short answer Saturday: 7 short answers to short questions

I’m trying something new — seven short answers to seven short questions, all in the same post:

company won’t hire former employees of competitor

I applied for a job at a staffing agency and was told the particular company who was hiring wouldn’t accept applicants who worked previously for their competitor even though I no longer work for them. Is that a form of discrimination or can I do something about that?

It might be a stupid policy, but it’s legal. Companies can legally discriminate for any reason they want, as long as it’s not linked to your membership in a legally protected class (things like race, religion, sex, nationality, etc.). Where you worked previously isn’t a protected class.

how can my wife make her office stop calling her on her time off?

My wife works a very stressful job. She is a salary employee. She rarely allowed to take PTO. When she does her boss and co workers constantly call her. Is there any legal action we can take? We live in NJ and her company in based in NC.

Legal action? Not that I can think of. Other action? Yes. Turn off the phone. Or get a Google Voice number and program calls from their phone numbers to go to voicemail during certain hours.

More constructively, she should talk to her boss about this. Believe it or not, some bosses genuinely don’t realize that doing this is a problem, and if you point it out, it will stop. (Not always, but often enough that it’s worth trying.) In fact, straightforward conversation about a problem is the answer more often than you’d think.

recruiters who demand to know my salary

I often get calls from recruiters asking for my current salary. Even though I ask them back how much do they have in mind for the job, they are still hell bent on first getting a response from me on my salary. Then I tell them a range, like 50-80k, but this sours them. Firstly, why do they want to know how much I am making? Can’t they stick with what they are planning to offer for the job and then both sides do further negotiations? Secondly, does it help being honest about your salary? In any case, I would have in mind an expectation beyond which I cannot stretch, so what is the harm in giving an honest number?

They want to know how much you’re making because they’re lazy and/or not particularly thoughtful. They think it’s a good way to determine how much you’re worth, instead of evaluating a larger picture.

Whether or not you should be forthcoming is a subject of heated debate. Sure, it helps in that you’ll find out right away if your range is higher than theirs. But it can hurt if it means they offer you less money than they previously had in mind. Personally, I’m a big fan of the idea of saying that your salary is covered by your confidentiality agreement with your employer, and would love to hear from anyone who has tried this.

format for emailing a cover letter

Can you please advise on the format to be used in emailing a cover letter? For example, do you list the company name and address or just address it to the person? I appreciate your help. I had been working for a company for 20 years, and resigned last year and just started looking for job. The cover letter has been a struggle for me.

I’m surprised how often this question comes up. There’s no one way it must be done. Some people attach both their resume and cover letter as PDFs or Word documents; other people put the cover letter in the body of the email and just attach the resume. Personally, I like the latter, but you can do it either way.

And if your letter’s text is in the body of the email, treat it like a regular email — meaning that you wouldn’t list the name and address of the recipient at the top because that’s weird to do in an email.

creative resume design: yay or nay?

How would you react when receiving a CV that really stands out of the rest because of its appealing design?

Since last year I have realized there’s a trend to “design” your CV following the infography model, and I don’t mean a CV from the typically creative kind of person (graphic designers, copywriters, artists), but also from persons applying to engineering, industrial production or even executive positions. Definitely they make a recruiter to stop and look at them more than just few seconds. But do you think it facilitates your job to find the candidate’s information you are looking for?

It does not facilitate my job — it makes it harder. The most important thing about your resume design is that I need to be able to read it clearly, without straining, and I want to be able to quickly scan it and get the highlights. Creativity, while a nice trait, doesn’t trump those requirements, so make sure your desire to “stand out” isn’t getting in the way of the whole point of resume design.

(It’s true that in certain fields, creative resumes can be a plus. If you’re determined to go in this direction, consider your challenge to be to demonstrate your creativity without overriding the requirements above.)

mentioning you’re a shareholder of the company you’re applying to

I’m applying to positions at a couple of tech companies that I am either currently or previously a shareholder of. Is this a positive thing to mention in a cover letter? I view it as being interested and invested in the company, but I’ve certainly been off the mark before. I would love your opinion.

Hmmm, I don’t know. I suppose if you owned a significant number of shares, or if you had a compelling explanation for why you bought those shares, it would be taken as being particularly invested (non-literally) in the company, but otherwise I’m not sure it really conveys anything.

is my boss thinking of promoting me?

I just started a new job in a great agency in my field but its a position in which I am overqualified for in terms of experience and education. I think my supervisor knows that I am overqualified although we have not yet discussed it. Right away my supervisor has been giving me special projects to develop such as groups for clients and creating a policy book for the program based on what I am learning about the program. These projects are not being assigned to my co-workers. So, my question: is my supervisor looking at me for a possible promotion in the future? I would just like some clarification as to what is going on. Any insight would be appreciated.

Maybe. Or maybe she just figures she has someone working for her who can do more than the job normally requires, so why not utilize that? Or maybe she hasn’t even really thought it out yet; she’s just assigning work to the person who seems likely to do the best job with it.

