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Friday, April 30, 2010

should I extend my internship?

A reader writes:

I am currently doing an unpaid internship that I am receiving college credit for this semester. I really enjoy working with my manager and after reading your previous post on extending the length of an internship, I decided to ask my manager about it. She was fine with it when I asked; however, she is always so busy between meetings, dealing with employees and doing her own work that I am often left just sitting there in her office watching her or I am asked to leave when she has an important meeting with someone. It's an internship where I am given random stuff to do so I do not have an actual desk/computer or any routine work that I can do when I come in. I tried talking to her about it a bit, but she only admited that her work keeps her busy.

What I like about it is that I can receive credit for a class and also, she really does try to do her best to make time for me when she can, but I feel like I am in her way or bothering her in her work at times. Is this worth extending the internship?

Well, first, I don't think you should make your decision based on a worry that you're in your manager's way. If you are, that's her issue to deal with -- by not saying yes to the extension. You're better off just having faith that she'll tell you if she can't accommodate the internship anymore, since otherwise you risk driving yourself crazy worrying that you're secretly burdening her.

Now, as for whether or not to extend the internship: It depends on what you want to get out of it. If you feel like you're learning things and getting useful experience, then sure. But otherwise, I would move on and look at other interning or volunteer opportunities that will benefit you in ways that this one isn't. I can't actually tell from your letter whether you feel like you're getting much out of this one or not; much of what you wrote sounds like it's not the most fruitful experience for you, but you do say that you're enjoying it, and I can't tell if you're bored or not, so a lot depends on that.

However, if you do want to stay, look for ways to improve the experience. Do you see projects that might be useful for you to take on? Or can you talk to her about whether there's something that you might work on long-term so that she doesn't need to spend time coming up with ways to occupy you? The best project in this situation would be something that would (a) benefit the company in some way, (b) not require tons of guidance from her, (c) take a good chunk of your time, and (d) not be high-risk, meaning that if it doesn't go perfectly, nothing disastrous will happen (so that she won't feel the only way you could do it is with a lot of guidance or oversight from her). 

But you can also always look at other internships out there. You might end up in something you like better, so I'd take a look at what other options you have as well. Good luck!

in which I am accused of being a bitter old woman

Someone does not like me very much and thinks I may be "older" and bitter.

Ha ha.

how to use someone else's contact when applying for a job

A reader writes:

My question is about using a contact that is a few degrees removed from me personally. She is an executive at an organization where I recently applied for a job with whom my godmother briefly worked several years ago.

My godmother instructed me to remind the executive who she was and ask whatever questions I wanted to ask via e-mail. I am not sure how to ask "do I have a chance at this job?" and "if I don't, how can I in the future?" in a way that's not greedy or entitled. My ideas are to ask for an informational interview or attach my resume and cover letter and ask if she has any advice for someone interested in work at the organization in the future, but I want to do so in a way that's as polite and gracious as possible. I guess I could also give her an out by saying if she's not available, I'd love to learn more from one of her colleagues at the organization who might have more time.

On the one hand, I don't want to ask for too much given that my connection to her is not really that strong. On the other, I do want to use the "in" if possible -- the org has a mission I'm really committed to and I devour materials like their e-mail alerts. Do you have any ideas for best practices on using these kinds of contacts and what to say when you make the initial contact?

Well, the best way to use the contact is probably to have your godmother herself reach out to her and recommend you. She should forward your application materials and explain that you recently applied for a position there, and then ideally throw in some reasons for why she recommends you (for instance, that you're smart, passionate about their mission, etc.).

In addition to that, you should also email her yourself and say that ___ recommended that you contact her personally, that you recently applied for a position with them, and that you would love any advice that she might be able to offer you. This may cue her to tell you something useful, like that they're really looking for people with a background in __ for this position but that they have an unadvertised position for __ that you might be perfect for, or who knows what. Or she may simply recommend to whoever is doing the hiring for this position that they take a look at you.

Definitely mention in your email to her what you wrote here about devouring their email alerts. Nonprofits love hearing that, and she will definitely take time to look at your application if you say that. (It won't get you the job if you're not well-matched for it, but it will get you attention, which is the first step, and it will make you more attractive than otherwise equally qualified candidates.)

Regarding informational interviews, I'm not a huge fan, as I think people too often ask for them when what they really mean is "will you interview me for a job?"  But in this case, because you're sincerely interested in working at this particular organization and are committed to its mission, it might be a useful thing to do. But wait until the hiring for this job is over, because otherwise you'll come across as if you're just trying to get an interview under false pretenses. If you don't get this job, absolutely reach out to her again, tell her how much you'd like to work there in some capacity, and ask if you can buy her coffee to pick her brain. (But make sure you have a plan for what you're going to ask.)

