short answer Saturday: another job search edition by Alison Green on January 29, 2011 We did a job search edition of short answer Saturday last week, but the questions keep piling up so here’s another one. Should I offer to work for free so a company can try me out? I am currently job hunting and a few days ago stumbled upon a position that was the perfect fit for my skill set, experience, and place. I have been job hunting for about a month now, and today thought of trying something new when following up since the vast majority of my follow ups illicit no response. I offered to come in and have the arrangement be a trial unpaid internship to familiarize myself with the operations of this organization and see if they like me. What are your thoughts on this approach? I’m thinking of using it more often, but wanted outside advice. Unless this is a nonprofit, it would be illegal for the employer to accept. With the exception of nonprofits, the Department of Labor requires that unpaid work be primarily for the benefit of the volunteer, not the employer. And if it’s not, they can reclassify you as an employee and require the employer to pay back wages for all the work you did. However, even if this weren’t the case, I’d be skeptical of this approach because (1) it significantly undervalues your skills, which would signal desperation to a company, which in turn would signal that you weren’t the best candidate, and (2) it would be a lot of work for a company to train and acclimate you for a month without knowing the investment would pay off for them in a hire at the end of it. How do reference checks work? When an employer confirms dates of employment shown for a job on a person’s resume, do they also start to ask other questions, like, why did they leave, would you hire him again, how was his general demeanor, etc., even if you don’t put a personal reference down for this company? Yes. There is something called “employment verification,” which is just verifying that you did indeed have the job you said you had, for the dates you said you had it. But more common is a reference check, where an employer will ask about the quality of your work. How wide should a salary range be? A job description asks for me to send a resume and “salary range.” How big should this range be? $25,000-35,000? $25-27? $20-40? The description also mentions that there is an “attractive benefits package” — how should this be taken into account? Ideally you wouldn’t name a range at all (see this and this), but if you have to, I’d go with a spread of $10,000-$20,000, depending on your salary level. (If you’re at $30,000, a spread of $20,000 is relatively large; if you’re at $120,000, it’s not.) How long is too long for a cover letter? How long is too long for a cover letter? I’ve done some hiring myself and I know that with stack and stacks of applicants, each bit of paper only gets so much time. I’m editing ruthlessly but it’s still about 600 words long. After graduating two and a half years ago and working for a restaurant in the meantime, I am still trying to get a job doing some kind of social research. I feel like my cover letter has a lot to accomplish– show why I want this job at this firm, show how my academic work and restaurant work make me a qualified candidate, and address that even though my work experience does not correspond perfectly to the announcement why I’d do an awesome job anyway. Is there an absolute cut-off where your eyes glaze over and you toss the whole thing in the trash? Keep it to one page. And don’t cheat by shrinking the font size to get there. Rejected after 20 seconds; how can this be? I just applied for a recruiter position (I have 10 years experience) that was posted on a popular job board and in less then 20 seconds after I hit the send button, I got an auto response saying that while my credentials are impressive, I am not a good match but my resume will be kept on file. Maybe I am behind the times, but how can any company’s resume scanning software be that fast that in mere seconds it can determine that I am “not a good match”? Am I missing something here? A friend suggested that there is perhaps no actual opening and this company is merely resume harvesting. Thoughts? By the way, this is the second time this has happened (different companies though). I have no idea. Anyone else want to weigh in? Why do employers bother to interview if the job just dissolves in the end? Why does an employer go through selecting and interviewing candidates if in the end the position ends up getting dissolved? I have interviewed for four positions in the last year and I felt very confident about my interviews at the end of each. After going through testing phases for some positions and interviews for others, I later received emails that said the company had terminated the position and they would not be hiring at that time. I understand that there are situations in this economy where a position may be dissolved in a company, but why go through the trouble of interviewing numerous folks and frankly, getting candidates’ hopes up?. I am just wondering how frequently this situation happens. As a job searcher, it makes me wonder if I just wasn’t the selected candidate and the company just took the easy way out of a rejection. Yes, this happens. Sometimes it’s because there’s new financial news, or a reorganization, or priorities shift, and sometimes it’s because of disorganization/lack of communication. I can almost guarantee you, however, that it’s not a lie to avoid having to reject you — rejecting people is a part of doing business, and while employer don’t enjoy rejections, they don’t tend to give them panic attacks either. (Besides, if they were squeamish about rejection, they’d use the far more common coward’s tactic of just never bothering to contact you again.) You may also like:can my cover letter ask for more money than an employer’s posted salary range?when a recruiter approaches you about a job but plays games on salarydoes a quick rejection indicate that a human never saw my application materials?