reputation repair at work, someone keeps stealing my jobs, and more

by Ask a Manager on July 12, 2013

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It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Can I save my reputation at my summer job?

I managed to get a summer job that is (sort of) in my field (thanks to your blog), but I’m afraid that I’ve made some REALLY dumb mistakes and ruined this opportunity and maybe even my future in the field. The first mistake was that I didn’t get along very well with the other summer worker, but we’ve managed to resolve the situation and we are getting along better now and things are going more smoothly. However, the manager spoke to us both about the situation. Second, I spent too much of the budget for the project I was hired for on one part of it. My manager spoke to me about it and was not pleased at all, and I feel absolutely beyond embarrassed and I’m stick to my stomach about the mistake now. She said I wasn’t in “trouble” but that she questions my “judgement.”

I get along well with the other staff members there and as far as I’ve been told (by the manager), I’m doing a good job. But I don’t particularly get the impression that my managers like me and I feel certain that because of my mistakes I won’t get a good reference from this, when it’s said and done. I don’t know what to do. I can’t quit (not that I would anyway), because my field is small and, you know, people talk. If I suck it up and stay, they’re still going to talk about what a horrible job I’m doing. I honestly fear that I won’t be able to get a job in my field because of this and I don’t know what to do. Is there any chance of me being able to turn this job around and maybe end up leaving with a good reference, if not… what do you recommend I do?

Talk to your manager. Tell her that you’re mortified by the mistakes you made and that you really want to do better. Tell her what you’ve learned from the mistakes that you’ve made, and ask for her advice in moving forward from them. People do make mistakes, particularly early on in their careers, and they recover from them. You will too, particularly if you’re explicit with your manager about your desire to repair your reputation. (By the way, the not getting along with the coworker was probably more damaging than the budget mistake. That’s always avoidable and will make you look petty — make sure that going forward you simply don’t see it as an option to get prickly with coworkers.)

2. The same person keeps getting all the jobs I want

I am a patent secretary in the Boston area. The patent community is very small and pretty much everyone knows one another. I have applied to a few positions where I thought I “had it in the bag,” only to find out that they chose another candidate. As it turns out, the “other” candidate is always the same person. She moves from job to job and brags about getting more money each time she moves on. This person changes companies/firms approximately every 6 months! This is so frustrating. I’m not the only one she does this to. I have a friend in the same profession who is her Facebook friend, and she is always aware of her Facebook employment updates.

How can I get around this? I wish I knew what she says to be able to bounce around and still land all the good jobs. I’ve been a temp for a couple of years and I always get questioned why I bounce around.

That sounds horribly frustrating. All you can really do is keep in mind that you never have it in the bag, no matter how qualified you are or how well the interview goes; there could always be a stronger candidate than you. And of course, it doesn’t follow that if she were out of the picture, you’d be the one getting the offers — they could be hiring someone else instead. Which I realize might just be more discouraging, but I think it will help not to see it as her taking jobs you would otherwise get.

That said … it’s weird. And I’ve got to assume that eventually her mad job hopping is going to cause problems.

3. How do I convey personality traits in a cover letter?

In a cover letter, how do I convey intangible personality traits that often set me apart from other applicants without sounding egotistical or like I’m full of it? For example, I am very approachable. I smile a lot, make eye contact, look nice, and, as a librarian, that makes patrons extremely comfortable approaching me and asking me for help. I am very friendly, I will always go that extra step or ten to make sure a patron gets what he/she is looking for (but that sounds cliche in a cover letter), I am passionate about my work and my field, and generally, people just like working with me. But see, that all sounds conceited and perhaps quite untrue. But it’s not, I swear. When I am close but not quite on many jobs I am applying for (different type of library, not quite enough tech experience) this can set me apart. So, any thoughts?

This is where the old writing advice “show, don’t tell” applies. You’re right that you don’t want to say, “I’m friendly and passionate and make people comfortable and they like working with me.” Instead, describe how that comes through in your work, talk about how you approach patron relations and why, and maybe some successes you’ve had. You’ll convey the same things, but instead of just asserting that you have those traits, you’ll be demonstrating them, which is a lot more effective.

4. My GPA was low in law school due to family health issues

I’m finishing off law school, and working on applying for jobs. However, during my 1L year, my grades took a nose drive. In October of my first year, my father needed emergency open heart surgery. He’d had a kidney transplant the prior winter, and because of multiple infections and complications, he needed to have a heart valve replaced. He had a 40% chance of surviving the surgery. Unfortunately, his surgery was during the week of midterms at my school. The dean was very understanding, and my absences were all excused with exams rescheduled, but my father’s recovery was long and arduous.

I was certain that I was going to lose my father, and I spent as much time as possible with him over the rest of the school year. My grades took a tumble. Since 1L year is fundamental, I spent the last year catching up on two years of law school. My grades have since improved drastically (so has my father), but my GPA is still low.

Since then, they’ve recovered, but now it’s job hunting season. I’m really concerned that prospective employers might dismiss me based on these less-than-stellar transcripts. Should I address this issue up front, like in a cover letter? Or should I hope that I still get an interview, and explain it there if I’m asked about my grades?

If you don’t have to include your GPA on your resume, don’t. If you’re asked about it in an interview, you can explain it then. If you do have to include it though (because of application instructions, etc.), then yes, include a short explanation in your cover letter — just a sentence or two — and explain that your grades have since improved dramatically (you might even say, “my GPA since that time has been X”). (And I’m glad your dad is doing better.)

5. Who can I use for references?

I have just started a new job search and have come across my first posting that asks to submit references. My current job is my first full-time job after college, and I have only worked there for 2 years. I worked several summer internships prior to my current position, however I did not have a specific manager and have not stayed in contact with anyone I worked with at the companies.

I am struggling to determine who I should contact for a professional reference, as I definitely do not want to list my current employer. I recently started a volunteer position, but have not volunteered there long enough to use them as a reference. What other type of references, other than past managers, would be suitable references to list on a job application? What type of relationship is expected between a reference and a job applicant?

