wee answer Wednesday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions

We skipped short answer Saturday this week, so let’s have wee answer Wednesday. And also, here’s a photo of day three of my kitchen renovation; please take a moment to appreciate your sink and stove.

Correcting someone who got your gender wrong

What is the most clear and polite way to correct someone who has assumed you are the opposite gender from an email or letter? I recently volunteered design services to a local organization, which was done via email. The recipient forwarded my information to another person in the organization with a note that “he has volunteered for the requested task.” Well, as someone with a unisex name, I’m used to this happening and it doesn’t bother me, but I’m still stuck on a simple way to let them know in my next email that I’m a woman. Any ideas?

Well, you could just say it — “By the way, despite my ambiguous name, I am actually a ‘she.'”  Or, if you want to go all subtle and indirect, when you write back, you could just sign your name this way:
(Ms.) Alex Smith

I used to work with someone with a unisex name who signed all her emails that way, I assume in an attempt to head-off the problem.

Job searching after working for a family member

After I graduated from college I wasn’t sure what kind of job I was looking for so I started working for my father’s business in an “unofficial” capacity. If my duties for him were to have titles, I guess you could say that over the three years I worked for him I advanced from Administrative Assistant to Office Manager. (It was a very small office.) I worked hard in the business and I learned a lot of skills.

Now that he’s retiring and I am looking for a new job, I don’t know how to deal with this one on a resume. Technically, my job was off the books, so it’s not going to show up anywhere in a background check. Also, I’m not sure if a reference or letter of recommendation from my father is a good idea, even if he is giving it as my boss. Other than this job, I do not have a lot of work experience, and I have no one else to use as a professional reference. A friend suggested that I make a skills-based resume that focuses more on my abilities than on specific jobs that I have held, but I’m still not sure how to go about listing a job that I can’t prove I had.

No, ignore your friend; skills-based resumes are still looked upon with suspicion, including by me. Treat this like you would any other job, on your resume and in interviews. I am torn between telling you that you should indicate in the description of your work that it was a family business versus telling you that you don’t need to advertise it; I could argue it either way, I guess.

However, if they’re about to check references, make sure they do know in advance so that they don’t feel deceived when they realize the reference they’re talking to you is your dad. (Frankly, I don’t think I’d even bother with a reference who was the candidate’s father, so it would be great if you’re able to offer up other references as well — clients or vendors that you worked with? Someone you’ve done volunteer work for?) And definitely don’t use a letter of recommendation from him; he’s your dad so it’s assumed he’s biased. (Also, letters of recommendation are rarely useful; most employers prefer phone conversations.)

Last, I wouldn’t worry about the job not showing up in a background check; the vast majority of jobs don’t do the type of check that would reveal whether a job was on the books or not.

Including company descriptions on a resume, and subjective self-assessments

I’m helping my husband update his resume. I have two specific questions on sections that particularly bother me (along with the “objective”):

1. I noticed that under each company name, there is a short description of each. In my opinion, it’s useless and if the employer is interested, he/she can research (thank you Google). What is your take on company descriptions/summary?

2. On your blog, you recommend removing the self-proclaimed strengths (team skills, eager to learn, etc.) and I wondered if it’s worth keeping any of them. Similar to that are “related skills” listing few specific skills gained in previous jobs (more industry related). Would it be a good idea to have a “skills” section and what would you recommend listing under it?

1. Yes, unless there’s a specific reason for having a description of the company, take it out. It definitely shouldn’t be there by default. I’m not thinking of hiring the company; I’m thinking of hiring him, and I want to know about his role.

2. Get rid of all the subjective stuff like “eager to learn.” Hiring managers put zero stock in that type of claim on a resume; they’re interested in what you’ve achieved, not what you think of yourself. Also, everyone says they have a good work ethic, work well with a team, etc. even if it’s not true, so saying it carries no weight. It also comes across as sort of unsophisticated; you won’t find that type of thing on senior-level resumes. A summary or skills section is good though (it should replace the objective), listing the highlights of his candidacy.

“You obviously aren’t serious about finding a job.”

