terse answer Thursday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions. I’m still considering doing angry August, as well. (And there’s a kitchen/kittens update in the comments.)

Online application systems that replicate what’s already in my resume

When applying for different positions, I have noticed that a lot of online application systems require redundant information that is already in one’s resume (i.e., which college you went to when its already on your resume). Some of these fields are optional. Would it be a negative for me to skip over optional fields and let them just read my cover letter and resume?

Yep. Fill in all the fields, even when they duplicate what’s on your resume, because many electronic applicant tracking systems search based on the fields that you’ve filled out. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’ll maximize your chances.

When to mention another job offer

The same day I received a job offer, another company’s HR manager responded and said she would send my resume to the hiring manager. I probably should have waited to tell her until the hiring manager asked me for an actual interview, but I told her right away that I had another offer for the same type position. I said I would prefer to work for their company instead. Could this ever work against me? I know you said that you should let the company know so they can make things go faster but if its at such an early stage would they ever think: she has a job and we need a lot of time so forget her? The HR lady responded and said that she will let the hiring manager know that but he needs to review my resume first.

If you’re a star candidate, they may expedite things for you so they can interview you and give you a decision before your deadline for getting back to the first company. However, if you’re not a star candidate, it’s more likely that they’ll tell you not to wait on them since they have plenty of other equally appealing candidates. But you shouldn’t regret informing her, since presumably you have a looming deadline for responding to the first company, right? And you don’t want to lose an offer in hand to a hypothetical offer that may never materialize.

Interviewer won’t respond; should I contact her colleagues?

I had a first interview on June 28th, and a second interview on July 14th with a higher education facility. I have not heard back after following up with the hiring manager for the past 3 weeks. Two other PR people were also in on the interview…is it wrong for me to follow up with them regarding if the position is filled or not? I am very interested in the position and would like to know the status, but am having no luck getting an answer.

Don’t follow up with the other people. It will be seen as inappropriately aggressive and pushy. Are you more interested in getting an answer or in getting the job offer? Assuming it’s the latter, the best thing you can do is be patient and stop contacting them so much when they’re not getting back to you. Their silence is telling you, at best, “We’re not ready to talk with you yet,” and at worst, “You’re out of the running.” Either way, continuing to follow up won’t help.

Should I email the hiring manager when applying internally?

I currently work part time at a local college. There is a full time postion that has become available and I have already applied. Is it inappropriate for me to email the individual that will be hiring to express me interest or maybe someone in HR? 

Email the hiring manager. You’re applying internally, so the rules are different for you — you get to reach out directly without risking being annoying.

Behavioral interview questions when you don’t have much experience to draw on

I am two semesters shy of getting my M.S. in Institutional Research, and for the past three years I worked part-time as a clerical assistant at a university. I left three months ago to take an internship with another university’s Institutional Research office as part of my degree which ended up being the greatest decision I could have made. Last week I applied for analyst positions at two other universities (it’s a big city) and I have interviews with both of them next week. I have been reading your blog nonstop to get any advice I can about interviewing and also to calm my nerves.

However I keep getting anxious when I see these behavioral questions (“Give me an example of a time when you…”), because for almost every one I read I can’t for the life of me think of an answer for them. I feel they are more appropriate for people who have had some semblance of responsibility in previous jobs, or are more experienced in their careers. Is being unable to answer questions like this a real deal-breaker? I just want to know how to frame myself in an interview where I will likely be up against more experienced candidates. I am an incredibly fast learner, wildly enthusiastic about this career, and I want to help the IR office I end up in with all of its endeavors. I feel like my position as an ambitious, competent (if inexperienced) blank slate should be a positive thing but I’m not sure quite how to get that across.

