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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

in rejecting job candidates, should I mention we selected an internal candidate?

A reader writes:

In notifying candidates (who were interviewed) that they were not chosen, do you think it's better or worse to let them know that we've selected an internal candidate for the position?

I'd come down on the side of more information being better than less information. Job seekers so infrequently hear anything from companies they've interviewed with, and I think if given the choice, most people would prefer to hear more rather than less about the reason they didn't get the job.

That said, it's worth noting that some job seekers get upset when they hear that the job went to an internal candidate, because they figure that you were planning to hire that person all along and just wasted their time. (Which, I want to note, is not always the case.)

But on the flip side of that, some job seekers will feel like this is a rejection that doesn't really reflect on them, which they will appreciate.

Anyway, I think as a general rule, more feedback is better than less, so I'd include it.

What do other people think -- would you want that info included in a rejection letter you received? Or would you wish they'd gone with something vaguer? 

My How to Get a Job ebook is here!

I threatened to do it, and now it's done: an e-book crammed full of all my thoughts on how to get a job.

If you've ever wished that you could look into the brain of a hiring manager to find out what you need to do to get hired, this guide is for you.

Inside, I give you step-by-step help through every stage of your job search, explaining at each step what a hiring manager is thinking and what they want to see from you.
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You'll learn things like:
  • what hiring managers are looking for when they ask common interview questions
  • how to talk about sensitive issues when you interview -- firings, bad bosses, "overqualification," and more
  • how to avoid companies that aren't a good fit
  • 6 ways you might be sabotaging your job search
  • 2 ways you can turn rejection to your advantage
If you put the advice in this guide into action, I think you'll find your job search goes differently.

In fact, read what people have said about the interviewing video and companion guide I released a few weeks ago:
"This morning my husband had an interview. I bugged him for over a week about watching your video and he ignored me. Yesterday, I twisted his arm and finally got him to watch it. He liked the advice so much he watched it a second time. He really took it seriously and followed all of the advice you gave ... He just called me to tell me the interview was done and that it had been the best interview he had ever had." -- Kim J. 
"When I first got to the interview and saw the interview questions (they had them written out for me), I thought they had taken their questions right from your guide! ... The fact that I had spent time thinking about my current job and how it relates to the job I had applied for, and about my work and areas that are strong vs areas that need improvement, really helped me in the interview. I didn't ramble as much as I normally do, I was able to present my strengths clearly and my weaknesses in as good of a light as possible, and I was happy to have a couple good questions for the interviewers at the end. No matter what happens, I am really glad I had your guide to help me through the process. Thank you again!" -- Becky N.
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Update: For those of you who have asked: It's a straight PDF (no Kindle or ebook reader is required).

Monday, August 30, 2010

the e-book is coming .... tomorrow!

Remember when I asked how you'd feel about a massive guide crammed so full of my advice on how to get a job that you'd never want or need to hear another word from me?

It's coming tomorrow!

Basically, if you want me to be your tour guide all through your job search, this is the book for you. You'll have me on your shoulder throughout your whole search, whether you want me there or not.

It'll launch here at 10 a.m. EST tomorrow, at a specially discounted price for the first two days.

Also, thank you to everyone who entered the contest to win a free copy! The winners -- who I've contacted individually as well -- are:
Chris F.             Joe K.
Johanna K.      Kirk B.
Mike K.            Pink P.

E-book! Hooray!

when customers speak to each other in a foreign language

A reader writes:

I would like your feedback on a common occurrence in our store. Sometimes a couple of customers will walk in whose native language is other than English. However, these customers do speak English quite well but choose to speak in the other language while they are being directly waited on by our employees. If they are trying on merchandise while we are right beside them to check fit, etc., more often than not they will “consult” their friend/family first (in the other language) before they tell us what they think, even though they are perfectly capable of expressing themselves to me, and anyone else, in English.

I find this behavior quite rude and at times like this I am ready to walk away until they are ready to converse in English. Of course, I instead stand there, gently prodding the customer in English in an attempt to understand what else I need to do to serve them. Although I feel irritated regarding the seeming rudeness, I find myself mostly frustrated that I cannot help our customer to the best of my ability because I don’t understand their language.

What is the best course of action to do in these situations? If you can address this in your blog I would be much obliged.

Um, they're your customers, not people who are there to socialize with you, right?  They're considering patronizing your business? I suggest letting them speak to each other in whatever language they're most comfortable in, and assuming that if they need something from you, they'll let you know in English.

Friday, August 27, 2010

calling a coworker at 10:30 p.m. while they're on vacation

A reader writes:

My husband called a co-worker Tuesday night after 10:30 pm and talked until almost midnight about business. This person was also on vacation. This was not an emergency call and I feel, regardless of whether the co-worker kept the communication going, that my husband was out of bounds in making this call. Please advise.

It totally depends on the culture of your husband's workplace.

At some offices, this would be beyond the pale. At others, this wouldn't be particularly strange (especially, for example, at a lot of start-ups). 

At my last job, many people would do some work from home at odd hours of the night (including me). I had one coworker who I knew often worked late at night, and sometimes he and I would find ourselves exchanging work-related emails at 11 p.m. and finally he'd suggest we jump on the phone to get something resolved faster. (I never suggested it, because as a manager, I didn't want to make anyone feel pressured to give up their nights that way. But if an employee initiated it, it was fine with me.) But that was just our culture, and it was the two of us in particular -- there were other employees who I never heard from after 6 p.m., and that was just fine too.

As for the vacation element, again it depends on culture. Sometimes I go on vacation and make it clear that this is a "don't bother me unless someone dies" type of vacation. Other times, I want to get away but know that my workload at that point means that the only way I can do it is if I remain available by phone -- and in those cases, I'm willing to make the trade-off of getting to fly off somewhere fun in exchange for remaining available for phone calls.

And there are certainly people who enjoy their work so much that they want to stay in touch while they're away. I've been that person myself, and I've worked at places like that; they do exist!

So it really depends on the workplace culture, and the preferences of specific people involved. 

Now, despite all that, if your husband had no basis for knowing that this coworker would be fine with a 10:30 p.m. work call, then yes, it was inappropriate. And even if that's not the case, if your husband has any authority over this coworker, he should be sensitive to the fact that the guy might not feel comfortable saying, "Hey, it's getting late and I'm on vacation. We need to wrap this up."  Or even, "Hey, this is my vacation. Stop calling me! We'll talk when I'm back." 

In general, people in positions of authority should bend over backwards to be respectful of people's off time, to encourage people to take "real" vacations, and to make it clear that working odd hours is truly 100% optional. So your husband's role in relation to the coworker is relevant.

But some people really do like working at odd hours. Some people do not. The question is where this guy stands.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

why long-distance job searching sucks and what you can do about it

A reader writes:

I am looking for a position in another city. I am applying for positions that I am well qualified for and would easily be asked for an interview if I was local. However it seems I keep getting turned away because I am out of state. I have stated in my cover letter that of course I will pay for all relocation costs but this does not seem like it is enough. Why I am not given a chance at these positions? It is quite frustrating. Any advice?

You've got to keep in mind that even local job-searching is really hard right now. In fact, I'm not so sure that you can assume that these are positions you "would easily be asked" to interview for if you were local -- not because I know anything about your qualifications, but because no one is having an easy time getting interviews right now, local or not.

But yes, the bar can be higher if you're not local -- although it really depends on the position. For entry-level jobs, a lot of employers will focus only on local candidates because there's no shortage of good ones, but for higher-level positions, most companies will consider non-locals. (And the higher level you go, the more that's assumed.) Are there some that won't? Of course, just like you can find some companies using other bad hiring practices too, but that doesn't mean they're the majority.

(That said, if I were choosing between two great candidates who were equally qualified in every way and I needed a deal-breaker, I'd go with the local person over the long-distance person -- because (a) they can generally start sooner and (b) if it ended up not working out, I'd feel a lot less guilty firing someone who didn't move for the job. But it's rare that two people are really so equally qualified.)

