short answer Saturday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s short answer Saturday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

Offering a work sample after an interview

Is it ever okay to provide the company with a sample of your work after the first interview has past? During my interview, the Marketing Manager asked me how I would devise a HR strategy using Social Media. This was something that was not mentioned in the job advertisement and so I was caught unaware and did not give a very good answer.  This bugged me, and so I came back from the interview and worked on a suitable strategy. I was just wondering, should I email the strategy plan (that I’ve developed) to the HR Manager and Marketing Manager and say this is what I would propose?  Or would I just look too desperate and weird?

Absolutely you should. Being able to show how you’d actually do the job, plus taking the initiative to show it, can make a huge impression (assuming what you created is good).

Does it matter if you accept or refuse your interviewer’s offer of a drink?

Is it a good idea to accept/refuse an offer of a beverage at an interviewing site? If I turn down the offer, will it make me look impolite, unapproachable or even un-socialable?! Will it make me look like a overly too rigid person, or show that I’m too nervous? On the other hand, sometimes I’m not very sure if they are really meant it when offering a drink, maybe they are just being polite to ask. And I really don’t feel like drinking anything: it will not work with my stomach since I’m quiet nervous probably. Or do you think it’s not really a big deal either way? Is it better for me to accept it or turn it down?

I don’t think it matters either way, but  I’ve talked to at least one other manager who does read things into how you handle the beverage offer.  I asked her to tell me more about how she interprets it, and she said: “It’s a measure of politeness extended, politeness rejected or accepted, and how it’s done.  I don’t care if they accept the drink or not, but I do pay attention to how they respond to the offer. Also, I pay attention to whether they dispose of the cup themselves, or leave it for me to do myself. Tells me so much about what kind of person they are.”  In other words, whether you accept a drink or not, be polite about it.

Mentioning in a cover letter that you’re starting a graduate program soon

I lost my job last month due to the company downsizing. I have been admitted to an M.B.A program with a good university starting this fall 2011. It will be done online. I am doing the job search as well. Would it be appropriate for me to mention my admittance to the M.B.A program in the cover letter? Would the employer see it as a plus or minus?

Totally depends on the jobs you’re applying for. If I see that someone is in school or soon to start school, what I want to know first is how it will impact their availability for work. Will they be able to work a full-time job and go to school at the same time? What will they do if school and work ever conflict? And then I want to know why they’re going and what they plan to do with their degree once they get it. Are they professing a strong commitment to precisely the work I’m hiring for but getting a degree in a completely unrelated field, and if so, why? Are they going to leave us when they graduate in a year? Or does the schooling fit in well with the path they’ve told me they’re on? The answers to those questions should inform whether and how you address it in a cover letter.

The value of certificate courses

What is your opinion of certificates when used for furthering education? I have a BBA in Hospitality & Tourism Management and concentration in special event planning. I have been working more and more as a marketing professional, but have been told that simply having that as part of my responsibilities (and not in my title and/or in my education background) will make it difficult to make a full transition from Event Planning to the marketing industry. So, while I could spend 2-3 years and $50,000+ to obtain a marketing MBA, I think it would be a better use of time, resources, and efforts to obtain a marketing certificate from The University of Chicago. I don’t plan to be the next Don Draper, just need a bit more credibility to back up the skills I know I have.

Personally, I don’t care that much about certificates and would always strongly prefer to see real-world experience. So I’d say do it if you think the actual skills you gain will be helpful to you, but not if you’re only doing it for added credibility. But then I don’t care that much about specific degrees either (unless it’s a law degree, which is helpful in a lot of the jobs I hire for), so maybe people in other industries or with other perspectives can weigh in on this question in the comments.

Contacting prospective coworkers on LinkedIn before an interview

I’m scheduled to interview with a company next week. However, I am going through a staffing agency for this position.  Would it be the wrong thing to do to try to network/connect with current employees of this company on LinkedIn? This is a temp to hire position and and this stage in my life (36 with no real career ever…just bounced around a lot in different industries), I really need this position.

Sure, go for it. Just don’t be pushy/overly aggressive about it or you’ll do yourself more harm than good.