Generally managers, but when you’re in your first job out of college, it’s understood that you might have a hard time coming up with manager references, since you usually won’t be using your current manager. However, I’d do whatever you can to get in touch with someone who could be a good reference from your internships — think about who there knew your work best and try to find them on LinkedIn, etc.

If I were interviewing someone in your shoes, I’d absolutely understand why I couldn’t talk to your current manager, but I’d expect to be put in touch with people who knew your work in your previous roles.

6. Should I remove unrelated summer jobs from my resume?

I’m a college student and I will be graduating in decemeber 2013 , I have work experience but only summer jobs that don’t relate to the kind of position I want to obtain after graduating should I remove them from my resume considering the time frame has only been from may-august for 4years and q different one each year?? I don’t have any other work experience.

Uh oh. The first thing you need to do is clean up your writing. I’m not one to nail people for minor mistakes in a casual email to a blog and I usually clean up those errors without comment, but this is so extreme that I want to point it out to you here, because this kind of email (misspellings, missing punctuation, run-on sentence, etc.) will get you instantly disqualified from any job you apply to, no matter what’s on your resume.

On to the answer: Keep your work experience on there. It’s far, far better to have some work experience — even if unrelated to the field you want to go into — than to have no experience at all. Also, do whatever you can to get an internship in your field before you graduate; it’s a tough job market, even with that experience.

7. When people where I volunteer offer to help in my job search, what can I ask for?

I am currently working at a nonprofit as a volunteer. That is, I am an Americorps volunteer and am just about to finish my year of service. All the upper management in my department and for the organization in general know that I will be leaving soon and have asked me about my job search. They seem to want to help and have mentioned in passing that if I need anything to ask them. My question is how do I reach out to these potential resources? Should I send everyone my resume and let know what I am looking for? Any advice would be helpful!

Meet with people individually. Tell them what type of work you’re looking for and ask for their advice. Email them your resume afterwards, with a thank-you for their time and a request that they let you know if they hear of any openings that you’d be a good fit for.

Individual meetings are better than simply emailing everyone your resume because (a) they’ll get more invested in you and your search and (b) you’ll have the chance to hear their advice, rather than simply giving them a resume. Good luck!

{ 113 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara July 12, 2013 at 12:50 am

#2. How does this happen? That is so bizarre!

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Lisa July 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

#2 – You should totally use her FB statuses to go after the jobs she leaves! Why are you only applying to new ones in which the cycle never ends? Go back and reapply to the ones she has left. You will prob get one of them. Your interest in them shouldn’t have died when they chose someone else especially since the jobs would be re-posted after this person leaves.

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KellyK July 12, 2013 at 9:51 am

That’s brilliant. Especially for the ones where you were a front-runner.

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Jessa July 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

That really IS brill. And I’d have never thought of that advice. What a great idea. I hope the OP tries it and lets us all know if it works.

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Jay July 12, 2013 at 1:05 am

Regarding #2, it seems like this letter is a bit more detailed than normal. By including the field specifically (especially since it’s referred to as “very small,” the location, and the other details, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was able to determine the job hopper’s real identity, and perhaps even the letter’s author and the author’s friend. Are details like this ever redacted? I’d imagine the answer to the question would be exactly the same if they all worked in a small niche of the chocolate teapot industry…

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Anonymous July 12, 2013 at 6:01 am

I was struck by the specificity of the letter as well. It’s also not sitting right with me, bc the situation doesn’t entirely make sense. If this job hopper has swooped in over two years and taken, say four jobs, there should be a net availability of three jobs out there. Presumably Ms. Job Hopper is not going to reapply to a job she held, which would leave the OP and her friend each a job with one to spare. Unless the OP wants to similarly job hop, which it doesn’t sound like she does, the situation would theoretically solve itself relatively soon. With the identifiable (to someone in the field) details and a situation that seems like it should quickly become a non-issue, it makes me feel like the OP wanted to just bad mouth Ms Hopper. However, giving the OP the benefit of the doubt, if you are genuinely puzzled by this situation, I would suggest you look closer at your own candidacy, as there should now be multiple jobs open that Ms Hopper is not applying to, and if you aren’t getting those as well, the issue clearly is not simply the perception that Ms Hopper is a stronger candidate.

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Anonymously Anonymous July 12, 2013 at 7:01 am

“If this job hopper has swooped in over two years and taken, say four jobs, there should be a net availability of three jobs out there. Presumably Ms. Job Hopper is not going to reapply to a job she held, which would leave the OP and her friend each a job with one to spare.”

“I would suggest you look closer at your own candidacy, as there should now be multiple jobs open that Ms Hopper is not applying to, and if you aren’t getting those as well, the issue clearly is not simply the perception that Ms Hopper is a stronger candidate.”

Agreeing. Makes sense to me.

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Lisa July 12, 2013 at 9:41 am

+1

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Jessa July 12, 2013 at 10:53 am

Unless I’m missing something, are these jobs the kinds of things where you do them and they’re done? I know nothing about patent work. Is this like building something? Where you do the thing and when it’s done and up the job is gone and you go onto the next building. IE is a patent secretary someone who shepherds a patent application through design to production to patent number and then goes to another company and does the same job for them?

Or are they a person who works for a firm that does patent law? When I saw it originally I thought okay this is a one job at a time thing and the job is done and you do another thing. As opposed to you sit and do a list of them?

No clue though.

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Portia de Belmont July 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Patent law is such a specific specialty of law that it requires a unique skill set, for both attorneys and support staff. Most patent lawyers were engineers, or at least had an engineering degree prior to going to law school, and their support staff generally have science backgrounds as well. Even in my large city, (larger than the OP’s Boston) patent law is a very small community, so it’s entirely possible that the same handful of people will compete for any open position, since they are the only ones with the appropriate skills and experience. It’s also one of the highest paid specialties, so if I had any kind of qualifications for it, I’d be competing for those jobs myself.

