when your public work doesn’t reflect your skills, schedule conflict with job interview, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Can I explain in job interviews that our social media presence isn’t reflective of my work?

I work in communications and am currently searching for a new job. I anticipate that as part of its due diligence, any organization considering me will review the websites, media center, blogs, and social media channels of my current company to get a sense of the quality of my work. I’m proud of my work and accomplishments, and I have a lot of successes and great metrics to show for my career. However, our social media presence is not a good reflection of my skills. The reason is that I do not have complete control over what gets posted. The president of my company posts whatever he wants, whenever he wants (I have presented evidence, reasoned, requested, begged, pleaded, and attempted to compromise, but that’s advice I’ll seek another day). Some of his content is excellent, but a lot of his posts aren’t consistent with best practices or my evidence-based strategy.

Is there a delicate way to bring this up in an interview without seeming too negative about my current employer and without making me look incompetent for being unable to manage the situation? For what it’s worth, my boss is known for his unusual leadership style and in the only interview I’ve had so far, my interviewer actually brought up his reputation. I pivoted away from the topic because it’s not the reason I’m seeking new opportunities.

I would say: “I don’t have full control over our social media presence, and there are things I’d change about it if we did. Our president likes to have direct access to post on his own, but I’d be glad to email you a portfolio of some of the pieces I’ve done, so that you can see the elements that are my work.”

You might also look for ways to work it into answers to questions where it’s relevant. For instance, if you’re asked to talk about social media strategy overall, you might include a mention of how important it is to have a unified, cohesive strategy with buy-in from above, and you could add that that’s something your current organization is still grappling with.

2. I’ll be out of town during the only week of interviews for a job I’m interested in

I’m applying for a position with a start-up for which my skills and past experience are an excellent fit. In the job description, there is an application deadline as well as a date range for the week that interviews will be conducted. I will be out of town during the entire week they’ll be interviewing (the trip is both expensive and important to my career and I can’t imagine canceling it now).

Should I disclose that I will be unavailable during their interview week in my cover letter/application? Or will this disqualify me immediately? If I leave it out and they do call me in for an interview, will they resent that I wasn’t upfront about my travel plans earlier? The position is likely to receive a large volume of applications and I am worried that if I am upfront about my absence they won’t think twice about throwing out my whole application without giving it a second thought. What do you think?

This is tricky, because if they listed those dates in the ad, they’re probably pretty committed to them. However, it’s also possible that if you’re a strong enough candidate, they’d be willing to talk with you outside of those dates. (It’s also possible that they won’t be, but you can’t know for sure from the outside.)

So it really comes down to how annoyed they’ll be if you don’t disclose it up-front. I could argue this either way, but ultimately I’d say that in the interest of operating in good faith, you should mention it in your cover letter. That does come with the risk that they’ll reject you immediately when they might not have if you waited, but I prefer that risk to the risk of you looking like you’re deliberating withholding relevant information in the hope that it will benefit you.

However, if it looks like applications are going to HR, you might try to reach out to the hiring manager directly to say “I’ll be away during the week you’re interviewing, but I wanted to connect because I’d love to talk with you about this type of role in the future.” Attach your resume. You never know. I don’t normally recommend going around clearly-stated application processes, but in this case you’d be doing it in the framework of “I can’t apply this time but maybe you’d be interested in connecting in the future.” And maybe the person would be, or maybe they’ll think you look strong enough that they’ll want you in their process for this round. Or maybe nothing, who knows. But it’s worth a shot.

3. How to thank a current manager when leaving a job

What is your take on thank-you notes to current (soon to be past) managers? I am moving on from my current position to another one within the same building in a different group. My current manager has only been my boss for about a year but has been very supportive. He came in after I had been in my current job for five years and was getting pretty antsy. He is my fourth boss while in this position, and I can honestly say the best boss that I have ever had. I have tried to make it clear that he has not contributed to me leaving, but I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated working with him. Is that weird? I don’t want to seem like I am sucking up, but I genuinely enjoyed working with him and respect his leadership and knowledge. I hate that most of the time I worked with him I basically had my foot out the door. Thoughts?

Yes, yes, yes, write him a note about how much you’ve appreciated working with him and why. Managers, even good ones, don’t hear this nearly enough, and it makes a huge impression when someone takes the time to say it, especially in writing. I have notes like that from years ago that I still hang on to. Send it!

4. My thank-you emails were full of weird, extraneous line spaces

I just had an interview with my dream company, and I feel like I did a great job. I followed up the next day with a short thank-you email to each of the people on the interview panel. I followed your advice of building on the conversation from the actual interview. I drafted them in Word first and sent them from my Gmail account. I was feeling great.

