short answer Sunday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

Seven short questions, seven short answers…  And note that we need advice from someone good at networking in the third question.

Including travel and volunteer work on your resume

My friend and I have this debate over my resume. I traveled to Thailand a year ago to do two weeks of volunteering and two weeks of traveling. I helped build a sustainable toilet for a impoverished but growing hill tribe. I also worked at an elephant sanctuary, sort of retirement/rescue home for abused elephants. She thinks I should list this on my resume to stand out, even though I’m applying for assistant positions because I’m straight out of college. What’s your take? Should I include it or is it unnecessary, since the skills I learned there was basically to survive, lay cement and never turn your back on an elephant?

Yes, include it. Some interviewers will simply find it interesting and will ask you about it; others will think it says something admirable about your character and will like it for that reason; and others won’t care. It certainly won’t hurt you and in some cases will help. (Don’t take up a huge amount of space with it though since it was only a month; I’m talking about a couple of lines, not giving it the same real estate you’d give to a job.)

Employer wants a non-employer reference

I am applying for a job where the employer wants a reference that is not a previous employer or relative. What should I do? I understand that they do not want a relative…but have you ever heard of employers asking for a reference that is not from a previous employer? I have a few professors I could use. Should I use them? Or, a best friend?

I don’t know why some employers do this; I’ve never understood the point. I’d use clients, non-manager colleagues, or people who know you in your community, but I wouldn’t use a best friend. You want to keep it in the professional realm.

Can I network with people I work with through my current job?

I am currently employed, but looking for a new job.  I have worked for the same, very small, company for the last 6+ years, and networking with other professionals in this “field” is non-existent.  I have, however, developed a number of good relationships with people who call on me in my role at this current company.  Is it acceptable to reach out to these people to ask if they know of any positions that I might be suited for?  I’ve been racking my brain for people I can reach out to in my network, and these seem to be the best bet  Would this be acceptable?  Essentially these people are sales managers or executives who call on me.

Probably, if you’re diplomatic about how you do it. You don’t want your boss to hear that you’re using company time and company connections to job search, and you also don’t want these people to feel you’ve put them in an uncomfortable position. So you need to be low-key about it. Maybe someone who’s more networky/schmoozy than I am can weigh in with some specific suggestions about how to word this appropriately.

Salary history when you worked in a foreign country

I was hoping you might be able to help me with the question of how to address my compensation history in my cover letter when requested by the job posting. My most recent full-time position was in another country, where I made significantly less than I would in the US. But I was paid the going rate for that country, which also had a lower cost of living and several other mitigating factors. That said, I am quite flexible on what compensation I would accept. So I really don’t want to discuss salaries at this point — it’s a complicated situation. This is a relatively entry-level position, not some high-level executive position. I also have to take a test first, which is probably more important to the hiring decision than anything else. Would it hurt me if I just avoided answering the question in my cover letter? Or do I have to say something, just to fulfill their application directions and have a shot at taking the test/getting an interview? This sounds like the perfect job for me, so I would love to hear any advice!

On the question of whether to address it at all, read this post. If you do decide to discuss it, I’d probably say something like, “I was employed in another country, where salary scales don’t translate well, but I’m seeking $__.”

Coworker and I are both applying for jobs at a competitor

Recently a friend and I both got positions at a local company, part time. We have both only been there about 4 months, however a local competitor just posted listings for the same position, but with significantly higher pay. We are told they are filling more than 1 spot. If both of us apply and get offers at the competitor, how do we handle it? I feel like it puts our current employer in a bad situation since losing both of us would considerably cut their staffing and also since we came together, it might look odd to both quit together. Would it be appropriate for one or both of us to approach our current employer about a pay increase? Advice please???!!!!

You’re getting way ahead of yourself; you guys are applying for jobs but haven’t been interviewed, let alone been offered the position yet. So I wouldn’t stress out about this until/unless you have to — and at that point, you should do what’s best for you, and your employer will survive, believe me. People leave jobs, and you can’t worry about how to coordinate it with someone else who might also be leaving.

Regarding a pay increase, I wouldn’t recommend asking for a raise when you’ve only been there four months, based on the fact that another company is paying more. You risk them saying, “Well, go try to get a job there then.” After only four months, they’re not that invested in you yet.

What should a resume lead off with?

I recently started reading your blog, and I have made several changes to my job hunting and applying practices. I still cannot get the resume right though. I agree with you that an “objective” is unnecessary and even detrimental because it is usually so obvious and uninformative, but how else do you introduce the resume? For example, if I cut out my objective, my resume would start with “education.”  Looking at example resumes online, when they jump right into “education” or “experience” or even directly into a list of experiences with no title, it is a little off-putting and seems unattractive to me. Is it just me who would prefer to ease into the beginning with some sort of introduction? I have no experience reading other people’s resumes, so maybe I just don’t know what to look for. I seek some sort of short introduction, however, I do not agree with some of your readers’ suggestions about replacing the “objective” with “personal profile” or other similar headings because I think that more detailed personal information is more fit for the cover letter. I would love your thoughts.