Refusing job candidates with long commutes

I’m wondering if it’s legal to ask job applicants to not apply because of the part of the city they live in. I live in Los Angeles where there are many different neighborhoods. I’m noticing in the past year that a lot of job ads are saying do not apply if you don’t live “30 minutes” or sometimes “20 minutes away”.   I live in South Central Los Angeles, where there just aren’t the types of jobs that I want. I wish I lived in Santa Monica or Brentwood, but I can’t afford to live in those types of areas without a decent paying job. It’s a catch 22. I’m very smart and an extremely hard worker. I have two degrees and great references. Yes, traffic is a huge issue here, but I spent the last three years working in Beverly Hills (more than a 30-minute drive in traffic despite being about 10 miles away) and I never had an issue with tardiness. Is this legal, and if not, what can I do about it?

It’s legal. It could be problematic if they were barring candidates from specific neighborhoods if those neighborhoods were heavily minority, but if they’re barring everyone from outside a certain distance, this is their prerogative. Stupid, but their prerogative. (Are they also going to fire current employees who move a few miles away?) Consider taking your address off your resume, or using a friend’s who lives inside their acceptable radius.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Amanda

    There seem to be a lot of places that are reluctant to hire people with long commutes, especially in this market – I guess at least these people are letting you know up front. Last year, I got to two third-round interviews (for places that were about 50-60 minutes away from where I live) before being told that they’d gone with a candidate who lives closer, because they wanted someone who’d be able to come in or sub on short notice. Why didn’t they tell me that to begin with?? (Or maybe it was just an excuse – totally possible – but still annoying.)

    1. Jamie

      50-60 minutes is considered a long commute in some places?

      I live 30+ miles from work and it’s about 40 minutes at midnight with no traffic and about 1.5 hours during rush hour. I was asked in the interview if it would be an issue, I said no, nothing more was said.

      I don’t even have the longest commute amongst my co-workers and it’s pretty average. I guess it really depends on your region regarding what constitutes a long commute.

  2. Joe

    I’m currently looking for another job and I have some work samples I’d like to show if a prospective employer requested it. Specifically these would be detailed PDF maps of municipal utilities. I don’t believe such work is covered under my company’s non-disclosure agreement that I signed, but our customers have us sign confidentiality agreements from time to time. I would ask for permission, but I think it would give away my intentions. Would these prospective employers care whether or not I have permission to show examples of my work to them?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If it’s not something you’ve been asked to keep confidential (either explicitly or implicitly), then you don’t need to seek explicit permission. However, if something is supposed to be confidential, definitely keep it that way. How you treat confidentiality at your current job will say something about how you’re likely to handle confidentiality if you work for them.

      In the case of the OP, she actually wrote a strategy for the job she was applying for (as opposed to using a sample of past work). This can be hugely effective.

  3. Brian

    As for commute distance, there are many positions where for one reason or another there is a need to live within a certain distance of a specific location. My current position requires a specific location because we have contractual obligations to be on site at customer locations within a set amount of time. IT positions and facilities positions often require that someone be on-call and able to get to the facility within a certain amount of time in an emergency.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That’s a very good point, and a good example of a time when this would be completely reasonable. OP, could that explain it in your case?

  4. Angela

    thanks for answering my question about the drink, Alison.
    For longer distances, like over 70 km, or out of province, some employer don’t want to pay for your relocation, or think it will not worth for you to relocate (e.g. temp jobs) refuse candidates that lives too far.

  5. De Minimis

    I’ve ran into the commute distance issue more than a few times. I think in most cases they just assume that over time people will not be okay with the commute and will quit for a job that is closer to home, even if you tell them beforehand that the commute isn’t an issue. I guess what the OP could do is let employers know that they intend to move closer as soon as possible.

    I find it frustrating because I grew up in a rural area where it was pretty routine for most people to have to make a significant commute to work, school, shopping etc. so I don’t consider it that big a deal. I can’t seem to convince employers of this fact though. I see the same ads from employers who obviously can’t find a suitable candidate within an acceptable distance, yet they still won’t consider me. If employers had that attitude where I grew up they would have a hard time finding workers!

    1. Anonymous

      You brought up what I was going to say. I had an interview in which I had to commute 1.5 hours each way (which in turn would become my commute had I gotten the job). The employer immediately started the interview by stating that it was a long commute, and no matter how much I told him it didn’t bother me, he refused to listen. I knew instantly I had lost the interview, and reflecting back, I should have just ended the interview right then and there. Nothing I could have said, even if they were all the “right” answers, would have made a bit of difference.

  6. Anonymous

    Seriously, LA to Santa Monica is too far? I used to commute from Northridge to LAX, and I worked with a guy who came in every day from Temecula (for non CA types, that is about 120 miles each way).