I don't think you need to worry about sounding greedy or entitled; you don't sound that way at all, and because you're so wary of coming across that way, you almost certainly won't. Good luck!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

the problem with job-hopping

Nick Corcodilos and Mark Suster take on the myth that "job hopping doesn't matter," and they're right. Read Nick's take and Mark's take -- both of which are excellent.

update from reader whose boss wouldn't let her go on vacation

There was a lot of interest in the letter from the person whose boss refused to let her go on a pre-planned vacation, so I wanted to point out that she has posted an update in the comments over there. It's here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

are online application processes avoidable?

A reader writes:

Is there a way to get around what seems to be some very ridiculous online application processes? Redundant questions (like what grade school you attended, and major declared!) make me want to put a shoe through my computer screen. I'm applying for positions that demand skilled labor and have whipped up some pretty attention-getting letter and resume material (both verbally and visually). Having to turn this effort into plain text pasted into type fields ruins my layout efforts, breaks my heart, and not to mention, decimates all the work I did to try and stand out from the crowd.

But I never say die. I've dug around and have usually found the business email address of the company's HR screener or even the likely person I'd be reporting to — and even from the companies that are working really hard to stay anonymous. I then send my stuff as an attachment in an email. I have a pretty good subject heading, and figured if I got this in my box I'd open it even out of curiosity. My rationale is that I'm hoping the strong content of my letter and resume will grab the person's attention enough to want to just contact me themselves (or pass it on to HR) since this is who I'd likely be reporting to anyhow.

Is this kind of boldness (and what I like to think of as ambitiousness) in reality ruining any chance of getting contacted? 

In some cases, probably. In other cases, maybe not. Different companies work differently. At some places, if you don't use the online application system (which they required you to use for a reason, such as that they can't get you into their applicant tracking system otherwise), you're not going to get considered. At other places, that may not matter so much. 

But does this come across as particularly bold or ambitious? Candidly, not really; aggressive, yes, but that's different from bold or ambitious. And you risk coming across as an "instructions don't apply to me" type.

I'm further worried by your mention of "attention-getting" visuals and a curiosity-inducing subject-line. Sometimes these things can work, but when they don't, they can be really bad. And the owners of the bad ones traditionally are poor judges of whether or not theirs fall in that category.

I get that you're trying to stand out in a crowded field. But the better way to do that is by being a really strong candidate, and I get the sense that you might be putting more of an emphasis on gimmicks. 

(And think about the type of manager who you're self-selecting for by using this approach -- one who responds to gimmicks over merit.)

If you really want to grab attention, find a connection to this job or company and have them personally recommend you to the person doing the hiring. That's going to serve you a lot better than a notable subject line or a visually stunning resume.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

just tell me your real name

Okay, this one is for college students and recent grads.

Someone along the way, someone gave you the idea that it's unprofessional to use anything but your full, given name, even if everyone in your life calls you something else. While this is sort of adorable, you should drop this idea.

It's disconcerting to go through the whole interview process with Katherine and hire her, only to discover on her second day of work that she's Katie. Or weirder, to discover that the William who I spent several weeks talking with, and who I now know as William, actually goes by his middle name, Peter.

There's nothing unprofessional about middle names, or about Katie, Jim, Liz, or whatever your nickname is. This isn't like school where you have to register with your full and complete birth name.  We're all adults here; just tell me what to call you and don't confuse me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

job offers and lengthy pre-planned vacation time

A reader writes:

I find myself in a really tight position here. I am going to an interview tomorrow for a job that I would really like. However, in less than a month I’m going on a pre-planned family visit in China for a little over a month (May 21 to Jun 29). It is nerve wracking because I do not expect things to happen so close to each other.

I already have a job where they say they will be happy to keep me. So even if they do not hire me I am not going to be jobless. But I really want to get a job that is more in line with my degree.

I am really irritated right now and I hope you can help me out a little.

Don't be irritated. The situation is just going to (maybe) require you to make a clear choice between what's more important to you: the trip or the job.

Now, if the trip were a week or two, it would likely be a non-issue. But given how long it is, you're right to be prepared for it to give them pause. Of course, it depends on how long they take to make a decision too; the longer it takes, the safer your trip gets. Most employers are willing to wait a month for the right person to start and sometimes a bit longer. 

