short answer Saturday: five short answers to five short questions

It’s short-answer Saturday!  Here are five short answers to five short questions.

boss vs. manager vs. supervisor

What is the difference between a boss, a manager, and a supervisor? At a previous job I was told “A will be your boss, and B will be your supervisor.” People at my current job use them interchangeably. Do these terms just depend on the organization or the industry you’re working for, or is there an accepted definition of each in the management world?

They all mean the same thing. “Supervisor” generally carries a connotation of a lower-level manager, so I suspect that the very confusing sentence you heard means that A, the boss, will be the person to make big-picture decisions about your goals and performance, while B, the supervisor, will oversee your work in the day-to-day. But they’re all basic synonyms for each other.

same company, same title, different job?

I have been working at a company for almost 3 years outside the US. I will soon be moving to the US for a job in the same company, a job with the same title. It’s a similar job but managing a different team, so different challenges. I feel like these should be separate on my resume, both because they are in different countries and the challenges will be different – the first job was rebuilding a team, this one will be keeping a more experienced team challenged. Any issues with this?

No issues. Do it.

did I ruin my interview?

I am re-entering the job market as a middle-age lady and interviewed for my dream job last week. It took me so long to get this interview. I should know sometime this week the outcome. I am concerned I made a mess of everything. For starters, I talked too much and said things that probably sounded so stupid. I was interviewed by a panel of four managers and a little nervous. I made reference to being a stay-at-home mom raising my three children and should have focused on my skills in the workplace. I ended the interview thanking them and telling them they had made me feel very comfortable. I did sent out thank you for their time and I it was handwritten cards. Was that the wrong thing to do? I could not read them at all. Do you think I completely messed everything up?

Very hard to tell from this how the interview went, but yeah, in general you want to focus on workplace skills rather than parenting skills (even when there’s crossover between the two, which there sometimes is). I wouldn’t beat yourself up over this though — interviews are nerve-wracking for most people, and believe me, we all end up saying things that we’re later shaking our heads over. I’m going to be self-promotional here and suggest that you check out my (free) guide to preparing for an interview, which might help set you more at ease. Good luck!

does maternity leave count in years of experience at a job?

Can maternity leave be counted in with my years of experience? I worked for a company for 3.5 years, then had a one year maternity leave (I’m in Canada). While on maternity leave, my division of the company was sold. When my maternity leave was up, I was presented with the option of working for the old company, working for the new company or taking a severance package. I took the severance package of 6 months. When I list my time at the company, do I list it as 3.5 years, or 4.5 years?

Good question. Technically you were an employee of that company while you were on leave, but it’s also semi-misleading to say you were doing the job for that period of time when you actually weren’t. I could argue this one either way though, so I say go with whichever one seems most accurate to you.

how to list temp jobs on a resume

Having completed a temporary position in my field over the last two weeks, I find myself finally feeling that I have enough of these to be relevant to my experience in IT. As such, I am adding a section to the top of my resume (as these comprise my most recent experience since being laid off from longer positions previously) which will detail each of these positions briefly with the tasks and responsibilities that were included. However, I find myself unsure on the best way to title this section. Normally, it would be something like “Job Title for Company Name” or “Contract Company for Exploying Company”, but that information here is, by necessity, part of the individual entries within the section. Should I simply title it something like “Temporary Positions,” or is there a more appropriate catch-all header for this sort of section? They’ve all been through different agencies.

Yes, I’d just group them all under a heading like “temporary positions” or “contract work.” However, if these were all very short-term (a few weeks, for instance), I don’t think I’d list them all separately; instead I’d have one description for all of them, explaining that you did A, B, and C while working for companies that included X, Y, and Z.

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thanks for answering my question about maternity leave. Unfortunately, I submitted my resume a few weeks ago, and I included my maternity leave as part of my years worked. A friend who is job searching and dealing with recruiters was told to include the maternity time. I should have gone with my gut and not included it. Now, I feel like I need to address it if I get an interview. Any suggestions?

    PS — I love your site. It is so informative.

  2. C. Paul*

    Here's a question. After having read your info about writing an cover letter, I have doubts that a CL is an effective tool to getting interview.

    Even if a few smart people do use your recommended CL writing technique – I'm what you've been searching for, I'm the best because etc. I don't see what difference a CL makes if dozens or hundreds are applying for a job, HR is overwhelmed and anesthetized to the repetitive prosaic malarkey.

    My point is, its the resume that gets the attention. The CL has no affect on the invitation decision.
    Especially nowadays if the resume submission process (the software) doesn't allow CL's.

    So why waste time conjuring up a nifty CL that in all likelyhood won't be read considering the conveyor belt type processing applications/resumes get nowadays.

    I don't buy into, well there's a minuscule chance the CL could play a role. Its the resume after all that they always read.

    C. Paul

  3. Anonymous*

    As a hiring manager, I always require and read a cover letter. Resumes without CLs are not considered; at best I might look at it to see who would forget their over letter.

  4. Jamie*

    Allison's advice is exactly how I listed my temp positions on my resume and it was really effective. I listed my temp agency as my employer, listed responsibilities and tech specifics (I'm in IT as well)a long with a list of companies. I worked at two companies for 6+ months each – those got their own subheadings.

    I know some people who listed the individual jobs because they didn't want it on their resume that they were temping. Never made any sense to me whatsoever – no shame in temping but job hopping can give someone pause.

  5. Jamie*

    About talking about parenting in your interview – I have been in that very position. I entered the work force for the first time when I was in my late 30's – because I was a stay at home mom of three for my entire adult life. I freaked out before and after each interview.

