fast answer Friday: 14 fast answers to 14 fast questions

Yes, 14.

Here we go…

1. Declining a job during the interview

I just had an interview today. Halfway through the interview, when I was being told the schedule and pay I would receive, I realized it would not work. I tried to tell him, but he continued on talking about the benefits, what my responsibilities would be, and then proceeded to give me a tour of the facility. I shook his hand at the end of the interview and he said he would be in touch. I have not yet been offered the position; however, should I have been more forceful in declining the position right away once I realized it would not work, or is that some sort of bad interviewee etiquette?

Either way is fine. You can certainly say it in moment if you want to, or you can send a follow-up note afterwards letting them it won’t work, or you can wait until they offer you a job and talk about it then. I would definitely mention that it’s about the pay or schedule though, because it’s possible that those things could be changed if they want to hire you.

2. Employee tape-recording conversations at work

I have an employee I don’t quite trust. Yesterday I had a conversation with a prior resident regarding move-out charges. The conversation was with the resident, my maintenance supervisor and myself. Because my assistant manager collects past due balances, she sat in on the conversation. She is usually very opinionated but was weirdly quiet this time. After the meeting, I looked over and observed that she had recording the conversation with her iphone. I asked her what she was doing and she said that it is just for her personal use. Not that I think that anything that was said during conversation was wrong but I am very uncomfortable that my assistant manager taped this conversation without ANYONE of us knowing. I find this very sneaky. Thoughts?

Uh, you probably have a problem brewing. Ask her to explain to you exactly why she was taping the conversation, and why she didn’t seek the other participants’ permission first. That’s not typical behavior (it may be legal, depending on your state, but it’s not typical). You also need to tell her to stop recording conversations without other people’s permission. Furthermore, since you don’t trust her, you need to deal with that issue too. You can’t have someone on your staff (especially working with money) who you don’t trust.

3. No sick days for 90 days

I’m looking at an offer for a job and noticed that vacation and sick days aren’t permitted to be used until I’ve worked 90 days. I’m ok with that for vacation, but I’m a little nervous about sick time. I’ve gotten some pretty bad stomach viruses and I can’t imagine having to go to the office like that! I’ve never had a position where there was a waiting period, and one that long. I don’t get sick often but I’ve had times where going to work just wasnt an option. Is this a normal practice? Is it OK to ask about it? I just can’t commit to not getting sick in the next 90 days, especially given the change in seasons (I’m in the northeast). It just struck me as odd. Am I off base?

It almost certainly means that you could still take the day off if needed but would just be doing it without pay. You can verify that, of course, but a rule that you can’t be sick for your first 90 days would be impractical.

4. Should I keep asking for feedback after being rejected for a job?

I applied for an administrative position with a symphony, and after several weeks, received an email telling me that “after a thorough search the symphony has decided to offer the position to another individual.” I’m fine with that, but for future reference, I want to know the specifics regarding why I was not interviewed and considered a viable candidate for the job. I sent two emails thanking the orchestra for informing me about the new hire and asking for the previously mentioned specific reasons. My career spans more than 40 years of professional musical performance and music administration. So far, no response. Should I let this go or keep pursuing it? I’d like to know what they have to say.

Uh, you should let it go. Asking for feedback is fine, but they’re not obligated to give it so you don’t want to act like you feel entitled to it. (And if you do sound entitled to it, you almost definitely won’t get it because people will be wary about engaging with you.) Also, keep in mind that tons of qualified people are being rejected for jobs they’d do well it; there are way more job seekers than there are job openings, so don’t assume that there’s even a reason beyond “we went with someone else.”

5. Campus job hasn’t responded to me

I’m a college student and I applied for a non-work study job on campus. The job was an audio visual tech and the basic qualifications were students with some experience in this area (i.e. AV club or high school theatre). The position was being filled on a rolling basis. Although I am only a college freshman, I have considerable experience in this area from clubs I participated in and jobs I worked while in high school. I made sure to include this information on the application and provided references who could attest to this. It’s been a week since I applied for the job. I’ve yet to receive a phone call or email saying that they had read my application or would like to schedule an interview. Do you have any thoughts as to why this could be taking so long?

Yes. You’re living in candidate time where every hour without hearing something makes you anxious, and they’re living in employer time, where things take longer. Normally I’d tell you to sit tight and not bother them, but since this is a campus job, follow up with them and ask about their timeline for interviewing people.

6. How can I get a promotion when I’ve had a bad attitude toward higher-ups?

There’s a vacancy for a line manager on my team. Because I’ve been covering 95% of the line manager’s work for the time it’s been vacant, my colleagues assume that it’s my job for the taking but the higher-ups don’t want me to apply. I know why; my attitude towards senior management has stunk. I’ve had arguments with most of the managers who actually make decisions basically because I think most of the managers are mediocre and I’m very bad at hiding that attitude. The received wisdom is that I’m difficult to manage (that’s true). On the credit side of the ledger, I’m hard working, talented, reliable and I’ve acted as an unofficial mentor for junior staff, including some who have made the jump over me to get management roles here and elsewhere. I love my work and working with my colleagues and most of the time I’m pretty happy in the workplace.