My friends and I have been snarking about a job ad we found. It’s the last paragraph that has us raising our eyebrows: “If you are uncomfortable applying for a position with an undisclosed company then you obviously aren’t serious enough about finding a job, therefore not a good fit for us. Eager applicants welcome.”

Ha ha. Asses.

Negative performance review

How do you determine whether or not you received a subjective performance appraisal or objective? The executive director wrote some very negative items on me that have never been addressed in terms of performance. She stated things like “Not a leader or manager, sees self as employee rather than thinks like a manager. Has extremely poor communication and interaction skills with management. Offers suggestions and does not take them.” I know that during a performance assessment you shouldn’t be surprised, but I am surprised to see these comments because nobody ever sat down and spoke to me about specific areas to improve. All that was told to me was, “You have brought nothing to the plate.” No forming coaching or improvement plans were given. I was hit blindside. How do I approach the subject with the Executive director, who isn’t my boss and is kind of rude and condescending.

It’s absolutely true that nothing raised in a performance review should be a surprise, because good managers give ongoing feedback throughout the year, not just at performance review time. But it’s also true that there are tons of bad managers out there, and it’s not at all uncommon to hear negative feedback for the first time in a formal evaluation. It shouldn’t be that way, but it happens. That said, while she handled this poorly, that doesn’t mean that the feedback doesn’t have merit, and it’s worth paying attention to. Whether she’s ultimately right or wrong, the fact is that she sees you this way, and that’s hugely important to know and try to resolve.

Your next step should be to talk with your boss about the concerns that were raised and ask for feedback about how to start addressing them. You should also say that you’d very much appreciate getting ongoing feedback so that you’re not blindsided and so that you can work on fixing problems immediately, rather than waiting until a formal review. Good luck!

“We don’t want you to interview with other companies while you’re out here on our dime.”

This weekend I will travel from DC to the Silicon Valley to interview with a large .com company. The hiring manager for the position was a fellow student in my Master’s program. If I get the job, I am expected to start the position within a month of acceptance. With this in mind, I asked the company to fly me out a day early so I can start my look for housing. Unfortunately, my request was denied. My recruiter told me, “We don’t want you to interview with other companies while you’re out here on our dime.” For some reason, this rubs me the wrong way. Are there any warning signs with this or should I consider it an inconvenient compliment?

Yeah, that would rub me the wrong way too — it kind of insults your integrity. That said, I wouldn’t worry too much about it or consider it a major red flag, unless you start seeing other things that concern you.

{ 39 comments… read them below }

  1. Michelle*

    What about subjective statements like this:

    Demonstrated excellent communication skills when explaining policies and procedures to 65 students.

    Something to that effect.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nope, get rid of anything subjective; try to frame it in terms of what you achieved / what the outcome was. I might also add a little more context to that to give it more meaning. So, for instance, with this example, you might rewrite it to something like:

      Ensured students fully understood performance expectations and policies on plagiarism and academic integrity.

      If you really want to get braggy (and you should, it’s your resume), you could say something like (if true):

      Ensured students fully understood performance expectations and policies on plagiarism and academic integrity; lauded for clarity of presentations.

  2. Michelle*

    Interesting! I have never thought to frame it this way. Thank you! I can see how wording a lot of my subjective phrases that combine the skill they want and an example of something I’ve done weren’t getting across because I was having trouble wording it using achievement language. I’ve always been thrown off by that because it seems to only apply to sales! But, this will help me (and others, I hope) to start thinking about it differently.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! It can be hard when your achievements aren’t quantitative! A good trick is to ask yourself what you achieved by doing that task/project … what the outcome was. That will usually point you in the right direction.

      1. Anonymous*

        Interesting! Would you mind giving more examples on how to be braggy about non-quantitative skills/achievements without using subjective phrases??

        And what’s considered “subjective” really? If I mention in my Professional Highlights section my “expertise in Project Management” (and back it up later on in the more detailed Experience section), is that still too fluffy?

        If I have rescued and delivered a projec that was in limbo for 6 months before I took over, can I say exactly that (“rescued a project in limbo…”)?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “expertise in project management” is a reasonable thing to mention, particularly in a summary section — it’s when you get into the really fluffy and subjective stuff like team work, work ethic, communication skills, etc that it becomes meaningless self-assessment and isn’t useful on a resume.