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Elise July 12, 2013 at 7:17 am

I thought that it was an easy fix, too. When this person switched to the latest job, why didn’t you immediately apply to their prior office?

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Construction HR July 12, 2013 at 7:24 am

Exactly

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RubyJackson July 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

The details may be very specific to illustrate her point, but the job description and location may also be completely made up to hide her identity.

If not, that’s kind of a risky letter to write. Perhaps she expected Alison to remove the specific details or respond directly instead of publishing publicly. I don’t know.

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Ask a Manager July 12, 2013 at 10:06 am

Seemed unnecessarily specific to me too, but I figure people know to remove any details they don’t want published.

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A Bug! July 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm

You would figure, but there was that person recently who claimed to have no idea you published questions at all!

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Ruffingit July 12, 2013 at 7:02 pm

It may be that the letter writer has made up the industry, the city where they work, and other potentially identifying details because those things don’t really affect the question or answer, but they can affect identity. I tend to assume that when a LW gets this specific, although I do have to say that I was able to figure out the company of one letter once because of the details provided.

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Chocolate Teapot July 12, 2013 at 1:08 am

2. The job hopping seems so strange. Based on previous posts on here about how to present a hopping CV, it can only be presumed that the other candidate has such an impressive background that employers fight to employ her. (which might be taken with a hefty pinch of salt!)

Either that, or she is trailing somebody from company to company.

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Kelly O July 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I have to admit, I am rather curious how she’s remaining a hot commodity if she’s a known jumper. At some point that will come back to bite her.

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Jamie July 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Some positions lend themselves to jumping – I wonder if this is one.

I.e. I’m pretty damn good at ERP implementation, go live through transition. The unsolicited offers I get to hop are almost always based on wanting me for that. So in theory I could be a hired gun moving from company to company and once people stop being afraid of pressing the wrong button in an ERP module and blowing up the free world I’d move on. Also ISO from scratch through registration…I am not bad.

If I limited my job to this frustrating and life span reducing part of it (albeit challenging and also pretty fun and rewarding) I could legitimately hop companies every 1-2 years because my work would be done.

But that would mean missing out on seeing the processes mature and having other non-transient duties so that would suck…but if anyone knows of a position for a renegade implementation ninja just let me know…:)

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A Bug! July 12, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Wouldn’t that be something that is a perfect basis for going into consulting?

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Jamie July 12, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Yes, but that’s a lot of work and I’d hate to have to figure out my own taxes. Freelancing isn’t for everyone, and I learned first hand that it’s definitely not for me.

My point – lost in my narcissistic rambling – is that some jobs would lend themselves to hopping without the stigma…but they are very few and far between. Mostly the highly specialized stuff which is only needed for a finite period of time.

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Portia de Belmont July 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Normally, I’d agree that it certainly could rebound on her. But if she has a ton of experience in a couple of highly in-demand areas (like biochemical or clean energy) or is skilled in patent litigation, she could be considered worth having for as long as she’ll stay. If she’s job-hopped as much as it seems, she also has a lot of valuable contacts to clue her in when a new position is available. The fact that she keeps getting both the job and better money with every move makes me think she’s got a lot on the ball.

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Ruffingit July 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Agreed. I would think someone who can get that many jobs in such a short span has some mad skills and they are clearly in demand.

Honestly, I read the OP’s letter as something of a “wahhhh…she’s taking MY jobs….” thing. Because honestly, what’s the remedy here? OP cannot call up the woman and say “Stop applying for all the good jobs!” It’s none of OP’s business what this woman applies for. The OP was acting as though this woman was her nemesis. Sorry to say it Superman, but she’s not Lex Luther. Figure out how to make your own resume the best it can be and go from there.

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Contessa July 12, 2013 at 1:32 am

To #4, the standard for attorney resumes (based on what I was told by the career services people for mine) is your class rank, not GPA. If your transcript has your rank and percentage, put those on instead of your GPA. I’ve only once been asked for my law school GPA (which sounds low until you see that it is top 20%, which I assume is why people would rather see your rank).

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Cat July 12, 2013 at 7:50 am

Though an awful lot of attorney jobs require transcripts and then look a 1L grades specifically (which I think is hard to defend, but they do seem to do it) so I think the explanation is probably going to be necessary a lot too.

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#4 OP July 12, 2013 at 8:03 am

Fall recruiters (I know, it’s July, but the madness is already starting) have overwhelmingly asked for transcripts along with resume and cover letter. Some ask for rank and such, which is nice, but I know that my first year just sticks out so vividly from my other years at the school.

Since there was a pretty marked improvement over time, I usually explain to people that I stuck it out during an incredibly trying time, and that I’ve worked hard to make my class performance better and better. But that requires me to get to the interview stage with my class transcripts before I can offer explanations.

I think the advice makes sense, and will definitely include a line or two in my cover letter so I manage to get to the interview stage. Thanks!

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Sydney Bristow July 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

I’d definitely mention it in your cover letter. A lot of it is going to come down to the types of places you are applying to. Big law firms at OCI seem to put a lot of emphasis on grades/class rank. I suggest applying to a broad range of places, although I’d suggest regardless of your grades. Good luck with your search!

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Alicia July 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

I’m not in law, but I had a similar situation where I had very poor grades (legitimately poor, not just “cry wolf” poor) in the beginning of my BSc. Funnily enough, it trailed behind me all the way to the end of my PhD – I hated it so much. I took to quoting my GPA in the last two years of my degree (e.g. “GPA of X out of X for the final two years”, but I hated when they asked for transcripts because then the atrocities were just right there for everyone to see. Don’t people want to see growth?!

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dejavu2 July 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

No, they want to see people who didn’t have to grow.

I know this because my 1L grades were terrible, 2L and 3L were legit stellar, but it seemed like no one could get past the first year.

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Contessa July 12, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Ew, yeah, if they want the transcript with the resume, you’ll have to address it in the cover letter.

