short answer Sunday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

Getting it in four minutes under the wire: another short answer Sunday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

Is this application process too much work?

I am applying for a tenure-track job posting at a large university. I know from a current employee of this university that references are called BEFORE a candidate is ever contacted about the job. My two concerns are: 1) this university will likely contact my references before I even am seriously considering the job or am even aware that they are interested 2) wasting my references time asking them to write letters for a job I may or may not be contacted about or ultimately interested in.

Applicants are directed to submit a cover letter outlining their relevant qualifications and experience, a current curriculum vitae, and the names and contact details of three references. Applicants are also asked to have two of their three referees submit written letters of recommendation directly under separate cover by mail, or email/fax with a mail copy following before the application deadline. Referees should be provided with a copy of this position advertisement. Have you ever even seen this before?? I love my current job so I think I’m staying far away from this one.

Academia plays by its own weird rules. In the normal world, calling references before you’ve determined you’re seriously interested in a candidate would be a bizarre waste of everyone’s time. But academia is a strange parallel universe with its own conventions.

Employee constantly complaining about office furniture

How much control over the office space should an employee have?  Since we moved into a new building and had it set up by a designer, an employee has demanded furniture be moved in her office (which is shared with another employee) and then complained about that employee until that employee was let go. A new employee was hired and it was determined that the furniture should go back to the original pattern.  Since the change, this employee has been VERY vocal about her dislike of this arrangement and pretty much made her coworker regret the change as well.  Now the new employee has filed a grievance because of the work space?  Are you kidding me?  They haven’t even given it a chance and they refuse to straighten up their area and make it workable.  It was moved to make the setting  better for the new employee…sigh.  How much control of this space do I leave to the employees?

Um, are you her manager? If so, set some damn boundaries and stop letting this employee run roughshod over everyone else, including you.  If you’re not the manager and this doesn’t impact your ability to do your job, stay out of it.

Are career counselors worth it?

I remember your post about it not being you (as in the candidate) as the problem in a job hunt, just a sheer numbers problem of too many seekers for too few openings. Nearing a year of unemployment, I’m beginning to wonder if it is me. I’ve managed to get a few interviews (which I know is more than some can say, so I’m grateful for that), but have had no luck sealing the deal in any of them. I seem to get the interview, the employer seems super interested when he or she calls, phone screen or in-person interview seems to go ok, and then…nothing. Something in my cover letter and resume must be right as I’m getting the initial calls (and to final rounds in some cases), it’s just trying to figure out where I can improve. I’ve nicely asked all my interviewers for feedback, but only got a “We were impressed, but went with an internal candidate” from one. I will admit that reply was at least a nice confidence boost that I’m not totally horrible at interviews.

My mom suggested I perhaps seek out a career counselor who could give me feedback from an objective point-of-view. Her argument for it is that he or she could pick up on things that I wouldn’t notice or that a friend or family who was used to how I talked or presented myself wouldn’t notice. In your (or readers’) experience, do you find a career counselor is worth the expense? Could some self-examination or a candid friend or family member do the same thing? Thanks!

I wish I had a good answer to this, but I’m not sure that I do. In theory, a career counselor should be able to help. In practice, I’ve heard lots of negative stories from people who have used career counselors and few (maybe no?) positive ones. There’s no harm in having initial conversations with a few to see if you can find someone who impresses you … but put a premium on finding someone who has actually hired people before. There are a lot of career coaches out there who have never managed or hired people, which to me is like paying someone to tell you how to fix your car when they’ve never even driven. From what I can tell, you’ll get pretty generic, non-nuanced advice from these people, and yet they’ll happily take your money.

Is this legal?

I have been applying to a company here in my town that has about 12 different sites and one manager that manages them all. I check the website everyday like clockwork and have applied to every open position for 6 years, and within a day of applying every time  I get a personal phone call from this manager telling me she is very sorry but the position has gone to someone internally. This manager has never even interviewed new candidates for the position. Is that legal? It just seems to me that she would see that the fact that I have diligently and how determined I am to get a job with this company that she would at least give me a chance. I have heard from employees of this company that she considers her employees family and she doesn’t want anyone new to ruin it. Can you please tell me if there is someone I can call to see if this is legal?

