apologized with "Dude, I'm sorry, my bad" and kind of shook his head at himself. I then stumbled for words and said something like, "well I'll talk to the account executive to see what I can do to improve" and I went back to my desk. I spoke with the account executive right afterward and asked what had happened and she still seemed a bit angry with me and my whole department.

My immediate supervisor (team lead, not the dept. director) then came to me and apologized. He told me how I hadn't really been in the wrong and we discussed what our team could do to improve our processes and eliminate these types of complaints, which we get often and are trying to fix. He apologized again after the exchange.

Although my immediate supervisor handled it really well and he understood that I was probably very angry and embarrassed, I am still angry at the department director. I can't believe that he could be so careless as to possibly cause irreparable damage to my reputation and future at the company with one keystroke. I am also angry that the account executive took the customer's word at face value and then contacted the department director with a specific complaint about me without ever asking me what really happened.

What should I do? My first inclination is to arrange a meeting with the account executive and my department director so that I can tell them that I don't think this isn't the best way to handle situations like this. Should I ask for my department director and/or the account executive to send out a mass apology? Should I get their supervisors involved? I don't feel like I stood up for myself properly and that I didn't receive proper justice.

"Proper justice" is a weird concept to use here. This isn't a jury trial, it's a group of humans who make mistakes sometimes and hopefully do their best to fix them.

Your supervisor has made it clear he knows you weren't at fault, and the director apologized to you, so he apparently does too.

You work in a group that deals with customer support, so they're all well aware that customers tend to blame whoever they're talking to for whatever problem they're having, regardless of whether that person has anything to do with it or not. If they deal with customer relations, they've been on the receiving end of plenty of complaints from disgruntled customers themselves. I really doubt anyone is thinking much of the one that went to you.

However, if you want to set the record straight to your group, send out a follow-up email and say, "By the way, I wouldn't want anyone to think I don't take complaints seriously, but as (director's name) and (manager's name) now know, in this case the customer was upset because of something unrelated to my interactions with her."

That's it. Done.

If you insist on having a formal meeting about this or go to your director's boss to complain, you might get another apology, but you'll do far more harm to your reputation, by coming across as naive and high-maintenance. Learn to safeguard your reputation on your own (such as with the email I suggested above, if you think it's necessary); don't become known as a pain in the ass.

And yes, I know you're thinking of this in terms of "justice." But if you want everything in the work world to be perfectly just, you are going to be angry and disappointed over and over again.

If it becomes a pattern, address the pattern. But otherwise? This is your boss' boss. He made a mistake. Let it go.

Remembering William Wik

This post is part of Project 2,996, a bloggers' tribute to the victims of September 11, 2001. I've been asked to write about William Wik.

William Wik

Billy Wik, 44 and his wife, Kathy, had three children, Tricia, Katie, and Danny. He worked for Aon Corp. as assistant director for risk management services.

"I met Billy when he first started dating his now wife Kathleen, who is my friend Pat's sister. It was St. Patrick's Day and I thought, 'boy, Kathleen got herself a cutie, blue eyes, dark hair and so handsome, even if he doesn't know how to dress.' He had on a beautiful Irish knit sweather inside out." -- Andrea Fanelli

"To me, Bill was not only a gentle man, he was a gentleman. He was a dedicated worker. Although I am quite an early bird, Bill always beat me to work. He was the first person to greet me in the morning and the last one to do so at night. Even when I worked until 7.00 P.M. some nights, I was never afraid to be alone because I knew Bill was next door and I could count on him. Many nights we took Metro North home together as we were just two stops apart. I recall fondly in July I stopped by his office to chat. Bill told me that Kathy and the kids were in NC on vacation and although this gave him time to catch up on projects he had started and never completed, he missed them terribly. He said one of his big challenges was to do the laundry." -- Glenda Alvarez

"I know of very few people, who could speak with the eloquence, style and grace which Bill brought to the table." -- Brian Cohen

"He was the epitome of a gentleman and always spoke proudly of his family." -- Linda Grace Pohorence

When the first hijacked plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Billy Wik was in a meeting of the 92nd floor of the south tower. He saw the plane hit the other tower from a window and called his wife, Kathy. She told him to get out. He told her, "No, I can't do that, there are still people here."

After the tower collapsed, his body was found in a pocket of rubble along with the bodies of five firefighters. He was wearing work gloves and a mask and had a police radio in one hand and a firefighters' flashlight in the other. Officials believe he was assisting rescue workers and helping to evacuate tower 2.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

why new hires fail

46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, according to a new study by Leadership IQ. (Failure is being defined as: being terminated, leaving under pressure, receiving disciplinary action, or having significantly negative performance reviews.)

