short answer Saturday: another job search edition

It’s once again time for short answer Saturday — seven short answers to seven short-ish questions. Here we go…

Interviewer wants to know if I’ve told my current manager that I’m unhappy

I’m currently using your tips to try to find a new job (I am “miscast” in my current job).  In interviews, I explain that the culture is not a good fit for me, and why.  The question I get in response is “Have you raised your concern to your manager?” Why do they ask this question?  My flippant first thought is “If raising it had been successful, would I be spending all my free time job hunting?”  I explain I have tried to address it but am unsuccessful.  What do they hope to gain by this question?

They want to know how you handle it when you’re dissatisfied, because they assume that you’ll handle it similarly when you’re working for them. Basically, they want to know that if you’re frustrated about something, you’d raise it in a professional way before it starts demoralizing you and/or making you consider leaving.

No-rehire policy for laid-off employees

I was laid off 4 years ago from an administrative position I held for 10 years in the downsizing of 70 employees.  I am 59 years old and cannot find employment.  I have my resume on an Internet employment board and was contacted by a temp agency for a part-time contract position open in the HR Department in a large local company. After I replied I was told it was my previous employer and I could not work in the Human Resource Dept because I was laid off. I do not understand why, as I was not let go due to a performance issue, but a reorganization downsizing. Would this be an across the board policy not to rehire a person who was laid off 4 years ago to work in the HR dept?

Some companies do have that policy (at least in part because they worry formerly laid-off employees will be angry and bitter and thus will pose security issues). These are dumb companies.

When a reference has Alzheimer’s

One of my college professors, who I worked very closely with on a self-directed research project and has a very solid understanding of my work skills, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I recently re-asked him to be one of my references and now, upon learning of his diagnosis, am wondering if it would be appropriate to have him write a letter as opposed to be available for phone calls. I’m not sure how advanced his Alzheimer’s is or how he is from day to day, so I don’t know if a potential employer would be likely to catch him on a day where he doesn’t remember me. I adore him and know he thinks very highly of me and my abilities. Would it be a good idea to obtain a letter from him and then, when providing references, include the letter as well as his contact information with an explanation of the situation? I’m also broadening my reference pool just in case.

In general, I’m not a fan of letters of reference (as opposed to phone calls), but in this case it sounds like a good idea.

Anonymous job postings

I have noticed that some companies choose to be anonymous when posting a job ads online. I can understand that companies don’t want to be solicited and such but from a hiring manager’s point-of-view, is it worth being anonymous when a company looking for qualified job candidates? Usually a quick Google search of the job description gets me clues on the possibly identity but I can’t get around why a company would do this.

Some of them do it for no reason, but some of them do it because the person currently in that job doesn’t know that they’re being replaced.

Is my overseas address scaring away employers?

I’ve applied for numerous jobs for which I feel slightly under, just over, or relatively qualified for and am starting to worry. I have limited experience in my field, but have a master’s degree and am currently working in an area that fits the profile of most positions I’ve applied for. Recently though, I’ve been really struggling and I’m wondering if it has something to do with my overseas address.  I have lived and worked in Europe for the past 4 years. I’m wondering if the fact that I’m not currently living in the U.S. is a problem. Keep in mind I am a U.S. citizen. I can see the convenience of hiring someone already in the area, but in my line of work international experience is usually a requirement, not a drawback. I’m hesitant to put my U.S. address (the one I use to file taxes and such) on my resume since I feel I might get called out on it later in the hiring process, but should I be doing more to emphasize that the nature of my time abroad is only temporary or that my plans to move to the U.S. are definite? Is there anything else I should include in my cover letter or resume to get this point across? Or is this not as big of problem as it seems?

