terse answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

I got lazy this weekend and skipped Short Answer Saturday, so I’m making up for it with Terse Answer Tuesday. Here we go…

explaining to an employee why he’s been rejected for multiple internal promotions

I’m trying to figure out some language to address to an employee who was not selected for several positions.  He has been rated superior in his performance, but do not get selected for positions he applied for within his work unit.  He has applied on or about 12-15 occasions.  Can you help?

You should tell him the truth, whatever it is in his case. If it’s a deficiency on his part, or a matter of other candidates being better, or whatever it is, be straightforward with him. You should also be candid about what, if anything, he can do to improve his chances in the future. Also, is he applying for the wrong roles? Someone getting superior ratings who’s been turned down 12-15 times by his own employer — he’s either applying for the wrong jobs or something else is going on. He deserves to know what it is.

should I approach friends in my field or their bosses?

I am starting my own business and I know a lot of people in the field.  Should I talk to my friends that work in the field to see if the company would be interested in my service or should I ask the owner directly?

Talk to your contacts directly and see what they recommend. If you have someone on the inside, that’s always where you should start.

can I ask for a raise now that I’ve earned my degree?

I have been working at a company for about 6 months while I have been in school.  It is a somewhat entry level IT position in a very small department.  I am slotted to get me degree soon, and my boss has asked me what my plans are.  I wouldn’t mind working for this company for another year or two, but with my new qualifications I would expect a lot more money than I am making.  I have kind of brushed him off so far when he has asked hoping that he would offer a position or a least see what he can do, something to that affect.  If they do not want to hire me at a different rate I would accept that, but I would like to keep my job while I search for others.  How is the best way to approach this with him?  I do not want to seem ungrateful, yet I want to get paid what I am worth.

Unless the value of the work that you’re providing goes up significantly, you’re unlikely to get a raise just because you finish your degree. Is your job description changing? Are you bringing something new and valuable to the role? I’d caution you against thinking that you should get “a lot more money” for doing the same job, just because you now have a degree. If it’s the same job, it’s probably going to be worth the same amount of money to the employer that it’s always been worth.

interviewing for the same job, a second time around

My question stems from going through an intensive multi-tiered interview process with a firm and getting rejected after the last round in December 2010.  I was approached last week by one of the company’s managers who wanted to know if I was interested in interviewing with them again (and with another office manager who I haven’t met before) for the same job. I’m very excited for another chance with the firm and so my question is in regard to how I could best approach the interview. I, of course, look to present myself as best as possible, but as it has only been ~2 months since I last spoke to them, I’m essentially the same candidate I was in Dec. ’10 (although I have been working hard to differentiate my skill set and experience as much as reasonable in this amount of time).  Do you think they’re looking for major professional growth or just want to know that I’m still working to make an impact in their field?

If they’re looking for major professional growth in the last two months, they’re ridiculous, so I’d assume that’s not the case. What’s more likely is that their earlier hire didn’t work out or they have an additional slot opening up and they thought you were strong enough last time that you’re worth looking at now. I’d treat it just like you would any other interview, with the additional advantage that this time around you know more about them, their work, and their needs.

how big of a resume gap is too big?

How big of a resume gap is too big? I currently have a 7 month (and growing) gap in my resume, and I’m starting to worry that interested employers will see it as a big enough liability that they won’t call me, even if they are interested in me otherwise. If 7 months isn’t an issue, at what point should I be more concerned?

The reason for my gap: I left my previous job at the end of June last year. At the beginning of August, I gave birth to my second child. Three weeks later, we moved to Canada for my husband’s job. (Note to your readers: Try to avoid an international move with a two-year old and three week old!) Since then, I’ve been staying at home with our two children, and I began my job search in earnest in late November. (Usually I can only do about 3-5 applications per week–my days are pretty full!) Is there any way to address this situation in my cover letters and/or resume as a way to explain my resume gap? I know that you often suggest volunteering while unemployed, but unfortunately that isn’t feasible in my case, since I can’t afford childcare if I’m not earning money, and I’m trying to use the limited free time I have to search for a job. I guess I’m hoping that employers will view my gap as a maternity leave (which is what it would have been had we not moved) and they will view that more favorably than extended unemployment, but maybe that is the wrong way to look at it.

