short answer Sunday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s short answer Sunday. We’ve got a nanny wondering about her resume, companies that want personal references, and more.

Can I withdraw from a hiring process via email?

A potential employer has been courting me since December after initially passing on my candidacy. During this period of courtship I’ve interviewed two additional times, including a peer review and job shadowing for a newly created position. Though no official offer has been extended the hiring manager and I have invested a considerable amount of time to “the process” and developed a mutual rapport. Though initially interested I want to now withdraw myself from consideration due to employer red flags, including a high turnover department, employee lifelessness, and toxic dead weight. Do you feel that e-mail contact in such a situation is unprofessional?

I think a phone call to the hiring manager is probably ideal, since it sounds like you’ve started to build a relationship with the person — and job-shadowing is a fairly significant investment — but an email wouldn’t be the height of rudeness or anything. If you do use email, make sure it’s not a one-line formality; you want to be fairly warm, thank them for the time they’ve spent with you, and so forth, but explain that you’ve concluded the job isn’t the right next step for you. (And if you use the phone instead, be prepared to be asked for your reasons, and have some language ready; your reasons are sensitive enough that it’s not a topic I’d want to just wing on the spot.)

Is it weird to offer my interviewer a copy of my last performance evaluation?

I was working at a call center but left because I was unhappy with a few things and felt it was time for a change. I’ve been searching for work elsewhere and feel that although I didn’t like the company I was with, I am well suited for call center work.  I have an interview on Tuesday for another position at call center doing similar work.

I was wondering if it would be weird if I brought my personal appraisal from January to my interview. I’m not sure if I could offer to show the hiring manager who will be interviewing me. The personal appraisal is a very nice appraisal; it says I averaged 28.8 calls per hour, which is VERY good by almost all standards. Of course in the P. A., the standards are also laid out so even though the companies are different and the manner in which work is evaluated is going to be different, it will show what was required of me and what I was able to do, in terms of performance. It’s also entirely honest, because there is feedback from my previous boss written out as well. What do you think? Will this come off as weird in the professional world?

Side note: I’m a little young and this is the first ever personal appraisal I’ve been given.

It’s pretty unusual to offer up a performance evaluation, but I’ve got to say that as a hiring manager I would be very interested in seeing it. But if the main thing you’re hoping to convey with it is your call rate, that’s an objective measure that you could simply tell them about as part of your interview.

However, if your evaluation is chock-full of other types of glowing commentary as well, there’s no harm in bringing it with you.  I wouldn’t hand it over at the start of the interview along with your resume — that’s a bit too perfunctory for something that isn’t typically provided — but I could see offering it up toward the end of the interview by saying something like, “By the way, I had a great review at my last job, and I actually brought it with me in case you’d like a copy.”

Companies that want personal references

I live on the coastal bend area of Texas. There is a municipality here that asks only for non-employer references on their applications. They specify that you cannot use an employer or previous employer as a reference. When I asked someone who has lived in Texas and worked in municipal government here for a while why this was done, I was informed, with a “just how much of an idiot are you?” tone and facial expression, that what was important “down here” is “character references”. Previous work performance isn’t nearly as important.

This may explain quite a bit about the large number of Texas municipalities that are constantly in trouble with the state Comptroller for misusing funds…

I’ll never understand this. It reminds me the time I was checking references for a candidate who had spent most of his career in a small town in Kentucky. Every single reference I spoke with there mentioned that he “came from such a good family.”  It was a good lesson in culture differences.

Telling my employer I’m going to grad school … in 3-5 years

I’m planning on going to grad school within the next 5 years, and I’m not sure how to tell my new employer. I’m taking the GRE this week, and I have 5 years to apply before my scores expire. I purposely did it this way (taking it before I have a clear plan for applications), so I have a deadline. I know I want to go to grad school, I know what I want to study, and I don’t want to get “stuck” and find myself 10 years down the road not doing what I really want to be doing, and without the degree that will help get me there. I still need to take quite a few post-bac classes so I need a few years to get everything in order; I won’t be applying for a while. All of these will be evening classes, for which I might have to leave work early (15-30 minutes, not hours).

