short answer Saturday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions

Once again, it’s short answer Saturday — six short answers to six short questions. I also want to note that I’m indebted to Evil HR Lady for her “short response” columns, which pre-date these short answer Saturdays by many months.

Here we go…

I was recently contacted by an external recruiter with a position very similar to the position I am currently in. It would be an increase in pay, but a downgrade in title. In the industry that I currently am in, I would prefer to work for one of the top tier companies because reputation does 80% of the marketing in my industry. I am currently with a highly ranked company with a bad management structure and so I am looking to leave soon. I understand that they don’t want to reveal the company, but it definitely impacts my decision to pursue this position. Is it typical to not reveal the company? Can you think of any ways around knowing the company to make a decision?

It’s not unheard of for a recruiter not to reveal the company at the early stages of contact, but under no circumstances would I expect that secrecy to continue all the way through to an offer. You can’t possibly make a good decision about whether to accept an offer (or even interview really well, for that matter) without knowing who you’d be working for. Ask the recruiter at what stage she expects to reveal who the employer is.

I have been in face-to-face sales all my life. Last year I changed companies and started a position in telesales. Honestly, I haven’t been doing well. It is just not the right position for me. All our calls are monitored and I have had some unflattering criticism. Today my boss told me I was too nice to clients and basically my voice was too high-pitched and I would never be taken seriously. Although I am offended, I also don’t know how to change my tone. I have always been taught to talk with a smile and my sales voice is different than my regular voice. Any suggestions?

It’s possible your boss is off-base, but it’s also possible that she’s on to something and it just didn’t get delivered very diplomatically. I’d think the best thing you can do is to put your hurt feelings aside (admittedly hard), go back to your boss, and ask if her feedback was about your voice in general or about a tone that only comes out sometimes. There are definitely people — some women, in particular — who sometimes use a tone or voice that makes them sound much younger than they are. (I once worked with a woman who, I swear to God, talked in baby talk sometimes. I don’t think she realized she was doing it — it must have sounded like something else in her head — and when her manager finally talked to her about it, I hope she considered it a favor, although I imagine it was an awkward conversation.) Get more information. There really might be something that you’d get better results by tweaking — and if not, well, more information is never a bad thing.

By the way, you’re also looking elsewhere since you feel this is a bad fit for you, right?

It’s been about a year since I wrote to you about negotiating salary for a job offer from a nonprofit. The salary negotiation did not work, and neither did asking for alternative compensation, but I accepted the job because that was always my intention. Now, a year later, it is time for my first formal performance review at this nonprofit, and I need your advice about what I can and cannot ask for. I have had performance reviews at for-profit jobs and negotiated perks and salary successfully, but I do not know what I can ask for from a nonprofit. I have had positive feedback for my entire first year on the job, so I expect this formal review to be similar feedback. Is it even customary to negotiate anything at a nonprofit? The one I work for has a multimillion-dollar budget and about 50 employees, if you find that relevant information.

Absolutely you can negotiate, no differently than at a for-profit. Nonprofits have a wide range of practices regarding raises, bonuses, and other forms of compensation, and a similarly wide range of what they do and don’t put resources toward, but — assuming that you’re not dealing with layoffs or other financial crises — no one is going to look askance at you for asking about a salary increase after a year. You’ve been there a year, you’ve had great feedback, and now it’s time to ask for a raise. Good luck!

How long can my cover letter really be? I’ve heard one page, I’ve heard a page and a half to two, max, etc, etc, etc. I’m a recent graduate, just earned my J.D., and I’ve worked through college and law school. I’ve learned to cut out jobs that aren’t relevant or that are relatively old. Obviously I’m not putting my receptionist job from freshman year on my cover letter. But I have had enough legitimate experience that I’m comfortable writing a page and a half cover letter. Does this sound too long??

I’m a fan of one-page cover letters. I’m skeptical that you can’t say what needs to be said in a page. That said, unless there are application instructions to the contrary, I’m not going to reject an applicant because they wrote a page and a half — or two, for that matter, although when I see two, I’m going to think, “This is oddly long.”

But more importantly: The amount of experience you have has nothing to do with the length of your cover letter … because you should not be using the cover letter to summarize what’s on your resume. You should be using it to talk about what’s not on your resume, like why you want that job and what would make you good at it. And you’d ideally be able to do that in one page.