This is pretty normal. I’d just be candid about it and explain in your cover letter that you’re returning to work after maternity leave or after taking time off to take care of family members. Good luck!

can I organize my resume this way?

My last two companies cover 11 years on my resume, and before that, I was doing a mix of school, food service gigs and temp work for several years, with another chunk of junior work in my current industry back before that. So I have a “Relevant Experience” section with just the two recent companies with dates, titles, and multiple bullet points, and then a section of “Other Professional & Volunteer Experience,” which includes years only, and has just a single accomplishment highlighted for each item. Does that seem adequate, or might it come off as trying to hide something?

Hard to say without seeing the specifics, but the general principle sounds reasonable to me.

I like my old title better; can I use it on my resume?

For my current job, I was hired as “Widgets Manager,” then became “Director of Widgets & Gizmos” 11 months ago, where Gizmos had always been a substantial part of the Widgets portfolio at which I excelled. Most recently, four months ago I became “Director of Gizmos” in an org-wide restructuring, theoretically to allow me to focus exclusively on Gizmos, although I retain some key aspects of the Widgets portfolio that are not Gizmos. I currently have just the “Director of Widgets & Gizmos” transition on my resume, for three reasons: 1) Saves room and some confusion on the resume, 2) the promotion to Director is the most relevant aspect, in my opinion, 3) I’m slightly bitter about losing the Widgets part of the title without actually losing all the responsibility. The position I’m applying for is firmly a Gizmos job, by the way. I’d happily disclose all of this in an interview if it came up – would you ding a candidate as dishonest if you had this resume and your reference checking turned this slight discrepancy up?

Hmmmm. I’m not really a fan of changing your title even when you can rationalize it logically, because of the whole, you know, telling the truth thing. Your title is your title — I wouldn’t misrepresent it. You can certainly highlight your responsibility for Widgets, but you shouldn’t change your title.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Julie*

    To the IT questioner who just earned a degree: My husband has been a computer scientist for 30 years. He’s had to take three (significant) pay cuts in the last five years just to have a job in IT (contract positions). He’s an expert in several languages, as well as the hardware side, but considering he left school a semester short of earning his actual BS in CS because he was offered a job in IT, it’s amazing to me that companies have been interested in interviewing him. His lack of a degree hasn’t seemed to matter much. At this point in time, it’s probably a real blessing just to have an actual job in your field. I know my husband is thankful (but really hopes that he doesn’t have to take any future pay cuts). As long as companies know they can ship their jobs to third-world countries for third-world wages without penalty, wages in the IT field will probably stay depressed as they are now.

    1. Jamie*

      I’m in IT as well – and I totally agree with Julie. A degree, or lack thereof, makes much less of a difference in this field.

      Education is a wonderful thing, but IT is about what you can do now – and formal training becomes obsolete ridiculously fast for us.

      I was a business major in college and not a whole lot has changed. Management theories come and go – but GAAP once learned holds you in good stead forever. If my major was CS, nothing I learned back then would be applicable today.

      My personal experience (and I know loads of people in the field who would agree) is that degrees and certifications in IT mean a lot more to non-technical hiring managers than anyone else. To clear the technical hurdles it’s all about practical knowledge – there is no big money in IT based on theory. It’s all about what you’ve done lately.

    1. Jamie*

      I was just thinking that – that is a totally awesome title. Your icon is also awesome – that little platypus just cheered me right up after a very hectic morning. You inadvertently did a good deed for a stranger.

      1. Jamie*

        I assumed as much – unless his company manufactures the imaginary goods called Widgets, Wumpets, and Gizmos used by my Econ professors in college – which would be so cool if they did.