In any case, here's what to do:

1. Go on the interview. Don't mention the trip; you don't need to give them a reason to discard you at this stage.

2. After the interview, start figuring out whether or not you even want the job (you never want to decide you do before you've ever interviewed anyway; that's like deciding you want to marry someone hot you see on the street and have never spoken to). And if you do want the job, do you want it enough to either cancel your trip or shorten it, should it come to that?

3. If you get a job offer and you want to accept it, explain that you're in a bind because of this pre-planned trip. And if you're willing, tell them you're willing to shorten the trip and negotiate to see how far out you can push the start date.

But ultimately this is going to require you to be really clear in your own head about what you want more. And clarity isn't such a bad thing.

[By the way, if they haven't made a decision by mid-May, let them know you're going out of the country on May 21 but will be checking email (you'll be checking email, right?) so they can reach you.]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

was this interviewer out of line?

A reader writes: 

At a recent interview, I was asked to explain a project that I completed at my previous employer.

I used the website redesign project as an example since it was an important and valued project for the company. I explained that I did 75% of the project, re-wrote content, and created three possible designs using a web design vendor. Then, per my supervisor’s instruction (my supervisor was #3 in charge of the company, Chief Sales Officer), I gave a detailed presentation to the entire management team of 15. During the meeting, the management team provided 15 different opinions. So, I returned to the drawing board and made some changes. Then, my supervisor and the CEO reviewed everything and provided final approval. As the head of marketing for the company, I had to follow these procedures for many projects.

The interviewer asked why I needed to present my project to a large team and gather so many opinions. He judged me on the management style and operational structure of my previous employer. Since I was not the CEO of my previous employer, I did not establish the operational procedures or review procedures – since I did not have ultimate authority. Don’t you think the interviewer was out of line?

What would you have done?

Well, so much here depends on tone and context. Sure, he might have meant it as criticism of you (which would have been unfounded, I agree). But he also might not have meant it that way at all. I can imagine it being more of a sincere request for more information, or even just a musing on why your company structured it that way. So the question alone, without context or tone, isn't inherently out of line.

Now, if he was judging you for your employer's procedures, and seemed immune to your explanation that you didn't control those, that's a bit unfair. On the other hand, it's also possible that he's specifically seeking someone who has experience doing that type of work with more autonomy, who knows.

Overall, though, this doesn't sound too horrific to me. I wouldn't focus too much on it.

can I ask HR to better explain their application instructions?

A reader writes:

I've been looking for a position for a few months and I've found the advice on your site invaluable in my efforts.

I am finding that often requirements for the submission of an application are written very vaguely and I want to make sure that I get them right. However, most of the online applications do not list an email address to which I can address inquiries. 

So my question is this: If I am able to find a contact address through some kind of search engine for corporate contact information (which is unverified).  Is it acceptable to send an email there with inquiries if no method of contact for HR is given on the company website or on the application itself?

I really don't recommend this, for a couple of reasons:

1. First, depending on the company, your email may not ever reach HR if you just send it to a general corporate email address. I'm not defending that -- I think companies should have well-trained employees who can recognize who a query is intended for and pass it along to the correct division promptly -- but competence is often lacking in the world, particularly when people don't feel something is their responsibility. And if it does reach HR, you may not ever get an answer anyway because HR is often swamped and doesn't have time to answer every question from candidates they don't even know they're interested in yet (again, not defending, just stating reality).

2. Far more importantly though, I question the idea of asking for clarification about the application instructions in the first place, because I think you risk looking like a pain in the ass. Look, I know some job ads appear to have been created by someone with zero command of the written language. But they're rarely impossible to figure out how to reply to, and if you're finding this "often," that tells me that you're over-thinking this. If you write to them asking for help understanding what they want (when they're getting flooded with applications from people to whom the instructions didn't give pause), some managers are going to sigh and think you're going to need hand-holding every time they give you an assignment. You want to show self-sufficiency and confidence here.

Now, maybe I'm wrong and you're truly running into loads of undecipherable instructions. If so, post an example or two in the comments section and we'll see if we can help. But I think this is a case where the best advice is to make an educated guess about what they're asking for and push forward.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

how to take vacation when there's always work to be done

A reader writes:

Summer's almost here, and I'm meant to be taking a week off for holiday. The trip is booked, it's been approved months ago by my boss, I've scheduled my requested time with an eye to our work cycle and done my best to get everything done and covered before I'm gone. However, two days before departure, my manager says perhaps I can't go, as we are not as far along as she'd hoped (it's impossible to do a month's load of work in three weeks, and while I attempted to get all of it done and create the minimal amount of stress and bother for those left behind, there is still work to be done of mine in that week I'm away that will have to be covered by someone else). She says I can either not go, or be available during my leave at all times for work, or I can pay, out of my own pocket, for a freelancer to come in to backfill me.

