It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…
1. Is there any hope for college dropouts?
I am a mid-20s college dropout who is quickly learning that to most employers, “some college” is the same thing as no college. My situation is a bit unique because I did complete the number of credit hours required to earn a degree, but because I changed my major so many times, none of it counted towards a degree in the end. About 75% of my coursework fulfills a STEM major that I settled on in the end, but I ran out of money and had to leave to pursue full-time work in order to save up enough to finish undergrad.
Since then, things have not gone as planned. The only jobs I qualify for are low-paying retail and clerical jobs at companies where there isn’t much room for growth. I do not feel above these jobs, and I take great pride in my work, but I do feel like a failure sometimes. This is because I went through the college experience but have nothing to show for it in the end. My lack of a degree has closed many doors and I am now trying to push forward and figure out what steps to take to get back on track.
Is there a way for a job seeker with some college to still be competitive in this market? I would love to find a challenging job that pays a bit more so I could save up quicker for college while still building a strong resume. Is this possible with the right approach? I’m currently working two jobs to support myself and save for college as I have given up on finding anything better without a degree. At this rate, it will be a while before I am financially able to return. I just want to make sure that I have not given up too soon. Is there any hope for a college dropout?
Ugh, I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. There are some employers who will look at what you accomplished, regardless of degree, but it’s easier to find them when you have more experience to point to. (Those are the employers who are smart enough to know that a degree is really a quick way to screen for some basic education and the wherewithal to stick with something at least minimally challenging for four years — but that once you’re dealing with candidates with years of experience, their track record in the real world says much more about what they’re capable of than a degree can say.)
But when you’re early in your working life and don’t yet have a track record to point to, you’re right that this can be a real obstacle. One way around is to try to find a job in a smaller company where you can work your way up once you’re in. But I’d also talk to your school about what financial assistance might make it possible for you to finish the degree sooner. Good luck.
2. Should I tell a prospective employer that I was laid off after I originally applied?
I applied for a job in July and was contacted two weeks ago to set up a interview in mid-September. Within days of scheduling the interview, I also completed and returned a 10-question pre-screen form, asking questions about whether I’d be willing to relocate, when I would be able to start if offered the job, etc. I indicated that I would be able to start two weeks after acceptance of a written offer.
Fast forward to this week: I was laid off Monday. Should I contact the prospective new employer and let them know that I was laid off and my availability is more flexible? Or do I wait to mention it at the interview?
I actually wouldn’t mention it at all, unless it comes up naturally. You don’t want to lie or misrepresent your situation, but you don’t need to go out of your way to proactively update them either. Employed candidates tend to be the most attractive candidates, and so there’s no need to take the risk of lowering your value in their eyes, however slightly, unless you have to. (And for most jobs, being able to start sooner than two weeks isn’t going to be a significant selling point.)
3. Should you really avoid “I” statements in a cover letter?
I have a clarifying question about advice I have heard that seems to go against the examples of good cover letters on your site. The advice was to “avoid peppering your cover letter with ‘I’ statements” and touting your own value and to instead focus on the company’s needs. This confused me because I thought the point of the cover letter was to talk about yourself and use active voice. Is this advice sound, and if so how do you focus your letter on the company?
No, it’s not sound. The cover letter is about you — and how you can meet the company’s needs, of course, but it’s very difficult to talk about how you’d meet their needs without, you know, talking about yourself. Plus, letters that really do just talk about the company’s needs tend to end up (a) sounding salesy and (b) sounding naive, since you can’t possibly know all that much about their needs from the outside.
4. Forwarding an email someone says they didn’t receive
Email is a standard form of communication in my workplace and is often used more frequently than the phone for interoffice/interdepartmental communication. If another manager or my boss claims to have no knowledge of information or a situation, and I know for a fact that they received that information in the form of an email, is it unprofessional to forward them that email at a later date if the topic resurfaces and he/she claims “I was not informed”?
Not unprofessional at all! But you want to do it politely so it doesn’t come across as adversarial. For instance: “Hmmm, you should have received that email, but maybe it got lost somehow. I’m forwarding it to you here so that you have the information.” (Note that this assumes technical error, rather than incompetence on their part … even when you secretly think/know it was incompetence.)