Yes, it’s legal. She’s allowed to interview or not interview, and hire or not hire, anyone she wants, as long as her hiring decisions are not based on legally protected classes — i.e., hiring someone because they’re a particular race, gender, religion, etc.  Instead of trying to force her through legal action to hire you, why not call her, explain that you really want to work at her company because ___, and ask for her advice on how you could become a stronger candidate?

By the way, it’s weird that she’s spending her time calling applicants who she hasn’t even interviewed to reject them. If nothing else, we know that she is terrible at time management.

Listing a company on your resume after it changed its name

I worked for a Fortune 1000 company, known as, say, company X.  A couple of years after I left, they were acquired by a bigger company with a very prestigious name.   My question, is it ok to go back and change company X name on my resume to the bigger company name, because they are now known as this bigger company?    I thought of having it say Company X, (now Company Y) but it reads and looks awkward.

That’s exactly what you should do, actually. List it this way:

Company X (now Company Y)

What do you say in response to rejections?

What is the best response when I receive a rejection email?  Should I respond with a “Thanks for getting back to me…. obviously I am disappointed…. good luck with your new hire…..” or what? I probably would not say “Keep my resume on file” because I am pretty sure most would not, and I think it’s a little presumptuous to make any implication of “Call me if the new guy does not work out.”   I am, truly, happy to hear any news at all, since most companies don’t bother.  My main objective is simply not to burn any bridges and leave the interviewers with a good impression, because you never know.

Be gracious, and, of course, don’t be bitter. Say something like, “Thanks so much for letting me know. I really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about your work, and I’d love to hear from you if you think I might be a good fit for something in the future. Best of luck with your work!”

Addressing health issues on a resume

If a person has gaps in their resume due to a health issue, but was freelancing anyway during that time, would you give reasons for the gaps not attributable to freelancing, i.e. health issues?  If you were offered the position would it be common for you be asked to produce doctors notes and other proof of the health issues?

No, don’t list health issues on your resume. And no, it would be super weird for an employer to ask you to produce proof of the health issues from a period before you worked for them. (Nor would they care — they either want to hire you or they don’t. They’re not going to be thinking, “We’d like to hire this guy as long as he was really out due to health issues and not really just sitting around playing video games all day.”)

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask an Advisor*

    Re: Are career counselors worth it?

    Even as a former career counselor, I’m inclined to agree with AAM. Going to a career counselor could be useful or it could not be, depending on the individual counselor.

    Before opening up your wallet for a career counselor, you may want to try your own mock interview. Put together a list of 10 or so interview questions, including a few you may have struggled with in the past, have a friend interview you, and record it with the camera focused only on you. Seeing yourself on camera can give you a lot of feedback about how you are coming off in interviews. Watch your video a few times with a couple of different people and ask for their feedback, too.

    Also, you may want to look into alumni services from your college’s career center or community resources (like the San Francisco Job Forum (, for example). There may be a cheaper alternative out there for you.

  2. Anonymous*

    Re: academia

    All of what you described in the application process is very, very common in academia. Most if not all tenure-track job ads will read like this. Anyone who would be writing a reference letter for a tenure-track job (i.e. someone in academia) will know this is the process and will expect to provide many letters for many different applications, expecting that only a few will result in interviews.

    Now, on to the advice that may be less well-received: you don’t sound very well-versed or well-prepared for a tenure-track application process (if you had, you would know how standard these requirements are). If you wish to pursue this job, you will want to seek mentoring from someone in academia to help you present your skills, experience, etc in the best light.

    1. anon*

      I should clarify – this ad is for a librarian position and faculty status/tenure requirements vary greatly across institutions. It is only the ‘letters of reference specific to the job ad’ component of the ad that is something I haven’t come across. CV, names/contact for references, research interests, etc. are definitely standard.