But it's not because they don't have the right skills to do the job. Instead, the study found that 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept feedback, 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions, 17% because they lack the necessary motivation to excel, 15% because they have the wrong temperament for the job, and only 11% because they lack the necessary technical skills.

More telling? 82% of managers reported that in hindsight, there were red flags during the interview that they ignored.

This isn't surprising at all. By the time a candidate gets to the interview, he or she should have been sufficiently screened that the technical skills are known to be there. At that point interviewers should be looking at other important qualities -- temperament, emotional intelligence, work ethic, attention to detail, judgment, openness to feedback, and other things that are difficult to teach. But instead, many hiring managers overvalue specific skills or content knowledge and don’t put enough weight on underlying skills or qualities that are harder to develop, which in the long run are much more likely to differentiate high performers from others.

"Technical competence remains the most popular subject of interviews because it’s easy to assess," say the researchers. "But while technical competence is easy to assess, it’s a lousy predictor of whether a newly-hired employee will succeed or fail."

So who does hire well? The study found that a small portion of managers had significantly more hiring success than their peers did. These managers (a) put much more emphasis on interpersonal and motivational issues, (b) were highly perceptive and psychologically savvy, and (c) were confident in their assessments and willing to act on them.

This, of course, sometimes gets translated into "gut feeling," which gets a bad rap. But when your gut has been educated by experience, and it has a good track record, and it doesn't engage in racial or other forms of illegal discrimination ... well, it's not crazy to respect that gut.

The three-year study focused on 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business, and health care organizations; collectively, they hired more than 20,000 employees during the study period. It found no significant difference in failure rates across different interviewing approaches (behavioral, chronological, etc.).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

sometimes it's not about you

Sometimes it's not about you.

I've rejected a lot of job candidates lately, and an unusual number of them have been fantastic.

When I have tons of great candidates and only one slot to hire for, by definition lots of really good candidates are going to get rejected.

When the job market is at the point it's currently at and you're a strong candidate who's not getting offers, it's not you. It's the market. Don't wonder about what tricks others are using that you don't know about, or beat yourself up over whether a line in your cover letter wasn't right or whether you should have answered something differently in the interview, or wonder why employers don't think you're worth hiring.

There are no tricks.

If you're following the type of advice you find here and on similar blogs, and you're smart, have had good feedback in the past, aren't arrogant, and have a work ethic, then you do not suck. You might be great.

There are more good candidates than jobs right now.

It's not you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

how to give advice to coworkers without being annoying

Have you ever looked at another area of your company and thought, "They'd get better results if they did it this way instead?" If so, have you ever been tempted to tell them?

This is a sticky area. Even when your input is fantastic, if you don't present it in the right way, you can make people defensive and irritated.

Some people handle this by never making suggestions to others at all, sacrificing the possibility of giving input that might really be appreciated. Others handle it by plunging right in, repeatedly, and over time end up alienating their colleagues. But there's a way to give input that won't make people want to tell you to mind your own business.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I explain how. Please check it out...

Monday, September 7, 2009

job searching from afar, paying for interview travel, and how long you can wait before starting the new job

A reader writes:

I'm planning on conducting a job search in anticipation of a move to a location 2000 miles from my current home. I've never before conducted a job search remotely, and I have some questions as to how to go about this.

I'm assuming I should explain in the cover letter why I'm looking for a job in California while living in Chicago, and that I should state my definitive plans to move once I find the right job. But what is the best way to phrase this or make this point?

To the extent that this might be relevant to your input, I'm a case manager at a non-profit NGO social service agency (6 yrs at the same agency) and will be looking for position in a similar or related field. Given this, I don't make the kind of money where I can fly back and forth multiple times for interviews.

I'm hoping there's a way to handle this by scheduling more than one interview within a close time frame. If that isn't possible, is there a professional way to express that I'd like a phone interview first, and/or (if they want to interview me) that I'm extremely interested in a job, but want to know if they're truly considering me for the position -- i.e. if they're planning to probably hire from the inside but are interviewing as a formality. Should I say in the cover letter that I'm willing to travel for an interview, or should I not address the topic at all until I know they're interested in me?