    For some areas, that might be reasonable, but this is LA. And it’s not like the OP would have that long a commute.

    1. Stephanie

      I used to live in the DC area and knew several people who commuted from Baltimore to the Virginia suburb where I worked (about 60 mi each way) and a couple who commuted from Richmond or near the MD-WV border (around 100 mi in each case). The DC area is notorious for long commutes thanks to high costs of living closer in and the notoriously bad DC Public Schools.

      I live out in the Phoenix area now. Sprawl’s pretty awful out here, so long commutes of 60, 70 mi each way aren’t unheard of either.

      Seems odd the job the OP mentioned would have a commuting restriction.

  7. Henning Makholm

    “Also, I pay attention to whether they dispose of the cup themselves, or leave it for me to do myself. Tells me so much about what kind of person they are.”

    It will tell her whether the candidate is the kind of person who’ll spontaneously go prowling through the corridors of an unknown office in search of a dishwasher to deposit the cup in. Unless she’s serving beverages to her business guests in disposable cups?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think she means do they just leave the cup on the desk at the end of the interview or do they pick it up and say, “Where would you like me to put this?” I think it’s reading too much into it, personally, but I also think it’s useful to know that some interviewers may pay attention to that type of thing.

  8. Charles

    “It’s a measure of politeness extended, politeness rejected or accepted, and how it’s done. I don’t care if they accept the drink or not, but I do pay attention to how they respond to the offer. Also, I pay attention to whether they dispose of the cup themselves, or leave it for me to do myself. Tells me so much about what kind of person they are.”

    Sorry, But, I find that is reading WAY TOO MUCH into this. Unless the person is a real jerk about rejecting the drink, or they throw the cup on the floor, or some other such idiotic thing, what else is there to think about? Is it because they didn’t say “no, thank you” with the “proper” tone? Or did they not make a big fuss about how “generous” you are being? Does she reject the candidates because they not offer to wash the cup out? Seriously, AAM, how much “interpreting” does this manager do?

    I’m not saying some things don’t matter; but, I think it is hiring folks that put so much thought into trivial things that make job searching and finding the “right” candidate such a nightmare for both sides.

    As far as the commuting issue; for those organizations in which it matters if the person can “show up” with little notice – why doesn’t the interviewer bring it up that way rather than using the “long commute” issue? And, Hiring Managers, when you ask me if my long commute is an issue for me – please believe me when I say that it is NOT. Are you hiring folks assuming that I am lying because you regularly lie to job seekers? hmmm?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, I agree that it’s reading too much into it. But I think it’s worth knowing that some interviewers might be paying attention to whether you just leave your cup lying around when you’re done with it, etc. It certainly won’t hurt to add a little extra graciousness around that kind of thing.

  9. Cassie

    In Los Angeles, basically everyone has a long commute! Just driving from downtown Los Angeles to West Los Angeles (which is about 12 miles) takes about 35 minutes on a good day, and can take an hour or more on a bad day.

    I haven’t seen job ads with a restriction on how close people need to live (though I haven’t really looked at job ads) – maybe the employer (falsely) believes that if the employee lives closer, they will be on time?

  10. lexy

    Funny, I was just recently hired at a place 50 miles from where I live and long commutes are super common there. They even let employees opt to work 4-10s because so many people live more than 30 miles away.

    In this case it’s because we’re located in an area that’s less desirable to live in (Salem OR) so most people live near Portland. I think there are really very few instances where long commutes are a problem. Maybe law enforcement?

  11. Stephanie

    On a related note to the question of commuting distance, has anyone else noticed employers discriminating against non-local candidates? I definitely understand preferring a local candidate, but I’ve seen some job ads go as far as figuring out your location based on your IP address and saying “Your location of Scottsdale, AZ is more than 100 miles away from New York, NY and this employer won’t accept non-local candidates.” Then the ad won’t even let you apply for the position at all.

    Something about this seems a bit excessive when a simple “No relocation” would suffice. Or perhaps allowing a candidate to offer self-relocation in a cover letter.

    1. Joe

      IP-based rejection is a bit excessive, not to mention amusing and easy to get around — I won’t go into detail as it might not be legal though. I’ve submitted applications to jobs on the other side of the country, only to receive an automated rejection e-mail two seconds later. I understand why employers reject non-locals, but they aren’t always rational about it.