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Laundress July 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

I’m an attorney in the midwest, and my office is currently hiring. I expect both GPA and class rank to be front and center on a resume; if they’re not, I’ll more likely than not toss that one immediately. My advice to #4 is to show your GPA on your resume like this:

Cumulative: [low number]
2L year: [much better number]

to make sure people see right away that you’ve improved. Then explain the low 1L grades in your cover letter as AAM suggested.

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Victoria Nonprofit July 12, 2013 at 8:52 am

I appreciate that this is an expectation in your field, but independent of that why do you care about an attorney’s grades and rank?

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College Career Counselor July 12, 2013 at 9:05 am

I’m guessing there are a few reasons:

1) that’s the way it’s been done for years (if not decades)
2) Law is a status field, and you want the best performers coming out of law school
3) there’s an over-supply of attorneys relative to the job openings, so you need a quick, easy way to winnow your applicant pool down

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Contessa July 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Asking for the GPA itself for something like law schools, where there is an express and well-known curve system, doesn’t seem to tell you as much about the person as it does in a regular school environment. This is kind of just a pet peeve of mine, but knowing that grades are curved means I would think it is more important to see how a candidate compared to other people (i.e. the rank) than to see the raw number. The curve usually puts a C as the middle, so you can have someone who technically has a B-looking GPA who is ahead of most of their classmates.

(I’m not criticizing, it’s just something that frustrated me personally because, as a perfectionist who really worked hard, I was aghast at my law school GPA even though my rank was good)

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Oof July 13, 2013 at 12:26 am

Top firms have spreadsheets with different GPA cut-offs for each law school that they routinely hire from.

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P July 12, 2013 at 9:34 am

I guess I’m not really in a position to speak for this, but it does make some sense to me. Of course grades (especially curved ones) aren’t always representative, but if someone has mediocre grades in law school there are many reasons why that might be – simply because law school is grueling and many people don’t test well, but it could also something more indicative of job performance, like they got dinged on their exams for poor writing ability or something along those lines.

I think that with the higher ranking students, there are more things that you can be almost certain are true: in most cases, that they do fine with lots of hours of tedious reading and have at least adequate writing ability. Particularly with curved grades, if someone gets an A it’s essentially a reference from their professor saying that in their opinion that student’s work was better than the majority of their classmates.

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Anonymous July 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

I’ve gone to law school, but don’t practice law. Along the same lines as Laundress, you might put:

GPA: 1L: 2.2; 2L: 3.2; 3L: 4.0. Cum: 3.0

to show the increase over time. You might even put 1L: 2.2 (family illness), but maybe that’s TMI for a resume.

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Cat July 12, 2013 at 9:56 am

I think there’s some truth to this. Low grades aren’t necessarily indicative of any thing; high grades will be indicative of something. Though that something may or may not translate into being the kind of lawyer you need for your practice, so you still need to screen candidates carefully.

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anon July 12, 2013 at 9:43 am

My first office job was in a govt law office. They requested official law school transcripts for all attorney and student attorney applicants because many, many years before they had an attorney working there who not only hadn’t passed the bar, she hadn’t gone to law school or undergrad.

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Cat July 12, 2013 at 10:09 am

Though to be honest, verifying membership with the state bar in question seems simpler; surely every state in the country checks undergraduate and law school graduation as part of their character and fitness process?

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tcookson July 12, 2013 at 10:58 am

they had an attorney working there who not only hadn’t passed the bar, she hadn’t gone to law school or undergrad

Wow — how do people sell themselves for positions like that when they have absolutely none of the qualifications? For me, that would be harder than just doing the work to get the degrees. And to think that some of us have trouble selling people on the qualifications that we actually do have! You almost have to kind of admire the sheer [salesmanship?? or whatever it is that they're using]

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LV July 12, 2013 at 11:48 am

Maybe they have a perfect memory like Mike in Suits, who also got a job as a lawyer despite not having gone to college or law school.

To be fair, he HAD passed the bar… under other people’s names, but still.

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Chinook July 12, 2013 at 11:56 am

“Wow — how do people sell themselves for positions like that when they have absolutely none of the qualifications?”

There is a small subset of people who can pull it off because of their self-confidence and knowledge. (“Catch Me If You Can” tells the story of one guy who did. M*A*S*H also had an episode abotu a doctor who did this). They truly are unique and could pass the qualifications if they tried but have foudn an easier wy to do it.

In Canada, they caught one woman who had spent years passing herself off as both a registered nurse and a certified teacher in various provinces. She was caught only because one principal actually double checked her certification with her province and couldn’t find her. So many places don’t check and just assume they are honest. I remember discussing this at the nursing group I worked with after it came out because we did some certifying work with RNs and none of us double checked their paperwork even though we required them to be currently licsensed.

As a result of these incidents, I talk the part of my job that allows me to randomly audit safety certifications of our contractors seriously as I was hired to track their various qualifications.

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Chinook July 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

I agree, though, that if you can fake being a lawyer and only be caught because someone checked your paperwork (vs. just being really bad at it), then that is someone who is very impressive.

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bearing July 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Yeah. He should definitely mention it in his cover letter.

Ruffingit July 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm
College Career Counselor July 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm

The HR director at my current employer tells me that the number one thing people lie about/fudge/misrepresent/etc. is their academic credentials. I asked how many applications had this issue, and she told, “about 30% of what we see.”

Now, I work in higher education where academic credentials are a Big Hairy Deal and people tend to pay a great deal of attention to them. So, that 30% figure could be higher elsewhere..

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Lynn July 12, 2013 at 6:39 pm

That seems so weird to me. A lot of things are kind of subjective, or not well-documented, and you could lie your head off and never be caught. Who is going to double-check whether you “devised a new chocolate-tempering system” or were just in the room when it happened? But degrees are objective (you have them or you don’t) and well-documented.

