fast answer Friday: 8 fast answers to 8 fast questions

It’s fast answer Friday (so named by JamieH): eight short answers to eight short questions. We’ve got ex-boyfriends giving bad job references, a manager pressuring an employee to take extra shifts, and more. Here we go…

Attaching a cover letter when using an online application system

I’ve noticed that a lot of company websites require you to fill out an online form to apply for a position. Such a form has a place to attach a resume, but often no place to attach a cover letter. Since cover letters are my opportunity to stand out, and since my resume (at this early point in my career) is somewhat basic in content, what should I do?
1) Follow their directions explicitly and submit the application with no cover letter,
2) Email the HR people separately and include the cover letter and resume, but risk being a pain, or
3) Submit the resume and cover letter together as pages of a single file?

Submit the cover letter as part of the resume file, if their system allows it. And good for you for doing a cover letter.

Applying for jobs when grad school is looming

I am planning on going to grad school within the next year and half( due to application deadlines). However, I am looking for a new job in the mean time. I have had two interviews so far with no job offer, and I wonder if my plans to go to grad school have something to do with it. I have been asked, “I see that you have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. What did you plan to do with it?” I answer them that I still plan on going to grad school for Marriage and Family Therapy at some point. At the first interview I said within a year I was planning to go to school. The second interview I was not asked to specify, so I did not say. My friends say that employers do not want to hire someone who is going to leave soon, which I understand. I do not want to lie to interviewers and say that I have no plans. How do I effectively respond to this question without hurting my chances of getting the job?

Yeah, most jobs want someone who will stay at least two years (and for many jobs, longer). Of course, things change and nothing is written in stone, but knowing from the get-go that you plan to leave in a year-and-a-half is going to be a dealbreaker for a lot of managers. Now, a lot of people would tell you that since you can’t possibly be 100% sure of your plans 18 months out, you aren’t obligated to mention it. But given that I feel physical pain when I imagine someone doing this to me, I’d say that if you’re sure that’s your timeline, you’re better off looking for work where a shorter stay won’t be an issue.

Does this mean I’m hired?

When a employer tells you after a interview that he will submit the application to HR, does that mean I’m hired?

Nope. Unless you hear the words, “I’d like to offer you the job,” that only means that you’ve passed a particular stage in the hiring process, but that there may be additional ones.

Can my ex-boyfriend give me a bad job reference?

Is it illegal for the reference that you listed on your job application to give a very bad word about you? I am in this situation right now where me and my ex-boyfriend are no longer talking. We became friends again for a while, but then we got into a very bad argument to where we are no longer talking. I listed him on a very recent job application. (The application gave me the option of using either other job references or personal references. I listed him as a personal reference because I have never been employed, and I had no other job references. We were friends at the time I filled out the job application, and we’ve known each other for a long while.) I feel like he is the kind of person who would ruin a job opportunity by giving a bad word if they were to contact him. I was wondering what the legal standards are for a situation like this.

Don’t use an ex as a job reference. Ever. It’s just not professional. If you have no job history and you’re asked for references, use academic references (professors, teachers, advisors), if at all possible. If you must, you can also use someone like a longtime family friend. But no family members and no boyfriends, ex or otherwise.

Anyway, on to your question. He can say anything he wants as long as it’s not objectively false. All you can really do now is to not repeat this … and don’t date people who are likely to be jerks if you break up.

Do I have to give a reason when I turn down extra shifts?

I work for a care company and have a zero-hour contract. I work around 40 hours a week but sometimes the manager calls me to do extras. For example, I worked 6am to 6pm today, and when I got home, my manager asked me if could do 2 more hours. I declined, saying I needed to shower and eat, but she then said “Well, I have to ask you why you are declining shifts and this could be detremental to your work hours.” Do I have to give a reason other than “no, thank-you” when offered shifts that I am not contractually obliged to do?

Nope. But not having to do it doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t still be smart to say something other than “no.” I’d suggest saying, “I have another commitment that I can’t break” or something along those lines, since clearly your manager at least semi-expects you to try to take extra shifts when needed. The idea is to sound reasonable and considerate. She doesn’t need to know that your “other commitment” is sleeping or lounging on the couch.

Pre-hire assessment tests

What is your take on organizations having candidates take assessment tests before hiring? I recently interviewed with an organization that had me take the “DiSC classic 2.0” assessment. I wasn’t really sure what to think going into it but I think it actually was quite useful, even if I don’t get this position. The company provided me a copy of the test results and I think it was pretty accurate in assessing the “type” of person I am and the type of environment that I would thrive in.