I currently work for an AmeriCorps program – a year-long service program, where members get contracted out to different nonprofit agencies. Americorps pays my minimal salary, though I spend my days at the nonprofit office and do all my work there. A position just opened up at my office for a program assistant – basically the same job I am doing right now, with a little bit more responsibility. I feel like I would really like to apply for the position, since it is basically the same amount of work with an incredible (I’m talking over $10k) increase in salary, health insurance, etc. However, I am committed to the Americorps program (I am free to quit at any time) but if I were to quit, there would be no one to take over my duties, and they can’t hire someone else since the year has already started. I feel like I could combine the program assistant tasks with my Americorps tasks.  Should I apply for the position? How would it look to my boss if I am considering this position, effectively rendering my Americorps position empty until next year?

I don’t know enough about AmeriCorps to really give you a good answer to this (aside from thinking that commitments should be honored). Anyone out there with AmeriCorps experience want to advise on this one?

Is it normal to bring notes with you to an interview? I want to create a document, probably a single page, landscape listing job requirements and my qualifications and common questions and possible responses. How would you view this, as a hiring manager?

Consulting a bulleted list of points that you wanted to be sure to raise at some point in the conversation and/or having a prepared list of questions is fine (the latter is great, in fact). But I wouldn’t recommend consulting notes too extensively during the conversation, because you don’t want your answers to look overly rehearsed or less than genuine. A good interview is really a conversation, and your interviewer will expect you to be able to speak relatively extemporaneously, about, for instance, your strengths or your background.

I do think it’s helpful to write out like questions and your responses when you’re preparing for the interview, and you should give that a final look-over in the parking lot (or even bring it in and consult it during a bathroom break). But don’t bring it in with you. It’s going to come across oddly if you’re consulting notes before answering things like “Why did you leave your last job?”

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Dave C*

    I think any recruiter who isn't willing to reveal the name of the company on the second contact (first contact is generally a voice message or email gauging interest) is one who doesn't know how to manage their business relationships well. In my experience the only reason recruiters do this is to try to prevent you from taking them (and their commissioin) out of the equation by talking directly to the company. If things are set up well, this would never happen as the company would redirect you back to the single recruiter for this position (note to recruiters and companies, never put yourself in a situation where multiple recruiters are hiring for the same position). And even if I do somehow bypass the recruiter and get hired on, the recruiter should have a good enough relationship with the company that they will get at least some commission for the hire.

    So my plea to all of you reading this is to simply not put up with this sort of BS, especially in situations where the recruiter is cold-contacting you. Tell them politely but firmly that while you are interested in the position, you need to know the name of the company before you can proceed any further so you can go do your own background research on if it would be a good fit for you.

  2. k*

    I did an Americorps year right after undergrad and one of the people in my cohort left her Americorps position to take an analogous permanent position at the non-profit where she worked. Couple things:

    1) The main reason the girl in my program took the permanent position was that her non-profit supervisor came to HER and said "Hey, we have this position coming open, we really want you to take it." In any other workplace situation, it shouldn't have to be this way. You should be able to go to your boss and say "Hey, I want this job!" But there is something about the weird cult of Americorps where, when this happened, the general sentiment seemed to be, "Well, this happened, but it's only okay because they asked her, not the other way around." That's kind of messed up, but, there you go.

    2) Is the increase in pay worth disqualifying yourself for the education benefit? (Is the education benefit still $5000? Because, like, it's a $10,000 pay increase, but you lose the $5000 lump sum, and you could say 'Well, I could put away even more than that in savings if I was making more money,' but that could be easier said than done unless you're a really ruthless budgeter. Also, the education benefit is tax-free, right? So there's that.)

    3) Your supervisor might not be considering you for the position because it makes bad business sense. I don't know if all Americorps programs are set up the same way, but, the program where I did my placement was coordinated by a city government. The non-profits applied to be placement sites, but the city was the one that coordinated the whole thing and the city was actually cutting our paychecks.

    With this system, the non-profit paid the city a contribution toward the stipend that their Americorps volunteer would receive, but they paid it all at once at the beginning of the year AND what they paid to the city was as lot less than what the city paid to the Americorps volunteers. (And in some cases, smaller non-profits didn't pay anything at all, the city subsidized their entire Americorps salary.)

    So it's possible the non-profit where you work is spending significantly less money than the (incredibly pitiful, I know) amount of money you're being paid, and that money is already a sunk cost that they can't recoup if you leave mid-year. So from their perspective, if they're literally paying nothing toward your salary, they'd probably rather pay someone else to be the program assistant so they can have the work hours of that person + your work hours, not pay you to do something that they used to be able to get you to do for free and also not have the ability to get anyone else to do it for free.