Yes, employers are way less likely to contact you because you’re living overseas. You’re not available for in-person interviews, it might not be as easy to call you, and you’re generally just not as convenient as the many other qualified applicants they have who are within a 20-mile radius. Unless you’re a star in your field (which unfortunately you’re probably not, since you note that you have limited experience), there’s no incentive for them to shoulder the inconvenience.  So use your U.S. address. You can note in your cover letter the date by which you’ll be back in the U.S., but even then, you’re not going to find it as easy as when you’re actually back here.

Interviewing when a month-long vacation is looming

I have an interview coming up in a few days. I already have a pre-planned vacation to Asia at the end of the year for the month of December with my family. Tickets, hotel, and visas have been paid for. I am having a hard time deciding if I should mention this in my interview or hold off until I get an offer…if I get an offer. I guess if I do not get this position and other opportunities arrive I will still have the same issue. What should I do? This interview is important, but this trip is as well. 

Sorry to pull out the “unless you’re a star in your field” caveat twice in a row, but unless you’re a star in your field, it’s fairly unlikely that you’re going to find a job that doesn’t mind you taking off a full month soon after starting. In fact, plenty of jobs wouldn’t let you take off a full month even if you’d already worked there for a long time. If you’re serious about finding a new job, you may need to accept that you might not be able to go on that trip. Ultimately, you need to decide which you care about more.

Preparing for an interview when you don’t have any information about the employer

I have an upcoming interview for a small business however I’m unsure of how to “get to know the employer” (as you recommend when preparing for an interview) as they don’t have a website and their job listing was only 2 lines.  Normally, I would call the business to learn more about their approach and work ethic but I’m afraid they would be too busy to answer my call and queries. How should I go about this problem?

Oooh, definitely don’t call them to learn more ahead of your interview; that would be highly annoying to the employer, who will wonder why you’re not just waiting until the interview.  (The answer, of course, is that you’re trying to prepare now so that you interview better — but you don’t want to make that their problem.)  This is just a case where you can’t do that type of research and you’ll need to ask your questions in the interview itself.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Miscast*

    Wow, my post is up on AAM! And you did not disappoint-I figured that if there was a legit reason why they were asking, AAM would know.
    I’ll let my AAM cohorts know if I have any updates.

    1. Jennifer, Too*

      I’d love to see an update. I’m in pretty much the exact same position, and I DREAD this question, because they would not like my frank answer (which I actually wouldn’t give.) I’m just kind of at a loss as to how to approach the whole thing.

      Good luck!

  2. Jennifer*

    Question regarding letters of reference: I have left a job (which was the best paying in my career) and, while I still have peers there who would be willing to be my reference my direct supervisior has been a reference for over a year and is close to retirement, would it be appropriate to get a letter of reference. What is your advice on this?? If you had a job (5 years ago) in a company where people move around often do you get a letter of reference? thank you for your advice

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ideally, you’d keep in touch with your references, whether they move to another job, retire, etc. That way, when you need to give references, you have their current contact info.

      A letter of reference really isn’t worth much, for the reasons mentioned in the linked post. You want to be able to give phone numbers so that employers can call and have a conversation.

  3. Wilton Businessman*

    I don’t understand why people with Masters degrees automatically think that every door should open for them.

    1. Mike C.*

      Because they’re fed the line that it will open doors for them. Heck, I remember being raised that as the first kid in the family to get a college degree it was a damn golden ticket. Yeah, I even have one of the useful* degrees in math/biology but things are tough everywhere.

      Don’t blame them so much when they’re fed nothing but this crap.

      *I don’t understand why so many people think that degrees in english or history are useless. We need people who can write and analyse complicated topics.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As an English major, I think it’s that it doesn’t point you toward a particular path. So you come out of college confused about what exactly it’s equipped you to do. (Whereas if you majored in, say, engineering, the path is more obvious.)

        1. Anonymous*

          As a History major, it’s not so much about not knowing what you want to do, it’s about getting a job that hasn’t yet been demoted to an internship for college kids or volunteering due to the economy.