Then I realized, after reading another thread you did on a similar question, that the formatting might come out odd going from Gmail to their Outlook inbox. I tested it, and it does look different in Outlook, but it’s not awful – it just looks like I put multiple spaces between paragraphs and the greeting and closing. This is still something I would never intentionally do, and I think it does look strange. I’m afraid it may look like I don’t know how to properly format an email correspondence.

Am I overthinking this or should I reply and explain why the spacing is odd? Also, I sent the emails yesterday, so I’m wondering if following up now wouldn’t help my case because it’s too long of a lag in catching my mistake.

You are over-thinking it. Most people are used to seeing weird spacing in emails occasionally, and most know that it comes from a weird formatting conversion rather than that you intentionally left four line spaces between every paragraph. You don’t need to follow up to explain (and would risk coming across as a little neurotic if you did, not that there’s anything wrong with neurotic).

That said, if you want to avoid it in the future, it’s smart to use the “convert to plain text” option in Gmail if you paste text in from another program, and that should prevent it from happening.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Joanna

    Regarding question number three, it might also be especially good timing to nominate your manager for any recognition programs your company has. If your company doesn’t have a formal program to recognise especially significant contributions to the company, it might be appropriate to reach out to your manager’s manager and let them know what it is your manager is doing really well. From what I’ve seen, people mostly only go to their manager’s manager if their manager is doing something they DON’T like so providing positive feedback to further up the hierarchy could go a long way.

    1. TootsNYC

      It’s also not bad to stop and and tell HR the same things in detail.

      I don’t know how it would be to write to his boss; w/ customer service people that’s considered a good thing, but it might be weird in corporate America.

      1. Kyrielle

        In corporate America, what I’d do in that circumstance would be to email my letter to my manager and cc his boss.

  2. Sara

    #1 – I have worked in communications (in a variety of roles) for a few years recently, and I wouldn’t assume social media falls to every comms role or even to a communications team (this channel can be owned by, say a marketing team, or fall to a person solely responsible for social media, and it’s just one of many communication channels available). I’m guessing here (and hoping!), that hiring managers wouldn’t jump to an assumption that just because you work in communications that you were responsible for social media and assume it’s a reflection of your work. Unless, your title and accomplishments say otherwise. In your case, it sounds like you did do some social media as part of your role, but if you aren’t keen to showcase that area, I would leave it off you resume. If you are interviewing for roles with social media responsibilities and looking highlight your current experience, or if it comes up in the interview as a discussion point, then +1 to Alison’s advice. Communications is a pretty broad term/job function, so I don’t think this is something to be overly concerned with unless your title conveys social media as your main role.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Right, if the title was something like “Senior VP In Charge Of Social Media” and the strategy or content was lacking, then I’d expect an explanation of what barriers the applicant ran into in trying to implement their social media strategy, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear something very much like what the OP said. But anyone lower than that and I’d be ready to hear about what great ideas and best practices they offered or tried to implement, and base my opinion of their skills and abilities as much on what they said as what they did. Plenty of organizations have their policies set by people who know nothing about the field, in social media, but also IT infrastructure, information architecture, security (both physical and digital), personnel, etc. It’s often not the employee/applicant’s fault if they can’t improve their employer’s practices.

    2. TootsNYC

      OP#1’s letter made me think that these arenas WERE part of her job responsibility.

      That said, I think that especially if your website, etc., is a uneven, and if the president’s posts are amateurish enough, they’d probably wonder if the president was a loose cannon on his own ship. And your “I don’t have total control—the president likes to post his own items—but I’ve focused on XYZ” will have a lot of credibility.

  3. aphrael

    #4 – For what it’s worth, we just got an email exactly like you describe (for the sake of argument, I’m assuming that’s just a weird coincidence with the timing of Alison’s post). The candidate was really strong, and we liked the content of the follow-up emails. No one even bothered to mention the spacing/formatting when discussing them.

  4. TheLazyB

    You’ve posted letter 4 before, no? That exact letter? I’ve read it before and I’m sure it was on here…

  5. Hannah K

    My office uses gmail. Sometimes when external clients reply to me from Outlook, I can see how my emails were formatted on their end, and I’m horrified! Emails sent in gmail seem to come through so ugly in Outlook! I compulsively use the “clear formatting” button on anything I paste into gmail, because otherwise two pieces of text that looked identical in gmail could come out two completely different fonts and sizes in Outlook. And don’t even get me started on the issues with calendar invites.

    1. Noah

      Yes, calendar invites seem to always get screwed up in Gmail. My last job used Google Apps for email, and while parts of it were much better than Outlook/Exchange, it was annoying to not be using the business standard that works with everyone else.

    2. Kindela

      Original poster here. Glad to know I’m not alone. Thanks for the tip! I will definitely be hitting that clear formatting button in the future.