In any case, there are a few things non-local job-seekers can do that will help:

* State in your cover letter that you are planning to move to 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. State explicitly that you don’t need relocation assistance.

* On your resume, list your contact info like this:

Joe Smith
Relocating in October to Seattle
(555) 555-1212

But overall, keep in mind that the job market really sucks right now. Being long-distance does make it harder, but you've also got to factor in that a lot of good people aren't getting interviews right at home either.

should this job-seeker take out a newspaper ad to promote himself?

A reader writes:

I am thinking about trying to find a way to get myself advertised in a local newspaper. It would be either taking out an ad or finding another way within an opinion section or something of that sort. In this ad I would try to sell myself to local businesses with the hope that someone would read it and be impressed with my very broad background and maybe give me a chance. 

I know it sounds a little crazy but I was fired 10 months ago for refusing to lie to my customer to speed up the process of implementing changes in their software. I have been asked why I left my last job enough now that I am comfortable discussing it in an interview but I am noticing now that companies seem to be a little concerned with the 10-month and growing gap that is on my resume. I know this was my fault for not finding some type of volunteer work to do to fill the gap on my resume, but I also did not intend on being unemployed for such a long time.

I have created an anonymous email address that would be my only point of contact in the ad, just in case the entire thing backfires on me. Would this make me look too desperate? Is this a crazy idea? Would you send an email to a "hire me" ad that you saw in a local newspaper? 

Personally, it's very unlikely that I'd respond to a "hire me" newspaper ad, but then I don't like anything that feels salesy or gimmicky. I suppose that if (a) the person had the skill set and track record of achievement that I was looking for and (b) the ad really came across as professional, not like a stunt, I might -- but my skepticism is very high because I've never seen this done in a way that both (a) and (b) were true.

That said, not every employer would have that reaction. There are certainly stories of people who have made inroads with less-traditional tactics like this, like this billboard guy or this guy. I think to pull it off, though, you'd need to have really impressive skills and experience -- otherwise you're just grabbing attention without the needed substance to take it anywhere.

But I think a bigger point here is that since you're getting interviews, the problem that you're having isn't that you're not grabbing employers' attention initially -- it's closing the deal once you're in the interview. And I suspect the problem isn't the 10-month gap at all, since that's not stopping them from wanting to interview you. (Plus, that sort of gap is very common these days.)  It might be far more fruitful to figure out if the real problem is something that's going on in your interviews.

What do others think?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

stupid hiring practices: being a condescending jerk

A lovely anonymous commenter pointed out an outrageous article in the Wall St. Journal, headlined "Resume Overload? A Shortcut to Spot Best Hires."

In the article, the author -- a small business owner -- writes that when managers are inundated with resumes, they're left with "no clue as to how to cull through them all to select the best people." (Problem #1, but we'll get to that in a minute.) He writes:
For years I've used a special filtering technique to avoid this problem. My secret? In the ad (about three-quarters of the way down) I tell the applicants, "To prove that you're a meticulous reader, you have to include the following sentence when you send your resume: 'It is with my utmost respect I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.'"
His theory is that "including the sentence shows the applicant has read the entire ad and knows what the job entails and if they're qualified to fill it," screens out people who are just applying to everything they see, shows they pay attention to detail, and shows they follow directions.

Of course, it's also insulting and will drive away most good applicants, who don't want to work for an employer that treats them with condescension. ("My utmost respect"?  "Hereto surrender"?  Really?) And it betrays a complete lack of knowledge about how to hire good people -- which I suspect affects the rest of his hiring process too, once people jump through this condescending little hoop.

If you want to ensure that job applicants read your ad, aren't just resume-bombing, and pay attention to directions, there's a much less insulting method that achieves this: Ask them to include a cover letter that specifically addresses some relevant point, such as why they're interested in working for your company in particular, or why they'd excel at some specific aspect of the job. That will give you information you can actually use in evaluating their application, rather than forcing them to write a sentence that is just plain embarrassing.

And then, learn to hire.

If you're feeling clueless about how to screen candidates and select the right people, that is a sign that you need to expend some effort learning how to hire well. There are books, classes, mentors -- tons of resources that can teach you strategies to cull through applicants and identify the people best suited to the role you're hiring for. Effective hiring has nothing to do with gimmicks like this.

(Also, as a petty little side note now that I'm on a roll, I doubt he really wants a curriculum vitae; he wants a resume. He's just being pompous.)

The only bright side to this guy's strategy is that job-seekers can be grateful that he's so proactively outing himself as an ass, before they spend any time applying to work with him.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

can you be a good manager if you're shy?

A reader writes:

I'm shy. Sometimes people misinterpret this as aloofness or snobbery. Being outgoing and making friends with everyone I meet has never been a part of my personality. I just have a hard time making casual conversation (which is necessary for good relationships with coworkers), and I have a hard time in difficult/important professional conversations (which are necessary for good relationships with supervisors, AVPs, and troublesome clients). When it comes to work issues, I have plenty to talk about. When it comes to interacting with our clients it's also not a big deal--it is strange, but it feels like when I'm at work I put on my work hat. With my "work hat" on, I don't even stress about the interactions it just happens. But once I'm put into a more relaxed, social situation, I quickly run out of things to say....(at work anyways, with personal friends, this is not an issue).

At the same time, being shy has given me great strengths--I'm a fantastic listener, great attention to detail, I'm very focused, and great at observing other professional/political relationships and seeing where tensions and compromises exist.

What I'm wondering is, do you think that "shy" managers can succeed? To succeed do they need to totally overcome their shyness? Or do you think there is a way that I can work on the weaknesses pointed out above, and emphasize the strengths shyness has given me? I was asked 'where I want to go within the organization' after just 6 months of constant praise, and zipping through training that was supposed to take a whole year. I've already come a long way here, in my first professional job out of college--although I should add that I'm a late-twenties grad and I had 3 years of part-time experience as a student worker. My supervisor told me that she and her bosses recognize my potential and success, and they want to start molding and mentoring me for either mangement, or a higher technical/professional position, depending on my interests. I'm excited, surprised, and scared!! I'd love to try for management, I'd love to take on the challenege, but I'm concerned that my shyness would interfere with my ability to be successful.

This is a great question.

I don't think that shyness and being a good manager are mutually exclusive, as long as the shyness isn't cripplingly strong.

You say that you're generally comfortable with interaction as long as it's "work," but once it's a social situation, you get more shy. I think that's workable -- although you should be very sensitive to the fact that your employees might interpret your shyness in social situation as aloofness, and you should think about whether you can say/do things to counteract it. But in general, I think most employees care a lot more about whether their manager is fair, effective, and transparent than whether she comes to happy hour.

That's not to say that forming personal bonds doesn't help. But I think you'll find you form personal bonds through the act of working closely with people regardless, even if you never talk about life outside work. And frankly, most people respect their boss more when she keeps a clear boundary up between work and non-work anyway.

The one thing you wrote that potentially worries me is that you have trouble in difficult or important professional conversations. There are a ton of these sorts of conversations as a manager -- talking to someone about performance concerns, firing someone, responding to someone's request for a raise, giving feedback in general, delivering the news that a project hasn't been approved, and just generally being assertive about various needs. It's crucial to be able to do these conversations well, and they're ones that you don't want to hide behind email for.

However, everyone feels weird when they're first on the manager side of these conversations. Almost no one feels comfortable with them right off the bat; I think it takes most new managers close to a year to stop feeling weird about them, so you shouldn't assume that your discomfort at this prospect signals that you'd never be good at it.

But you do want to think really realistically about whether this is something you can see yourself getting comfortable with over time. You might surprise yourself that you're able to handle these just fine when your "work hat" is on. (Also, it's worth noting that these types of conversations are all about being effective and getting results, which I suspect is a motivator for you -- so maybe seeing them through that lens would help.) However, if you would dread these conversations, put them off, and suck at them when you finally had them -- even after practice -- management might not be the right direction. Because you do need to have those conversations, and if you put them off, you'll do your staff a disservice. 