  3. Anonymous*

    Re – academia:

    “Academia plays by its own weird rules” – so true! and what was described seems fairly standard.

    Another thing, academia – the specific discipline and sub-specialty one may have – is a very small world and it would be disingenuous to believe that people wouldn’t be consulted anyway, even if just informally.

  4. Beth*

    Re: Is it legal:
    Stop submitting resumes. Give the hiring manager a rest. She’s calling you to stop you in your tracks. Candidates who apply for every position I have open without seeing what they are truly a fit for never get called for interviews. Take a break from applying. When that one true position that you want and are qualified opens after a six month break, write a kick ass cover letter and sell yourself for that position. Otherwise you are just making yourself look foolish.

    1. Suzanne Lucas*

      I’m glad you wrote this because it saved me the time. I wouldn’t even bother looking at your resume after the 10th job you applied for. There’s no way you’re qualified for all 10.

      1. Anonymous*

        not necessarily true, especially depending on the size of the company. A large university in my area has had 15 openings for positions with the same job title (in different departments) over the past four months, all of which I have applied to. Based on the fact that the hiring manager is calling candidates (or even seeing the resumes at all before an HR person) is probably evidence that it’s a smaller company, but i did just want to throw that in.

    2. Charles*

      um, what is the OP thinking if AAM said that it was illegal?

      “Since, she won’t hire me I’ll sic the employment police on her?”

      As a job seeker, I’ve never tried that tactic.

      Seriously though, if the government were able to force someone to hire you just because you “diligently and [are] determined to get a job with that company” what other power would that government have? That is NOT a government that I wish to live under.

  5. Anonymous*

    Regarding the letter writer of “Are career counselors worth it?”: I have read several times that if you’re getting interviews, but not sealing the deal, that it may be the obvious (you didn’t interview well) or that you interviewed TOO well. The idea is that if you interview too well, come across too bright, too sharp and motivated that the interviewer may be threatened by you. Do any career professionals have any thoughts about that?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No competent manager is going to have a problem with someone coming across as smart and motivated.

      However, there’s such a thing as interviewing too well, where you come across as so overly polished that it appears insincere / not the real you.

      1. Jamie*

        Agreed – but I do think you can come across as too smart and too motivated if you’re applying for jobs below your abilities. I guess it falls in the category of overqualified.

        If you’re applying for jobs levels below where you’ve been working managers know you’re desperate and will be there exactly as long as it takes to find something else or get promoted.

  6. Anonymous*

    Re office furniture arrangement by a designer

    Not that I’m siding with the employee because it’s clearly not the only issue with/about her, however I have worked in some offices that were “designed” where the layout made things much harder for me to function. And, yes, I’ve whined and gotten changes.

  7. Jamie*

    I’m curious as to the nature of the complaints about the office layout – I can’t imagine anything along these lines rising to the level of filing a grievance unless you had to work suspended from the ceiling.

    As far as how much control someone should have over their own space? I personally think a manager should make sure nothing in the environment is interfering with productivity (noise level, etc.) and then it is what it is.

    Unless a desk layout dictated that a left handed employee use a mouse or number pad on the right side. That should be grounds for not only a grievance but a lawsuit for cruel and unusual conditions :).

  8. Michelle*

    Academia – yep, everything they’re asking for is legit. My husband is in the process of applying for academic positions at various levels (not just tenure track), and most jobs require submission of 1) a CV, 2) a statement of interest, 3) a proposed research summary, 4) a cover letter, 5) a statement of qualifications/experience, and 6) letters from multiple references.

    If the OP is currently employed in the private sector, I can see why he/she might think this is a lot of work. Honestly, it *is* a lot of work but tenure track positions don’t tend to come along every day.

  9. Michelle*

    Career Counselors – I wish I had known what questions to ask up front.

    Definitely ask if the counselor has hiring experience and if you are in a technical field (like engineering or science), go one further and ask if they have hired *in that specific field*.

    Sometimes it’s just luck though. I thought it was “me” after landing multiple interviews and no offers over the course of a year. I paid up for the career counseling, took some of the advice to heart, but haven’t seen any improved results to date.