    However, some things really do translate. I didn't mean to do this, but early on I ended up using my experience with many IEP meetings (my eldest was diagnosed with autism at 18 months – so 15 years later I had attended my share of business meetings, make no mistake – educational advocacy is a business, the stakes are just much higher than in any office.)

    I was able to draw on the experience of research, networking, and follow up to achieve a result. My former boss later told me that when I said I wasn't intimidated in those situations because while others around the table may have had other areas of expertise I was the only one with a PhD in my kid he knew he I wouldn't be pushed around by their controller.

    I'm sure in the beginning I also was out of the running for the same thing, being a nervous interview and not having business examples to back up my claims.

    Keep a couple things in mind: One, once you get your foot in the door somewhere you will never have to pull out the parenting talk again for future interviews. Two, you bring something to the table other people don't. Your career isn't where it would have been if you had been working all along, so they will be snapping up someone awesome who just happened to come on the market at the right time. You don't have to say that out loud, but you should know it.

    Good luck – it's tough at first but absolutely gets easier.

  6. Anonymous*

    C. Paul – If you're applying to a job that does not use a submission program, cover letters are completely vital. When I received ones that were generic or resumes without a cover letter, I did not consider the applicant as they clearly did not read the job posting or did not care.

    Obviously the content on the resume is crucial to getting the interview, but so is the CL.

  7. Ask a Manager*

    Yeah, there are certainly some employers who don't care about cover letters, but there are a ton who do. Plenty of us won't consider an application without one, and the quality/contents of the letter can frequently be a deciding factor in whether to interview an applicant.

  8. Karl*

    The cover letter is your opportunity to show me that you "get" what I'm looking for. It might be different at a big company, but as a hiring manager at a small company, your skipping the CL (or cover email) tells me you don't care about the position.

    And if you decide to send a resume without a customized cover letter anyway? The top 20% of candidates did send a good cover letter. They're getting an interview, and you're getting a rejection.

  9. C. Paul*

    Okay, thanks.
    I'm not convinced.
    Two resumes. One with a CL, the other without. Without CL covers the requirements spot on. The other, comes close. Okay who's your choice?

    I repeat if the CLs are all touting the same S&E.

    Me show you? Again its the resume that counts all the time. By refusing to handle resumes without CLs is detrimental to the recruitment process.

    If the goal is to hire the best qualified, what does the CL prove? You like their prose? For a writer an attribute, for an accountant?

    An HR person's petty attitude – no CL, no consideration does more damage than a bad hiring choice.

    Thank you for the opportunity.
    C. Paul

  10. Ask a Manager*

    I don't think it's "an HR person's petty attitude at all." First, we don't even know if these are HR people or hiring managers, but I'm a hiring manager and I 100% agree with them. This is actually worthy of its own post, so I'll turn it into one soon with a fuller response, but two quick things now:

    1. For most jobs, picking the best candidate is rarely just about skills/experience. Those obviously take center stage, but if that's all that mattered, there would be no point in interviews. Other stuff matters too — people skills, intellect, communication abilities, enthusiasm for the job, and generally who you are. The cover letter helps convey that stuff.

    2. A great cover letter can frequently move a borderline candidate to an interview, and the lack of a cover letter (or a weak one) can frequently weaken the candidacy of someone with a good resume. You've probably noticed we're in a bad job market — there are a ton of great candidates out there, and so it's not like employers have only a few qualified people to choose from.

    Fuller post coming soon.

  11. Anonymous*

    I think some people don�t like cover letters because they�re worried about being penalized for their writing skills.

    I'm sure AAM will cover this more in-depth in her dedicated post, but at a high level, someone may be the best programmer (or other non-writer-type person) in the world, but many companies request cover letters because they want people who have at least basic communication skills, since even the most technical of jobs still involve e-mails, meetings, etc.

  12. Jamie*

    I agree that some don't like CLs because they don't want to be penalized for poor writing skills.

    I would argue that's exactly why they are important. I would be hard pressed to think of any position requiring a resume where basic written communication skills aren't important.

    I'm not saying that everyone needs to be a wordsmith – but to be able to write clearly and correctly is basic.

    Why not let the CL (or lack thereof) weed out those who don't meet this requirement?

  13. Caroline*

    In response to Jamie's comment about
    applicants poor writing skills?

    For what type of jobs do you recruit for that would lead you to say that people have poor writing skills? You didn't qualify your response, so I'm thinking you mean everyone, degreed or not.

    I'm guessing you have very limited experience in recruitment and interviewing. Or none at all.

    Rather shocking to hear such blatant bias in the HR sector.

  14. Jamie*

    To answer your question, Caroline – you're correct that I'm not a recruiter. My experience in screening/hiring applicants has been as part of the team to fill positions within my department, which is IT.

    The point I was trying to make is that a positions that require a resume (rather than merely an application) tend to be those where adequate written communication skills are required.

    I am not talking about style – but being able to communicate a thought in writing clearly and correctly is, to me, a basic skill – whether or not someone has a degree is irrelevant.

    Am I more lax with rules of grammar and punctuation in casual email (and comment posts)? Absolutely. But for formal correspondence (like a CL) I know enough to write it correctly and proof it more than once. Lack of attention to detail with the cover letter would certainly give me a pause about a candidate.

  15. Jamie*

    Correction of my previous post – I also know that "a positions" is incorrect and an ironic error given the topic.

    What I wouldn't give for an edit feature :)

  16. Anonymous*

    I. Maternity Leave Question — I would check the severance package. Most will include an official date for the end of your employment (at least in the US) – use that so it fits with companies verifying your employment.

    II. Cover Letter — I knew a senior level internal recruiter (read: VP/Sr Dir hires) that would NEVER read cover letters. I know lots of others (HR and Business Partners) who do, so I'd err on the side of writing one. Defintely proofread it and definitely have at least one other read it.

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