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Ruffingit July 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm

If someone doesn’t bother to “look” at said document, it doesn’t matter how well-documented something is. In other words, many people just take the word of someone that they have a B.A. in Chocolate Teapot Design. They don’t check if that is really true or not.

Ruffingit July 12, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Yeah, outside of the “holy crap, that is so wrong ethically,” I do admit to an admiration of people who can pull that off. I certainly couldn’t.

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MovingRightAlong July 12, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Was her name Jenn Winger?

Although, TBF, Jeff at least passed the bar….

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NutellaNutterson July 12, 2013 at 3:10 pm

A close friend worked at a law school where an employer only discovered someone was claiming alum status because the signature on the fake diploma was wrong.

Go big or go home, I guess? Some psychopathy is really fascinating!

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Contessa July 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

That’s nuts. I feel like attorney licensing is pretty easy to check by name (and probably was before the internet as well), even in states that do not use attorney ID numbers.

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Oof July 13, 2013 at 12:30 am

Most of the top law schools don’t have a class rank system (for example, they release only the median GPA, if that). Sooooo, yeah, your firm is not going to get that from them, and you’ll be tossing top candidates solely because you’re doing legal hiring and don’t know the conventions at top law schools. (This is not a widespread problem; most large law firms have professional hiring coordinators who know at least the grading conventions/medians/etc. at the top local schools well.)

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AnotherAlison July 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

I am wondering if the lawyers on here agree with putting an explanation in the cover letter. To me, it seems like a catch-22. If you’re explaining that you survived – but barely – through a trying time, it seems to me it’s better than leaving it open for speculation, but on the other hand, the law profession is very demanding and trying times recur through life. Would it be a deterrent, even with the explanation, since some law firms expect you to give up a personal life no matter what happens in it?

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Ask a Manager July 12, 2013 at 10:56 am

I’d like to hear what lawyers say too, but my thought there is that they’re going to see the grades either way (assuming it’s convention to request them in the field, which it seems to be), so better to have an explanation than not. But lawyers, please do weigh in!

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bearing July 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I’m really curious how someone would phrase this in a cover letter. I understand (some) how to use the cover letter to sell your unique combination of qualifications. I can’t think how you would use it to argue that an on-the-surface black mark shouldn’t count against you.

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Oof July 13, 2013 at 12:34 am

Yes, put it in. You won’t get in at the firms with a GPA cut-off (and OP at least has the good sense to know he’s not biglaw-bound), but you won’t get those firms without the explanation either. The risk of harm vs. the potential benefits weighs strongly in favor of including it, especially if tastefully done while emphasizing your strengths.

Some good advice for lawyers I’ve heard: “If you can’t effectively be your own advocate, how can anyone expect you to be a good advocate for them?”

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Cat July 12, 2013 at 11:02 am

It might be a deterrent for those law firms, yeah, but there are legal employers who don’t expect that from their employees, and those might be a better fit. (This explanation would be received fine at my public interest-side firm, for instance.)

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#4 OP July 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

For a little additional context: most of the firms I’m applying to are 10 or less attorneys, in New England (mostly in NH). I can’t lie, I’m not one of those people who wants a spot in Biglaw.

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Ruffingit July 12, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Lawyer here. That’s actually helpful that you’re applying to smaller firms. In that case, then yes, I would put it in the cover letter and perhaps phrase it something like this:

“My grades during 1L reflect a difficult time in my life. My father underwent open heart surgery and suffered near fatal complications. I spent much of my time at his bedside and assisting my family. Consequently, my grades during 1L slipped. I was successful in raising my grades during my remaining two years as you can see from my transcript. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.”

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V July 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Another lawyer here and I agree 100% with Ruffingit’s advice. Also, take heart that your grades will matter less and less the further you get into your career, and who you know/your reputation will matter more. So even if your 1L grades land you in a job you don’t like now, go to bar events, network within your field, and strive to do good work with an eye toward finding something better after a few years.

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Sourire July 12, 2013 at 11:15 am

Not sure it could possibly be any more of a deterrent than the bad grades already are. There will be firms who will not accept any excuse, and for them, explanation or not, low 1L scores are an automatic disqualifier anyway.

There really aren’t (imo) many “better” reasons for low grades (being extremely sick yourself is the possible exception), so providing an explanation that doesn’t leave them wondering if you were just slacking may not help, but shouldn’t hurt.

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Laundress July 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I say if you have a good explanation (like a family illness, not just “I had a *great* time partying 1L year, woohoo!”) for bad grades, sure, offer it. I certainly won’t think less of a candidate for that. But then, I work at a place that understands lawyers are also human beings.

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Oof July 13, 2013 at 12:21 am

Firms have GPA cut-offs. If you don’t give them that information, they typically assume you’re below the cut-off and move on. So I’d only leave it off if you’re absolutely sure you’re below the cut-off. Also, don’t trust career services at law schools. They are almost uniformly terrible.

Also, for OP #4 — job-hunting season starts on Day 1 in law school. You need a 1L summer job and a 2L summer job, as well as externships/internships/journal, to stand a strong chance of having a job at graduation.

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Contessa July 13, 2013 at 1:32 am

But that would only be a problem if you apply to bigger firms with such requirements. I’m at a regionally prestigious firm, at which I was told I was hired expressly because of my academic background (because Lord knows, I didn’t have any experience). My GPA was not on my resume, and I got in the door using only my rank and percentage; I had an interview before they even asked for my transcript. It really depends on where you want to work. For what the OP stated s/he wants (small northeastern firm), s/he could probably go either way, with something in the cover letter if the GPA is included to get the explanation out there before the interview.

When I’ve hired law clerks, I focused on rank and writing samples, for what it’s worth.

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Oof July 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Most regionally prestigious firms also have firmwide GPA cutoffs, but they vary by school. (Although some schools harm their students by having extremely low curves that result in a lot of sub-3.0 GPAs. Nobody wants to see anything below a 3.0.) I’ve worked at a top small firm, a regionally prestigious firm, and a top Vault international firm, ranging from 35-1000+ lawyers. They all hired the same way; they just had different standards. (Some firms went deeper into the class at the lower-ranked local schools while others took only #1, if any, etc.).