There may be no way to save this vacation, however I wonder: how does one responsibly actually take some time off? I haven't had a holiday in nearly two years for this exact reason, that every time I try, there always seems to be more work or responsibilities that only I can attend to that can't be put on hold even for a weekend. How does a responsible employee in a management position get away for a break?

Well, the real way is that one works for an employer who recognizes the importance of time off.

Did you make any agreement with your manager about how much you'd have done before you left, and she just discovered that you didn't meet that agreement? Because that would be the only thing that would justify her now telling you that you can't go.

But I'm betting that that's not the case, because her suggestion that you hire a freelancer at your own expense is a little absurd.

The nature of many jobs is that there's never a time where all the work is done and where you can take a vacation without some accommodations being made, no matter how well you plan for it in advance. But because good managers recognize that it's in the employer's best interest to have well-rested and recharged employees, they find ways to help employees take time off anyway. It's in their best interest not only because employees who get breaks from work generally do a better and more focused job in the long run, but also because good people will eventually leave if they're working in a culture that doesn't support their quality of life. And good management is about getting good results in the long run, not just the short-term.

I recommend addressing this head-on with your boss: "I haven't been able to have a vacation in two years because it's so hard to get away, and obviously that's not sustainable in the long-term. Can we talk about how to arrange things so that I can plan for some time off with confidence?" Sometimes some bosses are so caught up in the day-to-day rush of work that they need prodding to step back and look at long-term needs like this. By helping frame the issue for them, you can sometimes come to a good solution that everyone is happy with. But if you get the sense that you're never going to be able to be confident you can keep vacation plans, or if it's given only begrudgingly, or will be so rare that your mental health will slowly degrade until one day you'll just need to run screaming from the building -- well, this is not a great employer. So make your decisions accordingly.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a tale of bad interviewer behavior, this time with reference abuse

A reader writes:

After a 45-minute phone interview with a small non-profit in another state, I was invited to interview in-person. The interviewer contacted me two days prior to the interview to request that I provide the following to her, in less than 24 hours:
- Phone numbers for four references, who were then subjected to their own 45-minute interview prior to my in-person interview. (Two of them have since indicated they cannot be a reference for me again as they were offended and put off - I would have warned them but I had no idea that would happen!)
- A complete executive level communications plan. (I provided 10 pages).
- Two writing samples on a topic of the interviewer's choice, written in two different styles.

To comply with these demands, I had to rearrange my work schedule, already crammed by the planned out-of-town interview. I lost business, and a lot of sleep.

When I reached the interview, they informed me that I would be in back-to-back 35-minute interviews with SIX people, one of whom was the prior holder of the position. Then I would lead a strategy session. After all that, they told me they'd let me know in two weeks.

After three weeks, they told me the position was no longer available. I found out they kept the prior person, who was, unsurprisingly, a rather unpleasant interview who spent the group session literally making unpleasant faces in response to my answers, although I tried to be as tactful as possible.

I guess all you can do is laugh, but I have two questions:

1) Do you think this was some sort of shock-and-awe interview system, that I failed?
2) Is there a way to reassure my references this won't happen again? Or should I just try to develop new ones? I really feel awful!

For that matter, if I can throw in a third question, should someone request my references prior to the interview again, is there a way I can tactfully find out whether they're planning to ambush them prior to even meeting me?


No, I don't think it was an intentional shock-and-awe approach. I think it was just bad hiring.  Where to begin...

Warning sign number one was when they gave you less than 24 hours to provide fairly involved work, without any notice or any consideration that you might have other commitments for that time. That screams "we're self-centered and think we hold all the cards, so prepare yourself for further inconsideration from us."

And of course treating candidates poorly indicates an employer isn't particularly strategic about hiring, which was further backed up when they did lengthy reference checks before they even interviewed you. It's silly to do that before an interview -- a smart employer waits until they know they're strongly interested in a candidate before investing that sort of time. Plus, once they know the candidate better, they may find there are specific things they want to ask her references about. Talking to references before an interview denies them that opportunity (not to mention potentially wastes the references' time).