Hmmm, I think you might not be thinking about this broadly enough. You’ve had at least two jobs, and I bet you’ve had others during undergrad too. Plus I bet you’ve done extracurriculars or volunteer work, and those count too. You should be able to draw on all of that to come up with answers to the “tell me about a time when ___” questions. Besides, keep in mind that interviewers who ask behavioral interview questions are going to tailor them to the position in question — they’re not going to ask for examples of a time when you did something that has absolutely nothing to do with what’ll make you succeed in this job. It’s going to be related to the work at hand. They’ll also presumably adjust for your experience level. (Also, most interviewers are bad interviewers so they might not even ask you any behavioral questions, but it’s good to prepared.)

Informational interview, 3 months later

Shortly after I was terminated from my sales position 3 months ago, I emailed and asked a sales manager of a company (in my industry but not in my region) for an informational interview. I absolutely had no intention of asking him for a job, or even a lead. I sincerely wanted to see if the grass was greener in his role in his part of the USA, as it could be a potential career goal in 5-10 years. (Months before, he asked to connect with me on Linkedin, I didn’t search him out.) I had about 10 questions prepared, he answered them well, and I sent him a follow-up/thank you note. All was fine.

As I haven’t found a suitable job yet, is it reasonable to ask him for a lead at this point? I don’t want him to think a job offer or a job lead was my motive for the original interview. Even if and when I get a position, with or without his help, our paths will likely cross again, so I don’t want to offend him. At the same time, I am trying to sell myself to the “right-fit” employers, including him. What’s the best way to network with him, if at all?

Yes, reach out to him. The statute of limitations on not using an informational interview to ask for a job ran out after the second month, so you’re safe. (And good for you for being so aware of how you should and shouldn’t use informational interviews.)

{ 51 comments… read them below }

  1. Matt*

    About the redundant information: Some resumes may not have the college on them. So that may be why they have the column as a required. Your not wanting to answer the question because “it is on the resume” would make me think that you would be one of those employees that wants to argue about what I, as your manager, ask of you. Don’t fill it out, gives me a reason to cut you for someone who will give me what I ask for without an argument.

    1. Cindy Lou Who*


      I get it, it’s a pain. I wholeheartedly agree. When I was unemployed, it was similar to bamboo shoots under my fingernails. But do it anyway. We’re not asking for this info just for the hell of it. Everything you do says something to me; not completing the application (or ignoring it completely) says, “I can’t be bothered.” If you can’t be bothered, I’ll move on to a candidate who can.

      You can tell I didn’t get enough coffee this morning. ;-)

      1. Chris Walker*

        So just open your resume and copy/paste into the application. You have to fill out the online application completely because in the applicant tracking system, the resume and application are separate files.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            Maybe not always, but often enough so that we job seekers *must* fill out every stupid field on the online application.

            Play it their way if you want to get a job.

    1. Matt*

      Yeah, we want pictures. How about Architectural August and give us pics of the whole of the remodel!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The countertops went in yesterday! Photo here. And the sink gets connected today, which makes me so happy that I will likely weep.

      Supposedly the whole thing will be done by tomorrow, but I’m somewhat skeptical of that.

              1. Susan*

                OMG it’s gorgeous!! LOVE the countertops! Especially like the cubby storage slots on the upper cabinets.

                So has it been worth the week of take-out food?

      1. SME*

        I am happy to say that I now think I was wrong about voting for color on the walls – this looks SHARP!

      2. Lynda*

        You were right, the counters make the room look much warmer and more inviting. And those niches are PERFECT for kittens!

      3. Joe*

        That is a nice looking kitchen! I wish I had invited you over for dinner during your renovations, because then you might invite me over in return, and cook something for me in that amazing kitchen. (If, y’know, I lived in the same city, or even knew you, or somethin’ like that.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The kittens are likely to be adopted this weekend, if all goes well! This will not be soon enough for the older cats, who find them deeply objectionable. The little girl in the family who’s interested in adopting them (a) showed up for the meet-the-kittens visit in a shirt with a cat on it so they would feel more comfortable with her, and (b) cleaned her room on her own in preparation for the kittens coming there, including DUSTING. I find this adorable.

      1. Irena*

        That’s too cute! I had to re-home my kitten few months ago and it’s so hard to find a good home. But first impressions really are everything.