How do I explain my plans to my supervisors without putting my new job at risk? I’m afraid that if I say that I’m going to leave in x years (most likely 3), it’ll start a countdown ticking in their head. I love this job and it’s in the industry I’ve been dying to get into — I don’t want to lose it! Night school for grad school is not a likely option — my desired program is not the most popular, so I’m looking at a lot of out of state (and even one overseas) schools.

Three to five years is a long time away — you might not even be working at this job at that point, and your plans that far from now shouldn’t be relevant to your employer. Really, just say you’re taking classes and don’t worry about explaining that it’s linked to far-off grad school plans.

By the way, this advice is partly because this is a new job and thus you don’t yet know your boss and the culture well yet. If you’d been there longer, you’d have a better idea of whether you could share your future plans with your boss without suffering any negative effects; there are plenty of bosses who would be glad to know and wouldn’t hold it against you. But you’re new, so there’s no reason to disclose it.

Read an update to this letter here.

Where should I do a phone interview when I’m at work?

A few positions have come up which I’m interested in, have applied to, and have reached the do-this-trial exercise phase. Ideally, they will both lead to phone interviews, and my question is where to take mine. I know you did a recent post about this, but this situation is a little different because I work downtown in a major city and have a 45-minute commute on public transportation (so I don’t drive to work and have access to my car to sit in).

A phone interview is most likely scheduled during the workday, out of convenience to the interviewers, and I feel uncomfortable taking a call from the office, especially because I don’t have my own office.

However, since I’m downtown, I also don’t have access to a quiet space. I could find a relatively quiet space outside, but there are no guarantees, and I feel like it shows that I might not be serious (or focused) on the call. So what do I do? Drive in and pay to park that day? Come up with a work from home excuse?

If you can, working from home that day would be ideal. If you can’t, driving in and paying to park so that you can take the call in your (parked) car would be second best. Some people advocate finding a quiet, unused office or conference room for this, but I think it’s too risky; someone could walk in, and even if they don’t realize you’re interviewing for another job, you risk them interrupting you to ask a question — and you don’t want interruptions during this call.

Listing my skills as a manager

I’d like your opinion about listing skills as a manager. I’m unfortunately in job transition. Over the past 17 years, I ‘ve been fortunate enough to manage a great group of individuals. Over 70% of them reported to me for an average tenure of 12 years. I’m very proud of that. Going forward, I’m looking to enhance my exposure on Linkden and wondered how you would advise me to do that? I’d like to highlight this as I think good managers are hard to come by.

Good managers are hard to come by, but I wouldn’t use this stat to demonstrate your management skills … because it implies that you may not fire people who should be fired or that you over-value retention.

Retention is a means to an end (getting great results over a sustained period of time), not a goal in and of itself. It’s true that retaining your best people is an important part of a manager’s job, but so is moving out people who aren’t great.

To make a more compelling case for your skills as a manager, focus on your impact as a manager — what results did you achieve, and what results did you lead your team to achieve?

Including nanny experience on a resume

I graduated from college a little over a year ago and still haven’t found a “real” job. Throughout college I worked as a nanny and gained plenty of experience in childcare. When I couldn’t find a job immediately out of college, I fell back on childcare to pay my bills and now I feel I might have made a bad decision. I also spent a few months substitute teaching, but this just seems to have only given me more experience with children when what I want to concentrate on is finding a writing job. I desperately want to find a job doing what I love instead of spending my time merely paying the bills and further digging myself into a hole. Should I even mention my nannying experience in my resume or is doing so just weakening it?

Well, you have two choices:
1. Mention your nanny experience and risk raising questions about why you’ve been nannying instead of something else.
2. Don’t mention your nanny experience and have a resume without much/any experience on it.

I’d rather see the nannying experience, personally. It’ll answer my questions about what you’ve been doing since graduating from school, and it’ll tell me that you have a work ethic. Plus, it’s not like most hiring managers don’t realize that the recent job market has been hellish for new grads.

But if you want a writing job, the most important thing you can be doing is writing. Write at every opportunity. Write a blog, write letters to the editor, write for your city’s nightlife site, write a piece for the local crappy coffeeshop paper. When I’m hiring a writer, work experience is way less important than actual writing is — I’d easily hire a nanny whose writing samples blow me away over a newspaper reporter whose writing isn’t that great.  But published clips help a great deal in this — even if they’re in small, barely known outlets — so focus there!