But now, I want to manage my own staff. I’ve seen enough that’s gone wrong to deeply want to manage staff well and train them up so that they can get senior roles of their own. There’s some poor performers in the organization that can become stars and I want to be the one to help them. Some of my colleagues have said that they would like to be managed by me. I don’t want extra money, I would be completely happy to have the responsibility without getting any raise at all, but how do I get the chance to show what I can do, without tolerating the mediocrity of those above me?

Sorry to have to deliver this news, but they probably aren’t interested in putting you in a position where they’ll have to interact with you more frequently. It would take an awful lot for me to promote someone who describes themselves as “difficult to manage.” You might be great at what you do, but very few people want to increase their interactions with someone who they consider a pain in the ass, particularly when they have other options.

Read an update to this letter here.

7. Can I contact my interviewer to correct something I said in our interview?

I was replaying a phone interview in my mind when I realized that the question I answered probably wasn’t really the question that was asked and/or I should have expanded on the answer I gave. Is there an acceptable way to contact the interviewer on something like this after the fact? Would it be appropriate to mention it briefly in the thank-you note I send post-interview?

Sure. Don’t comment on your previous answer, but say that you were thinking further about ___ and wanted to add ___.

8. Being encouraged to reapply for a position I just interviewed for

I applied for a job and made it through two rounds of interviews in front of a panel. The position is an administrative assistant-type position that I am qualified to do. I thought that my second round interview went very well, and I made it clear that I was very interested in working for their organization. The hiring manager told me that they had narrowed the search down to three candidates and that we would be contacted in the next couple of days about whether or not we were successful.

Two days after the second interview, I received a call from the hiring manager to let me know that they were going to re-post the position in order to get a wider pool of applicants. She encouraged me to re-submit my resume and everything, but if they didn’t want to choose me the first time, is it really worth re-applying? I am currently working full-time, so I’m a little worried about being able to take the time off to go through another round of interviews. How should I handle this?

It sounds like they’re not fully sold on any of their finalists — which explains the reposting but not asking you to resubmit everything and start the process from scratch. I mean, they have your resume. They’ve done initial interviews with you. Putting you through those steps again is weird. In any case, I doubt they’d ask you to reapply if they didn’t still consider you a viable candidate (as opposed to just rejecting you), but it’s certainly reasonable to ask where their concerns are about your candidacy and whether it makes sense for you to continue pursuing the position.

9. Am I being strung along and what does this smiley face mean?

I applied for a great opportunity. In my first interview, I met with HR, three future co-workers and my would-be manager. In my second interview, I met with two senior level co-workers and I thought it went well but not as stellar as the first interviews. I followed up with thank-you notes to each interviewer. I waited a week before contacting HR about the status. I was told I was still under consideration and I’d be updated with any changes, but no new timeline was given. So I waited another week before contacting HR again. This time I was told the team is still interviewing, that HR expects to close things up within three weeks (!!!!) and that the team is still very interested in me (I have to note that the HR person included a smiley face at the end of that sentence in his email).

Do you think I’m being strung along and why on earth did he include a smiley face? They are my first choice, hands down but I feel like I should just consider this a lost cause because three weeks is far too long in my opinion to know a decision, especially when I know two of the other companies I interviewed with are pretty interested in me.

Three weeks is short by some companies’s standards. Seriously. They have other things going on. As for the smiley face, he included it for the same reason anyone includes a smiley face — to make the email more friendly. You guys, stop parsing every word and punctuation mark employers use! This one is actually being communicative, so take what they’re saying at face value. Very few employers say they are “very interested” in you if they’re not. That doesn’t mean you’ll get the job, and it doesn’t mean that he’s stringing you along; it just means exactly what he said.

10. Can I prepare for job testing?

I am a recent college grad, and have been applying to several administrative assisitant-type positions with my state government. As a requirement, applicants are required to test for each position (written, computerized, etc.), and then the top 3 scores are referred for an interview. Pretty standard, I know. But is there any way that one can “study” for an entry-level job? I earned awesome grades and I was super-involved while in college, but I know from scoping out the competition at the tests I’ve been to so far that my fellow test-takers are older than me, possibly with way more clerical experience. Does experience always trump enthusiasm when participating in a standardized job testing, or is there a way to actually prepare for a clerical position?

When it comes to testing, enthusiasm doesn’t usually play a role. (Think about past tests you’ve taken.) I have no idea what this test entails so I don’t know how you’d prepare for it, but if you know what it involves … uh, practice those skills.

11. Since I have a master’s, can I start higher up?

This is one letter, but I’m dividing it in two:

The kinds of jobs I’m really interested in typically pay low salaries for entry- and junior-level. Money isn’t the most important thing to me, but I have a ton of grad school debt I need to start paying off soon, and my family circumstances kind of warrant my earning a certain level of income. I have relatively little work experience but a degree from a top-tier undergrad and a master’s degree. Would I be able to negotiate an above-average starting salary just based on my educational background? Or could I ask to be considered for a higher-level job (e.g., junior- or mid-level instead of entry-level) since I already have a master’s degree (although the degree is not directly related to the industries I’m applying to, and even the junior-level jobs require at least a couple of years of experience in the field)?