  6. FurnitureLady

    #3 – Seconding AAM’s as-always great advice. I had a former employee email me after I had left the company – they were being promoted and he thanked me for helping him get on that path. It meant the absolute world to me and I treasure that note!

  7. The Cosmic Avenger

    OP #4, if you right-click in a Gmail compose window, you should see “Paste and match style” right below “Paste”. If you use that, it will paste unformatted text (except for line breaks, which should work more as expected). Or in Windows you can paste your text into Notepad first, then paste it into…well, anything else, really, and you will get the same result.

  8. Emily B

    #3- AAM’s advice is spot on. I was a new manager after a string of poor performing managers, and one of my employees who stayed on wrote me a thank you note after they had moved to a different company. I still have the note and it continues to mean the world to me.

    1. TootsNYC

      I did too (though, she said “I learned a lot from watching your management style,” and it did make me wonder….).

  9. TootsNYC

    #2, out of town during interviews

    I agree mostly with Alison, but I would also encourage you to apply for that job, directly.
    Because you don’t know how flexible they are, and I don’t think you have anything to lose.

    You -do- have something to lose if you don’t address the issue right away, though–they’ve specified it in the ad, which isn’t normal, so they probably care about it. So you need to bring it up, just as you should bring up the concept that you nearly finished your degree, or have 4 years instead of 5 to 7.

    I’ve seen how long hiring can take, and how so often things that are supposed to happen in a certain time frame get pushed back. You’re talking only a day or two, and they may well be unable to finish their interviews by then (or might be willing to do one a little early).

    So offer that–“I could meet for an interview the Friday before that week or the Monday after.”

    1. TootsNYC

      (by “directly” I mean “don’t say, ‘I can’t apply for this one because of the dates, but keep me in mind for the future.’ Just apply for it. And communicate in any way you can, outside the automated thing, that you are applying and may have a scheduling wrinkle.)

    2. Erica

      Hey there, thanks for your input! I’m the one who originally asked the question and I was preparing my email to the hiring manager just now. I probably should have mentioned that the job is in the UK, where I’ve found it’s a bit more common to disclose the interview schedule. It’s also a start-up, so they may be more flexible than most. I’ll take your advice and offer to interview on the workday immediately following.

      1. TootsNYC

        Then especially if it’s very common to list the interview window, I’d think they’d still be glad to have heard from you if you’re a strong candidate.

        If you’re not, I don’t think it will have hurt you.

    3. dawbs

      You can also suggest other options.

      I recently got a call about a job I’m interested in. I’m unemployed and I have 6 months either direction I could clear any day….EXCEPT for the one week of vacation that was already paid and booked.
      Of COURSE it was a university hiring committee and their only meeting times were 3 days in that week.

      I couldn’t make it back, but I could pack a suit and my laptop and loose 1/2 a day of skiing to do a skype-type interview.
      It wasn’t as good as it would have been in person. And there were hiccups. (And I’ve not heard back, so I’m 95% sure I didn’t get the job) But I got the chance to at least try.

  10. Erica

    Thanks so much Alison for answering (question #2)! Your thoughts helped me sort through my options much better. I’m going to apply directly to the hiring manager (this is consistent with the application instructions) and try to briefly explain the situation.

  11. Verity

    Thank you for your answer to #1! I am in a similar situation, except in my case I’m in a different dept and picked up the social media because no one else was doing it. 2 years later, a new big boss decided that marketing should pick up the lion’s share of the social media responsibilities, and while I do still dip in and out occasionally, most of what they do is HORRIBLE. Beyond awful. Cringe-worthy and embarrassing by any conceivable standards. So while I am proud of the the work I’ve done to build our presence and what I continue to occasionally post, and would like to use my work on a resume someday, I’ve struggled with how to theoretically talk about it.

    1. Clever Name

      I refuse to link to Twitter on my work email because our Twitter feed is so lame. It’s embarrassing.

  12. M from NY

    OP #2 I vote apply for position and include WHY you’ll be out of town if the convention/meeting is readily recognizable to stakeholders in your desired position. HR may have set time line for interviews not knowing that the first week of April is the “Annual Training for Teapot Designers”. So their plan of doing first round screenings while their Internal Director is away at Training won’t work because the stronger candidates will also be out of town at said training. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

    1. Tia

      That’s a very good point – unless you are aiming at a significant career change, I suspect a lot of people they might want to hire will be unavailable the week of a major training opportunity.

  13. Job posting with given interview dates

    Here’s some experience from the other side of such a job posting.

