It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. How to answer “what do you do?” when you’re unemployed
What’s the best way to answer the “what do you do?” question in a city where it’s almost always asked and when you’re unemployed and looking for work?
I’ve been doing a lot of one-on-one networking, and in those meetings it’s clear from the beginning that I’m unemployed based on the way I phrase my email. The problem seems to be more at events, conferences, and social gatherings (though in this town social gatherings are also a great place to network). Obviously people don’t want to hear your whole life story, but I also don’t want to present myself as someone to pity, or, worse, someone who is overreaching in trying to demonstrate their value (I went to X program, just finished a contract at Y company, am currently in the interview stages at Z). Do I say that I finished a grad program in May? That I recently moved here? That I’m interviewing around but a good fit hasn’t come up yet?
I’d love a phrase to convey that I’m looking but am excited about the opportunities here and confident I’ll find something worthwhile, while also opening up the possibility for the person I’m speaking with to suggest a person/organization/short-term gig.
“I just finished a grad program in X earlier this year and am looking for work doing Y.”
That’s really it. Your initial answer shouldn’t get into the fact that you’re confident you’ll find something good or that the right fit hasn’t appeared yet. Further conversation might take you there, but it’ll be weird (and sound a little defensive) if you start with those things.
2. My employer has restrictions on how I can spend my salary
I recently accepted a new position (yay, thanks in part to your blog!) with a non profit. I am technically a fellow rather than a full-time staff member. During my interview, I was informed that half of my salary comes from my host organization and half is funded by another program. I was also told that the second half of my pay is designated for living expenses but that my salary would be the same as a non-fellow in my position. I had no problems with this.
A few days into my new job, I received an email from the program advising me that as per new restrictions, I am only allowed to use the second half of my pay to cover very specific expenditures. Additionally, if my permitted expenditures don’t reach the maximum amount possible, I simply don’t receive that maximum amount. For example, if my host site approves a living allowance of $2000/month and I only spend $1200/month on living costs (as very narrowly defined by the org) then I only get $1200/month. This part of our pay is not to be used on transportation costs, car payments, car insurance, home internet, cell phone bills, etc. We can ask the host org to purchase gift cards from a reputable grocery store but only in a certain amount and with the caveat that we can’t use the card to purchase alcohol.
Is the program allowed to dictate our personal spending because we’re “fellows”? I’m frustrated that as an adult, I can’t make the choice to live frugally and use the remainder of my salary to pay off existing debt. Similarly, I can’t make the choice to live a bit farther from work and spend less on rent because I won’t recoup the commuting costs. We are allowed to use the money toward student loan payments but we’re also strongly encouraged to defer those payments while we’re in the program. I’d just love to get your thoughts on this situation.
It sounds like like they’re saying your salary is $X, and they’ll also cover living expenses up to a maximum of $Y. In other words, they’re not dictating how you spend your salary — but your salary is only half of the total figure, and the other half is reimbursement for a list of narrowly defined expenses. It’s not unheard of for internships and fellowships to have arrangements like this — it’s basically a stipend plus living expenses.
But if they weren’t clear with you about that before you started and instead just told you that your salary would be $X + $Y, then there are definitely legal issues here; they promised you a salary that they aren’t paying you.
But it sounds like they did explain that there was some sort of unusual arrangement here. Without knowing the details of exactly how it was laid out, it’s hard to say whether they still weren’t as clear as they should have been.
Regardless, the question for you now is, knowing that your salary is actually half of what you thought it would be, plus living expenses up to a maximum of $Y, do you want the job?
3. My coworkers are treating me as the voice for everything disability-related in our office
I am a full-time wheelchair user, and I’ve been in my (entry-level, temporary) job for nearly two years now. When I was first hired, I was asked about reasonable accommodations in the work space, and aside for some help getting things off of high shelves, I didn’t need anything.
Now, apparently the affirmative action office at my work has been insisting that my office should put in automatic door buttons on the two interoffice doors in our space. To be clear, there are already buttons on all entry doors to the building and the entry door to our space. These are just doors that go between our office and the next one over. My boss and one of the senior-level employees in the office next door made sure I was aware of the upcoming change, and were very clear that it had nothing to do with me, but that the AA office was insisting on it.
Here’s the problem. As word has been going around the two offices, a couple people have been approaching me to ask about the change. I’m sure that will only happen more as work begins. It’s mostly been questions like, “Did you request that?” “If you didn’t, who did?” “Why are they doing that?” It seems innocuous, but I get really tired of explaining disability-related things at work, and I don’t want to have conversations about accommodations that aren’t for me and that I didn’t request. And I really don’t want to have to remind these coworkers – for the millionth time – that there are other disabled people in the world who might work here one day, who may want or need these accommodations. I know I’m an obvious target for disability-related questions, but how can I shut these interactions down? Or even better, how can I head them off before they begin?
Any chance that you can explain the situation to your boss and enlist her help in heading it off? It’s totally reasonable to say, “I’d rather not be the voice for everything disability-related at work, but I’m getting a bunch of questions about the AA’s office decision. Could you (or the AA office themselves) say something to people to head these queries off, so that I don’t continue to get approached as the Voice on All Things Disability-Related?”
You can also simply say to people who approach you, “I don’t know anything about it.” And if someone is pushy, it’s reasonable to add, “Having a visible disability doesn’t mean that I’m in the loop on everything disability-related here.”
4. Explaining to employers why I’m leaving grad school after a year
I am in the second year of three of a professional degree (Master of Divinity) whose graduates go into very specialized work in ministry as pastors or chaplains. I’ve learned the hard way it’s a bad idea to go into grad school without a clear vision of how this will positively impact one’s career. I’ve decided to start looking for full time jobs in hopes of sparing myself some pain and money. How would I address unfinished graduate work if I’m currently in school? I have decent experience in nonprofit work, and I’ve had relevant coursework and internships in the field during my first year in school. How can I spin this without having major gaps in my resume or coming across as a quitter?
“I’ve realized that I don’t want to pursue a career as a pastor or chaplain and instead want to ___. I’m excited to move back into full-time work.”
Hiring managers aren’t going to be terribly concerned about you being a quitter. The bigger concern with grad school is that you really want to do the thing you went to school for and are just settling for some other type of work. Because you’re leaving a year in, it’s pretty clear that that’s not the case with you.
5. Sending post-interview thank-you notes if you’re offered the job or another interview
Twice this week, I had experienced cases where I received either a verbal offer or another interview before I could send post-interview thank-you emails. In both cases, I stalled on sending emails because I didn’t know if it made sense due to the fact that I would be further engaging with these individuals. Does it make sense to send thank-you emails if you are moving further along in the pipeline?
If you’re offered a job, there’s no need to still send a post-interview thank-you. At that point, the conversation has jumped to such a different stage that it would seem odd. But if you’re simply offered another interview, yes, you should still send a note following up on the first interview. In it, you can mention that you’re looking forward to talking further at your next meeting.