      2. Jennifer*

        She sounds like the cutest thing in the world. Good to know the kittens are going to be so loved.

      3. Lynda*

        SO adorable. My favorite part is that she wore the cat shirt so the cats would be more comfortable. Anybody who’s thinking that much about how the kittens feel will be a great cat mom.

      4. MelissaG*

        Wearing a cat shirt to meet new kittens is the cutest thing! That little girl will be a great cat mom :)

  2. Scott Woode*

    The remodel looks absolutely wonderful and so big! I’m so excited for you to start cooking in it. There’s so much space to spread out, you’ll never feel cramped again. As far as the backsplash, I feel a need to quote Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, “Well, one does want a hint of color.”

  3. fposte*

    On the behavioral interview questions–I interview a lot of people in early career stages, and they often do have to interpret questions fairly creatively. I like it when they do, because it indicates to me that they’re thinking more than superficially about the question and have enough scope to extrapolate: “I’ve never run into that as a manager, but I had a similar situation with a co-volunteer, and here’s how I dealt with that.” Most of the time we’re not looking for you to provide the right answer in the blank, we’re looking to see how you’ve dealt with people and challenges; our questions are just a way to get at aspects of that. Think about the mission of a question–what is it they really want to know about you here?–and find a way to tell them. And along the way you can demonstrate your wild enthusiasm and document your incredibly speedy learning ability.

    1. Alison*

      What a great response, thank you! I’m just a bundle of nerves right now, but all of this really helps a lot.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree, great response! Alison, remember that they’re not asking stuff to trip you up — they’re genuinely interested in learning about how you’ve approached things in the past so they can visualize how you’d approach the work there. When you understand where they’re coming from and what they’re getting at with these questions, it should hopefully feel less like a test and more like a conversation about how you approach things.

      — Alison #2

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Oh, Alison, I’m sorry to disagree with you on this. Most of the job interviews I’ve had were simply answering questions that the interviewer read from a list. I don’t think most of them even knew what the job was about, what skills were needed, and when I was bs’ing them (desperate times call for desperate measures).

        Granted, this was in the past, some times very long ago. Perhaps hiring managers and HR folks are more savvy now, but from what I’ve seen at my present company, I think not.

    3. MelissaG*

      I think early in my career I also used group project examples from class for answers to these type of questions.

      1. Anony*

        I just had a very difficult behavioral interview process. One of the questions was actually “Tell me about a time when you were bad at your job or role.” Now, what dunce would answer that? Besides the fact that, as I pointedly looked over my resume, it clearly showed a career path of promotions.

        Plus I don’t think you can really prepare well for behavioral interviews. You can have some situational examples in mind to discuss, but you never know (see above). Another thing I found is that these people wanted finite details; however, some of my work examples were 4- 7 -10 years ago, based on the roles and responsibilities I had at the time that related to their question. If the roles were reversed, could they really remember specifics about who they talked to when, their names and titles, and what vendors they used from a project 6 years ago? I can’t remember what I had for breakfast last week. Ok, snark over (for now).

        1. Joe*

          You have to be prepared to admit in an interview that you don’t always do everything well. Nobody out there is perfect, and pretending to be just makes the interviewer wonder what else you’re lying about. We interviewed someone this week, and during the debrief afterward, one of the other interviewer said he asked the candidate what her biggest flaw was, and she actually said, “I am a perfectionist” in response. I groaned out loud, because I couldn’t believe that someone would give such a cliched response. (And we didn’t hire her, though not because of that. She was a bad fit for a number of reasons.)

  4. Anonymous*


    I was attempting to switch from blue-collar work to white-collar work in the same industry. At one company, they had the worst behavioral interview ever.

    Instead of asking broad “tell me about a time…” questions, they would pick specific jobs and ask specific questions. Many of them were centered around how willing I was to work long hours at the last minute on a project. Drove me nuts, because every job I ever had was always hourly. One didn’t permit any over-time (can’t work past 5 on a Friday here boys!) and all of the others paid me for time worked, so there weren’t any self-less acts there either.