    At one point in time the company I was working for had to hire several people because we were expanding. We had some managers come from out of state to conduct part of the interviews; so, we were truly committed to those dates. We would not be conducting interviews when those interviewers would not be in town. (That may or may not be the case with the job posting that you refer to) The reason was that those out-of-state managers wanted to meet everyone in person and not compare those in-person interviewees with those who either weren’t interviewed or had to be interviewed by phone. They felt such candidates’ comparison (in-person vs. telephone interviews) was unfair and they were trying to be fair.

    While my role was only to screen resumes, and I don’t remember any cover letters which stated that the interview dates wouldn’t work; I do remember one manager was VERY annoyed when one of those folks they decided to call in for an interview, after a phone screening, stated that they could NOT interview on the dates that we had already stated. That was the reason we stated the interview dates up front. I wasn’t involved in that job seekers resume or phone screening; but, that manager blew his stack at that person’s “stupidity” and no way, was that person EVER going to be hired.

    We were then given an additional question to ask during the phone screening: “If you are selected to move on the interview phase of hiring, would those dates in the job posting work for an interview?” Those that answered “NO” were put into the NO pile; regardless of their qualifications on the rest of our phone screening questions. (Did I mentioned that manager was annoyed?)

    So, do not send in your resume without letting them know that you cannot interview on those dates. You WILL look bad; in the very least, you will look like you cannot read or follow directions.

    On the other hand, if you don’t send in your resume, they will never hear about you. So, I’ll second AAM’s advice – yes, send in your resume, disclose that those dates won’t work for you, and cross your fingers that they are impressed with your resume to make an “interview exception” (meaning interview you outside their stated date range). If stating up front that you cannot make the interview date range causes them to throw out your application “without a second thought,” well, that’s just a chance I think you will have to take. Hoping that somehow or other they won’t care that you didn’t notice or care about the stated dates will not look good and could actually hurt future chances.

    This next bit will come across as just hopeful thinking; but, even though they might skip over your resume this go-round; they might just be impressed that you gave them a heads up on the dates not working this time and take a closer look at your resume the next time they are hiring.

    And, often, smaller companies (that includes Start-Ups) will go back through their resumes on file instead of posting a job again. I know we did that often enough that folks were surprised when we contacted them months after they first applied. Of course, we were contacting them about a different position; but, their skills/experience matched the new position. Going through resumes already on file was cheaper/easier than posting a job.

    Just my own, on the other side, experience. It may or may not apply to your situation. Good Luck!

    1. Erica

      Thank you for all the detailed insights here! It’s always nice to get a glimpse of what goes on during the hiring process from the inside. I did let them know I was out of town and tried to frame it in the politest way possible, so fingers crossed.

    2. CMT

      Honestly, this rigidity and the reaction (the manager blew his stack over this? really?) would make me really glad to not be hired by this company. You can’t expect that every single employer is operating this way. And I’m really glad that’s the case, because I like working at places that allow me to have some flexibility.

      1. Lynn Whitehat

        Yeah, that seems kind of ridiculous to me. Sometimes things come up. “I thought that week was free, but now my boss is sending me to Elbonia.” These things happen.

  14. HoC OMG

    #3 – Question…

    Do you think there is a time cap on this? I was wondering the same thing but I transferred departments over three months ago and now I fear it is too late to send my manager a thank you.

    1. Sarahnova

      It’s *never* too late to send someone a thoughtful, heartfelt, specific thank you. It’s the kind of thing people treasure til the day they die – I can’t imagine feeling it was ‘too late’ to receive one!

      1. dragonzflame

        Actually, it’s probably a good time to do it. You’ll be finding your feet and (hopefully) be able to tell your former boss about how their experience and guidance has benefited you as you progress in your career.

  15. Anon.

    Sympathies for OP #1. I used to be a communications assistant who was responsible for a small organization’s press releases, website copy, social media presence, newsletter, and physical materials — but the CEO of the organization had a passion for “helping” and after final edits were in, would show up and edit everything into long-winded garbage. It was intensely frustrating having all my public-facing work make me look incompetent. But I did find, on leaving, that interviewers were generally entirely understanding of a diplomatic, polite, upbeat explanation about the CEO, and final products not matching drafts.

  16. The Bimmer Guy

    Ouch, LW1. I feel your pain. I worked at a car dealership in which the owner would pepper our Facebook account with political rants, (shirtless) vacation pictures and–I kid you not–a story about his tonsillectomy. As someone who was supposed to take control of our media presence, it was annoying for a little while…but then I stopped caring so much.

  17. Patrick

    #4. I wouldn’t sweat it too much, although depending on the job type, it might be a bit off-putting. For example, if you were applying for a job as a designer, as a word editor, or something of a computer-y technical nature, I might expect you to have known that copying and pasting text will retain formatting unless you use a “paste as a plain text” option.

    Still, I would let it go at this point. It’s not a major deal by any stretch.


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