I’ve never worked at a company that had their employees or potential employees take this sort of test. I would think having this information could be extremely useful for a manager in figuring out how to motivate particular employees rather than trying to put a “one size fits all” management style for everyone. Has your experience led you to believe that these assessments are “worth” the time and effort? Do you think having this information would help you shape your interactions with employees or do you still try to manage everyone the way you are comfortable doing it?

I know some companies are huge fans of those personality typing tests and I could see them being useful for figuring out if someone has the right attributes to excel in the job, but I’m not sure I’d recommend them for figuring out how to motivate someone. I tend to think that the right person will be motivated by the job itself, assuming other factors are reasonable (pay, management, culture, etc.) … and if you find yourself having to figure out how to motivate someone, you probably have the wrong person in the job.

I’m actually a huge fan of a different kind of pre-hire testing — giving people exercises that simulate the type of work they’d be doing when on the job. If more employers utilized those, a lot of bad hires would be prevented.

Pre-hire assessment tests, part 2

I was interviewed and selected to continue the hiring process for a job. They realized that I needed to take the WRAT test (Wide Range Achievement Test). I didn’t pass the test. The HR person stated that I was very close. I would like the results of that test. Are they obligated to give me these results? And if so, who do I speak with.


Putting an ACT score on your resume

I was wondering what your take was on putting an ACT score next to GPA in my college education. I’ve heard a lot of resounding “NO!”s, but also some qualified “if it’s high, if it’s in a certain industry, if you’re right out of school” answers. In my situation, all of these apply, as I scored a 35, just graduated from Miami (Ohio) and only have one actuarial internship and one real leadership position. I’m also looking to apply to consulting and market research firms, where data analysis is a heavy part of the job.

Do you think this can be something that makes me positively stand out due to a lack of corporate experience? Or does it just scream pompous and like I don’t know how the real world works? Does listing my GPA (3.5) with a Math & Stat degree say all that is needed/make my ACT irrelevant? I’m looking for any help on the matter, because I really don’t want my resume to be tossed in the bin every time if it really is a detriment.

I’d include it only if you got a perfect score, because it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t typically belong on a resume and could mark you as a little naive … unless it’s a perfect score, in which case it’s not crazy to include it as an impressive achievement.  (I should note that I have no idea if 35 is a perfect score or not; in my school district, everyone just took the SAT.) And if you do use it, it can only be on there while you’re looking for your first job after college. It must come off after that.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Harper Leigh*

    To the person planning on going to grad school. I did almost the exact same thing. Just for sociology. Get a job that hopefully pays for your loans if you have them, get some experience doing something that you already have experience with. Did you do any internships or work study? I ended up with a comfortable job at a university. Then I went to grad school, got some good research experience and ended up with a new job doing research. DON’T TELL THEM IN THE INTERVIEW you’re going to school! It would be cool if you could work at a university that has a MFT program bc then you could potentially get some tuition reimbursement. I could go on…good luck! :)

  2. Mike C.*

    No one cares about the ACT. Just like after your first real job no one will care about your college GPA.

    1. Irena*

      I don’t think anyone truly cares so much about GPA unless you are in few industries that truly depend on your classes (medical, accounting…). Instead of worrying about GPA, I would suggest focusing on internships and other involvements (clubs and such). From personal experience, I never cared too much about my GPA but I had 6 internships and a club leader position. Nobody EVER asked me about my GPA, not even in internship interviews. GPA only shows how well you can memorize textbooks and take tests.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t care about GPA, but I’ve worked with people who do (smart, competent people, too). They don’t ask about it, but they’re impressed by it if you include it and it’s high — but it needs to be high (like 3.7 or up). If it’s lower, they’ll actually consider it a negative, so in that case it’s better not to include it.

      2. Tami*

        I actually had someone include their GPA on a resume recently. Unfortunately it was a 2.1. It would have been better if they would not have included it on their resume because it was not impressive and was barely above a C average. Not something I would brag about, but that’s me.

        It reminded me of the “Wall of Gaylord” in Meet the Fockers, in which they hung up all of his ribbons and awards…and they were 10th place, etc.

        1. Natalie*

          Unfortunately a lot of resume templates one will find online have GPA, with no notation that it should only be listed if it’s very high and only for the first job after graduating. A lot of people are probably blindly following the template – I know I did.

    2. S. Paley*

      This is not entirely true. I work in a career services office, and most on-campus interviewers from the finance sector (specifically i-banking) expect to see SAT scores on a resume. We highly recommend that students interested in this field include these scores, assuming they are high (above 700)

    3. Anonymous*

      I disagree. I’ve been out of grad school 15 years, and I recently got asked for GPA, transcripts, and SYLLABI. Insane!