    2. De Minimis

      The worst I’ve seen is an ad stating that applicants must prove they have lived in the area for the past three years! I don’t really agree with not considering out-of-town people if they are willing to relocate [a lot of us who live in areas with high unemployment are looking to move anyplace where we can find work] but can understand a company not wanting to take a chance on a relocation not working out. But requiring people to have lived somewhere for three years is ridiculous.

  12. Kimberlee

    In my experience, lots of job posts specifically say people who don’t live nearby shouldn’t apply. It’s not unreasonable, especially since employers are looking at 200+ resumes per job opening, eventually you’ve got to get a bit more creative in how you weed out.

    And as far as certifications go, while I agree that real-world experience is better, having one will (almost) never hurt you. So if it’s easy and cheap enough to get, why not?

  13. Liz

    Yay – thanks for the shout-out for law degrees! It’s a versatile degree, and with the legal market in flux, more law school graduates than usual are looking to apply it to non-legal jobs.

  14. Erica

    In regards to following people at that company on LinkedIn and other social media – you can do it, but don’t expect it to help.

    People get freaked out that you “found” them, even on completely public professional profiles, rather than pleased that you took the iniative. It’s one of those situations where traditional methods of networking don’t quite mix with new ones.

    1. Anonymous

      agreed. I don’t think it will do you any good; it’s a bit strange infact. What’s the point anyway?

    2. Emily

      I agree. I don’t think you stand to gain enough insider info or make a strong enough pre-first impression to make it worth risking making that impression as a weirdo or stirring up confusion. Maybe LinkedIn will eventually grow into itself, but for now, using it as a resource for more traditional networking seems wiser (e.g. you see on LinkedIn that you have a connection with someone through a reliable real life acquaintance and you reach out through that connection instead of blindly through the website).

  15. Anonymous

    In regards to candidates with long commutes we run into this in our office occasionally. As most people have said I think it is what is considered the “norm” for the company first of all. In our case several of the positions we fill are for technicians who are provided a company vehicle, for obvious reasons the company is reluctant to hire anyone who is going to put 50-100 miles on a vehicle daily just to commute to their work area. Now having said that for the right candidate we will make exceptions or come up with alternate solutions such as making them park the vehicle at the office and commute in their own vehicle each day and then pick up the company car/truck. I also think it depends on the type of job you are filling. Obviously an executive/specialized type of job may require a larger search area or be worth it to the candidate in the long run, a lower paying job is more likely to be viewed as easily replaced with a similar job closer to the candidate’s home area.

  16. Steve Geoghan

    I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. 30 min commute. Out of 15 employees, only 1 other is from the city. Everyone else is from the ‘burbs. Pain to deal with. They cringe at 8:00 meetings. They rush out at 5:00 even though it was obvious when they were hired that our branch had a start-up feel that required overtime. They are always “working from home,” yet you only see results from 2 of them doing so. I totally get refusing commuters, though I definitely feel the pain. If you are going to commute, you really need to overcompensate in terms of face time at the office….

  17. Anonymous

    I also live in LA, and I was actually going to write in about a commute question too! I recently was told that I was the strongest candidate for a position, but they were concerned about my commute and would be going with someone else. I also got an email from a company saying they would not relocate me and therefore wouldn’t even interview me. It’s frustrating because I’m living with my parents and I plan to move to wherever I get a job, but these employers can’t wrap their minds around that! Now I have removed my address from my resume, and will probably just tell a little white lie if they ask about where I live.

    1. Elaine

      Anon at 1:36, you could also get a cell phone with the area code in the area you want to live. Companies are ridiculously picky about where people live, but they do need to get in touch with you. And when they ask you where you live, you can tell them you’re getting ready to move into that area.

      Good luck!

      1. Brian

        Even easier than getting a cell phone form the “correct” area code is to use Google Voice – free phone number with the area code of your choosing forwarded to whatever number you would like. When you place calls, you can choose to make them show up as from your number or the Google Voice number…

        1. Emily

          In the same vein, my brother lives in the city where I’m hoping to get a new job, and he has been trying to persuade me to put his home address on my resume, which is actually practical and not altogether dishonest—I do plan to live at his place for a few months once I [finally] move! But that only works if you’re currently out of work. My current employer is still in my current city and I can’t spin a 5-6 hour commute to my current job any more than I could spin a 5-6 hour commute (or just a trip for an interview!) to a new job.

    2. Liz

      I am rather concerned by this idea that the company has to know everything about your address in order to decide if they want you. If you’re the kind of person who won’t make it in to work on time, for whatever reason, a short commute won’t help. And if you’re the kind of person who will, then they’ve weeded you out for no reason.