I suggest contacting your references and apologizing profusely. Tell them you had no idea this was going to happen, that your experience with the company after that indicated that they weren't the sort of company you'd want to work for anyway, and that you're terribly sorry that the company was so inconsiderate of their time. Ask them to please forgive what happened.  And they should -- this is obviously not your fault. The two references who have said they won't speak on your behalf again -- what's up with them? This is obviously the employer's fault, not yours, and it's not as if there's something about you that's likely to provoke this sort of thing again in the future. Apologize profusely and ask if they'll reconsider; if they won't, they weren't great references to start with anyway. Great references are your champions and want to help you.

And yes, in the future it's absolutely okay to request that your references not be contacted until the employer is seriously interested in making you an offer. It's reasonable to want to protect your references from fatigue.

Friday, April 16, 2010

retaliation for not accepting previous job offer?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a position in a company. A few months ago, I had interviewed for a different position in another division within the same company and received an offer. I reflected on where I wanted to go with my career and what I am presently working on and decided that this was not an opportunity that would help me move forward career-wise. I explained that to the recruiter and the hiring manager at the time, when turning down that offer.

Back to my applying for a different position with them now. When the hiring manager for the new position discussed my application with the hiring manager for the previous position and the HR person handling that previous position, apparently they raised a large number of objections and ultimately convinced the new hiring manager to not extend an offer. I also know that the new hiring manager was extremely interested in hiring me because I was an employee referral and was very impressed when we met for a brief two hour chat.

Is this kind of retaliation legal? What connection does a previous job offer have to do with another position in another division even though they are within the same company?

Yes, it's legal. Their reasons could be petty (taking it personally that you turned down an earlier offer) or rooted in something legitimate: for instance, maybe they felt that you hadn't been straight with them about your interest level for the other job earlier in the process, and that you'd wasted their time when you'd never had serious intentions of taking that job if offered. If they feel that way, they could be right, or they could be misinterpreting in an uncharitable way, or they could be flat-out wrong.

(By the way, one way to try to head that off when turning down an offer is to explicitly assure them that your interest in the position had been strong and genuine all the way through.)

But the real question here is whether there's anything that you can do about it now. It may be too late, but if they haven't yet firmly closed the door, it might be worth reaching out to the hiring manager for the second position and say that you're worried that the two others are reacting to the fact that you turned down their earlier offer, that your reasons for doing so were ____, and that that doesn't apply to this new position because _____.

Good luck!

Monday, April 12, 2010

does a request for my references mean anything?

A reader writes:

I know you've answered a plethora of questions regarding references.... but. I had a phone interview last week with the person who would be my hiring manager (VP of Marketing). It went very well, and she invited me into the office for an on-site interview. The on-site interview entailed interviewing with first the Marketing Director, followed by the Marketing Manager whom I would be replacing, and then lastly with the VP Marketing who I phone interviewed with and would be my boss.

The interview overall went very well. When I was having my last interview with the VP Marketing who'd be my boss, she closed the interview by asking me to email her a list of references! I did so that night. However, the VP was clearly unable to gain feedback from the other 2 interviewers because they were all back to back in the same day. I'm being optimistic... but how common is it for someone at the VP level to ask for references if they are not serious about hiring you? It's been 3 days and I'm getting antsy. I know my references haven't been called, because I've been following up with them.

I know you aren't a clairvoyant psychic, but if you could, please provide some insight as to how common it is for interviewers to ask for references, and then do nothing? Never check them? Either because someone better has come along? Or it was just a formality? I do have a feeling that I was one of the first people that they interviewed based on their answers to my questions (a little uncertain of themselves with their reply to say a question about what the preferred method of communication is within the team?) When would it be appropriate to follow up? And if so, shall I mention that they haven't checked my references?

Okay, calm down. You're doing that thing that people sometimes do after a date where they micro-analyze every word to try to figure out whether the other person liked them or not.

The reference request, I'm sorry to say, probably doesn't mean much of anything.

Many interviewers ask for references at the end of an interview as a matter of routine, unless the candidate completely bombed. This is so that once they are ready to pick a finalist and check references, they don't lose any time; they already have the info they need to make the calls. If you want, in the future when you're supplying references, you can say, "Can you give me an idea of when my references could expect to hear from you? That way I can make sure they're available, or supply alternate ones if they're not going to be." Often that will elicit useful information, such as "We generally only call references of our finalists, and we'll know who our finalists are and start calling references next week."