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. Charles*

    to the “can’t find a quiet place to phone interview” person:

    Be sure that if you do drive in and pay the extra expense that you are parking in a place that gets great cell phone service. It would suck to pay extra and get no cell phone service in the lower level of a parking garage!

    Another option would be to either “reserve” a conference room, if that type of service is available at your company. Or if there is someone at the office who you might trust and would be willing to lend you her private office for an hour – that might be another option.

  2. Josh S*

    Another option for the Office Phone Interview would be to use the stairwell. In my office building, the stairwells are “Exit on Street Level Only” so are rarely used, but can be easily propped open and do not trigger fire alarms. (Double check this detail *before* you cause a building evacuation!) They also have the advantage of carpet and drywall, so they don’t have much in the way of echoes; other buildings have ‘fire escape’ style rooms that are much louder because of metal stairs and cinder block walls.

    1. Josh S*

      Also, never, NEVER use the bathroom for such a call. I’ve heard both interviews and sales calls from the next stall over. Cannot imagine what the person on the other end of the phone would think. Ew.

  3. Nate*

    With the nanny post, I would totally mention it – here’s why:

    1) It shows that you know how to multitask. Multitasking can be expressed in many forms, and tending to demanding children is a great way to demonstrate that you can handle responsibilities of varying priorities.

    2) Trust and rapport. Not every parent feels confident leaving their child in the hands of a stranger. One way or another, you probably had to talk to a parent to convince him/her that the child is in good hands.

    3) Mentoring. Since you taught children, you had some exposure to being a mentor. If the parents of children that you mentor have positive reviews of you, this speaks volumes in terms of your character.

  4. Anonymous*

    I did a couple of phone interviews in the small park opposite the office I was working in at the time. Quite why it was assumed I could find a quiet spot indoors I couldn’t fathom, but the stairwell had a bad echo (and meant you could see other colleagues coming in and out), it wasn’t the type of company to offer closed offices (except the ones belonging to bosses) and besides, it’s fraught enough trying to concentrate on making a good impression without worrying about somebody interrupting you!

  5. Mike Moore*

    7 Short Answers – Providing a copy Of a recent performance review.

    May be best to bring a copy with you and refer to the key points (both positive & developmental) at the appropriate moment. If corroboration is requested, you could offer a copy at that point.

    1. Jo*

      I actually used this a few times when jobsearching.
      There were two final candidates when I was interviewing for my current job. And my (future) boss asked if there was anything I could show with regard to my work performance in the past. I submitted copies of about 5 years performance reviews where I was rated as a top performer. I’d like to think that this contributed a lot for me in getting this job.
      Prior to that, I was also requsted for the same thing and was offered the job (I rejected due to lower salary).

  6. Anonymous*

    I also commute via public transport (and no car so I can’t drive in for the day) and while I don’t work in a downtown I do work in place where finding a quiet spot outside would be even more difficult. I’ve been reserving confrence rooms or going in unused ones. And if you work in a big multilevel building with different businesses or even just different departments and can reserve a room from someone else (or even just say I need to take an important phone call can I use this room for a half hour) it is better because they are less likely to inturrupt you.

    As for the writer: write, write, write, write, write!

  7. Linda*

    Nanny post-
    Already some great suggestions, so thought I would offer you some encouragement. I was a nanny while going to college, and I took all that experience (using tips provided here) and started in sales (the job I wanted) I am now a regional sales manager, managing 25 people, making great money and connections. Don’t worry about it. nannying is a HARD job, it earns respect :)

  8. a.b.*

    Childcare is a valid job! Don’t treat it like it was something insignificant you “fell back on”, but something you had great skill in. People will take it seriously only if you do.

  9. anon-2*

    As far as graduate study in the long-term future, I wouldn’t mention that.

    Funny – I once worked for a company where people advancing themselves through education were viewed as a threat to management and a potential disruption. This was quite common in the 1970s and 1980s. Many would obtain reimbursement for college via the G.I. Bill rather than through the company, so as to shield their academic life.

    We had one guy who was working in a technical/clerical job who had just completed his M.B.A., without the company’s knowledge.