  10. Other Jamie*

    re: Career Counselor

    I’m in the same boat as you, so please don’t give up! I possibly might have gotten a job (waiting for the official offer) after being out of graduate school for just under 2 years. (Unfortunately it’s not in my field, but… still.)

    I know the feeling of not being sure what to try next — all the advice you seem to get is like “spellcheck! network! tailor your resume!” and it’s like …okay, what do I do after that? I’m grammatically capable and I’ve tailored my resume to death, but what can I try next?

    I found that I got the best advice from talking to my bosses at my work study job while in grad school and afterwards (I volunteered there for a year after I graduated). Getting advice from former employers, internship supervisors, or professors in your field is so much more helpful than just generic stuff you may get because they basically HAVE the type of job you want, so they know exactly what you need.

    If they’re the type of super nice people who want to help others (thank goodness I’m in league with librarians!), they’ll give you advice, send job postings your way, etc. Run your resume by them as if they would be interested in hiring you, maybe also a cover letter. (I hate cover letters. >.< )

    The other thing that helped me A TON was when I went to a conference for my profession right after I graduated. They had this awesome career resource center where professionals in the field would staff a little room and you could have them look over your resume and give tips for better wording, or how to really highlight something you did, or advice for your hopeful job path.

    Even though that hasn't worked out quite yet for libraries/archives for me yet… I feel like it made useful strides. I wish you luck!!!

  11. Naama*

    Re: Career counseling — count me in as another career counselor who doesn’t think it’s worth it for most people. Hey, probably around 80% of my advice to this class of job seekers is featured somewhere on AAM…which is free!
    Getting a career counselor’s advice MIGHT be worth the investment if:
    1) You are searching in a very particular field, and your counselor specializes in it (I specialize in culinary/pastry/baking and related careers and can’t imagine being an effective generalist!)
    2) They are very well connected and will use their network for you in a real way — but this may not work so well if you’re the sort of worker they’re ashamed to vouch for
    3) If you’re getting their services as part of your college (either as a student or as an alum), for goodness’ sakes, use them. Career counselors are much more effective if you have regular contact with them and your goals stay foremost in their minds, and they’re worth a little time even if their services generally aren’t that super (e.g., you went to a liberal arts school and they don’t have services targeted to your industry)
    4) If you get a really, really good deal
    And, like AAM said, if they don’t have hiring experience, you should probably steer clear.

    Otherwise, get a mean acquaintance (not a friend if you can help it) to give you honest feedback, do informational interviews with people with the jobs/at the companies you’d like to hear more about, volunteer, and ask very politely for feedback if you get rejected after interviews. You might see if a local nonprofit, library, job seekers’ meetup, or other resource can give you perspective on your applications. Community resources are often fantastic, if you find the right ones. Loads of stuff can be done for free!

    Caveat — ultimately, you get out of career counseling what you put into it. We can assist you in building your network, but we can’t maintain it for you. We can practice interviewing with you, but you’re the one who has to do the interview (and show up well-rested, enthusiastic, and not stoned. Sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe what I’ve seen). So be proactive. It’s like having a personal trainer — you can see a PT twice a month, but you won’t get great results unless you work out on your own too. So while we can help you with motivation, if you really just flat out refuse to help yourself too, there’s only so much we can help. Know before you invest that you’ll have to do some work.
    (OP: I don’t mean you specifically. You sound great!)

  12. Chris*

    re: Career Counselor

    I don’t know if this worth anything, but here is the best way I have ever found a job. It all depends if you are looking for any job or if you are looking at a particular career. Everything I have listed can be done cheap or free.

    1. Check to see if there are any groups for your profession or any meet and greet types of situations. If it is technical in nature, go to user groups meetings, IEEE events, etc. Sometimes it is all about the great American know who.

    2. If you know someone already in the field you wish to work ask for their professional advice. The key to this is you are not asking for a job. If they know someone looking, they might be willing to share the contact.