      2. Karl Sakas*

        At a former company, a newly-minted M.A. graduate got fired for insubordination — in part because she wouldn’t stop complaining about “having” to report to someone with “only” a bachelors degree — from a non-Ivy League school, no less (never mind that her boss had years of industry experience and she had none).

  4. Susan E*

    The applicant looking for info on the small company might want to ask friends, family, etc if they know anything about the business if it’s local –four degrees of separation and all that. Trade associations sometimes have member directories with general info on the company. And there’s always Google for the you never know what you ll find…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She doesn’t really have a choice in this case, though, because most employers are going to disregard a letter of reference and ask for a phone number, and she needs to be able to explain why that might not be feasible.

      1. fposte*

        Academics itself tends to use letters of reference a lot anyway, so 1) I suspect a workplace will find it less surprising from a professor than from a corporate manager and 2) the professor isn’t likely to be hurt by the suggestion. (Variants of this are pretty common in academics in general–I had a friend whose mentor died and another whose reference had a fall that resulted in his losing the memory of the previous year–the entire time she’d worked for him.)

        And I don’t think you need to go into specifics unless you’re pressed–you can simply say that he’s an older man who’s developed some health problems that make telephoning difficult for him. In case you’re dealing with suspicious types, it might be good to provide or offer something confirmatory of your work for him–a transcript with prof names, say.

        1. lindsay*

          Thanks for your advice! When I emailed him about being a reference and he told me about his diagnosis, he also offered to write a letter for me then. If I contact a few more old managers about being references, then I can decide if I want to use his reference letter or not.

          Thanks again!

          1. Natalie*

            You might as well take the letter, since he has offered it. If you take the letter and later decide against using it, no one will know but you. If you don’t take the letter and realize you need it later, that may or may not be an option.

        2. KellyK*

          And I don’t think you need to go into specifics unless you’re pressed–you can simply say that he’s an older man who’s developed some health problems that make telephoning difficult for him.

          I think this is perfect–it explains the need for a letter of reference rather than a phone call without giving away specifics that aren’t any of the interviewing company’s business.

          1. Anonymous*

            You could also just say he is retired and unavailable for phone calls, thus he gave you the letter prior to retirement.

  5. ThomasT*

    The anonymous-job-posting-when-replacing thing doesn’t always work that well – if it’s a bad fit, it’s entirely possible that the employee knows it and is looking too, and unless it’s a pretty generic job description, will happen across the listing while searching in their field, and figure out what’s up. Not that I have any direct knowledge of such a thing ever happening. ;-)

    Yes, one should definitely do more than look for the business’s website to prep for an interview. Search for general coverage, and maybe even go to the library, where a librarian may have access to periodical searches not available to the general public. “[Business name] reviews” is a good search to try, as well.

    Overseas applicant should definitely use the US address, and get a Google Voice or Skype-In number to have a US telephone number. If you’re planning to relocate and not expecting the company to pay for it, I don’t think that’s dishonest – those are your permanent contact points. The international experience will still come through if you list the city & country of the firm you’re currently working for, and you can leave the question of whether you’re on site there, right now, for an interview when they’ve already developed some level of interest.

  6. Still Wondering*

    I agree with the advice regarding the applicant going on a preplanned vacation at the end of the year, but I’d still like to know the answer to his question. Knowing full well the potential ramifications of the vacation and having decided that it is important enough to at least consider in light of those consequences when pitted against a job search, when is the best time to bring it up to an employer? Is there a time frame also to consider? For example, if it is within the next three or four months is it necessary to bring it up before accepting the job, whereas if it’s over six months away perhaps not as important until the job has begun (obviously taking into consideration the specific company and culture)?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You definitely shouldn’t wait until after you’re on the job to raise it, unless you’re willing to cancel the vacation. Generally, you should bring it up once an offer is made and include it as part of your negotiations.