I don't know how successfully you can predict how you'd handle these sorts of conversations until you're actually in the role, so one possibility would be to ease yourself in slowly, by starting out managing an intern or leading a team on a project, and see how that goes.

It would also be ideal if you were able to find a mentor to talk over these sorts of conversations with -- how do you do them, what do they sound like -- and even practice them out loud with. And since your managers sound so supportive, it might be worth talking over these issues with them too.

By the way, the strengths you described are very important ones -- being perceptive about other people is a huge advantage as a manager. And so is self-awareness, which you clearly have.

P.S. I wouldn't say that I'm shy per se, but I'm definitely introverted and I've found that managing has made me more comfortable talking to strangers and dealing with unfamiliar social situations. Being forced to interview countless strangers and have countless awkward managerial conversations has left me feeling comfortable talking to pretty much anyone about anything at this point, which was not the case a decade ago. So there's something to be said for just jumping in and forcing yourself to swim, if you don't think doing so will cause you or your future managees significant pain.

yet one more random thing

I just phone-interviewed someone who's a regular blog reader! Apparently my voice sounds nothing like people to expect it to sound. I wonder what people think I will sound like -- very gruff, I'm guessing. (The truth is that I sound like a 13-year-old girl, I'm sorry to say.)

I told her about how when I first shed my anonymity, after about a year of blogging anonymously, a bunch of people were shocked because they'd thought from my writing that I was a man.

I find this all fascinating.

four random things

1. I guest-posted a few days ago over at You Should Only Know. Complaining about ingrates. Also, her whole blog is awesome; check it out.

2. If you're job-searching, check your spam folder. This is my annual announcement.

3. It's really not a good idea to use my sample cover letter as your own. Especially if you're applying for a job that's I'm doing the hiring for. I'm going to recognize it. This has happened twice now! That thing is there for illustration purposes only.

4. Did I mention something exciting is coming?

something is coming...

Something is coming, and it is so very, very awesome!

Monday, August 23, 2010

more danger signs when you're interviewing for a job

A reader writes:

Can you give some advice to first-time job-seekers on how to verify the legitimacy of companies posting job opportunities?

I recently was blindsided by being hired into a company that lacked any sort of professionalism or integrity. Although I've gracefully dealt with an entry-level customer service position for two years, I walked out of this job in tears after six hours. In hindsight, there were many red flags -- the job description was minimal, the interviewer didn't ask me any personality-based questions, there was no "about us" section or mission statement on their website. When I went in to work, they made me do telemarketing with only 20 minutes of training, treated me with disdain and fired me on the first day for not understanding a system no one had taught me.

Are there other potential "red flags" that new job seekers should be aware of during the application and interviewing process? I'm just glad I had given two weeks' notice at my first job and was able to get my position back. Those before me might not have been so lucky.

If there are obvious warning signs job seekers like me should be aware of, let us know! Too many people are so desperate for jobs these days that we'll take anything, even if our gut instinct is telling us something's wrong.

Listening to your gut is probably the most important one. But of course, when you're new to the work world, it can be hard for your gut to know if something is off or not.

I've written before about danger signs when you're interviewing for a job. In that post we covered flakiness, taking forever to get back to you, not bothering to tell you when a timeline changes (although that one's alarmingly common), high turnover, and zero turnover. Let's add to that list:

* Are they rude or inconsiderate? Do they treat you like you're an unwelcome interruption? Do they ask you to do inconvenient things, such as interviewing on just a few hours notice, without acknowledging or apologizing for the inconvenience?

* Do they seem totally uninterested in making sure you get to know them and that you have a solid understanding of what the job entails? 

* Are they unfriendly? If they don't seem like people you'd want to work with, pay attention to that. 

* Do you feel like they're trying to sell you something? Are they painting a picture of a job that sounds way too good to be true? Smart employers will be honest not just about the upsides of a job, but also about the downsides. Employers who try to downplay the less attractive aspects of the job—such as boring work or long hours—end up with employees who don't want to be there. Look for truth in advertising.

* Are they resistant or vague when you ask questions about the details of the job offer, such as precisely what their pay structure is or how training will work?

* What are others saying about them on the Internet? Search for their company name plus the word "scam" or "complaints" and see what you find.

What would you guys add to this list?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

how do you answer "tell me about yourself" in a job interview?

A reader writes:

The interview question that stresses me out the most (besides the what are your weaknesses question) is the tell me about yourself question...or statement...or request, whichever it is. What do employers really want to hear? I'm assuming that this isn't the time to regale colorful stories of my childhood in the deep south, but what should I be talking about?

"Tell me about yourself" in a job interview really means "give me an overview of who you are, professionally speaking." There's a reason this is asked at the very beginning of an interview -- it says "give me the broad background before we dive in to specifics."

You want to be ready with about a one-minute answer that summarizes where you're at in your career (generally with an emphasis on your most recent job), what you do, and what the strengths of your approach are.

For instance: "I got into technical writing because I found that I have an unusual mixture of technical aptitude with writing skills. I'd worked as a software engineer for the first few years of my career, but when I saw how rare it was to find people with that kind of technical background who could also write, I started moving into technical writing. I've found that I love translating complicated technical information into words that a non-technical person can easily understand, and the fact that I come from a software background means that I can communicate well both with the tech team and my intended audience. My last boss told me that I was the only employee she'd ever had who mixed those two skills to the extent that I do! Being able to bridge those two worlds so comfortably is the reason I was especially interested in the position here."

For someone who's more entry-level and doesn't really have a career to describe yet, the answer would be more forward-looking. For instance: "I've always been a news junkie and I spent my last two years in school preparing myself to work in communications when I graduated. I sought out internships and extracurricular opportunities that would expose me to media relations work, and I'm excited to continue on that path. I've been told that I'm particularly good at coming up with creative story pitches, and I love pitching, but I really want to learn every aspect of this business from the ground up. I'd like to work in-house rather than in an agency, and I'm especially interested in advocacy work, so I'm particularly excited about this opportunity."

As you see in these two examples, you want to keep this focused on your professional persona. Don't bring kids into it, or your spouse, or where you grew up. That's not to say you can't say anything personal, but make sure there's a relevant reason for raising it. For instance, you could add something like, "And I grew up in this area and still have family here, so I'm really excited about the prospect of moving back." (Hence signaling to the interviewer that you're not going to be flighty about relocation.)

Whatever your answer is, practice it out loud over and over so it flows right out of your mouth in the interview. Don't try to wing it!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Win a free copy of the upcoming Ask a Manager e-book on how to get a job

How would you feel about a massive instructional guide full of my advice on how to get a job, a book crammed so full of my advice that you'll never want or need to hear another word from me?

People liked my "how to prepare for a job interview" guide, so now I'm doing something bigger -- I'm in the midst of writing an actual e-book, covering everything from how to think about your job search so that you don't freak out on a daily basis ... to how to write an awesome cover letter ... to what to do if you have no connections, anywhere ... to dealing with follow-up without being a pest ... to what to do if your interviewer doesn't know how to interview ... to how to make sure you don't end up working for an ass ... and much, much more.

It's coming soon ... very soon.

And meanwhile, to keep me motivated to finish this thing, it's contest time. I'm going to give away six free copies of this highly coveted e-book. (At least I hope it'll be highly coveted.)

Here's how you can enter to win a free copy:

Option #1: If you sign up for my email list here, you'll get entered in the contest. (If you've already downloaded my free guide to preparing for a job interview, you're already on the list and thus already entered in the contest.) Three winners will get randomly selected from this list.

Option #2: If you're on Twitter, tweet a message linking to the free guide sign-up page. Your tweet must include the link to the guide, @AskAManager, and this hashtag: #aambook
Sample tweet: Get the new @AskAManager guide to preparing for job interviews #aambook
Three winners will be randomly selected from the pool of eligible tweets.

You can enter twice if you want, once by getting on the email list and once by using Twitter. The contest will end on Friday, August 27, at noon EST.

Enter! Free copies! Massive tome! It's exciting.

must your resume say that your "references are available upon request"?