Lots of resumes start with the education or experience section; it’s really not jarring. However, skills profiles are growing in popularity, and if you don’t want to jump straight into education or experience, a short profile at the top is your best bet. Keep it objective, not subjective. No hiring manager cares if you think you have a great work ethic or outstanding communication skills; they want to know what you’ve achieved.


I’m working on my resume and want to quantify the marketing budget I handle.  What is the proper way to refer to the following?  Does it matter?

– Plan and manage annual marketing budget of $1,000,000
– Plan and manage annual marketing budget of $1 million
– Plan and manage annual marketing budget of $1 Million
– Plan and manage annual marketing budget of $1MM


I don’t think this is a make-or-break issue, but I feel like it is important to stick with some sort of generally accepted practice.

Either $1 million or $1,000,000 is correct. $1 Million is incorrect (you don’t capitalize common nouns, only proper ones), and $1MM risks the possibility that your reader doesn’t know what MM stands for.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike*

    Thanks Alison for your response! I’m relatively young and don’t have a lot of non-academic professional references. I have students who could potentially serve as references for me? Maybe that would work. I like your idea of asking non-management co-workers. I could use them as well. I just wasn’t as sure about how literally to take “non-employer references.” Any others who may have experienced this, I would greatly appreciate your response as well!

    I really want this job so I don’t want to mess anything up!

    Thanks again :D

  2. Anonymous*

    Regarding the question about using company contacts as a network: It all depends on how close those relationships are. I’d suggest identifying one or two contacts you trust and setting up a lunch meeting with each of them separately. This gets you out of the work setting in which you’d normally interact and might help them see you apartrrom your company. Mention that you’re at a point in your career where you’re open to new challenges and opportunities. Then offer a couple of sentences about the direction you’d like to take. With any luck your contact will either mention a job they know of and suggest you apply or say they’ll keep you in mind if they hear of anything. They could also ask outright if you’re unhappy where you are, but don’t pursue that topic – you risk hurting your effectiveness in your current position and destroying your personal credibility. It’s also important to tell only a few people outright that you’re looking – if word gets around, you also risk what I just described.

  3. Jennifer*

    On the question about how to write $1 million — Allison’s right that either $1,000,000 or $1 million is correct, but I’d recommend $1 million because it’s easiest to read. The person reading your resume won’t have to take the extra few seconds to make sure it’s not $10,000 or $10,000,000. (I’m an editor, so I think about these things a lot!)

    1. Anonymous*

      Agreed! However, if you’re applying in the financial industry, putting $1MM on a resume is pretty common practice (and saves a bit of space).

  4. Wilton Businessman*

    1. Yes, include it.
    2. Weird. When has anyone ever given a potential employer a bad reference anyway?
    3. Tricky.
    4. I like to say “I was making X, but the cost of living there is a whole lot different then here”.
    5. I was actually in this situation at one time. The small IT Consulting firm I worked for had four technical people. The environment at the small IT firm was atrocious with the owner making money hand-over-fist and the employees lucky if they got paid on time. Two jobs opened up at monster-mega phama company and another consultant and I applied. We both interviewed within a day of each other and got the offer the same day. We both gave notice the same day at the same time and expressed to the employer that we would help out anyway we could until replacements could be found. For the other person it actually ended up as a very lucrative side-business. For me, it was like I was swept off the face of the earth and when I applied for a mortgage he wouldn’t even verify my employment (until my lawyer got involved).
    6. Skills and or experience should be first
    7. $1MM

  5. Anonymous*

    I was looking for a new position while I was employed and since I was looking within the same industry I wanted to use some contacts. I reached out to people at the right places in different organizations and told them I was setting up an e-mail list for volunteers/interns that I supervised (which I did) to help them find work. This also had the natural effect of making people think of me and passing jobs along for me as well. At that point I didn’t actually end up finding anything better for myself (though I did have a handful of interviews, nothing was better than what I was doing), but did find jobs for a couple of former interns. This won’t work for everyone of course but worked well for me.

  6. Lisa*

    I recently applied for a job that wanted two personal references, not employers or relatives… who had known me more than three years, thus dismissing any possibility of using people who know me in the current ‘young professional’ phase of my life (18 months into my first career role, in a new city) and my most recent academic reference (course started 2 1/2 years ago). I ended up going with my two friends who have the most impressive job titles, as it wanted to know their current positions, but I wracked my brains for who else to use. Of course, now I know this is why you should keep up relationships with old colleagues, professors and people at volunteer positions. Hopefully that’ll help me in three years’ time.

    1. Mike*

      Wow, that’s even more specific than what I had to do! Being in a roughly same position as you age wise/experience wise, I understand! I decided to use a friend who is actually a co-worker/non-manager, my previous landlady who adored me, and previous professors I’ve stayed in touch with over the years. I agree with what you said about keeping in contact.

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