You just started so it’s a little early to ask about possible promotions, but at your one-year evaluation, I’d say something like, “I’m really loving the work, especially (name the special projects here), and would love to talk about more responsibilities in that area, including the possibility of more formal growth within the organization at some point.”

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Savvy Working Gal*

    Another tip, when attaching the resume and cover letter as a PDF or Word document is to make your name part of the documents name. Doing so saves your prospective employer time from having to rename dozens of documents named "resume."

  2. Rob*

    I've always been confused about what to put in the body of an e-mail where a resume and cover letter are attached. My university career center basically said to include the first sentance or two of the cover letter, reworded, as the body text. That seems kind of awkward to me. Also, does putting your cover letter in the body of an email make it less likely to be printed out? Or more likely to be printed out with all that e-mail information on the same page (I.e. from: to: subject: etc.) That would seem to appear less professional to me, and also might make it go onto a second page.

    Also, minor point: I think I would womewhat prefereach question to have its own post, or even only two or three in a post. When I find an especially helpful post, I like to star it in Google Reader, and having 7 questions makes it harder to remember which I found insightful when I come back. Just my two cents though, I'm sure others disagree.

  3. Jennifer*

    I agree with Rob: I think I prefer fewer questions per post. That said, I understand wanting to put short answers together. Perhaps you could include a brief description of the questions (e.g., a 5-7 word 'headline') near the top? I've seen this done effectively on other blogs I've read.

  4. Ask a Manager*

    Savvy Working Girl: Very true!

    Rob: I'm starting to think people should routinely ignore their college career centers; every time I hear about them, they're giving out bad advice. If you're attaching your cover letter, it's fine for your email to just say something straightforward, like, "I've attached my cover letter and resume for the job of ____." And I don't think having your cover letter in the email makes it any more or less likely to be printed out.

    Jennifer: Good idea. I just added it.

  5. Mike*

    I love the short answer posts, maybe you should make this a weekend thing?

    Anyway, with regards to the first question, the federal government is starting to see such policies as anti-competitive and a great way to artificially depress wages. The Department of Justice press release can be found here:

    That being said, it's an incredibly terrible policy for a company to enact, because when your last option is to find another job, you are locked out of your industry. I would encourage anyone who has or is facing this to consider discussing it with their state or federal representatives.

  6. Richard*

    In response to the last question: They may or may not be offering you more responsibilities with the idea of promoting you later on, but even if they aren't, take the projects on, do an awesome job, and it'll either serve as good evidence should you want to make a case for a promotion/raise later on, or it will serve as an excellent story for the usual 'Give me an example of when you went above and beyond in a previous position.' question that's so popular with interviewers.

  7. Anonymous*

    Ok, so I should tell them my salary is covered by a confidentiality agreement. Won't they likely catch me lying if they verify employment?

  8. Anonymous*

    I've tried telling recruiters that my salary is covered by an NDA, but in my experience that goes nowhere. They pretty much lose interest in me and move on.

  9. thomast*

    I'm a manager who strongly prefers cover letters in the body of the email. It makes applications much easier to scan and peruse – opening attachments takes time and they're easier to lose track of in different windows. If you have a proper email signature, it makes it easier to find your materials if your email address doesn't match well to your name (although, if your email address is, get a new one). It's the appropriate way to make the newer technology fit the old paradigm. The body of the email is the message in all other business communication situations – why should it be different in job applications? Just because in paper application times the cover letter needed to be perfectly formatted, with matching fonts and whatnot to the resume, doesn't mean that in electronic application times we need to recreate that.
    And solves the silly question of what to do with the body of the email. All that said, it's not a major decision making factor, and Outlook 2010's ability to display doc and pdf attachments inside of Outlook has made me somewhat less attached to email-body cover letters.

  10. Anonymous*

    What is wrong with having the cover letter in the e-mail, the resume attached (with your name as the file name) …. and…

    … also stating that "you're also sending this as a hard copy via postal mail…"??? Yes, there's redundancy but you have more certainty of your resume landing on someone's desk.

  11. thomast*

    @Anon@6:51: When I'm reviewing resumes, one thing I'm looking for is people who follow (reasonable) directions. If I ask for an emailed cover letter, resume & writing sample, and don't include mailing information in any of my listings for the job, then looking up our mailing address on our website and sending the resume doesn't make you stand out as an initiative-taker, it makes you stand out as someone who doesn't follow instructions and/or doesn't trust me to be able to do my job of giving appropriate attention to the applications received. I ask for emailed materials because it makes it easier for me to manage the applications and respond to them. When I get a mailed resume, it blows my workflow. IF I'm feeling generous, I'll look and see if I have received the applicant's materials by email and shoot them a quick note to ask for them if I haven't before round-filing the paper copy. Or, I might just take a quick glance and round-file the paper copy without a response. I have yet to see an interview-quality candidate send his or her materials by postal mail only.

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