    3. If you are further along in your career, give talks on a subject you know. If you have expertise in a certain area, talk about it. A company might want someone with your expertise or at least it will get your name out there. I have had many interview offers come my way because my name was out there.

    4. Have you considered something else doing what you want to do in another field? There might be something similar in another field.

  13. Cassie*

    Tenure-track positions generally (always?) require letters of references. Our institution requires 3 letters of reference (emailed/scanned are fine). I’ve seen other institutions require original/signed letter sent in by mail, while others will accept an emailed version when the application is submitted and then if the university decides to proceed with a job offer, then they will request the original.

    The upside is that, if the OP is applying to more than one university, the person providing the reference can use the same letter for each university (I mean, they typically don’t have to write a brand-new letter, unless the reference wants to tailor the letter to the particular institution).

  14. Anonymous*

    I have a totally random question. Have any of you noticed a spike in corporate doucheyness since the recession began? It appears, at least to me, that there has been a general dehumanization of the hiring process and the way that companies treat their employees. Meaningless corporate speak and jargon is everywhere. Most corporate tools are hiding behind technology and actual communication is weak and fleeting.

    This seems to have carried over into the social media environment too, because all of these companies are vying to create as much noise on social media as possible. You mix this with the plethora of social media “ninjas” and marketing “gurus” and the whole thing screams douchebag.

    Am I the only one who feels this way?

    1. Esra*

      You are definitely not the only one feeling this way! I’ve noticed that doucheyness across the board, from job postings, to recruiters, to pay negotiation, to accepting a new position. It’s like they feel like they are giving you a gift in the form of a job instead of beginning a mutually beneficial work relationship.

    2. Stephanie*

      Oh, agreed. Or some interviewers just feeling that they’re doing you a favor by inviting you for a phone screen. I suppose they know that it’s a buyer’s market and there are a lot of unemployed and desperate people looking. I interviewed for a staff job at an Ivy League University; the hubris coming from the recruiters and the whole you-should-just-be-honored-that-a-university-this-prestigious-and-historic-took-time-to-call-you attitude was infuriating.

      1. DeeInHouston*

        Having been a corporate recruiter for 15 years, I have never received so many rude, condescending emails from candidates when I regret them after an interview. From what I’m reading here, you may want to consider what we deal with on the other side – 2000 resumes on one posting, endless calls from candidates to check on their applications, overwhelming job loads due to cutbacks, etc.
        While I have the ability to respond to any candidate who doesn’t make it through the process through the Applicant Tracking System, I take the time to respond to any candidate who came in for an interview with a personal note. My reward? More than a few responses like, “I heard your process was crap.”, “You people wouldn’t know talent….”., etc.
        Understand we’re stretched thin, trying to manage huge candidate responses, and doing our best to find talent through all of it.

  15. class factotum*

    Now the new employee has filed a grievance because of the work space?

    What is this “filing a grievance?” I just heard of this practice for the first time recently with all the drama going on in Madison over state government employee unions. What is the difference between a legitimate grievance and something you just complain about to your co-workers? When do you just move the furniture yourself? It seems a rather silly use of company resources to respond to an employee complaint about furniture.

  16. Stephanie*

    Hi, I’m the OP who wrote in about career counselors.

    Thanks for all the helpful suggestions. Alison and everyone in the comments confirmed my suspicions about career counselors—I was a bit hesitant to plop down $200-300 to be told to talk slower and use a downward inflection at the end of sentences. I talked to my alma mater’s career services office and I’m too old at this point to utilize its services much beyond the job board. (They must really be inundated–I only graduated three years ago…)

    I think I’ve tried most of the things mentioned and all have worked to varying degrees. I suppose what I was just trying to figure out if there was just something else I could do such as consulting a career counselor.

    1. DeeInHouston*

      Anyone worth their salt should be reviewing different types of interviewing techniques with you, asking about relevant examples in your past experience showing leadership, strategy, process improvement, etc. As a recruiter, I do career counseling everyday in preparing my candidates for their interviews. I’m a bit disgusted to hear what’s out there masquerading as career counseling.

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