    4) When I was an Americorps program assistant, I remember thinking that my peers were being excessive in their judgement of the girl who left Americorps for the permanent job. Eight years later, I'm a non-profit program director, and I've come to accept that, for better or for worse, many people in this field have a masochistic and overdeveloped sense of loyalty, and you have to be mindful of that if this is a field where you want to make your career.

  3. Lisa*

    On the last question (taking notes into an interview) – in a couple of interviews I've been asked to comment on the job description (for example, what I think would be my most enjoyable/challenging responsibilities), which I take to be a test of my understanding of and interest in the job as much as anything. I'd worry that if I checked notes after a question like that, they'd think I needed notes to remember what job I'd applied for – that I wasn't really invested in the opportunity and hadn't taken the time to think about the job description.

  4. David O'Neal*

    Regarding notes at an interview – I would suggest having a copy of the job description (if available) and an extra copy of the resume. Those are great documents to use for writing a few inconspicuous notes and pre-set questions you might wish to ask at the end of the interview. Just remember to use them as a memory jogger and not something to read verbatim!

  5. Naama*

    I did AmeriCorps for a year as well. A lot of the ethical considerations for dropping AmeriCorps for a paid job revolve around your particular setup (note for non-Corps types: AmeriCorps doesn't give you a salary–it's a stipend of $800 a month or so after taxes, a little more if you're in the VISTA program, so you're basically doing full-time, paid volunteering). If you've been placed directly in the agency, it's not too complicated, but if your placement is coordinated through another program, you dropping out could affect their ability to get funding in the future.

    Other than that, whether you can take that job or not is a conversation you should have with your supervisor and your agency. They may be able to start you out part-time, or combine some of your job duties at the new position with your AmeriCorps position's, or some other way of easing you into the new role. If you've been doing a good job at your site, chances are they want to hang on to you! But they might be counting on you to complete your year of service.

    DO NOT go to your supervisor saying you plan to quit for this new job–say "Hey, I'm really interested at staying on at this agency, and I think I'd be a great match for this new position because of reasons X, Y, and Z. But I realize that my current role is important, and there's no one to take my place. Are there any options for transitioning me into this new role, such as part-time work? Or is another job like this likely to open up around the time I finish my year of service?"

    Also, be doubly cautious if you're less than 6 months into your year of service. It may be almost impossible to do part-time work and phase yourself in over such a long time, and more importantly, it looks like you're mercenary/a quitter/not considering the needs of your agency–none of which are good opinions for them to have of you when you apply for this or any future position.

    Of course, if you were applying for a job OUTSIDE your site, my answer would be don't do it unless there's a financial or other serious reason why you can't stay at your current site (AAM's advice on leaving a paid job you just started applies here).

    There'll be plenty of great jobs when you finish your year–believe me, a full year of AmeriCorps looks fantastic on a resume, especially in the nonprofit world. Everyone in my AmeriCorps program who wanted a job found one easily, even in the middle of the recession. So don't feel like this is the only opportunity you'll ever get at your site, or anywhere else. Patience!!

  6. Anonymous*

    Regarding notes at an interview – I tended to bring a list of questions to ask and a list of points I wanted to make sure I made. Towards the end of the interview when I was asked if I had any questions, I would generally ask one or two from memory, but then refer to my notes while making a comment that I had a list of questions I wanted to be sure to ask. All of my interviewers seemed OK with this approach. It seemed to be a good way to make the point that while I am good at remembering things and can speak well off the cuff, I also plan ahead and make sure that I use memory aids as appropriate.

  7. Andy Lester*

    The rule about cover letters is the same as the rule of resumes: Say what is interesting to the reader, and nothing else. If the reader's going to find value in everything in your two-page cover letter, then you're fine. Otherwise, cut it out.

    My blog post on the topic of too-long resumes.

  8. Anonymous*

    I just finished an AmeriCorps program, and just wanted to chime in to say the education award is NOT tax-free. It will be taxed, and since you haven't made much money during your year of service, you may owe money come April.

    In response to what Naama said about jobs after AmeriCorps, ymmv based on location, what you did, and how familiar people are with AmeriCorps. I know from my cohort of 15 healthcare-affiliated alums in a major urban area, a couple are in grad school, a few have jobs, and a full half of us are unemployed. Our program finished at the end of the summer. It's a tough market out there, and having AmeriCorps on your resume isn't a magic key to a new job. Honestly, for the OP, I'd jump on full time work if you can. Sometimes people in the non-profit world have a bit of a martyr complex, and you need to remember to look out for yourself.

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