A reader writes:

Do hiring managers still desire the "References Available Upon Request" line on a resume? 

They do not. It goes without saying that your references are available upon request; it would be really odd if they were not. 

Get rid of the line and use the area it frees up for some soothing white space.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

is it legal for my boss to open my mail at work?

A reader writes:

My own postman is unreliable, so I often have book orders from amazon, and ebay sent to me at work. The other day, my boss opened a package addressed to me and was offended. He wasn't offended that I had something mailed to me at work, he was offended by the subject matter that the book dealt with (sex). I asked him why he opened a package addressed to me and he replied that he is the boss and can open my mail if it is coming to a business he manages.

It is indeed legal. Postal regulations say that mail delivered to an organization, even if addressed to a specific person, is delivered to the organization itself, and the organization can decide how to distribute it from there.

But as is so often the case, the question of what's legal is different from the question of what's polite.

I don't know if your boss opened your package on purpose or by mistake. It's certainly not that hard to accidentally open someone else's mail without meaning to; I'll often just open anything left in my in-box without thinking to look at the address, and I've sometimes opened something meant for someone else by mistake. But if it was a mistake, the correct response is "I'm sorry, this was inadvertent," not "too bad, I'm entitled to do it if I want." And if it was intentional, your boss is an ass. So really, either way, he's kind of an ass.

Now, that said, there's also the question of what's smart. Having books on sex sent to your work address, when it is sooooo easy for a package sent to a work address to be accidentally opened by someone else? Not necessarily the smartest thing to do. I don't know if this was some academic treatise on sexual issues,  which really shouldn't offend someone, or something a bit more, uh, lowbrow, but if it was the latter, you were kind of asking for trouble.

I completely understand the desire to have your packages sent to your work address. I used to do it all the time when I had a UPS man who refused to leave packages without a signature. But (a) not every business welcomes or even permits it, and (b) it's not a good idea for things you wouldn't want someone else to see.

update about the boss who's angry over two weeks notice

Yesterday I printed a letter from someone whose boss was angry that she had only given two weeks notice and was pushing her to give at least a month. Because her boss had always been a jerk, I advised her that she should hold firm and stick to her original plan. She's now written back with this update:

Thanks so much for answering my question yesterday. Your advice and that of the commenters was invaluable. I have a follow up question, though, that I'd be very grateful to get your perspective on.

So, after I said I couldn't extend my notice past two weeks, the situation has now gotten to the point where I would label it abusive. Just this morning, my actions -- which I've done my absolute best to keep courteous and professional -- have been called "unprofessional," "a betrayal," and "an insult." My manager sat me down and berated me and even insulted me personally for 15 minutes, then copied me on a very nasty email to the head of the office and another manager here. I was also copied on the reply from the other manager, who called my actions "odd" and "hostile."

I have done nothing more than give my two weeks notice -- which at this company is seen as a betrayal apparently -- but that is all I have done. I'm now contemplating leaving even earlier though, as the work environment has really gotten hostile.

I am not due to get my final paycheck until the end of the month (we are paid monthly, so if I leave today, I still have 19 days pay owed to me). What is the likelihood that I would receive this paycheck at all if I left today? I'd like to walk out today, especially if it gets worse, but I need that final paycheck to tide me over until my new job starts in September. For those of you with experience in this, do you think they'd withhold that check at this point? I can't really afford a legal battle, so if that's a possibility, I just have to stick this out until I have it in hand...

As I said in the comments yesterday, unless they become outright abusive, you should work out the full two weeks because it's the professional thing to do, even if they themselves aren't professional. Additionally, you don't want them to be able to tell people in the future that you "didn't even give two weeks."

However. The caveat there was "unless they become outright abusive." 

You have three options at this point:

#1. Tolerate it. Suck it up and deal with it, knowing that it's only two weeks, and knowing that you're about to escape this forever, so who cares how crazy they become? This option gives you peace of mind about your paycheck. It also ensures, as someone pointed out in the comments yesterday, that the worst they can say about you in a reference check is that you "only gave two weeks notice" (unless they're willing to lie, which of course they might be). 

If you take this option, look at their craziness as entertainment and fantastic future stories.

#2. Leave now. Tell your boss, "Your treatment of me since I gave notice is unprofessional and hostile. I'm not willing to be subjected to that, so today will be my last day." Be prepared to leave immediately, as their reaction will probably require it. (This means have your stuff all packed up, personal stuff removed from your computer, etc.)

#3. A middle ground. Sit down with your boss and say, "I'm sorry you're upset with my two weeks notice. Two weeks is a very common professional standard. However, it's clear that you're upset with me. Is it still fine for me to be in the office for the next two weeks, or would it better for everyone if I were to leave now?"

She will probably rant at you about how of course you need to be there for the next two weeks. At that point, say, "I'd like to work the remaining two weeks and I don't want to leave anyone in the lurch. However, I need to be treated professionally during that time. I very much want to use the next two weeks to put my projects in order, write up documentation to leave behind, and so forth, but I do have a bottom line as far as respectful treatment. I'm not willing to continue to be berated for my decision. If we can't work together without the hostility, it would be better for everyone if I left now."

If the hostility continues, then you revert to option #2. (And be prepared for her to explode with hostility and tell you to get out immediately.)

Now, as for your paycheck, the law is very clear that they need to pay you for the days you've worked. But that doesn't mean that they will, of course. I recommend checking out wage laws for your state, because some of them require that a final paycheck be issued within 24 hours or other short periods, and if that's the case in your state, you can follow up with them about your check right away, rather than having to wait and see how they handle payroll at the end of the month. There are also fines for violating those laws, so if they have any sense at all, they'll conclude it's not worth the hassle to them. (Email me and let me know what state you're in, and I'll walk you through how to research this and how to approach them about it.)

In the future, I'd plan to warn reference-checkers that these people imploded when you gave notice. A good reference-checker will understand -- and hopefully by that point you'll have plenty of references from sane people at the new job you're about to start.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

manager is angry that I'm only giving two weeks notice

A reader writes:

I have been working at the same company (my first post-school job) for about 2 years now, and I've been moderately to very unhappy for most of my time here for a variety of factors (different working style from my boss which has lead to clashes in the past, public belittlement if something goes wrong, a team that is perennially understaffed, a boss who "passes the buck" and doesn't stick up for her employees with management, underpaid, very long hours -- 55+ per week is typical, etc.). 

I have been offered another job with very similar duties and a modest pay raise at a firm similar to mine, but who isn't a direct competitor. The benefits are better, as are the hours and the commute, and when I met with my future manager, I had that intangible feeling of connection -- we have similar styles, and I believe will work together harmoniously.

I've decided to take the new job, and yesterday I gave my manager my two weeks notice. She did not take it well, and she and the head of the office came through with quite a large counteroffer (which is almost an insult -- if they are able offer me a 40% pay raise now, then clearly I've been very underpaid for quite a while now.) I've turned it down -- my moving companies was never about the money -- and she did not take it well. 

Now the management is angry with me and want me to give more than my standard two weeks notice. They have basically threatened that I'll "burn bridges" in my entire industry if I don't give them at least a month (my team is quite understaffed and has been for about four months now, but my manager hasn't hired anyone to help out with the workload). I am fairly junior, not an executive or a manager, and as I understand it, two weeks is the standard notice for someone at my level.

What is the proper protocol here? I want to make the transition as smooth as possible, which I've said, and I would like to leave without any acrimony, but now I no longer think this is possible, as my boss takes people leaving quite personally. Should I have given more than two weeks notice, and am I at all obligated to do so?

Hold firm, remain professional, work out your remaining two weeks cheerfully no matter how unpleasant they are, leave behind as much documentation for your replacement as you have time to create in those two weeks, and then go start your new job without any regrets.

It's true that in some offices, more than two weeks notice is expected. But because that expectation differs from the wider norm, it's only reasonable if it's an office where employees are treated well. By asking for more notice than the cultural norm, an employer is essentially asking you to do them a favor. And guess what -- you don't get to poop all over your employees and then ask them for a favor.