    They went ballistic when they found out. He even offered to interview with the company for a position that he was now qualified for but that was not allowed.

    It might be better to keep your academic plans to yourself. You might tell your management that you’re taking “enrichment” courses but don’t tip where you’re REALLY going until — a) it’s time or b) the company you’re with has openings in a particular area that’s suitable for your new professional skills set.

  10. anon-2*

    As far as withdrawing from an interview process via phone rather than e-mail (or US Mail or Canada Post) — yes, it’s a professional and classy thing to do.

    Many professions are “small worlds” — and your paths may meet with these folks sometime in the future. Show them the respect that you would expect from them. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

  11. Ask an Advisor*

    Re: Including nanny experience on a resume

    I would absolutely list it and the substitute teaching as well.

    Also, try to think of writing-related things you may have done in these positions and make sure to include those on your resume, too. For example, did you help the kids with writing assignments or present lessons on composition? You might be surprised to see you HAVE been using your writing skills in these other positions.

  12. Anonymous*

    Re: nannying: if you get to count childrearing as a “job”, does that mean the 3 billion women who both work at real jobs AND raise their own children get to list two full-time jobs on their next resume?

  13. Anonymous*

    For the Personal References post-
    I came from a big city and moved to a small town. At the place I worked it, it was a pretty big company and my manager talked about wanting to meet out family members. I just thought that was odd because you don’t really hear that elsewhere. It really is a cultural difference.

    1. Anonymous*

      I come from a small farming community, and if your family’s business is farming or ranching, then character references ARE your business references. The point is that honesty and integrity are the most important points for why you should conduct business with someone. Some parts of the country that are more traditional (or simply highly agricultural) may still have that way of determining who is or who isn’t shifty.

      On the other hand, it can also be a way of perpetuating classism and racism, so you have to read between the lines about the reference-giver’s concerns to see if they match your own.

  14. Bob G.*

    For the phone interview question. It seems to me if the job you are interviewing for is important enough it may be worth going in late or coming home early to do the interview from your house/apt. I know it sucks to use up vacation/sick time for something like this but it seems to be the best way to be sure you will be able to focus and have a good environment to have the interview.

  15. Anonymous*

    Regarding phone interview guy: For anyone that works in a large metro downtown I think this is a bigger problem than anyone wants to admit. And not just for job interviews over the phone, but for ANY personal call. When I was quite ill and trying to coordinate doctors appointments and insurance company benefits it was a complete nightmare to do this from a coffee shop where my co-workers would not overhear. God forbid anyone in a sea of cubicles should have even a modicum of privacy.

  16. Cassie*

    Re: character references – no employer or previous employers allowed – does that also include people that you’ve worked with? I mean, I could imagine coworkers may have a different perspective (especially when it comes to “character) than a supervisor may have. Then again, it’s unlikely you would choose a coworker who would give you a bad reference.

    Re: grad school – I think it depends on the job. We have a clerical worker who is currently working on a master’s on the weekends – it was discussed at the initial interview. We also had another employee who was going to grad school – he’s still here even though he has a PhD now. (We also have had a couple of employees with masters’ degrees in clerical jobs – the only problem is if/when they say “I have a master’s, and I’m doing THIS?”).

    Maybe because I work in a university, but around here, going to graduate school is seen as something of a positive attribute – i.e., being self-motivated. For me, I don’t care much for higher degrees (in the type of administrative work we do). A higher degree doesn’t necessarily equal good performance. On the other hand, as long as you put in a good 3 to 5 years (or 2 yrs even) while you are here, that’s good enough for me.

  17. Anonymous*

    I’ve never really understood the point of character references unless its a volunteering position or the person has no experience and can use that to list a school tutor or something.

    Also most of my friends have no idea about my working life and I have no idea about theirs. I would have no idea what to write if I was asked by my friend to be a character reference.

  18. Mike Moore*

    The statement that “retaining your best people is an important part of a manager’s job, but so is moving out people who aren’t great.” this is one of the most important core competencies of any senior manager or leader. It is damn hard to execute. To the extent your job or your vision is to create a truly high-performance team, then constantly develop the best talent and replacing the low or just get by talent is crucial. A team that is kept together in tact may be happy but they will not evolve into top performers. It’s just the way it is today.

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