      However, if it’s truly a dealbreaker for you, I could see bringing it up earlier in the process rather than waiting for an offer … because I would be fairly annoyed if I invested a lot of time in a candidate to get them to the offer stage and at that point they sprung something like this on me — it’s similar to waiting until you have an offer to mention something like wanting to work from another location. If you have something that’s truly a dealbreaker, it can make sense to bring it up earlier in the process.

      However, you’ve got to balance that against knowing that they might remove you from consideration right then and there.

      No matter what, though, you don’t want to wait until you’re already on the job to raise it.

  7. Anonymous*

    For the person who is planning on taking a month long vacation shortly after taking a new job, AAM is right, it’s highly unlikely, but it CAN happen:

    When I was younger and more naive, without thinking or asking permission, I booked and paid for an almost month long vacation only 8 months after starting a new job. About 3 months before I was set to leave on my vacation, I decided to put out feelers with my company’s only HR person as to the company’s vacation policy when a person has been with the company less than a year. The HR person told me the most I could possibly take off was 7 days. This certainly should have put a kibosh on my trip, but as a lucky should have it, a few weeks later this HR person was fired and the company decided to default to direct supervisors to approve all employee vacations. When I went to my supervisor, unbeknownst to me, she had just put in her resignation. But, knowing she was leaving and that in the end it wouldn’t really matter, she helped me arrange all of my vacation days (we got vacation days, personal days and summer days off) and helped me get my new supervisor’s approval. I will say the timing of my actual vacation was also very lucky because it happened to be during a slow period.

    A lot will depend on the corporate culture, your supervisors and well frankly, luck. Years later, a week into a new job–which did give its employees more than enough vacation/personal/summer days to take more than a month off–my supervisor made it very clear to us 4 single gals working for her that none of us would be taking more than a week off at a time during her watch, unless we were getting married.

    1. Lynda*

      I think it’s REALLY creepy that she singled out the “4 single gals” for this limitation.

      1. fposte*

        I read it as the supervisor having a total staff of the four women and that she was therefore offering them the wedding exception, not that everybody else working for the supe was allowed to take more vacation. But I could be wrong, and if I am, I agree with you that it’s creepy and quite possibly illegal.

  8. GeekChic*

    Regarding the month long vacation issue: My current employer just hired someone (who is not a star in the field – can’t afford those) who had a scheduled 4 week trip that would occur 3 weeks after they started. The person mentioned this issue during the phone interview.

    My employer checked with me (since I’d be covering for this person) and when I said it didn’t bother me they went ahead with further interviews and the person was hired. They are actually on their trip right now.

    4-6 week vacations are not uncommon where I live so the person wasn’t asking for anything extraordinary. I should note that I live in Canada.

    Regarding the overseas address: I’ve worked in 3 different countries and was always out-of-country when applying for those jobs. I always addressed in my cover letter that I was legally able to work in that country and why I was interested in moving (and when – if possible). It usually took a little longer to get feelers from companies than when I was in the same country but I eventually got offers.

      1. GeekChic*

        Hah! It’s a union environment. I have 4 weeks of vacation right now (plus all stat holidays) and will get 6 weeks after 5 more years.

  9. Anonymous*

    Re: not allowing someone to temp who was laid off

    Some companies do have this policy. The rationale is to prevent companies from “laying off” workers and then immediately hiring them back as temps for a fraction of the pay, thereby effectively cutting their salaries. Though 4 years between a layoff and a temp job seems like a long time – usually the rule only applies to the first year or so after a layoff.

    1. Anonymous*

      My company also has a “no rehire” policy, but for the opposite reason: Some employees were “laid off” with good severance pay only to be rehired a month later in the same position at their old salary level. Naturally the company was opposed to this practice.

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  11. Mike C.*

    On the issue of hiring managers asking why one leaves:

    When we have an at will system here in the United States, it is a given that people will leave jobs because they are paid terribly, hate being bullied by the boss or just don’t feel like working there anymore. Yet when a hiring manager asks, “why are you looking for work elsewhere”, custom forbids us from saying anything negative. Fine.