Lastly, if I'm made an offer, what is a reasonable amount of time to expect they will give me before starting a position? I'm required to give 3 weeks notice at my current job in order to get my vacation pay-out, but I'd actually feel uncomfortable giving less than 4 weeks. Comfortably, I'd want a 6-week window. Is this realistic?

Yes, definitely state in your cover letter that you're planning to move to the area soon (and possibly explain why, if your reasons are ones you're willing to share, as that can make employers more comfortable moving forward with an out-of-state applicant). For instance, you might say, "I am in the process of planning a relocation to California to join my partner" or whatever your reason is.

Additionally, in case they're just skimming your cover letter and miss it, do this too: On your resume, directly under your address, include a parenthetical note that you're soon relocating to __ (fill in their city). I just saw an applicant do that and thought it was really smart -- because cover letters get removed from resumes or read once and specifics forgotten, etc.

Regarding traveling for interviews, this can get tricky. In general, most employers expect to pay for travel when they invite out-of-town candidates to interview. However, you have two things that may complicate this in your case: (1) Some nonprofits are less likely to do this than for-profits (but not always), and (2) Some employers won't consider out-of-town candidates for jobs for which they have many strong local candidates, unless the candidate is in the process of moving there -- and if you are, they may decide you should pay your own way since they wouldn't be considering you otherwise.

Now, this may be a non-issue because they may end up covering your expenses, but if they don't, it could end up being difficult to schedule all your interviews in the same time frame -- because employers move at different speeds, and it can be challenging to coordinate it. However, once you get an initial expression of interest from employers, you can definitely let them know that you'll be in their area from out of town during such-and-such dates and ask if it would be possible to interview then. But be prepared for them to say no -- I've had to say no to candidates in that situation who I'm interested in, simply because their timeline clashed with mine in some way: I wasn't going to be ready to conduct final interviews by then, or one of the people who would need to interview them would be out of town then, or whatever. So you can and should give it a try, but be prepared that it might not come together.

If you do end up in a situation where you have to cover your own travel expenses and can't do everything in one trip, it's completely legitimate and reasonable to say something like, "I'm happy to cover my own expenses, but would it be possible for us to conduct a phone interview first to make sure that I'm a strong match?" It's also reasonable to say, "I'm extremely interested in this job and more than happy to pay my own way out there if you think I'm likely to be a strong match. However, given that money is tight for everyone right now, could you give me an idea of how strong a candidate you think I am?" I've had candidates ask this before -- people definitely do it, and any good employer will know that's reasonable (especially since they're probably feeling slight guilt about sticking you with the travel expenses).

By the way, no need to get into any of this travel stuff in the cover letter; it's assumed that you'll be willing to travel for an interview should it come to that, and you don't want to explicitly volunteer to cover your own travel expenses before they've asked you to, as you might end up preempting an offer from them to pay.

Regarding your last question, about whether you can ask for a start date six weeks out: You can ask for six weeks, and plenty of employers will give it to you. But plenty others won't want to push it beyond a month, so be prepared for that. It depends on the job and the employer, and there's a lot of variation there. There's nothing wrong with asking though, as long as you're prepared to hear that they don't want to go beyond four weeks. (Some employers will prefer even less, but with a move in the mix, most will agree that four weeks is reasonable.)

Good luck!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

should you call when a job posting says "no calls"?

In a comment on a recent post, Abby wrote:

How do you feel about a job posting that specifically states "no phone calls"? Does it show blatant disregard if a candidate calls or is that person one step ahead of the rest because he/she is the only one calling?

I feel it's important to follow the guidelines given on a job posting because it shows attention to detail, but I've read blog posts where people argue that you should call anyway.

Ugh, personally I hate it. If I say "no calls," I mean no calls. I'm not just testing applicants to see who will take the initiative to call anyway.

But on the other hand, there are employers where calling actually can help move your application forward, and candidates have no way of knowing from the outside which type of employer they're dealing with.

I don't want any phone calls because:

1. Being interrupted by an unnecessary phone call annoys me. I never want job applicants to contact me by phone; I much prefer email, as it allows me to respond when it's convenient, rather than having to stop whatever I'm doing to take a call.

2. I'm organized. I don't need to be reminded of your application because it's not going to slip through the cracks, and I don't need to be asked for a status update because I keep candidates posted about their status.

3. I mean what I say. If I clearly say "no calls," I'm going to wonder why you didn't think it applied to you.

But, on the other hand, many employers are unorganized, don't necessarily mean what they say, and are more likely to answer their phone than return an email. (Of course, you could argue that those employers might suck and therefore following instructions is a good way to screen out employers who don't have their act together -- but that's a hard argument to make when you really need a job.)