    4. Liz in a library*

      Yep. I never care about GPA, and unless you have a very high one, I have to wonder why you even listed it! If it isn’t impressive, I would just leave it off. For example, we often hire people with at least one (and sometimes multiple) graduate degrees. If your graduate GPA is less than perfect, I don’t think that reflects poorly on you (I would rather see how you are at the job), but I do think your poor judgment in including it on your resume does.

  3. ML*

    I graduated with a perfect GPA (4.0) for my Bachelor’s, at one of the top colleges for my field. I’m now on my second job, roughly 5 years after graduation. Would it still be a good idea to put my GPA on my resume? Obviously I do take pride in that achievement, but I certainly don’t want to come across as a green fresh graduate. More broadly, is there a recommended “statute of limitations” for putting academic scores on your resume?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, I’d think it was odd if a candidate in her 40s or 50s was including stuff from college. I’d hope she’d have more impressive accomplishments by then!

          1. Wilton Businessman*

            I wouldn’t think it was odd. Shouldn’t be the first thing on the resume, but could be in parenthesis after the school name:
            Whatsamatta U. (4.0/4.0)

  4. Esra*

    I would have been hard pressed to not just answer: “DUUUUUH” to the letter writer using an ex they fight off and on with as a reference.

    1. Anon.*

      Let’s not have knew-jerk mean answers like yesterday, k? Once one person started with responses like this many just jumped on the slam OP wagon.

      The OP in this case didn’t have any other references as she had not ever worked. She was asking a legitimate question. You added nohing to this conversation – if you can’t be constructive, keep it to yourself please.

      1. HaHa*

        I don’t know, since the issue is an ex putting her down to prospective employers, I think knew jerk may actually be a better fit. But I agree, never ever use someone you are in a “relationship” with as a reference. DUUUUUH!

        1. Anon.*

          Dear HaHa,

          You’re hysterical – NOT! But why not take your act on the road anyway…

          Put downs and insults are not helpful- and tell more about you and your lack of character than the legitimate question from the OP.

          1. HaHa*

            Let me guess. You are the OP. Sorry about your bad taste in people to date. Sorrier still that you thought getting someone you were dating to be a reference was a smart thing to do. It is not. Now learn from it and try getting someone who is not interested in trading a good reference for a good time.

            1. Anon.*

              Wrong again Haha. Here again, your lack of character – and now ignorance comes shining throug. Insulting people may make you feel better about youself but its not helpful to anyone.

              1. HaHa*

                Seems only one hear calling anyone ignorant or insulting people is you. So guess you need to look where your other three fingers are pointing.

                I am just stating an obvious fact: getting anyone who has a “relationship” with you to be your reference is really a Homer Simpson move, so maybe instead of DUUUUHHH, DOH would be a better choice of words.

      2. Esra*

        The OP in this case didn’t have any other references as she had not ever worked.

        Anon., if her on/off boyfriend is her absolute only friend and potential personal reference, then that is very sad indeed.

          1. Esra*

            Neither are admonishments from random anonymous commentors, but here we are.

            I think this is one of those situations where “Seriously, what were you thinking??” could honestly be asked, followed by education on an applicants level of responsibility regarding selecting appropriate references. Preferably, say, references who like you. The blog post provided the education, and I think there has been a precedent set that some of the more… ‘weird’, as it was recently put, posts and questions can elicit a quick headshake comment like mine.

  5. rachel*

    A 35 is an amazing score for the ACT, one below perfect and very hard to get (I think only like 2 percent of people score higher than 34 or something like that).

    But obviously nobody else is going to know that either unless the letter writer is applying exclusively to midwestern jobs.

    1. Anon*

      As the asker of the question relating to this, that’s what I was thinking as well in regards to the midwestern jobs. Not a lot of popularity for the ACT except in the Midwest and South, but for a place like Chicago its popularity has skyrocketed and more and more people have taken it in the work force and are familiar with the score ranges in these areas. For this geographic region I thought a 99th percentile score might help stand out at least a little bit in order to get an interview call.

      1. Anon y. mouse*

        If you have a spectacularly high test score, it might be worth listing a percentile as well as (or possibly instead of) the raw score, something like:

        – Scored 34 on the ACT (99th percentile)

        That way anyone who isn’t familiar with the score will still know they’re looking at something impressive. Scores also change over time – at the time I took the SAT, a perfect score was 1600, and I got decently close to that. The next year they added an extra section, and a perfect score is now 2400. My score would look pretty bad to anyone who wasn’t aware of the change. I’d be much better off to just say ‘scored in the 49560847th percentile on the SAT’. (Well, if I listed my scores. Like most people, I was never in a position where they were relevant.)