    I thought the interviewing process was set-up by a bunch of morons. My resume is extremely clear about what I did/didn’t do, and that the behavioral interview wouldn’t work well if they wanted to ask a bunch of office-type questions about work habits of salaried people. Instead of having a nice chat about the industry, my knowledge of it, my skills, and how relevant that knowledge and skills would be to the job at hand (things I actually wanted to know) all we got was a giant waste of time for three of us.

    Just like one-size-fits-all resumes aren’t good for the applicant, cookie-cutter interview questions aren’t the best in every situation either.

  5. SME*

    To the person who had two interviews at the educational institution:

    It’s really common for the hiring process at a college to move MUCH more slowly than a comparable search elsewhere. I’d always heard that, but recently went through the process myself, and there were about four weeks between each stage of the process. It drove me bananas, so I sympathize, but definitely leave them alone. That’s just how they roll! Don’t be discouraged. :)

    1. fposte*

      And it’s summer. Things slow down to a crawl in the summer, because everybody’s squeezing their vacations in (at least one key person will be out at any given time) and everybody’s still trying to get ahead on all the stuff they saved until summer despite all the vacations.

  6. Joe*

    “most interviewers are bad interviewers” – Alison, I would love to see you expound on this topic some time. I actually started emailing you a question recently, but haven’t finished yet, which centers around good interviewing technique. I may still finish that question and send it to you some time, but meanwhile, can you share some thoughts on what makes people bad interviewers, and what we all can be doing better?

    1. John Coxon*

      well let me see now, there is the interviewer that –
      asks and answers the question at the same time
      asks a question that is already answered in the resume
      doesn’t drill down on information provided by the applicant
      doesn’t listen to what the applicant is say, this missing vital clues
      interrupts when the applicant is talking
      asks closed questions
      asks questions where the only response is to agree or say yes
      spends more time writing notes than listening to responses
      makes hiring decisions based on rating each response
      fails to open the interview with an open, exploratory question
      is too busy handballing the interview to the next panel member and therefore not listening
      not following up on obvious contentious issues
      not conducting appropriate reference checks
      focusing more on technical skills than behavioural competencies
      not having done any professional development in this area
      and the list goes on and on and on . . . .

      1. Long Time Admin*

        And that’s a good interviewer! (HAH!) Especially if you’re rating them on bell curve.

      2. Joe*

        Hmm… Maybe I’m a bad interviewer (oh no!), but while some of those are obviously bad practices, some of them seem like good things for an interviewer to do:

        * asks a question that is already answered in the resume – Sure, you don’t want to ask a simple question like “do you know X?” if the resume says “I know X”, but a lot of what is on the resume is often puffed up or poorly detailed, and you might want to ask about it to find out what the person really knows/did.
        * interrupts when the applicant is talking – I think an interviewer who never interrupts any candidate isn’t doing their job right. You have a limited amount of time in an interview, and a number of things you want to get through. You want to give candidates reasonable time to answer a question, but someone who is rambling on, or who is not answering the question, you’ll want to interrupt them to make sure you stay on track.
        * asks closed questions – I’ll accept this if you change it to “only asks closed questions”, but some closed questions are necessary.
        * spends more time writing notes than listening to responses – Sure, the way you’ve written this, it’s bad, but I think it’s worse not to take notes. I happen to be a very fast typist, and can take pretty good notes while still listening to someone, and not lose the conversation. One of my coworkers doesn’t take notes at all during interviews, and when we all get together to discuss what we thought of a candidate (often hours later or sometimes even the next day), I hate that she is basically going on general feeling and memory (which often ends up vague) while I can provide specific examples to support my assertions.
        * fails to open the interview with an open, exploratory question – That’s a vague objection. Why does every interview have to open with an open, exploratory question? What if you just need to get right into the details you actually care about for the job? Yes, traditionally you start with the “tell me about yourself” or some such (and I usually do too), but sometimes, that’s just not what you need from an interview.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One big mistake interviewers make is focusing on the hypothetical over the actual — i.e., “how would you handle X?” rather than “tell me about how you handled X in the past.” And also, they tend not to delve deeply enough — they’ll ask a question and then move on to something else, whereas it’s better to probe and probe and then probe some more. For instance: “Tell me about X. What was most challenging in that? How did you handle that? What did you do about __ in that project? Walk me through how you made that decision.” Etc, etc.