        If I thought that were a real title I would SO be shooting my resume off to that company – running inventory control for a company that makes fictional products would be a breeze :).

      2. ImpassionedPlatypi*

        *pouts* Damn… I thought maybe some really awesome progressive IT company was actually using cool titles like that. I could see something like Google having titles like that, maybe. Then again, I’m not in IT, so just about anything in that field sounds plausible to me.


    I am the “interviewing for the same job, a second time around” guy. Interview went great, but they are still “interviewing a couple more candidates”. Is it cruel and unusual punishment to ask me back to interview only to potentially say “No thanks” again? To them, perhaps not…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you’re not alone in feeling that way, but at the same time, assuming they’re weren’t ready to just offer you the job without further conversation, would you rather they give you the chance (with the accompanying risk that it won’t work out again) or not give you the chance (so that they don’t risk having to reject you a second time)? I think when you think of it like that, you’d probably prefer having the chance (but everyone is different).

      1. DIESELPOLO*

        I definitely want the chance, yes. My big-boy pants are on and I’m excited to throw myself fully into the process again.

    2. anonymous*

      And it’s not a bad idea to give them a second interview; it sounds like a relatively progressive employer, and they do not seem to play a “one strike and you’re out” game. I did work for a company once where if a person was rejected for a job once, he/she would never be considered for another position which might just be a better fit for all. They lost a lot of good candidates to what I’d call a pig-headed policy.

      As someone said – they might have a better fitting situation for you, or you made such an impression that they want to get you in the fold.

      I would not, however, go through the cycle a third time, because it’d be obvious that they’re using you either for “interview practice” or trying to use you as a benchmark to set for finding other candidates. If they did it a third time I’d ask what the game is, before wasting any more of my time.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t necessarily think a third time would indicate that (I’ve never known a company to look for interview practice), but I do think with a third time it would be reasonable to ask for some pretty substantial feedback about your previous applications.

        1. anonymous (who you answered)*

          I have been called into interviews for the apparent amusement or to provide practice for an interviewing manager.

          To be called upon to travel 60 miles to an interview – for a job which you are qualified for, only to have an interviewing manager play head games with you when he has no intention of hiring you — I’d say that’s “practice”.

  3. Laura*

    Re: the candidate rejected for multiple internal promotions, there has to be something else to this. Either the guy is only applying for management roles that he is really not qualified for, or there’s something else that is keeping him from getting a new role. I watched my former employer do that time and time again to a loyal, decent employee who would have excelled at any of the 8 positions he applied for over the course of 10 years. It had little to do with skill and much to do with a personal dislike, which was, of course, never explained to him.

    1. Charles*

      Laura, I so agree with you on this.

      That was my first reaction too – there is something else going on. And like you, I have seen others “bang their head against a brick wall,” doing everything to get ahead when management has decide that person will NEVER be promoted.

      As it wasn’t really my place, I’ve never had the gumption to say to any of them – “managment will only promote you when they are all dead.”

      In the cases that I’ve seen any one of them would have been good, but it was just “personal bias.” In the OP’s case it could be that or something that really needs to be addressed and they are all afraid to say something.

      1. Anonymous*

        As it wasn’t really my place, I’ve never had the gumption to say to any of them – “managment will only promote you when they are all dead.”

        You could simply suggest they watch the movie “Kind Hearts and Coronets” for advice on career advancement….

    2. anonymous*

      It is either a personal dislike — OR — he is highly competent in his current position, so much so that there is fear that his slot can’t easily be filled, and he has passively accepted being passed over repeatedly.

    3. Anonymous J*

      I totally agree with this. This wouldn’t be the first company to play these kinds of games, unfortunately.

      The only other explanation is that the applicant is totally clueless, and I really doubt that is the case.

      1. anonymous*

        anonymous again — Yes, because I have seen it often — and have been a victim of it myself. The only way to handle that situation, usually, is to get out.