By the way, even if you are their top candidate, three days is nothing. These things often take a while. Did you ask them what their timeline is for next steps? It's really important to ask that at the end of an interview, because it will save you from obsessing over why they haven't gotten back to you yet, when in fact they might not even be planning to move forward for three weeks.

(And I've vowed not to answer any more questions about how to follow up because I've answered it enough to bore myself and probably others, but you can find information on following up here.)

And last, no, do not point out to them that they haven't checked your references yet. They know that.

Calm down, breathe, distract yourself with other things. Good luck!

Friday, April 9, 2010

how do I explain depression to prospective employers?

A reader writes:

I have bipolar depression, and I am starting to interview for jobs. I recently graduated college but my grades suffered toward the end of my education because of bipolar depression. It affected me for one year before I was diagnosed. I am now starting the job interview process and wondering what to say about my GPA dip, and semester withdrawal. My early college career went very well, but suffered towards the end. My overall GPA suffered, but my major GPA remained at 3.00. It was the bipolar depression that made my grades suffer, not excessive partying.

How do I talk about this issue with future employers, or do I not bring it up? I am on medication now and have been doing much better. I received A's and B's my last semester after starting the medication. What do I say or do in an interview?

Treat it like any other health issue, and explain that you had health issues during that time that affected your grades, but that the problem was resolved and your grades returned to their previously high levels.

That said, many, many, many employers won't care about your GPA anyway and it'll never even come up. So don't stress too much about this. In fact, you could even just leave it off your resume; if someone cares about it, they'll ask, and you can give them this context simultaneously. Good luck!

how to list temp work on a resume

A reader writes:

Do you have any thoughts on how to list temporary work on a resume? I've been reading Ask a Manager for about a year now, and I can't even tell you how much it's helped me in my transition from college student/intern to professional. I always really appreciate that your thoughtful, honest advice, so I'd really like to know what you think.

I graduated in spring 2009, but have yet to find a permanent job in my chosen field. I'm still looking, but I've also been working through a temp agency to fill the gap. My question is: How do you, as a manager, like to see temporary work listed on a resume? Is there any way I can use it to my advantage?

I'm concerned that 1) it reflects badly on me that I have yet to find permanent employment 2) I don't want to crowd out my more relevant internship experience by listing a number of less relevant, although more recent, temp jobs.

I know you're really busy, so I understand if you don't have time to reply. However, I just want to say again how much I appreciate your blog. It should be required reading for every young professional!

It should, shouldn't it?

There are a couple of different ways to list temp work on a resume, which I'll get to in a minute. But first let me address your concern that it reflects poorly on you that you haven't found permanent employment yet: It does not. The job market has been horrible for a while now. Recent grads, in particular, are having a tremendously tough time. For most of them, it's not their fault. As I've written before, for a lot of people right now, it's not about them; it's about math. Any hiring manager who doesn't recognize that is an ass.

Okay, so back to how to list temp work. It depends on how long-term your assignments are. If you've had some relatively long-term assignments (more than a couple of weeks in one place), I'd list it like this:
Acme Architecture (via Temps Inc.) -- August - October 2009
If your assignments have been more short-term, then I'd list the temp company itself as the employer, followed by a list of bullet points of the types of responsibilities you've had at various companies through them. Like with anything on your resume, make sure you really sell what you've been doing during that time.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

HR told me they're taking a risk in hiring me

A reader writes:

I recently received a job offer from the HR person of the company that I interviewed with. She said "they are taking a risk in hiring me and offering me the job." I thought it was a strange statement.

When the managers in that company discuss me, they can say "OK, let's take a risk and hire this person." But would a HR make that statement to a candidate when offering the job?

I think it is a negotiation tactic so that I won't ask for a higher salary, work my ass off to prove I am not a risky person, and don't ask for raise for a couple of years.

What is your opinion? Interested to know.

It's one of two things. Either it's a negotiation tactic, like you suspect, designed to make you not ask for more money, or it's an awkward attempt at a compliment. I can think of a couple of times when I've said to a candidate who knew her experience was on the light side, "We had candidates with more experience than you, but ultimately we were really impressed with your ____ and think you would excel in the job." It's possible that the HR person was going for something like that and screwed up the delivery.

On the other hand, do you think you're a risk? If it's clear that you're not the traditional ideal candidate for the role but you pushed for them to take a risk on a new approach, then maybe she was just acknowledging that. But if that were the case, you probably wouldn't be asking me.