        And I love your “rescued a project that was in limbo” example, especially if you can describe what the outcome of your involvement was (what did “rescued” mean in the end, etc.).

  3. Wilton Businessman*


    That’s the recruiter speaking. If you interview somewhere else and take somebody else’s job, they lose their fee. When you accept the offer, make them fly you out again on a “house hunting” trip or negotiate that they put you up for two weeks in a hotel once you start.

  4. Anonymous*

    I would like very much to email the anonymous company anonymously and tell them why they are stupid. I would then end it with “but you won’t listen to any of this because I’m some random person on the internet and you have no idea what, if any, my credibility is. Kind of like me with your ad”

    I realize this would accomplish nothing, by in my head I would imagine it BLOWING THEIR MINDS.

  5. Long Time Admin*

    AAM, it’s a darn good thing you’ve got a supervisor for your kitchen remodel. No one watches like a cat. Unfortunately, they’re not very good with written reports.

  6. Eric*

    So, regarding the subjective stuff, why do so many job descriptions I see say things like, “must work well with others”, “must have good communication skills”, “must have good problem solving skills”, etc.?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ugh, I could write a treatise on this. It’s because they’re bad at writing job postings (which is the norm, not the exception). Very few people read an ad and think, “Oh, they want good communication skills, and mine suck so this isn’t the job for me.” Everyone thinks they have good communication skills, so including that in the ad accomplishes very little.

      A better way for an employer to approach this is to be very clear in their own mind about what traits they need (so they can assess themselves whether candidates have them), but use the job ad to paint a picture of the work that will appeal to the type of candidates who would be great at it, and to list qualifications that will be more meaningful to candidates.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I should add: It’s also true that there are ways to demonstrate in your application that you have traits like “good communication skills” — either by writing an awesome cover letter (which would be demonstrating those skills in the act of writing it), or by including achievements on your resume that inherently speak to your communication skills (such as the example I gave higher up).

      1. Josh S*

        I was going to say exactly this.

        You never want to put “I do great working in team situations,” but you might want to demonstrate that on your resume by saying, “Regularly worked in a team of 5 people to accomplish 20 projects on time and under budget,” or “Led small teams of marketing/consulting/training/whatever-people to accomplish ____.”

        This shows not only that you actually have the skill (because you’ve successfully demonstrated it in the past), but that you have the skill AND you have the ability to achieve great things by using the skill. It’s a double-pow WIN!

      1. Dawn*

        Yes, I love your cat. My house looked just like this when I remodeled the kitchen. Just about every box had a cat on it (I have 10). They made great a great management team, but they weren’t so good at the hands-on stuff. :)

      2. Josh S*

        As soon as I saw the photo, I thought, “Kitty!”

        She seems like a great supervisor (as most cats are). And now that I know you’re a cat-owner, my opinion of you just squeaked up a little higher than it had already been.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Honestly, I would be a crazy cat lady if I lived on a farm or something and could use that an excuse for having tons of them.

          I’m actually thinking about fostering some kitties, to get more cat time without adding to the permanent commitment of these two. Let’s all foster cats!

          1. Jamie*

            Fostering is the easy part…it’s the giving them up that’s impossible. They become part of the family in seconds.

            (Which is why I now have four cats.)

          2. Jennifer*

            My friends foster cats/kittens and enjoy it so much. (I would but, alas, am allergic).

            If you do start to foster though, we’ll probably ask you to add an AACCL (ask a crazy cat lady) part to your blog to post the photos and antics of all the cats.

  7. Chuck*

    RE the employee of a family member – I would NOT mention to a prospective employer that you worked “off the books.”

    That implies to this long-time recruiter that you did that to avoid paying taxes and that calls your integrity into question.

    Just sayin’

    1. Nichole*

      Absolutely agreed. For future reference for those wishing to learn from someone else’s mistake (and it was a reasonable mistake, a case of not thinking ahead for too long-not really an excuse, but understandable), once it became clear that this had gone from being helping Dad out at the office to a real job, the OP needed to meet with Dad about getting on the books. That way this wouldn’t be an issue. Lots of people work for the family business, but the fact that there’s a “well, but” attached to that employment would make me wonder if the OP was in the business for so long just because s/he was family and not because s/he was good. Being an on the record employee implies accountability. Strike 1, OP was never asked to be a real employee-what’s wrong with this person that even his/her dad wouldn’t commit? Strike 2, didn’t pay taxes for years and apparently didn’t care. Two strikes is not a good way to start an interaction with a potential employer. At the resume/application phase (and sometimes after), the employer does not care what really happened, just that it looks bad on paper.