(There are other ways of incentivizing longer notice periods too -- such as by linking a higher vacation time pay-out to a certain amount of notice -- but it doesn't sound like that's the case here.)

The best option for managers who want more than two weeks notice is to do what I've always tried to do: create an environment where employees know they can safely alert me to their plans to leave soon, without having to worry about being badgered or pushed out early. As a result of doing this, I've rarely had employees give only two weeks notice; in fact, I've had employees give as much as 10 months notice at times. But it's solely because I've treated them and other people giving longer notice periods well. Otherwise I'd have no right to expect it.

The fact is, while your managers would like you give them more time than the two-week standard, they've given up any right to expect it, by behaving like asses while you worked for them. And there's no need for you to stress over that; this situation is of their own making, and their bad reaction reflects poorly on them, not on you.

Stay professional, reiterate that you've enjoyed your time there but will be moving on, emphasize what you're planning to do to make a smooth transition, and stick to your plans.

Monday, August 16, 2010

how much contact is too much contact when job-searching?

A reader writes:

I'm about to lose my job (temporary hire for a project that's almost over) and now am starting the hunt again. I've been reading all the advice, going to the free federally-funded we-help-you-get-hired places, and all of them tell you to constantly call, call, call the place you're applying. Call after you've sent in your resume/application to make sure they got it. Call to get an interview if you haven't heard anything. Call after the interview to thank the interviewer. Call to see if a decision has been made. To me this just sounds... insane. And stalker-ish. 

So, how much contact is too much contact? How much should I give to show I'm interested but not a crazy stalker lady?

Your instincts are right. The advice out there to aggressively call at every opportunity is crap, and is probably being provided by people who either haven't done much hiring in the last decade or who weren't that great at it when they did. Here's why:

1. Being interrupted by an unnecessary phone call is annoying and even arguably rude.  Email is much more courteous, because it allows the person to respond when it's convenient, rather than having to stop whatever they're doing to take a call. And remember, you're not the only one applying; you've got to multiply your phone call by the 200+ applicants they likely have for the job. 

2. I'm organized and competent and thus I don't need to be reminded of your application, because it's not going to slip through the cracks. If a great candidate can only get an interview with me by calling to nag me, I'm horrible at my job.  Now, it's certainly true that plenty of employers are unorganized and incompetent, which is why you'll occasionally hear a story about someone who called to follow up on their application and got an interview out of it. But if you take that as confirmation that those calls are worth making, you're self-selecting for bad employers over good ones.

3. The "advice givers" who recommend this aggressive calling routine are generally basing it on the idea that it'll help you "stand out." Can I train everyone's gag reflex to kick in whenever you hear people talk about  "standing out" in any way other than by being a well-qualified candidate?  You stand out by being a highly qualified candidate, writing a great cover letter, and being responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. You don't want to stand out for having an overly aggressive, rules-don't-apply-to-me, pay-attention-to-me-now approach. (And if such an approach actually gets you somewhere at that company, guess what it's going to be like to work there?)

The one exceptions to the above might be for (a) jobs where they're actively looking for someone who is aggressive to the point of intrusive and (b) jobs in restaurants or retail, where the convention for calling seems to work differently.

Aside from those exceptions, if you want to communicate with a prospective employer, use email. Times when it's appropriate to follow up via email are:

* sending a post-interview thank-you note
* checking in about their timeline for next steps, particularly if they've exceeded the timeframe you were originally given
* alerting them to a constraint on your own side, such as a deadline for responding to another job offer
* if you're not local, alerting them that you'll be in town during certain days and available to meet

I want there to be some kind of career-advice-giving certification -- run by me, of course -- where we could fine the people giving bad advice on this kind of thing.

D.C. area nonprofit manager? You want to attend this training.

If you're in the D.C. area or reasonably close to it, and you're a manager at a nonprofit, I strongly recommend attending an upcoming training session from The Management Center.

The Management Center is completely fantastic, and their trainings consistently draw rave reviews. Unlike a lot of trainings, these aren't geared to the lowest common denominator -- they're smart, focus on the "how" rather than just the "why" .... and, oh, just happen to be based on the book I co-authored with their CEO, so you know it's awesome.

You can find more information here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

my coworker has a lecherous and creepy interest in our colleague

A reader writes:

I work with a man who has an inappropriate infatuation with a much younger, married co-worker. He is married with a daughter about the same age as this woman (mid 20's). I have seen him demonstrate obsessive behavior toward her: leering, taking her picture with his cell phone, outward anger/jealousy toward anyone else who interacts with her. He pretends to be friendly to her, but makes lewd remarks behind her back about her body. He seems to have little self control and is very determined to pursue her.

At this point, I feel like talking to her and giving her a heads up that this guy's interest in her is anything but innocent. I feel like I am watching a slow-moving train wreck, and do not want to have to bear witness to this. I do believe that this is a one way obsession, and that the woman may be naive to this man's true intentions. Any insight would be appreciated.

What you described is unnerving, although it's worth noting that we don't actually know whether the woman might in fact return his interest, married or not. Either way, though, the lewd remarks behind her back and the aggression toward others who interact with her are alarming -- and those are also the two elements that indicate to me that you should say something. Otherwise we might just have a douchey guy with an inappropriate crush, but those elements elevate it to objectively creepy.

(By the way, I can't tell if the cell phone pictures are being taken with her knowledge/cooperation; obviously, if they're not, that's highly creepy element #3. Beyond creepy, in fact.)

I think the right thing to do in this situation is to mention to her what you've seen, but stick to the facts. Rather than telling her that he's determined to pursue her and has little self-control -- which I don't think you can actually know -- tell her what you do know for sure: He makes inappropriate remarks about her when she's not around and sometimes becomes hostile when others talk to her. And if she doesn't know about the photo-taking, you absolutely must mention that too, as it's a huge violation. 

From there, it's up to her to decide how she wants to handle this. If she seems freaked out but uncertain what her options are, suggest that she speak to her manager and/or HR. Or, it's possible that she won't care or will choose not to discuss her reaction with you, in which case this probably needs to become none of your business, unless you see it escalate to new worrrisome behaviors (in which case you should fill her in again).

However, there's one piece that will remain your business regardless of how this plays out, and that's what the guy says in front of you. If he's making inappropriate remarks about her (or anyone), speak up! Tell him it's inappropriate for the office, disrespectful toward her, and something you don't want to hear again.

I'll also add this: If your gut is sending you warning signs that this guy isn't just a lech but is also potentially dangerous in some way, read The Gift of Fear and encourage your colleague to also. It gives really helpful advice on knowing when someone is just kind of a jerk or socially inept versus when you should be more worried. (Actually, everyone should read this.)

What do others think?

Friday, August 13, 2010

how do you replace an employee who doesn't know she's being fired?

A reader writes:

I’ve been going through your archives to see if you had any advice on replacing a current employee before they know they are being replaced…when that employee is HR. In a small company with one HR person we certainly can’t place an ad – and they want to have viable candidates before this person is let go. 

This is due to serious performance issues which have been addressed, time and again, yet continue. I am the one picking up the slack for what isn’t being done and am now involved in the replacement process.

The one HR professional I knew who was on the market got a job 15 days before I was asked to see if she was interested. That exhausted all our personal connections – such as they were.

This can’t be uncommon – but it’s really hard to find anything written about this.

Well, the first thing I'd ask is: Are you sure that's the order you have to do things in? I strongly advise firing her first and then launching your search -- largely because it feels like the right thing to do, but also because you want the strongest candidate pool possible, and if you're sneaking around conducting the search covertly, you're almost definitely going to compromise your ability to do that.

Yes, firing her first does mean that the position would be vacant for a short time (likely 4-6 weeks, as long as you move through the hiring process with reasonable speed), but I'd be surprised if it weren't possible to find a way to cover her essential responsibilities for 4-6 weeks until you get someone new in there. After all, if she were suddenly hospitalized for a month, you'd find a way to make it work. 