And frankly, the reality is that every hire is a risk to one degree or another. People can blow you away in an interview and then crash and burn once on the job. But hiring managers don't normally feel the need to remind candidates of that when making an offer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

my company promised me a raise and won't come through

A reader writes:

I started a job at $10 an hour. I took the job because I needed income, and wasn't planning to stay for very long. I liked it, because it was a 10 minute drive to work, and steady pay. I was offered another job that would be $14 an hour, but it was a 30 minute drive. I offered the place I was working a chance to keep me on by meeting the offer, because I liked the office and the short drive.

My boss's reponse was this email:
We would like to keep you as an Administrative Assistant with BUSINESS. I can offer you a full-time position as an Administrative Assistant but only at the $12.00 per hour mark right now due to the limited duties. Once we finish the mailings which should be in a month or so (based on your speediness), we will have the option to increase you to your desired wage of $14.00 per hour. I will have HR manager put a formal promotion letter for the Administrative Assistant position in place to you by tomorrow. Please confirm that you will be staying and that you are accepting this promotion. Thank you.
Well, this was well over a month ago. Plus, during this time, I've been taking on a lot of additional duties, and we've moved the office (in a very quick and unexpected move) so that my current commute is now 35 minutes. We moved because the rent would be much lower and would save the company a lot of money.

I asked my boss about the raise and was told it might be two months now... and to ask again in a couple days. I asked again in a couple days and I've been told that the company can't afford it right now. I'd just have to stay at $12 an hour.

I'd like to know if I have any recourse open to me, legally, about getting the raise I've earned. Or should I just start looking for another job?

I'm not a lawyer, and you may want to consult one, but at a minimum, this is terribly unfair: You turned down a job specifically because they made you a promise to increase your rate of pay. It sounds like you have that in writing.

There may be a legal issue here. On the other hand, even if there is, you can pretty much expect your relationship with your employer to go to hell if you bring in a lawyer. (Fair? No. Reality? Yes.)

I'd handle it this way: Go to your boss and explain that you're very concerned because you turned down another offer at their request, specifically because they offered you a pay increase. Say that you turned down the more lucrative position because your boss gave you her word, and you're asking her to honor it, since you accepted it in good faith.

Now, I suppose it's possible that the company really is in such dire financial straits that they can no longer afford to make good on their promise -- in which case, you'll need to decide whether or not you want to stay. But if they can't afford to pay you this extra $80/week, I'd be questioning whether you or any of their employees have much job security anyway.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

did I blow my chances in this phone interview?

A reader writes:

I received an email on one of my job applications around 4:45pm. The HR Manager asked that I called back to her in regards to the position because she would like to "discuss the position and my qualifications." As I applied through a generic job board, I had not left a phone number for her to call back.

I was at a very busy coffeeshop, but looking at the time-constraint in the evening, I called her back immediately anticipating that we would schedule an interview at the company sometime the next day.

The call did not go to the voicemail and she picked up the phone immediately. She asked me if I have time for a few question, which I said yes to. Minutes into the conversation, I realized she was giving me a full-blown interview, asking me questions like "Why do I like this industry?", "When was the last time you turn a customer's experience around?"

I was so taken back that my answers were less than impressive. Furthermore, everyone around me sitting at their laptops were looking and listening to me, causing me unnecessary stress by these personal questions.

I apologized and told her I was not prepared and not in the correct state of mind for the questions, suggesting that I would much prefer to meet face-to-face. She seemed very annoyed, saying "You were the one who called me" and "You said you have time for questions". She also stressed that this was not an interview but only a few questions to know me better. (?)

In the end she said she would take my call again the next day. Although I did the best I could for her questions, admitted mistake, learned from the experience yesterday and apologized repeatedly, I have a feeling she would not call back. When asked the time frame I would get a hear back, she said she could not tell, and there is a chance I won't hear back at all.

I had read all about stress interviews - getting seated in a broken chair, pretending to be completely uninterested, etc. Yet, I feel that I should have a right to be prepared to better connect my strengths and ability to the job.

This struck me as a very bad experience. Any chances of recovery? Should I give up or avoid this company altogether?

I'd move on. It's clear that there was a miscommunication here, but I can understand why she expected you to be ready to answer questions when you called her back; it sounds like she had asked you to call to talk about the position, not to schedule an in-person interview. (Many employers, myself included, do phone screens first and don't want to spend time on an in-person interview until that initial screening has indicated it would be worth the time.)

I don't think this was a stress interview (although it clearly ended up having that effect, unintentionally!). Rather, she assumed that if you were returning the call, you were prepared to talk. At that point, the best thing to do -- if you didn't feel you could proceed with the phone interview -- would have been to apologize and say that you had misunderstood, thought that she was calling to schedule an interview, and that you weren't currently somewhere where you could talk for long.

