It’s terse answer Thursday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go.
1. Asking job candidates, “Tell me about yourself”
I am a manager for a small nonprofit organization and I am responsible for a lot of the hiring that we do. I feel like saying, “Tell me about yourself” is a pretty standard entry point for initial phone screenings, and I always assumed that a standard answer would include a brief summary of where you are from (if you feel comfortable sharing that), where you went to school, and maybe a general overview of the most recent roles that you’ve played or (depending on your experience) a brief description of your overall career trajectory that explains how you got to where you are.
Today I interviewed two candidates for an opening we have. One gave me a 30-minute-long dialogue about her education, her very first job (she has several years of experience and several positions on her resume), and her master’s degree experience, without telling me anything about what she is doing currently or what she has done since 2010. The second completely skipped over her education and early work experience altogether to discuss what she’s been doing for the last 10 months (she finished a master’s degree in August 2011). This had me wondering, both as an interviewer as well as from a candidate’s perspective, is there a better way to ask, “tell me about yourself?” And also, is there a preferred or more helpful way to answer that question?
Personally, I don’t ask it. You rarely get information that isn’t on the resume — and in fact, if you look at what you say you’re expecting in an answer, it’s all stuff you already know from reading the candidate’s materials (minus where they’re from, which isn’t really useful anyway). But if you’re going to ask it, I definitely wouldn’t ask it in phone interviews — since they’re usually much shorter than in-person interviews, and you presumably have a slate of questions that you want to get through, and thus want to be more directive in how the conversation goes than “tell me about yourself” might allow.
But why ask it at all? I know some interviewers think it’s a good softball opener, but why not ask something like, “So, what interested you about this opening?” to start off with?
(And while we’re on the topic, here’s how I recommend candidates respond to “tell me about yourself.”)
2. Fingernail length in job interviews
I’ve read on your blog somewhere that nails should be neatly filed and slightly over the tip of your finger in length. However, I’m an art hobbyist, and I have to keep my nails very short to keep them from digging into my palm (thanks to my awkward handling of pencils). While I can keep them neat and tidy, they’re lacking in length. Is this going to be an issue with interviewers? Are they going to look at my nails and write me off immediately? I’d hate to give up a hobby for the sake of pleasing interviewers. Thank you for your advice!
You didn’t read me say that they need to be slightly over the tip of your finger. I could give a crap about the length of your nails, as long as they’re not disgustingly long or grossly jagged. Don’t worry about having short nails — no one will care.
3. Can I be fired for refusing to work when I’m not getting paid?
If your employer is consistently cutting you paychecks that bounce, are you required to work? Can you be fired if you decline to work shifts until paid?
There are two separate issues here: the bouncing paychecks, and whether you can be fired for refusing to work. You could indeed by fired for refusing to work, although you’d be eligible for unemployment because not being paid is a qualifying reason for leaving a job in their eyes (and in everyone else’s eyes). But separately, your employer is required to pay you for your work within a period of time dictated by your state government (usually a few weeks or less). If you’re not being paid, and you’d like your money, contact your state department of labor for help.
4. Can I get in trouble for leaving work early because of snow?
I made a judgement on the snow conditions and left work early on Friday, as I was afraid I would not make it home. Plus, I hate driving in the snow and bad weather conditions. Can I get into trouble for this?
Legally? Sure. Will you in practice? It depends on your employer’s policies and/or culture and/or how your manager handle these things.
5. Should I wear a suit when I go for job testing?
I am a recent graduate, and I have been invited to a 2-hour literacy and numeracy test for a government job. This is the first “big girl” job I’ve applied to and had a response, so naturally, I’m quite nervous! I don’t doubt my capabilities in literacy and numeracy, but I do wonder what I should be wearing to the said test. I’ve taken you up on your advice on purchasing a nice suit, much to the teary-eyed joy of my parents, so would I be correct in assuming that I should be wearing this to the test? I don’t know if there will be anyone present who will judge my physically appearance as an applicant there, but I’d like to know for sure before I under/overdress.
Wear the suit. Even if you’re overdressed compared to other applicants, you’ll stand out for being professional, not for being over-dressed, and that’s a good thing. Employers who like suits — and the government falls in that category — appreciate it when people wear them to professional functions even when they don’t have to.
6. Our last bathroom question for a very long time
I have a simple question, but to me confronting the issue is terrifying. I am a supervisor, and I have only two employees. Every time I go into the staff bathroom, the toilet is disgusting to say the least. How do I confront the issue without embarrassing anyone? I am tired of cleaning up other people’s mess so I can go to the bathroom. We do not have a cleaning staff.
Why terrified? You have to deal with far more difficult conversations as a manager. Plus, anyone leaving the bathroom in these conditions has no shame anyway, so there’s no need to worry about embarrassing them.
Either send an email to your staff or post a sign in the bathroom, instructing people to clean up after themselves. Also, consider hiring cleaning staff.
And thus ends our bathroom discussions for a very long time, because I can’t take any more of them.
7. What to wear to a job interview when you have a cast on your leg
I’m a man who recently graduated with a masters degree in economics and am in the process of applying for jobs. A couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of rupturing my achilles, requiring a cast from my toes up to my knee. None of my dress pants will fit over the cast so I have been trying, without success, to find information about the right dress code for a job interview under the circumstances. The only thing that I have at the moment that fit over the cast are blue sweatpants. What would you do?
If only you were a woman and could wear a skirt, this would be so much easier. Is there any chance you can find some wider-legged dress pants that will fit over the cast? If not, tell them your situation ahead of time, sound embarrassed, and ask if you’ll make a horrible impression if you show up in the only pants that will fit over your cast, which unfortunately aren’t normal business attire. If they’re at all normal, compassionate, reasonable people, they will say it’s completely fine, and that will be that. (If for some reason they balk, take that as a signal that you’d be working with jerks if you took this job.) Also, make sure that the sweatpants you wear are as nice as possible — don’t wear the kind with elastic at the ankle, for instance. Good luck!