    But when I respond with, “I’ve had a good number of years but I’m looking for new challenges”, quit trying to dig into it more. I’ll be more than happy to tell you crazy stories after I’ve worked there a few months. Yes, I know you’re trying to weed out bad employees, but ask me questions where there is a good chance that the employee has to lie to remain a good candidate.

    1. Jamie*

      Mike is absolutely right – the custom is don’t-ask-don’t-tell regarding complaints about current/former employers while looking. So when we toss you the softball, which is the only acceptable answer, stop pushing.

      I understand the other side of it – but the reality is there are some crazy employees out there and there are also some crazy bosses/untenable work environments. And an interview isn’t a place for a prospective employer to parse out who did what to whom at your former/current gig.

      Just vet us for crazy and leave it at that.

      I really do hate the disingenuous of this – almost as much as I hate it when it’s held against you that you might be looking because you want to make more money.

      We don’t all give up 40+ hours of each week because there’s nothing better we can do with our time than show up at someone’s business and help out. And working for a living and wanting as much compensation as is fair and realistic doesn’t make you a bad person.

      Some of the best employees I know wouldn’t keep showing up if the paychecks stopped.

  12. DG*

    Re: Anonymous Job Posting

    One other reason we will frequently post anonymously is to facilitate violation of the TOS for various free classified ad services. Many of these services limit the number of ads posted by a given company at a time, but their only enforcement mechanism is keyword matching e-mail addresses or company names. Leave those off and you can post as much as you like.

    re: Backgrounding a Potential Employer

    Put your detective hat on! You have an interview? I’m assuming you have a name of company and an address (or phone number if it’s one of those – reverse lookups are cheap at worst, free at best), and possibly even the names of some people? That’s plenty.

    Property record searches, incorporation documents, their past advertisements (if they’re smallish and B2B check the trade mags – the tip someone else posted about the library was very good), past reviews, prior employees (LinkedIn, Glassdoor… heck, call around to local temp agencies and see if they know this firm), the SBA, your local COC, BBB, profiles of the owner in local papers, etc. If you still have a local paper with and reporters on staff, find out who does the business beat and call them, even.

    It’s a strange firm indeed (or a very new one) that doesn’t make it’s presence known to someone. Figure out who they sell to and you’ll have a good lead on finding their public-facing information, at least.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      @DG: Re: One other reason

      Don’t you think that’s on the unethical side of the TOS? Just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it.

    2. Bethany*

      As a librarian, I agree that the library is a good source of information to research companies. Many libraries subscribe to the ReferenceUSA database that lists information about almost every business in the United States. Some listings are more comprehensive than others, but information can include basic contact information, number of employees, credit rating score, sales volume, competitors report, and news articles. I highly recommend checking with your public library to see if you can access this awesome resource.

  13. Wilton Businessman*

    Re: Alzheimer’s

    On the flip side, if you were a horrible employee, you might get a good reference from the person because they don’t remember what a screw up you were. Always looking for the positive side of these things…

  14. evilbunnytoo*

    Re anonymous postings –
    In some places like craigslist and even monster, it is getting hard to tell the spammers and temp/placement agencies (who around here post multiple jobs, many of which disappear when you call) from legitimate job offers. For that reason, people I know really really don’t want to send their resume off into the void because, at worst, your sending information to identity thieves and at best you’ll be invited in to meet with a recruiter to discuss how they can place you in a temp job (the job you applied for is “ta-da” filled).

    Most people I know who are job searching limit themselves to jobs where the employer is listed or search to see if they can match the job on a company website and apply there.

    I just have to say, for personal id safety, sending your resume to an anonymous email address seems a bad bad idea. Of course, I’m in silicon valley where phishing attempts of these sort on electronic job sites (and on classified sites, you should see the fake postings on craigslist’s rent section) is rampant.

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