        I worked in one place, where one rogue manager used to use the annual review process to make her own people unpromotable. In her opinion, EVERYBODY that she had working for her did sub-standard work.

        Her dumb mistake was to do it so consistently, that her people were very quick to apply for other positions in the company — and the other managers knew the stunts she was pulling on her staff.

        Push came to shove one day — one of her people applied for another job in another department – and got it. She refused to sign off on the transfer, and it came down to “I either transfer or go out the door – YOUR CALL, and you have five minutes to think it over. Starting now. And if I stink so badly, why aren’t you glad to be rid of me?”

        The employee got the transfer, but the manager was soon out the door – she became too much of a liability for her director, and the human resources department, and the turnover she was generating hurt the company severely.

        There comes a point where a manager will not have his/her face saved by superiors. That point is very quickly reached when qualified people are held back and leave for greener pastures.

  4. Anonymous*

    Re: IT questioner
    The question reminds me of a position I am in. I recently just finished school as well and I am working at my job that I have held throughout college in an office until I find a full-time position. My manager has asked me several times what my plans are. What is the best way to tell my manager without making it seem that I don’t plan on staying here much longer if I do get an offer elsewhere even though it is the truth? My company is going through layoff rounds too. Thank you.

    1. Slaten*

      Unless you wish to be in the latest round of layoffs then LIE. Tell him you’d like to stay with the company forever!

      1. Josh S*

        You can hedge without outright lying.

        Between jobs, I took a stint working in retail. Clearly, they were worried about turnover when they hired me, and asked me what my plans were. My response was something like, “I’m looking for a place to work that can be a career, not just a job. I’m hoping that this company can be that place.”

        The sentiment actually got me a slightly better position than ‘front-line grunt’ and a $1.00 / hour pay increase.

        Of course, 6 months later when I got a ‘real job,’ I took it. Oh, and the retailer was Borders, so it wouldn’t have been a ‘career’ anyway, given today’s news. . .

        1. Anonymous*

          Wow, thanks for the response! It’s also good know that you were able to find something within 6 months!

  5. Kim*

    To the woman with the question about maternity leave:

    I think that if you have a rigid chronological style resume (meaning you list all your previous jobs in order to a certain time, regardless of their nec. relevance) I would consider putting it in as a “job” in the same format as your other jobs. That way, the time period is entirely explained, and you don’t have to waste space in your cover letter (for me, real estate on my cover letter is more precious than on my resume).

    1. Slaten*

      DISAGREE! IMO this would be unprofessional. If you’re gonna do that you may as well put “Housewife”..

      1. Charles*

        I think it depends on your exact situation and how you word it. I, too, have a “gap” in my work history and I “fixed” it the way that Kim has suggested. It does save space in my cover letter and I never get asked “so, what were you doing between X and Y?” as it is clearing explained in my resume.

        This also saves me the time, money, and hassle of going to interviews where this gap could be an issue. As they can see it spelled out, if it is an issue they simply don’t call me. If it isn’t an issue then we are good to go and can discuss more important things in an interview.

      2. Anonymous*

        I disagree. When I was in the same situation years ago, I did have a timeslot in the body of my resume for stay at home mom. I also noted that the benefits were non-existent. The boss who hired me laughed, saying “no wonder I wanted a new job”.

        1. Miriam*

          I’m the mom on maternity leave–thanks for the feedback everyone. I had not considered putting this time on my resume, but if my gap hits one year, I might try it.

  6. Sarah Gross*

    “Director of Widgets & Gizmos” sounds like a job at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. That was my first thought. I love it!

  7. Michael D. Moore*

    can I ask for a raise now that I’ve earned my degree?

    As valuable as the degree may be it does not automatically lead to asking for a pay increase. Pay increases are tied to performance once you are already employed. to the extent your degree helps you to become more valuable, your results should be the “proof of pay” value.

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