I've heard from plenty of people who called an employer to follow up on their application and had an interview scheduled on the spot. These employers are reinforcing bad behavior and ruining it for the rest of us, and I wish we could fine them or something, but it doesn't change the fact that it happens.

So I'm hesitant to tell people that they shouldn't do this just because it annoys me. The best I can say is to pay attention to all the signals you're getting about how this employer operates and make your decision accordingly.

What do others think?

Friday, September 4, 2009

sure, ignore those job application instructions, we love that here

When job postings give you specific instructions, they really mean it. So, for instance, if my job posting requests a "one-page cover letter," what I want from you is a one-page cover letter.

So it's a bad idea to send me this:

"I apologize in advance. I simply could not reduce the length of my cover letter to one page."

Really, you simply could not? If you really couldn't, that signals a real communication problem that makes you an unappealing candidate. But far more likely is that you just preferred not to and decided that therefore the instructions could be ignored.

Uncontrollable verbosity and a disregard for specific instructions are not ways you want to introduce your candidacy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

the post in which I accuse everyone of incompetence

A reader writes:

Why are recruiters idiots, he asks in absolute frustration?

I talked to a recruiter today that didn't let me continue the application process or talk to me after learning I didn't have a specific experience on my resume. I'm a programmer, and this is experience that A) is not coding and B) is similar to other experience on my resume. It would be like me putting WordPress on my resume and the recruiter saying, "Well, I don't see MovableType on here so, I'm sorry, but..."

Granted this all means I'm glad I don't work there. Still, how does it get to this? Why do recruiters insist on falling back to cookie cutter molds for the people they are looking for?

People looking for a job are people. They have different experiences, knowledge sets, ways of learning. I have never understood why one specific thing should make or break an application process. Find out what the person is like from the resume and by talking to them, not by a word search.

Well, you're talking about some recruiters, not all. And yes, some aren't good at their jobs, just like you'll find people who aren't good at their jobs in every profession.

This is why I think it's good to talk to the hiring manager whenever possible; HR people and recruiters don't always fully understand what the hiring manager is looking for. The good ones do -- but again, they're not all good. (The hiring managers aren't always good either, of course -- but at least then you're cutting out the middle man.)

You can try to educate the person by explaining that the experience she's looking for has the same foundation as your experience in ___, and it's possible that might work. But it's also possible that she might be the kind of person who won't or can't think outside the checklist she's working off of.

On the other hand, it's also possible that they really do have a good reason for requiring some very specific skill or experience that you can't see from the outside.

But really, think about how much incompetence you see in daily life. It's everywhere. I suspect the rate of incompetence among recruiters is no more or no less than in any other profession. It's just more frustrating when the person in question is someone who has your career in their hands (understandably).

I'm sure that cheered you up.

listing yourself as a job reference

I need to call your immediate attention to this comment from M. left on a recent post:
In the last year, many (candidates) have been listing their mothers as references, and I even had one student last week list HERSELF as a reference. Has anyone else ever seen this?
Listing yourself as a reference is the funniest thing I've heard all week. I could not love this more. (Not in a you-should-do-it way.) I would love to get a reference call for myself! Who better to speak glowingly of me?

And while we're on the subject of things you should not be doing that I've seen done this week, you also should not write in your cover letter that your competence can be seen "in the twinkle in my eyes." (Real quote seen yesterday.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

career counselor is advising me to lie

A reader writes:

I was told by a career counselor that if asked in an interview why I left my previous job I should answer that I was laid off. I was actually fired, but the company did not dispute my claim for unemployment so I am now collecting. I feel to tell an interviewer that I was laid off is misleading, but this career counselor stated that in the eyes of the government since I am collecting it is ok to say I was laid off, since technically you cannot collect if you are fired.

That career counselor, unfortunately, is an idiot. I hope you weren't paying this person.

First of all, you can indeed collect unemployment if you were fired, at least in most states -- as long as you weren't fired for gross or deliberate misconduct. If you were fired for mere incompetence, bad fit, etc., you can get unemployment.

Second, prospective employers don't care if the government has deemed you eligible to collect unemployment or not. You can't lie and say you were laid off when you weren't. What's going to happen when they call your employer to check references and are told you were fired? When they come back to you to ask about the disparity (if they even bother), are you going to say, "Well, they didn't challenge my unemployment so I've decided to call it a lay-off"?

This "career counselor" is giving you wrong facts and really bad advice. Run.