If there's no one on staff who can cover the essentials, look into getting a temp with an HR background to fill in while the position is open.

If for some reason you're absolutely committed to starting the search before she's gone -- and again, I strongly recommend against it -- you could (a) use a search firm so that applications aren't coming into your office, and make sure the search firm knows they can't identify your company in the ad, or (b) set up an anonymous email address for applications and do the screening yourself ... but I think it's fairly shady, and it doesn't send a great message to other employees who may hear about it.

There's another option too, although it depends on the employee's character: Does she have enough integrity that you could simply be open with her about the fact that it's not working out? In some cases, you can tell an employee that it's not working out and mutually set a date for their last day that's a month or two away, with the understanding that that will give them time to look for a job and you time to look for a replacement. Important caution: This only works with employees who you know won't be so hostile or demoralized that you risk them poisoning the office environment or sabotaging the company in some way. And if you find that either one of those things is happening, you need to be prepared to have them leave immediately. But with the right person, in the right culture, this can work. (You can read about one of the times I did it here.) Listen to your gut on this though; if you have doubts, don't do it.

Anyone else have other thoughts?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

please stop with the tiny font!

I have spent much of today straining to read the tiny font on resumes and cover letters. I'm talking 9-point in some cases. Yes, yes, perhaps I'm just getting old and can no longer see very well, but 9-point is way too small. Haven't we agreed as a society that 11-point is a minimum?

It makes me think of how in school, some people would use larger fonts and wider margins in order to produce the full 10 (or whatever) pages that had been assigned.*  I think this is the opposite of that -- people are shrinking their fonts to a tiny size because they think their resume can't be longer than a page.

Unless you are recently out of your school, your resume can be two pages. Really. I don't want to read resumes with a monocle.

* I also have a rant about why page minimums in school are a bad idea, but I'll spare you that.

The Ask a Manager Guide to Preparing for a Job Interview

I made something for you!

In response to the survey I did last week, a lot of you told me that that you really struggle with preparing for job interviews and feeling confident going into interviews.

So check it out -- I now have a free guide to help with that.

How to Prepare for an Interview:
Boost Your Confidence, Impress Your Interviewer, and Get a Job

What you'll get:
  • An easy 4-step process for interview prep
  • 14 tips to get in the right mind frame
  • 15 questions that I would ask you in an interview
  • A supplemental video version of the guide, in case you'd rather watch than read
How to get it

If you enter your email address into the sign-up box below, I'll send my free How to Prepare for an Interview guide directly to you. (And this is just the start. I have more stuff coming...)

Note: Thanks to the existence of spammers in our world, there's one more step you'll need to take. Once you click "Sign me up," you'll need to check your email and confirm your address so that I'm allowed to email you. Then I'll get the guide out to you immediately, and spammers will bother someone else. 

Sign up now
* indicates required

Note: If you sign up for the free guide, I'll also send you the occasional email about other guides I've produced, but you can unsubscribe at any time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

what does it mean that a job I interviewed for was re-listed?

A reader writes:

I applied for a job with an organization, passed the phone screen, and was given a second interview less than a week later. I interviewed with a panel of people and was told at the time there were several candidates interviewing for this position. In my opinion, the interview went well. After the interview, the recruiter also let me know that she heard really good things about me and that she would be traveling during the hiring process so there would be no activity while she was out.

After a couple of weeks passed, I emailed this recruiter to follow up with her and let her know that I was still interested in the position and wanted to know the status. She responded that she needed to reacquaint herself with any decisions made by the hiring manager in her absence and she would let me know the outcome as soon as possible. 

Feeling a bit discouraged, I decided to check their job board again because their parent org posts all of their jobs on the same site, and I wanted to see if they had any openings in other areas. Well, lo and behold, I saw the job that I interviewed for re-listed on the site! 

I have received no notice from this recruiter since our last contact mentioned about this job. I am assuming that neither I nor the other candidates were chosen for the position. Could we all have been that bad of a fit that none of us were suitable? Even if that is the case why not just let me know that I was not the right person for this job? Do you think they are trying to interview other candidates and keep us strung along? Should I email the recruiter and confront her that I saw the job posting re-listed?

Okay, let's take these questions one at a time:

Could all the candidates have been such a bad fit that none were suitable? Yes, possibly. But it's also possible that they simply keep jobs listed until they're filled, or that they adjusted some small detail in the listing and that made it appear to have been posted all over again, or some other explanation that doesn't indicate that they've decided to reject all their candidates. This is all like reading tea leaves -- you can drive yourself crazy trying to interpret what little things like this mean, and there's rarely a definitive way to know.

If they have rejected you, why not let you know that you were not chosen? Because employers increasingly don't bother getting back to candidates to tell them they're no longer under consideration, even in cases where candidates have invested significant amounts of time in the hiring process. It's rude, inconsiderate, and indefensible, but it's common.

Are they interviewing other candidates and keeping you strung along? Possibly. Again, we don't really know. They might be seeing who else is out there, or they might have definitively rejected you in their minds without bothering to tell you, or they might just be really, really slow. 

Should you confront the recruiter about the job being re-listed? "Confront" is too strong a word, but yes, you should follow up with her more assertively about your status (assuming more than a few days have passed since your last contact).

Email the recruiter, remind her that you haven't yet heard back from her after she promised to let you know about the job, and tell her that since it's now been ___ weeks since you interviewed and you haven't heard anything, you're going to assume that you're out of the running and will be turning your attention to other opportunities. Ask her to let you know if you're wrong. Be friendly and polite, but be clear and matter-of-fact.

There's also this: Sometimes I think that the best thing you can do after interviewing for a job is to put it out of your mind altogether (aside from doing appropriate follow-up, like thank-you notes and, if the process drags out, occasional check-ins). The alternative is that you drive yourself insane wondering and worrying and trying to read various signals, and ultimately that stuff serves no practical purpose. They're going to call you or not call you regardless of how much you stress and wonder and agonize. So for the sake of your quality of life, it might be better to mark some follow-up on your calendar and otherwise pretend it never happened. If a job offer comes in, fantastic -- and if it doesn't, well, you weren't counting on it or stressing about it anyway, and you've been out there aggressively pursuing other opportunities and not getting sidetracked by one that might or might not pan out.

I know that's frustrating. It's also the reality of the job market right now, and it might be the best approach.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

managing an employee who was passed over for your role

A reader writes:

There are lots of posts online about "how to deal with being passed over." I am looking for perspective from the other side of the coin.

I was awarded a GM role and have to work with someone who was passed over for my role. What is the best way to deal with this person? I am an outsider to the industry but had stronger people management and Profit/Loss experience. I now have to work with someone who was passed over for the role.

Can you offer any suggestions? They are disappointed, a little sullen, and worst of all are voicing concerns to the staff.

She's allowed to be disappointed -- even angry or resentful, as long as she keeps it to herself. But she's not welcome to behave unprofessionally, behave adversarially to you, spread toxicity, etc. If she's doing any of these things, you need to address it head-on, by meeting with her in private and explaining your expectations of her conduct and how she's not currently meeting them. In particular, you want to emphasize that if she has concerns about you, you expect her to bring them to you, not gossip behind your back. If the problem continues after that, you need to treat it like any other performance problem.

If her problematic behavior is fairly mild, you might also offer to help her with a growth plan so that she's a stronger candidate for a promotion in the future. 

What you don't want to do is indulge the behavior. You want to address it directly, and soon, because this kind of thing can become a poison if left to fester. Sometimes in this situation, managers are more indulgent of problematic behavior because they feel sympathetic or even slightly guilty for getting the job the person wanted. Avoid that trap; the most effective thing you can do is to make it clear that she will be held to the same standards of conduct anyone else would be held to. Disappointments or not, she's a grown-up working in a professional environment and needs to handle her disappointments like one.

Monday, August 9, 2010

one way to quit a job: curse out your customer and escape out the emergency slide

A Jet Blue flight attendant just lived out everyone's fantasy way of quitting a job.