  7. John Coxon*

    Interesting comment, most people are bad interviewers. So true, which in theory could provide the interviewee with an advantage – if only they weren’t so bad at being interviewed themselves! Its worth remembering that the person interviewing you is only human – it’s a funny thing about us humans we like to have conversations. If you have gained an interview then you have made a giant step forward, go and enjoy the experience. Do your homework, prep for the questions, ask questions, facilitate a conversation and have fun.

  8. Anonymous*

    Another reason you should fill out the entire application is because you usually sign certify that everything on the application is true, which you don’t do on a resume.

    It also makes it easier for HR to review the application because everything is in the same format for every candidate.

  9. IRprofessional*

    I work in IR currently and I didn’t realize there is a master’s degree in the field. You learn something new every day!

    For our analyst interviews, there are some behavioral questions which I have seen people talk about a situation from school or in their internships. I have also seen people say that they don’t have any experience with x, but this is how they would have approached it. I think both options worked well for these individuals.

    I am assuming this is for an entry level analyst position so your interviewers are not going to be surprised that you have limited experience. During our interviews, we ask a lot of behavioral and technical questions. It is not to trip up anyone, but it is to get a better idea of what type of skills and experiences that you would bring to the office and how that complements the current staff’s skill set.

    And to be honest we have interviewed a lot of candidates for the analyst position that have the necessary technical skills and experience, but their people-person or writing skills are just subpar. In my opinion, most IR offices are willing to work with someone who needs some technical training or has limited experience, but it is really difficult to train a candidate to work well with others.

    Good luck!

    1. Alison*

      Wow, talk about the most helpful response ever!
      My degree is in applied social research but I’ve tailored it to specialize in IR.
      Would you mind telling me what you mean by technical questions? Do you ask candidates specifics, like explaining SPSS outputs or what analysis techniques they would use for certain outcomes? Or is it more about what experience they have with certain types of data, etc?
      And I have one other question, if you or Alison or anyone else has a spare moment. For the “weakness” question, is it a total faux pas to say I understand that my newness to the field can be viewed as a weakness, but that based on the massive amount I’ve picked up already in my internship I can only see myself continuing on this path and becoming a valuable member of a research team? Or is it best not to draw attention to this, as it is possibly already a concern for them?
      Thanks for any advice, this has all been such a big help!

      1. IRprofessional*

        Technical questions (for my office) is asking our candidates how do you do certain tasks such as data cleaning or pulling data; then asking about what types of data have you worked with (student, financial, observational, etc); and lastly what analysis techniques (statistics, evaluation, assessment) that you have used and to provide examples. We may also ask why you used x instead of y just to check if you know why you are running certain tests. Usually at the analysis level, the candidates won’t have experience with everything we ask and that is definitely understandable.

        We also ask all analyst candidates to go through a one hour writing exercise. We provide 3 sets of data and ask you to write an executive summary around a certain research question. This really helps filter out candidates who can’t write well and is more heavily weighted than your previous experience as the ability to write well and make sense out of data is essential for the job.

        I won’t be too concerned about your limited experience in IR. People come from many different fields and backgrounds to IR. Of the analysts that we have hired, only a couple have had either had a previous job or internship in IR. However, most have had previous research experience.

        If IR is something you see for your long term career goal, definitely mention that! Ideally when we are hiring candidates who plan to make a career in IR -or- at least are interested in education research (in general) are looked upon more favorably.

        1. Alison*

          I honestly can’t tell you how helpful this has all been. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer me!

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