Also, are you hiring law clerks or summer associates? A law clerk position is considered to be inferior to a summer associate position, so if they’re essentially the same thing (summer associates have an opportunity for a full-time position at the end), you may be turning off a lot of top candidates by misnaming your position.

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RG July 16, 2013 at 5:16 pm

My Midwest law school (Top 25) explicitly states that we are not allowed to reveal our class rank except in the case of an application for a clerkship. In keeping with that, they will only tell us our class rank if we are applying to a clerkship (IIRC). So, some graduates will only have their GPA to offer…

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Lily July 12, 2013 at 6:20 am

#1 OP, you know you’ve made mistakes, so that is already an important first step. Second, follow Alison’s advice, so that you manager knows that you know that you’ve made mistakes which matter. Too often, people dismiss their mistakes or act like they are unimportant. If “mortified” sounds extreme to you, then just show your embarrassment instead of trying to hide it. Third, show you’re learned your lesson! How people deal with mistakes is very important and I think a good recovery can even improve a relationship, so please don’t give up hope of a good recommendation.

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Sourire July 12, 2013 at 6:28 am

#1 – You are new to the workforce, no one starts out perfect! As long as you are honest and critical with yourself about what your shortcomings are, and show a genuine interest in improving yourself and continuing to learn how to improve your work as well, you should come out of this fine. Perhaps even with a manager who can really attest to your growth and development.

Besides, from the title of the letter, I was expecting some heinous error, and while you did make mistakes, it’s nothing to egregious in my opinion. The coworker thing is petty, yes, but if you’re young (as I expect you are), it can be a bit common. One just does not need to get along with her classmates in the same way that one needs to get along with coworkers, and that can be a rough adjustment sometimes.

Regarding the budget issue, as long as you have learned from it (what you did wrong and why, how it can be fixed and/or prevented next time, etc), this could be a good talking point in future interviews actually.

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majigail July 12, 2013 at 6:33 am

#7- As an ED, I want to see our young volunteers go on to do great things, most do! Definitely talk to the people you’ve met there about networking and job openings they know about. They’ll also be able to tell you if there’s a job posting site you need to look at. Where I live, there’s a local one where all the nonprofits post to. The people at the organization are often networked enough to give you the skinny on your potential employers too so you can go in prepared and knowledgeable about the culture.
Good luck!

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College Career Counselor July 12, 2013 at 8:32 am

Absolutely! Came in to recommend that once you’ve talked to the people at your organization and they know about your interests, you should ask if they have additional ideas for networking contacts. If you’re looking for additional NFP work, I’d take a look at field-specific websites, as well as national/international boards (idealist.org, opportunityknocks.org) and industry publications. Good luck!

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americorps alum (x2) July 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I definitely agree with the AAM response – but I’d take it a little further. I found that people who are super ready to help (as you seem to have) generally appreciate and are most useful when you can ask for something specific. If you have LinkedIn, and you should, go through all their contacts and see if there’s anyone you’d like to be introduced to. Ask them to help you think of places that would be good to work, or people they think you’d benefit from talking to. Ask them to be references, to read over your resume, what they wish they’d known when they were your age. Successful people have so much to offer! Many of them may not ever know about job openings, but they can help you in other ways.

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Grace July 12, 2013 at 8:21 am

How do people feel about using professors as references?

I worked through college, so luckily I’ve had some experience, but I’ve seen people use their college professors as references before.

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College Career Counselor July 12, 2013 at 8:35 am

I would say that if you’ve worked for the professor (research assistant, teaching assistant, project work, etc.) it’s better than if you were simply a student in class (even a really good student). Because generally, the professor knows your work in the classroom, which may or may not translate to the work environment. If you do use professors as employment references, try to make sure they can attest to the things that an employer will care about (responsibility, good communication/writing skills, work ethic, etc.) in addition to your academic performance.

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Joey July 12, 2013 at 8:51 am

Better than nothing.

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Anonymous July 12, 2013 at 9:29 am

I used my professors to beef up my reference list when all I had was my internship supervisor, but most of my work in school was project based, so they had a better idea of what my actual work ethic is. Not as much as a regular manager, of course, but better than someone who just graded my homework.

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ChristineSW July 12, 2013 at 10:06 am

I did the same thing right out of grad school.

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E.R July 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

I used a professor as a reference once (2nd job out of college) but I think the only reason I got away with it is because it was a university publisher (as in, publishes textbooks for universities, selling to professors)

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Felicia July 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

The only time I ever used a professor as a reference was when the entire course was making our on news/feature website using a particular program, and the position was updating /creating content for a news/feature website, which is exactly what the course was. I also had a previous manager, but I thought that was a good reference because it was a much more practical course. I had another course where the entire course was making the school’s magazine including content, layout and promotion and I had considered using the professor for that as a reference to any position that involved those duties. I would never have used references from the professors of my more theoretical courses though.

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Ask a Manager July 12, 2013 at 10:13 am

I won’t call professors as references; they rarely can tell me the types of things I want to know about someone. If someone had no previous jobs at all, I’d probably rather go with no references than call professors — they’re just not useful phone calls. (That said, it’s rare for someone with zero experience all through college to make it to the interview stage, so usually people at least have past summer jobs or internships.)

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Ask a Manager July 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

(That said, I don’t hold it against students/recent grads for listing them. It’s a reasonable thing to do.)

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FD July 12, 2013 at 5:40 pm

What if a professor was a supervisor? For example, your department head was also the person you reported to for an internship you were doing with your department.

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Ask a Manager July 12, 2013 at 5:42 pm

That’s totally fine — it’s just when they only know you through schoolwork that it’s not as helpful.