From the New York Times:
A JetBlue flight attendant, apparently upset with an uncooperative passenger on a just-landed flight, on Monday unleashed a profanity-laden tirade on the public address system, pulled the emergency-exit chute, slid off the plane and fled Kennedy International Airport, a law enforcement official said...
One passenger got out of his seat to fetch his belongings from the overhead compartment before the crew had given permission. Mr. Slater instructed the man to remain seated. The passenger defied him. Mr. Slater approached and reached the passenger just as he pulled down his luggage, which struck Mr. Slater in the head.
Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public address system and cursed out all aboard. Then he activated the inflatable evacuation slide at service exit R1; launched himself off the plane, an Embraer 190; ran to the employee parking lot; and left the airport in a car he had parked there.
I can't stop living this out in my mind. The evacuation slide is such a good touch. 

biblical verse in your application

If you have religious quotations, bible quotes, etc. in your email signature, you don't want to use those when you're sending hiring-related correspondence.

Why don't people know this?

5 ways employers could improve the hiring process

Ask any job seeker and they'll tell you—most employers do a terrible job of considering what a candidate experiences going through their hiring process. Job seekers have story after story about employers who communicate poorly or not at all, who advertise jobs that don't match up with the reality of what they need, and who send such negative messages about the company culture that it appears only the desperate would want to work there.

Employers may feel that they don't have to pay much attention to the candidate experience; it's a buyer's market, after all. This is short-sighted because the best candidates have options and will turn elsewhere. And it's also pretty unkind to people who are in a vulnerable and anxiety-producing spot.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five components of a hiring system that takes the candidate experience into consideration. Please check it out.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

49% of job-seekers say their greatest frustration is companies that never respond

More than 400 of you responded to the survey I ran on Monday -- thank you!  Of those who responded who are job-seekers, here's a breakdown of what you said your biggest frustrations are.

Nearly half said their biggest frustration is employers who never bother to get back to them, even after they take the time to interview.

Friday, August 6, 2010

thank you, and a note

I'm going through the responses from the survey I ran earlier this week, and I want to say two things:

1. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who replied. You guys gave such thoughtful answers, and I so appreciate you taking the time to help me out. You guys are awesome.

2. Sooooo many of you talked about employers who don't get back to applicants, after you put a ton of time into their application process. It's clear from much of what you wrote that there are an awful lot of people out there feeling dejected and pretty beaten up from the job search at this point. Please know that there are hiring managers out there who do care about you, who believe in treating applicants well, and who are as angry as you are about employers who treat people that way. (Personally, I want to reach out and slap every employer who has mistreated people while they're vulnerable.)

Some of us are on your side, even if it doesn't always feel that way. Hang in there.

what's behind your nervousness in interviews?

I have a question for you guys. When your nerves get the better of you in an interview, what exactly is it that's causing your anxiety?  I'm not talking about mild nerves, but rather the type of nerves that are severe enough that they impact your performance and/or make the interview horribly unpleasant for you. When this happens, what specifically is going on in your head?

Here are some options to choose from, but it may be something else entirely:
  • It sucks to feel like someone is scrutinizing and judging you, particularly when your potential livelihood is on the line.
  • You're worried about your ability to answer questions well.
  • Unexpected questions make you panic.
  • Having flubbed interviews in the past, you've started to expect you'll flub them all. 
  • You're not even really sure you are qualified for the job, and you're worried that's showing.
  • You need a job so badly that that fact alone is causing you to freak out.
  • Something else?
I'd love to get your feedback on this in the comments. I'm thinking of working on something that possibly could help, but it all hinges on what's actually in your head when this happens.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

my manager refuses to give me better pay or better hours

A reader writes:

I have been working at the same job going on four years and I am still part-time. This would not really bother me other than the fact that there are a few guys, younger than myself, who get better hours and better pay and haven't been there nearly as long as I have.

It's not that I don't work, I bust my butt every single day and my manager sees this, but still refuses to put me on full-time or give me a better wage. The only reason I can think of why these other guys are getting everything over me is because they are just like my manager, they drink, party, etc. I do not do any of these things.

I've approached him a few times about a better wage or full-time, every time it's the same about the wage, "the company can't afford it." This I understand. The thing that gets me with this is when I ask about being put on full-time, he tells me there is a "hiring freeze" and he cannot. Then a week or so later there is a new guy/lady working full-time making better money than myself and they are not worth a cuss. They won't work and they are all ARROGANT! I'm at my wits end!

What should I do? Should I stick it out here or quit? I'm in college and barely making it right now, money-wise, but I have time to work more, but as I said my manager refuses to help me out!

Something's going on here, but I don't know what it is. Your manager clearly isn't being straight with you -- telling you there's a hiring freeze and then hiring someone else a week later, and not even bothering to come back to you to explain. The fact that he doesn't circle back to you to provide some sort of context sends a pretty disrespectful message.

If you want to give it one final shot, you can say to your manager: "I'm confused. When we've talked in the past about the possibility of me going full-time, you've told me there's a hiring freeze, but each time someone new has been hired soon after that. This makes me think that something else is going on -- is it something about my performance or something that you'd like to see me doing differently? I'd really like feedback if it is." And if he denies there are any performance problems, then say, "Can you tell me what I can do to work toward full-time hours?"

It's possible that you'll learn something you didn't know, about something he doesn't like about your work. But I wouldn't count on it -- it sounds like this guy is either (a) a wimp who can't bring himself to tell you that the quality of your work isn't good enough or (b) a jerk who just doesn't like you and is setting your hours and pay based on that.

At some point, you need to assume that nothing will change, since all signs are screaming that pretty loudly and really, it's been four years. And so you need to answer this question for yourself: Assuming that nothing is ever going to change, do you want to stay or leave? For all I know, maybe you want to stay anyway. Maybe you like the work well enough, despite these aggravations, that the answer is to accept that nothing is going to change but that you're going to continue working there anyway. 

But if not, then why on earth wouldn't you look elsewhere? After all, you can't make your manager do what you want, but you do have power in this situation -- the power to decide whether or not to accept what he's offering you. 

Often in these situations where people feel angry and feel mistreated, they lose sight of the fact that they do (usually) have options, and I think that's happening here. If you don't like what's being offered, go out there and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like a lot better -- or you might decide that you'd rather stay put, despite the current terms. But you'll be picking it deliberately, rather than just accepting it by default and feeling frustrated.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

update from reader who asked about long hours and low pay to get experience

Remember those "where are they now" updates that we did late last year? Here's a new one.

You might remember this reader from back in June, when she wrote in to ask if she should take a job with really long hours and low pay in order to get experience. Complicating her decision was this: "I haven't had any success with my job search (the numbers are just depressing, so I'll spare you) and I would feel guilty, and somewhat desperate, if I turned down a resume-building job."

After her letter was published here, she and I had some further back-and-forth about the particular organization she was considering, nonprofit jobs in general, and her cover letter, which I thought was too generic (as most are). Here's her update:

After reading the thoughtful advice you and your readers provided, I ultimately turned down the job offer. I liked the idea of the work, but the long hours, low pay, and placement - downtown Boston - made the reality of the situation seem rather impossible.

I took a long, hard look at my resume and qualifications and decided to pursue careers in a very specific segment of non-profit work. I tailored my resume, rewrote my cover letter, and signed up for job board alerts dedicated to the field I had chosen. After receiving your advice, my applications started to get noticed by a wide variety of employers, and I found myself interviewing potential organizations! It was pretty exciting to be seeking an employer I meshed with rather than desperately applying to a slew of jobs that I only had the vaguest of interest and experience.

Narrowing my job search ended successfully this afternoon, as I received an offer for an entry-level position at my favorite organization. I'm so thrilled to have this opportunity, and amazed that I was able to land my "dream entry-level position" three months after graduation without previously building a strong network. The advice you offered, both privately and through your blog, was truly invaluable, as I doubt I would be embarking on my career this soon without it. Thank you for helping me transform from a "recent grad" to a "young professional"!