      I don’t think I’d like to work for a place that works like this. Setting a commute limit is a regulation-heavy, top-down approach to an individual situation, that shows little ability to differentiate between good and bad employees. I would be worried that’s how the company will approach other issues, too.

      1. Anonymous J

        I totally agree with this. I had a friend who lived in the Winchester, VA area and worked for the Pentagon. His solution? He subletted from another friend of ours for a few months and lived in the city during the week and went home on the weekends.

        I agree that this type of screening is extremely obnoxious. A hiring manager can’t know someone’s situation.

        It’s very common in the DC area–as some have already said–for people to live as far away as Winchester, VA or Charles Town, WV and commute into the DC area for work.

  18. Riya

    Thanks Alison for replying to the Cover letter – Graduate program question. Appreciate it and I will work on it.

  19. Grey

    What would you say to your employee after finding out they lied to you about their location so they could get their job?

  20. Marjorie

    I know of two employees, one in my department and one not, who both said that their 45 minute + commutes were not a problem (we live in St. Louis, so we’re not talking near the commutes of LA) when they started. However, now anytime there’s a snow storm, inclement weather, gas hits $4 a gallon, or just general inconvienence, they complain about how far they have to come to work. It seems to be one of those things that isn’t a problem for people when they’re looking for a job, but becomes a problem later. I’ve never not hired someone on the basis of how far they have to come, but I’ve seen it be a big problem for the employer.

  21. Stephanie

    Google Voice allows you to choose a number that can be forwarded to your cell phone, computer, etc.

  22. Anonymous

    I would say though, do not use someone else’s address for the person concerned about living more than 20 miles away. I’m a bit surprised AAM suggested it since lying during the interview process is grounds for dismissal. Leave it out completely but most certainly don’t lie about it.

    1. Anonymous

      yeah, I’m confused as to why using your friends addy is a good idea. Won’t that get you into trouble?

  23. Anonymous

    Wow, I use to live in the DC area and lived the farthest away. I typically beat most people into the office. Now that I live in NC, I still live about the same distance as I did in DC, but the commute is SOOOO much better. I still sail in earlier than those that live closer. Wind/rain, I’m here, all by my lonesome sometimes waiting on the others. Some people will be late/complain if they lived a block away!

  24. clobbered

    About the certification question… while I agree with AaM that one should pay attention to what people have been doing rather than their bits of paper, I personally have experienced problems getting past the “HR screen” because I have the wrong bits of paper (I graduated many years ago but have 20 years experience in my field, yet still can’t get past screens that require a degree in the field I work in rather than the one I graduated in). Lame, but it happens.

    As to whether a particular certification is useful, I would look at job ads in the field that you are planning to get into. Unless the certification turns up in the job ads, it’s unlikely to help you much.

  25. Eric

    I always accept the drink and use it as a pretext to take some time to think about my answer more. Of course the interviewers laugh at me and see right through it and tell me to take all the time I need to think about my answer anyway.

  26. Joe

    Regarding certification: I work in software development, and in my experience, software certification is almost always a way of trying to make it look like you know something that you don’t. In 13 years of working in this field, I’ve only known a couple of people who actually learned and retained any significant skills from a certification program that was not directly related to the work they were doing, and they were the kind of bright, capable people that I’d want to hire anyway. Now that I’m in a position to make hiring decisions, I run into this more often. If someone lists a certification for a skill that they don’t list anywhere else on their resume, I will assume that they don’t actually know how to do it; while I won’t explicitly hold it against them, it does leave a sour taste in my mouth, and probably predisposes me against them. If they also list experience with that skill, then the certification might have been a way for them to get started with it, but since they actually have that experience, I don’t really care about the certification.

    I’ve spoken to other managers within my field, and found that in general, managers who have never done the work they’re hiring for will go gaga over fancy-sounding certifications, while managers who have actually been developers will usually not care much one way or the other.

  27. Anonymous

    I think the certification question very much depends on the feild. For instance, my Fiance is in IT and certifications go a very long way after you get your degree or diploma. His experience has been that people hiring in IT see that you have Degree A or B, and then ask “But what else can you do for us?” Certification, and I’m not trying to make a blanketing statement for the whole industry, but it’s made the entire difference for promotion and pay for the simple fact that he wants to learn and do more. Certification in the very least could show a hiring team that you’re at least motivated to be in that feild, of course if it’s related to the position you’re applying for.

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