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Anon July 12, 2013 at 8:23 am

#7: I completed a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA from 2011-2012 and was recently hired by the same office (yay)! Before I completed my service year, I reached out to all of my co-workers as well as community partners (members of the board, local businesses who support us, etc) and other branches across the country. I ended up with a temp position in another state for about 8 months, which I only left due to the offer of my current position. Basically, my advice is to mine every contact you have made–not just your co-workers. People in non-profits love to help and you never know who has a great connection. Best of luck!

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Sarah July 12, 2013 at 9:13 am

#1 – I will say that not getting along with a coworker is sometimes not about you (can’t tell from your situation). However, I have a very difficult coworker. I tend to shut down when around her, but other employees have gotten into screaming fights with her, including our boss. She has threatened to quit several times and not shown back up to work for several days. My boss is so afraid to do another search for this specialist position that she just tolerates her bad behavior. Anyway, I was sent a very passive aggressive e-mail about how me and her need to put our differences aside and work together. Mind you that we have never gotten into a fight like her and the rest of the staff members. I’ve worked at 6 other organizations and have never had an issue like this, and considering her issues with the rest of the staff, I tend to whitewash that e-mail because it’s certainly not just my problem.

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JMegan July 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

#3 – I have an MLS, and am working as a records manager – not quite a librarian, but certainly a close cousin. Like you, I have found that my people skills, and my genuine enthusiasm for the work, are what often sets me apart from other candidates in a job search.

I tend to include language like this in my cover letters:

~One of my favourite parts of the job is teaching people about what I do. This is a field in which many people do not have extensive knowledge or interest. I have both.
~I can easily customize my message to different audiences, and demonstrate to [various position levels], without using a lot of technical jargon or industry acronyms.

HTH, good luck in your search!

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fposte July 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

On #2, I think the actual person is less relevant than it initially seems–this is basically a problem of “I’m in a small field where there’s always at least one stronger candidate for jobs.” I think a lot of us are familiar with competing against superstars, and it can be a real challenge in a tight local market. Some possibilities are expanding your search geographically, polishing up your application package till it shines like the sun, and developing additional strengths to add to your candidacies.

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Moni July 12, 2013 at 10:09 am

I have an unrelated interview question. Is it ok to ask about opportunities for advancement in a job interview? What is the best way to address this for a newly created position (ie, no typical career path for that particular role)? I want to convey my interest in having a long term career with the organization, but at the same time I want to convey my interest in the current role, not just as a stepping stone to the next role.

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Sourire July 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

This would be a good question to email to Alison directly. I know she tries to keep the comments section focused on the question at hand or tangents fairly directly related.

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Editor July 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

#3 and #6 mashup — typos and the phrase “(but that sounds cliche in a cover letter)”:

I know typos aren’t the focus of these threads, but I am seeing “cliche” used more and more in this style. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a consensus among editors that replaces “cliched” with “cliche.” So, the phrase should have been “but that sounds cliched in a cover letter” or “but that sounds like a cliche in a cover letter.” I’m not trying to criticize the writer as Alison did in the other question, because I doubt the librarian is using cliche in cover letters. People seem to have increasing trouble with cliche and cachet/cache; I attribute this to hearing the words but not reading enough to see them used (I am guessing people hear “cliche” when the text would show “cliched” and somehow the listener hasn’t heard the final consonant. This is just a problem to be aware of, and one to watch for when proofreading.

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Zahra July 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm

As a french speaker, I’m surprised that “cliched” is the proper past participle/adjective. I’d expect “clichéed”.

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fposte July 12, 2013 at 12:27 pm

English balks at a double ee that’s not pronounced “ee.” That’s why “garnished” is gaining ground on “garnisheed.”

I suppose it is kind of funny to retain the acute accent but then insist on an English treatment, but that’s my style practice as well.

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Editor July 12, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Yes, this. Although there’s still garnishee and lessee and similar words, including the favorite here, employee.

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Editor July 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm

The -ed suffix drops the e after another e in most cases, and the common form apparently doesn’t distinguish between the e with the accent and the e without. If you run a Google search, the results aren’t totally reliable, but cliched gets more than 3 million hits and clicheed gets only about 20,000; that’s a pretty clear indicator of past practices.

I think of the word as French, but it has been used in English long enough to be treated as though it was an English word.

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AB July 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

#2: ” I’m not the only one she does this to. ”

Hmm… She is not doing anything to anyone. She is applying to jobs and getting them, even with a clear history of job hopping. As far as I know, she may even be saying,

“I get bored with a job quickly, so you can expect me to want to leave in about 6 months, as you can see by my job history. However, during these 6 months, you will get X, Y and Z from me.”

(With X, Y and Z being huge benefits for the company, that may decide it’s better to get a top performer for 6 months than an average one willing to stay long term.)

I wouldn’t assume it’s “what she says” in interviews that matters here, but much more her history of accomplishments (or, yes, as someone mentioned, a case of she following a lawyer/manager who likes her work).

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Jamie July 12, 2013 at 11:05 am

That line jumped out at me, too. Her applying for and getting jobs has nothing to do with you or anyone else – it’s not being done at anyone.

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Brightwanderer July 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Yes, this. Unless OP thinks this woman is, I don’t know, deliberately finding out where other people are applying and rushing in to one-up them, she’s not doing anything to OP and her friend. It’s just an unfortunate coincidence. As Captain Awkward says, “she’s not doing an activity/feeling an emotion/making a choice AT you.”

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Brton3 July 12, 2013 at 11:15 am

To #2 – I hate to say this but I was in a similar situation, except I was “the other guy” to a college classmate. We both had similar interests, and while we were in school we both applied to a certain coveted student job, which I got and he didn’t. Shortly thereafter we graduated, and I applied for a really excellent job and got it very quickly. The HR person asked me to be discreet about the news (like, don’t post it on facebook) until a formal offer happened, because confidentially, one of my classmates was the other top candidate and they wanted to call him. And lo and behold it was the same guy.