This is pretty awesomely inspirational, and a real testament to the power of a focused job search, a great cover letter, and resisting the unhealthy power dynamics that are so easy to fall into when job searching. Congratulations!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

gimmicks have no place in the hiring process

I want to highlight something that I just posted in response to a comment on yesterday's post, because I think it's a message worth repeating more widely. This is in response to a question about using nice paper for your resume or sending it by Priority Mail:
The day that I'm giving candidates extra credit for using nice paper or high-quality ink or sending an application by Priority Mail is the day that someone needs to ban me from hiring, because I'm no longer doing my job right.
My job is to discern who the best candidate is. At best, gimmicks don't matter. At worst, they get in the way or even hurt. At least if you're dealing with someone who's good at their job (which, admittedly, you may not be).
And here's an additional point: If you get a job by using a gimmick to "stand out," you've just self-selected for a manager who responds to gimmicks over merit. Is that the place you want to work?

I think we're in danger of this gimmick issue becoming my new rant, right after companies that don't respond to job applicants.

surprise -- it's a phone interview that you didn't know was coming!

A reader writes:

Is it customary to surprise applicants with a phone interview?

I'm applying for an internal promotion with my current employer. I had an appointment to call my potential boss to ask questions about the position (this is standard practice at my company). HR told me I would have a phone interview Tuesday.

When I called the boss today - surprise! He had HR on the line, and asked if I could do the phone interview today instead of an informal Q and A session with him as we had planned. I was caught off guard and didn't give the best interview. I'm not sure whether they did this on purpose as a stress test or what. 

Do you think surprise interviews are a good way to produce qualified candidates? (I don't think so, but maybe I'm just upset because my interview didn't go well and I need to prepare further in advance or something.)

It's not uncommon, and it's not a good idea.

In fact, even worse than your situation, there's an epidemic of employers calling applicants and trying to phone-interview them on the spot, without any warning or advance notice. And many applicants are afraid to say that it's not a good time for them and to try to reschedule, because often they never get called back after that -- so you have people trying to do a phone interview outside the grocery store, frantically trying to remember which job this was at which company, with zero preparation. 

It's obvious why this isn't good for the candidate, but it's not good for the employer either: Interviewing a candidate who just woke up or is late for a meeting or just hasn't had time to focus their brain on your needs isn't going to give you the most useful information about that candidate. The only exception to this might be if you're interviewing for a position that requires really compelling extemporaneous speaking, and even then I'm skeptical.

Frankly, operating this way is the sign of a employer (or at least their HR rep) just going through the motions, trying to check off boxes as if hiring is one more chore to get through, rather than something that's crucial to the success of the organization.

Now, your case is a little different. You had warning that you'd be talking to your prospective boss at that time but you were told to prepare for a different sort of conversation. That said, you probably should have prepared for the informal Q&A session in much the same way as you'd have prepared for a more formal phone interview, since the boss certainly could have had his own questions to throw right back at you.  So I'd say that this is less about not giving you the chance to prepare and more about the fact that it can be mentally jarring to discover that the conversation you thought you were going to have is actually going to be a different type of conversation (in other words, it's more about mental preparation than substantive preparation).

I doubt they did this on purpose. That kind of conniving would be pretty unusual. What's more likely is that they're trying to move more quickly than than originally planned (or they moved too slowly at first and now need to make up for it) and when HR heard you were going to be talking with the manager that day, someone said, "Hey, let's do the phone screen at that time too so that we can keep this moving."

They should have told you in advance, but the fact that they didn't is -- I suspect -- less indicative of deliberate strategy and more indicative of the fact that employers often neglect to think about what kind of candidate experience they're creating, and what the impact of that experience is on their ability to hire the best candidate. That's a very, very common aspect of job-searching, and it's not in anyone's best interests.

Monday, August 2, 2010

let's ring the death knell for postal mail in the hiring process

Several people have asked me recently about whether there's any advantage to sending your resume -- or later follow-up -- by postal mail.

I'm sure there are still some hiring managers out there who would disagree, but I hate postal mail in the hiring process for the following reasons:

1. It takes extra time. I keep everything electronically, so getting something by postal mail (or fax, for that matter) requires extra effort to integrate it with the rest of my files. 

2. I can't forward it electronically. I like being able to forward a resume to others to get input, or even to say "hey, this guy applied for position X, but you might like him for position Y that you're hiring for." 

3. To me, it feels a little old-school, even almost oddly naive. Like you might have read a job-hunting guide from 1987.

If you're using postal mail to try to stand out, consider that that might not be the way to achieve it.

In fact, if you ever find yourself thinking "I'm going to do ___ to stand out from all the other candidates," you better be referring to (a) being an incredibly qualified candidate, (b) writing a great cover letter, and/or (c) being friendly, responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. If you're filling in the blank in that sentence with anything not related to the actual quality of your candidacy, you're probably getting too gimmicky and losing focus on what really does stand out.

P.S. Totally unrelated: If you haven't taken my quick survey yet, please take it now ... and thanks!

tell me what you think

You ask me questions all the time, and now I want to ask you a couple.

I'm working with Ben Eubanks to create something kind of awesome, but I want to ask you a couple of questions in order to narrow down the direction we're taking it in so that we can make sure it actually has value to you.

Would you answer four short questions for me? All sorts of excitement awaits you in a few weeks if you do (including something free in exchange for your help) ...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

when I talk to HR, don't they have to keep it confidential?

A reader writes:

I had a conversation with the HR Director about something happening in my department. She went to my boss with the issue, citing me as the source. This was not an official complaint by me, as we were not in her office but in the lunchroom. However, I considered conversations with HR professionals to be in confidence. Was I in error?

HR people aren't doctors or priests; there's no confidentiality statute and you shouldn't assume confidentiality when talking to them, even if you're at lunch. Even if you're talking to them when you run into them at the grocery store over the weekend.

HR is there to serve the company; their loyalty and responsibilities are to the employer. If they hear information that they judge needs to be shared or used to address a situation, their job obligates them to do that. A parallel: Imagine you're a computer programmer and you learn there's a serious bug in the software you're working on, but you do nothing. You'd be being negligent and not doing your job, right? It's the same thing with HR.

Now, in some cases, you can talk to HR in confidence if you explicitly work out an understanding of confidentiality before you share. But even then, it might not really be kept confidential. I've seen plenty of cases where a HR person judged that the best interests of the company required that the information be passed along, even after promising confidentiality to the employee.

Additionally, there are cases where HR is actually required to report things, no matter how vehemently the employee requests confidentiality: They have to report any concerns about harassment or illegal behavior, even if you beg them not to.

Now, should it be this way? Is HR in the wrong to operate like this?  The reality is, HR is there to serve the interests of the employer. To the extent that they also serve the interests of the employees, it's in service of the larger goal of serving the company. For instance, they may do work on employee retention or morale -- but that's because it's in the employer's interests to retain good employees and to care about morale, not because their primary "clients" are employees. And similarly, if HR hears about, say, an incompetent or struggling manager, HR's job is (generally) to find a way to address it.  They can't remain quiet if that would violate their professional obligation to the company.

But there are good ways and bad ways of doing this:

Bad = letting an employee think something will be confidential but then sharing it anyway

Good = explaining to the employee that it can't be confidential and how the information will be used, and possibly agreeing to keep their name out of it to the extent possible (which may be zero, depending)

HR people (or managers, for that matter) who mislead employees about confidentiality not only are operating without integrity but are also pretty much guaranteeing that over time no one will trust them, respect them, or tell them anything.

But HR people and managers who are clear and direct about how they may need to use information -- and who don't promise confidentiality before knowing if they can really keep that promise, instead saying explicitly, "I can't promise you that I can keep what you tell me off-the-record; I don't want you to think something is private because I may end up being obligated to share it" -- are generally able to maintain trusting and professional relationships with those around them. 

So back to your situation: Was the HR director in the wrong? It doesn't sound like you asked for or she promised confidentiality. You could definitely argue that she should have made a point of telling you that she would need to act on the information, but you could also argue that she assumed that was understood by virtue of you talking with her about it at all. 

Overall, never assume confidentiality.