You said you feel that you "should have a right to be prepared to better connect your strengths and ability to the job." In hiring, you don't really have a right to anything, other than to not be subjected to illegal discrimination. Aside from that, employers can be as fair or unfair as they want (assuming they're non-union, non-government). But in this case, I don't even think that you even confronted unfairness -- just a misunderstanding. And as I've written before, little things necessarily take on disproportionate importance during these screenings, because the employer has so little information to go on.

The best thing you can do here is to move on with a better understanding of how to handle this in the future. Good luck!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

my boss is hostile and abusive and won't train me

A reader writes:

I recently stumbled across your blog and love it! I have read through many of your posts looking for advice on terrible, micromanaging bosses who communicate poorly, yell and belittle frequently, and seem to play favorites in the office.

I've been here less than a year and have never received any formal training. I was told that I was hired at a high level and should "just know". When I press for details or clarity, it is met with tremendous frustration and ridicule by the boss. I have had no experience in the industry and my boss knew that when she hired me. I get yelled at on a day to day basis. I am told my decisions are poor and that I don't look at the big picture. My boss frequently has other employees check my work. It's always degrading.

I can't really figure out the issues and have actually tried to ask her directly and have been open to feedback. Asking questions only inspires more hostility, so I've given up. I'm not even performing the type of work that was described to me during my job interview. I am trying to just keep a low profile as I search for other work.

Since the economy is so poor, I'm anticipating having to put up with more of this abuse for at least a few more months. I just want to make it as painless as possible. I can't really afford to be unemployed at this point. My question... much of your advice involves bringing HR into the situation. So, where do you go if the boss, the Senior Director of HR, is the problem?

Actually, I avoid recommending HR for issues like this. I'm a big fan of trying to work things out directly with your manager -- because while some HR types can help in situations like this, a lot can't ... and when you don't find that out until after you've already gone to them, it can poison the relationship with your boss further. So you really, really want to ask yourself what you know about what sort of track record you've seen HR (or in your case, another higher-level manager, someone senior to your boss) have with other people in situations like this. If you know they're discreet, fair, and willing to intervene when someone is being mistreated, ask for help. But if you aren't sure, be aware that it's a gamble.

Here's what I think is going on, based on the information here: Your boss hired someone without experience to do a job that requires experience, or at least training. And your boss is not just a jerk, but also a bad manager. And as a result, she's taking a problem of her own making -- hiring someone without the necessary experience -- and taking it out on you.

Yelling is never acceptable. Refusing to give you feedback or answer questions? Pretty much shooting herself in the foot, guaranteeing that the problems that are causing her so much frustration are going to continue. Keeping an employee who is clearly struggling, but not actually handling the situation (whether through coaching or training or even just candid conversations)? Really bad management. Dereliction of duty, in fact.

Because it's possible that you are indeed a really bad fit for this job. But a good manager would either provide you with training and coaching, and/or would have clear and straightforward conversations with you about what you need to be doing differently (eventually leading to a candid conversation about whether continued tenure in the role makes sense). But just keeping you around and being abusive? That screams "bad manager who doesn't know how to do her job."

(By the way, having others check your work and assigning you different tasks than what you were hired to do may be a reasonable response to realizing that you're not excelling at the work. But certainly not without talking to you about what's going on and why.)

So what do you do, while you're looking for another job? It's tough to say. If your boss were a better manager, the path would be pretty clear -- talk with her candidly about her obvious frustration, ask for feedback, and probably take the steps in this post on what to do if you think you're going to get fired.

But she's not a good manager, and speaking assertively with her about the situation might lead to her either exacting revenge further or just firing you. My best advice -- and it's not a great option -- is to document what's going on, so that if she does fire you, you have documentation of the fact that you've asked repeatedly for training and feedback but were refused and that she behaves abusively toward you. This could come in handy for (a) ensuring that you're eligible to collect unemployment in case the company contests it and (b) getting the company (someone over her head) to agree not to give you a negative reference.

And last, as you're looking forward to your next job, look back and ask yourself whether -- in retrospect -- you could have done anything to have avoided this situation before accepting the job. Were there warning signs? Did you not ask many questions about the training that you'd need? Did you not talk about the manager's style? Not to blame the victim, of course, and plenty of employers misrepresent things during the hiring process, but it's worth asking if there are ways to avoid a similar situation in the future.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this and hope you get out soon. Good luck!