Then a year later, I left that job to go to grad school in a program that only took one student a year. And sure enough, I later discovered that this SAME guy was the other top candidate for the program.

During my first year in grad school, he moved away. To Guam. He still lives there now, some 7 or 8 years later. I think he’s happy? But I did feel like a bit of a jerk, although obviously I did nothing wrong, and I would never rub it in his face.

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LV July 12, 2013 at 11:52 am

You made him feel so bad about his life that he moved to Guam to escape you!

(Just kidding!)

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Brton3 July 12, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I’m not going to pretend I don’t occasionally think about that.

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AB July 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Well, I’d expect he applied to many other jobs, and having been a top contender for the ones you got, there’s no reason to think your success impeded his :-).

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Brton3 July 12, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Well, that’s the thing. I know for a fact that he basically never got a real job. He did a lot of volunteering, a bit of traveling, maintained a pretty good blog, that kind of thing. It wasn’t until he moved to Guam (why, I don’t know) that he actually got a job, which I believe was a volunteer position that gradually turned into a paying job. Which he still has. I don’t know where he got the funds to live and travel for all that time.

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Another Reader July 12, 2013 at 11:16 am

#1 — Please don’t beat yourself up. You can learn from your mistakes to improve your performance and do better in the future–since your manager can’t read your mind or know how you feel unless you tell her, a conversation like AAM recommends may help her understand what you have learned. And is there any way you could correct for the overspending in one area by economizing or locating a deal for something else — because working to correct the situation can help too.

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Chinook July 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm

#1 – I agree that showing that you are trying to correct your budgeting error by economizing in other areas is a good idea and that you shouldn’t stress out too much about it because going overbudget is a rookie mistake. That being said, I do reccomend that you take a look at what went wrong with the budget (Were you too extravagant? Were your estimates too conservative? Did you leave no room for hidden expenses? Did you forget to include basics like office supplies or postage?) If you are unsure about what you should/could have done differently, ask your manager for details so you won’t make the same mistakes again. Life requires budgeting skills, whether it is budgeting money, time or effort, so learning from an early mistake can set you up for success in the long run.

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Jamie July 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I’m just wondering who gives any kind of significant budget to a brand new employee only there for the summer.

First time out with a real budget someone experienced should be overseeing things – even if in just a silent capacity – to make sure things don’t get out of hand.

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AB July 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Yes! I was wondering the same thing. I’d say the manager is at least as guilty as the OP regarding the budget. Who puts a brand new summer employee in charge of any real budget without some serious amount of oversight?

The issue should never have gotten to the point of the manager being “not pleased at all”. It should have been caught and resolved much earlier if the manager was doing his/her job.

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Elle July 12, 2013 at 11:32 am

I think a cover letter is the way to go with LW4 but for anyone else who may be in LW 4′s situation: TAKE THE YEAR OUT. I’m really serious about this. Law is such a grades and status sensitive field. It’s crazy. Your grades follow you around for many years in your career.

If you are at the point where you can’t cope, this isn’t college, take the year out, ask for your tuition back and begin again in the fall. 1L is a rite of passage for law students and your grades in 1L are treated differently to your grades in your other years. So it is always difficult to fully offset a very bad 1L year.

Another point is this, LW4 didn’t say which law school she was attending but presumably she is graduating without a job so I’m guessing it’s a regional school, not a national school. This is going to sound very harsh but to any future: LW4 you should always be considering the possibility of dropping out completely! It just may not be worth it to graduate from the bottom of a not great school.

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Lexy July 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm

In my not so humble opinion… it’s not worth it to graduate at the top of your class from a regional school.

My husband graduated a few years ago from a Tier 3 well respected regional school, top 10% of his class. No job (started his own practice). Same for one of his best friends who was #2 in the class. He was actually working as a pizza delivery driver for a while after law school.

Kids. Don’t go to law school.

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To LW6 July 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I absolutely agree that you need to clean up your writing. Does your university have a writing center? If so, you should bring something you’ve written there and see if they can give you any pointers. Writing doesn’t come easily to a lot of people, but it’s a very necessary skill in a lot of professions. It is absolutely worth working hard at your writing to make it look polished and professional.
If there is no writing center available to you, try posting flyers looking for a tutor in the English or journalism buildings at your school. You’ll probably find some undergrads who’d be more than happy to help you with your writing for not much money.

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T-riffic July 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm

#3 needs to read Alison’s post with the best cover letter ever. http://www.askamanager.org/2011/09/great-cover-letter.html
That person did an excellent job of “showing not telling” and conveying personality. It’s one of my favorite AAM posts.

#7: Spot on advice. I am also a service member, and it’s so great when people within your organization want to help you in your job search. I know another service member from years ago who had a goal in the last few months of her year to do one informational interview a week. Start by talking to the people within your org, and they may refer you to more people who could possibly help you. You never know where one of these paths will lead. Good luck with the search!

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Marina July 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm

#1 – I had a summer internship in college where midway through I got a talking-to about how poorly I was doing that genuinely made me cry. And at the end of the internship the ED told me I was the best intern they’d ever had. I turned it around basically by asking for specific advice about what I should be doing differently, and (of course) working my butt off. Turns out people actually like you BETTER if you show you can recover from a mistake, than if you were perfect to begin with. Also it’s a very, very common interview question, (“tell us about a time you made a mistake at work”) so start thinking before you even leave this job about how you want to be able to answer that.

Also, unless there’s a lot of info you left out, not getting along with a coworker and messing up your budget are not going to ruin your reputation in your field forever. Those are pretty minor mistakes. You WILL make mistakes in future jobs, because nobody’s perfect 100% of the time, so use this as a learning opportunity to figure out how to deal with that. With mistakes like that, what matters most is how you recover and grow from them.

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at8408 July 17, 2013 at 10:53 pm

#3 May also want to check out the website opencoverletters.com which is for librarians. The point is to see how other people write a successful cover letter (all cover letters posted resulted in an interview if not job offer) not to steal them.

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