  8. Chuck*

    RE company descriptions on a resume…

    I rather like that information. A succinct one-line description of Acme Inc. that tells me they’re in the wireless genetic bar-code business tells me information about the candidate that could be helpful to the recruiter in making a decision about interviewing/not interviewing.

    If I don’t know the company, I probably won’t Google them to find out unless the resume is truly compelling. Rather, I’ll set is aside and read the next resume in the stack.

    So, for what it’s worth, I vote in favor of company descriptions on resumes.

    1. OP*

      This makes sense but I wonder how many people truly care about the company and what it does. Does it really make a difference if you worked at a small, no-to-known company A or B if your job was the same? Maybe it’s different from industry to industry…or state to state? I’d love to hear more feedback because now I’m curious.

      1. Jamie*

        I think it depends on the industry.

        If I were hiring an IT for a manufacturing environment it would be helpful to see – so I know if the candidates system admin experience is from a mfg company, or something that may be quite different like a service based company.

        But unless someone is pouring over hundreds of resumes per day and needs the shortcuts I’m not sure that it’s a deal breaker since google is only a click away.

        And I do think the size of the company makes the difference, because often the titles may be the same but the “responsibilities” won’t be. But that isn’t to say that the big companies are necessarily better – it depends on the open position. An accountant at a fortune 500 company was one of many and probably had very clearly defined area of responsibility. In a smaller company that person may very well have also taken on some controller duties or other things with a broader scope. There are jobs where person A would be a good fit, but if I need to fill a job with a less static description I would be more drawn to person B – just based on background.

        Which company on your resume would be a benefit is completely contingent on the job to which you’re applying.

  9. Karyn*

    I have nothing to offer except that your cat looks like it wants this project done right MEOW.

    I want it to wear a little hard hat and carry a clipboard!

  10. MelissaG*

    Looks like my condo too :) We have stacks of wedding presents that have no home yet, but a great place for the cats to sit.

    Great tips on how to make your subjective statements objective. I’ll have to look at my resume again and make some updates. Thanks!

  11. Karl Sakas*

    RE: Company descriptions —

    Because my past employers aren’t brand names like Google or GE, I think it helps to provide some context… but instead of using a separate description paragraph for each company, I incorporate the info in my regular bullets (e.g., “Conducted qualitative research on 400+ companies for firm’s flagship $1.3B+ equity fund”)

  12. Tim*

    I’d be wary of an intentionally undisclosed company for more reasons than just their unjustified secrecy — scams often start that way. Next thing you know they’ll need your social security number for “paperwork” or need you to pay an “application fee” or something.

  13. Anth*

    Re gender confusion – sounds like you are a graphic/web designer? I would say put a professionally dressed headshot in your email signature (a tiny one, see wisestamp as an example) along with your contact info.

  14. Irena*

    Related to subjective words in the resume –
    While in college, we had to update our resume in one of the classes I took as part of an assignment. Now that I found a very old copy of my resume, it made me laugh:
    -Expertly performed this and this task…
    -Successfully completed blah blah…

    Is it enough to just say “performed” and “completed” or do these extras really make a difference?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Words like “expertly” definitely don’t add anything and actually kind of detract, because it comes across as sort of naive to include them. However, I also wouldn’t rely on words like “performed” or “completed,” because they’re almost definitely not going to be outcome related (they’re more activity related). Can you reword completely to get more at outcome / what was achieved?

  15. Josh S*

    PS. Empty/used boxes can be easily converted into wonderful cat houses/gyms/hiding spots. Save some of the boxes and make a (space/decor-appropriate) playland for the kitties.

    I’m an especially big fan of cutting a 2″ x 2″ hole in the box so they can reach a paw through at their favorite toys. It’s great fun!


    Now, back to business blogging! :)

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