      2. Ask an Advisor*

        From my perspective, yes you should be proud of your accomplishment of doing well on this particular standardized test, but I wouldn’t suggest listing it on your resume. That score is supposed to indicate how well you will do in college (in reality it doesn’t quite correlate, but don’t get me started on that…), but your college GPA will be a better indicator of that. In your case, your college GPA is not stellar (yes its strong, but not stellar…) compared to your ACT score, so it doesn’t actually add much to your resume in my opinion.

  6. Nethwen*

    I’m in a similar position to the care worker, except when I decline shifts, I consistently do it with, “I have an appointment then.” I get the feeling my supervisor does not like this, so I’m happy to see AAM agrees that we don’t need to tell them the details.

    1. Katieinthemountains*

      I think after a twelve-hour shift, you are sacrificing your health to work more hours, and depending on your duties, this could be unsafe. So decline politely, and regretfully if you like, but firmly. Lounging on the couch after a day like that is resting your body and mind – not being lazy – and that may well be as important as a dentist appointment. So, yes, you have an appointment, or a commitment, and you need to keep it.
      That being said, it’s probably worth your while to accept a good number of shifts so that you’re perceived as a team player or dependable or whatever it is your supervisor is looking for.

      1. Lois Gory*

        Agree- no one is on top of their game after a 12 hour shift. Also, research shows driving while tired is like driving while drunk. You will not be safe on the way home after the extra hours.

        By all means, take Katieinthemountains’ advice and do enough extra shifts to look like a team player, when it makes sense, but don’t put your health and safety and the health and safety of your clients and the general public at risk because your manager is having staffing problems.

  7. Gene*

    One more thing for the ex-boyfriend reference woman, since you are looking for your first job you need to work on your grammar too. This sentence triggered me and would make me look at your communications ability: “I am in this situation right now where me and my ex-boyfriend are no longer talking.”

    Even in today’s SMS/text/email atmosphere, grammar and spelling matter. And they matter in every communication you have.

  8. Rob*

    I’m slightly wondering if that Disc classic 2.0 guy is astroturfing. Also: “classic 2.0”? Sounds like an oxymoron.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Actually, I just went back and looked and the letter-writer has sent me a bunch of other questions on other topics in the past, so I’m thinking it’s real.

    1. HaHa*

      Looked it up online. It is an online version of the classic disc test, hence the name classic 2.0. Only seems to be provided by one company. But it does seem to pass the smell test, IMO.

  9. Anonymous*

    Re: The Ex
    Assuming the questioner (who could be male or female) is young I’d recommend getting a volunteer position, in your school, your community, a local park, a nursing home, or anywhere you are interested. Get someone else to list. If you’ve been in any clubs or sports in school list the person leading those. And then make sure you let that person know that you’ve listed them as a refrence and if you can tell them a little about the job so they can know what skills to highlight. Good luck!

  10. RS*

    It is unfair how companies will use assessment tests to figure out if you are a good candidate for the job. I once made it all the way to the final stage of the interview, and was then given an assessment that consisted of a personality test and IQ test. Apparently, they were looking for someone with a certain IQ score (it was even stated on the job description). I did not have the “IQ” the were looking for and did not get the position. It’s unfair because some people just aren’t good at taking standardize tests, and it doesn’t mean that they are motivated or not smart enough.

    1. Anon y. mouse*

      Yup. I know my husband is every bit as smart as I am and is a good test taker, but I’m even better and I’d come out with the higher score. This totally misses the fact that he has amazing people skills and can comfortably strike up a conversation with anyone – which in a business situation is far more valuable than raw intelligence. Turning down a qualified candidate because of a test score is dumb.

      1. Anonymous*

        I would qualify this statement “This totally misses the fact that he has amazing people skills and can comfortably strike up a conversation with anyone – which in a business situation is far more valuable than raw intelligence. Turning down a qualified candidate because of a test score is dumb.” I know several colleagues (in field – worked with previously) that have fantastic people skills, and their abililty to talk with others is amazing. Now, if they understood business a little more, had a bit more math skills, that might actually help. As of now, I just try not to work with them because the odds are high I will end up 6 feet deep in you know what!

        1. Anoymous J*

          Skills in things like math are not always directly related to IQ. While problem solving ability does tend to be, actual hard skills fall under a different category, I believe.

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