5. Should I drive 12 hours to a job interview?
I am a recent graduate and have been applying for jobs since May. I just got an email from a hiring manager from a firm that I applied to in a different city. He asked if I was planning to visit the area anytime soon, and said that if so we can set up an interview. What should I do? I have a friend who lives there, and I’ll just have to pay for gas and food. However, it is a 12-hour drive and no guarantees. I already went through a similar experience, but it was very expensive since it was in a different state, and I did not land the job. I would have to ask friends/family for help because I am unemployed right now.
I really want to go and take the risk, but don’t know if I should. Any advice?
If you’re applying for work outside of your geographic area, this is often part of the deal — especially for entry-level jobs, where they just have no incentive to cover your travel expenses, because they have plenty of qualified local candidates — which means that if you want to be considered, you have to get yourself there. However, you always want to keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that it will lead to something … so you have to balance your interest in the job, your interest in moving, your other job prospects, and what your finances will allow. That’s not a calculation I can make for you, but those are the factors to weigh.
6. How to know what’s motivating an overqualified candidate
I will be assisting in interviewing people for a position which will work closely with (and eventually directly for) me. It is an entry-level position in an engineering company, but the job is an analyst position, not an engineering position. As such, it will pay significantly less than an engineering position. One candidate is a contract engineer at our company who is just starting his career. He does not have experience in the type of work the analyst will do. The other candidate is an engineer with over 20 years of experience, only a little of which is on point for the position we are offering.
Other than asking straight out: “Why are you interested in this job?”, can you think of how I can get to what would prompt two candidates to apply for a job that will pay so much less than I am sure they could get in other places. I can’t help but feel that they see this job as a stepping stone to get into the company, then start looking for a job that is a better fit. How can I find out if that is the case? And should I worry if this is the case?
Second, my boss appears to want to hire the more experienced person, even though we haven’t spoken with him yet. If (and this is a big if) neither applicant appears to be a good fit for the job, what is the best way for me to approach my boss with this assessment. I am concerned that he will want to fill the position even if we don’t find the right person, just to fill the position. I am worried about that.
Be straightforward with the candidate about what you’re wondering: “This position is designed to be entry-level, so it’s a much lower level of responsibility — and really, skill — than what you’ve been doing. Why are you interested in making that kind of move?” … “Are you comfortable with the fact that they pay range will be an entry-level pay range — something around $X to $Y?” And then really listen to the person’s response. Does he have reasons that make sense to you, or does it sound like he’s deluding himself into thinking that the job is higher level than it is or that he can quickly mold it into something higher level? (And make sure that you’re very, very clear about exactly what the job does and doesn’t entail, so that he can self-select out if he didn’t realize that stuff.)
As for your boss, be straightforward there too: “Joe’s answer convinced me that he doesn’t truly want to do this type of work and is hoping to use it as a fast springboard into something else here. And Jane just doesn’t have the qualifications of X and Y that I need for the person in this role. Since I’ll ultimately be managing this position, I’d like to look at more candidates so that we don’t invest in someone who won’t excel in the role.”
7. Company can’t stop seeing me as the receptionist
I have worked for the same company for many years, gaining very strong admin, numerical, and analytical skills along the way. Currently, I manage the reception desk, and over the last 3 years I have improved procedures and service levels, etc.
Recently, the company I work for has had an opening for an executive assistant, which I think would be a perfect step up for me. I have all the required technical and personal skills and experience – but I interviewed for the job along with some external candidates and they didn’t award the job to anyone! The hiring manager told me that she couldn’t get them to see me as more than just “the girl on the front desk,” despite me having the required skills and experience.
Another similar role has just been posted up on the notice board and I called the hiring manager for advice on whether I should apply – she said that she would check out the role a bit ( her colleague is dealing with it) and get back to me. Is really that unusual for a receptionist/administrator to move into an EA or PA role? Is it wrong for me to have ambition? What is their problem? Is there anything I can do to change their perception of me?
I don’t know what their problem is, but that manager gave you some valuable information — they only see you as the receptionist. That might mean that you’re never going to advance in this company, at least not in the way you want to. If that’s the case, why not look at jobs somewhere else? You say you’ve been at your current employer for many years, so it might make a lot of sense to begin looking at what other opportunities are out there.