No. If the junior level jobs require experience, the higher level ones certainly aren’t going to require less. And the degree isn’t even related to the industries you’re applying in? What exactly do you think they’d be paying extra for? Ugh, this is further evidence that grad schools are completely misleading students about the value and utility of their degrees.

Some people have advised me to look into other, higher-paying jobs (like management consulting) that would definitely take into account people’s academic degrees when offering them a salary, and I’m starting to wonder if I should try doing this instead for maybe a year or two so I can be in a better financial situation, and then pursue my dream job. I’ve been told that having experience in management consulting can also open up a lot of doors in the future, even to the industries that I’m really interested in.

I can’t tell you whether you should go into management consulting or not (but I can tell you that I find the idea of people with little to no work experience doing management consulting to be ridiculous, although I know it’s common).

12. Is HR a good resource for workers?

Sometimes when I read an article advising a reader to go to their HR department for help, I wonder if this is really a solution that will benefit the worker. I’ve been privy to situations where it seemed that HR became involved not to mediate–but to fast-track an employee to the exit door. I’m looking for perspective. It seems as if HR works to shield management, and is rarely a real resource to resolve issues workers may have with folks in a manager’s role or higher. What does your experience say?

HR is there to serve the needs of the employer. In some cases, that means helping out employees — because it’s in the best interests of the employer to retain great employees, hear about and address bad managers, stop legal problems before they explode, and so forth. But plenty of other times, what’s best for the employer is not what’s best for the employee. It varies by situation. In general, though, when I read advice suggesting that an employee take a problem to HR, about 75% of the time it strikes me as an inappropriate thing to do; HR people aren’t therapists or priests or mediators. Unless something is a legal issue or truly egregious, you should deal with your manager directly. (And a good HR department will tell you to do that.)

13. Did my old boss give me a bad reference?

A month ago I had two interviews. One ended in a job offer, and the other, my absolute dream job, went on to a second interview. The second interview went perfectly; I really took your advice to make sure the place was a great fit for me, and everything about it was. Not to mention I got along superbly with everyone I met. (The director and I had such a great conversation that he let it run long and even joked about not bothering to ask his prepared list of interview questions. At one point he said my resume seemed too good to be true!) He promised he would call me by the following Tuesday, because he knew I had to decide on the other job offer.

On Wednesday, still waiting to hear back, I stopped by my old office for a visit and my former supervisor told me they had called her for a reference. We had a great working relationship and she told me she said only good things about me. But when I called up my other reference, she told me she had not been contacted.

When I finally heard from the director he told me they decided to go with someone who better fit their needs. While I know it might be as simple as that, I can’t imagine why they would start calling my references at all if they didn’t think I was a prime candidate. I started the other job last week, so I don’t need to worry about that reference again for a while, but I can’t help but feel confused and frustrated by the situation. Do you think I lost the job offer because of something my old boss said?

It’s possible, but there are all kinds of other explanations. For instance, maybe they had two top candidates, you and someone else, and they decided mid-way through the reference check process to go with the other person, for reasons unrelated to what your reference said. Or maybe your reference said wonderful things about you but named as your one weak area something they really care about. If you’re concerned, have a friend check that reference next time you’re on the job market — but I wouldn’t assume anything just from this.

14. Bad ideas

I know you normally charge for this, but will you give me feedback on my resume for free, even though I admit that I haven’t bothered to read any of the free resume advice you have on your website? 


Okay, that’s a paraphrase of an exchange I had with someone earlier tonight, but come on.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Massive thanks for answering my question (5) but I already knew that. I am a pain in the ass to certain managers and have been for a long time. I don’t want to be a pain in the ass.

    Let’s say you had someone like me in your organisation, good technical skills just about outweighing the pain in the ass factor. What would I need to show you that would make you think that I could handle managerial responsibility? This isn’t about the promotion, I don’t need any extra money, it’s just because I care about the organisation and think the team needs a good manager.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, what I was saying was that it may not be possible. Personally, I have a no-jerks rule when I’m managing — doesn’t matter if they’re talented. And I’m not saying that you’re a jerk, but it sounds like your higher-ups think you’re a jerk. If that’s the case, I don’t know that you could get past that; you couldn’t with me. These decisions aren’t just about how well you’d do the job; they’re also about whether they want to work with you or not.

    2. Josh S*

      The only thing I can imagine that might be effective is that you have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. (Pardon the terminology, it’s the only thing I’ve heard it called.)

      You go to your boss, or your boss’ boss, and basically admit what you’ve said above. “I’ve been a pain in the ass. I’ve hurt the ability of the leaders to run an efficient department/organization by arguing and being difficult to manage. I get that. I really do. But you know what–I am so committed to the success of this organization that I am willing to change, toe the company line, and back up my superiors. Give me 3 months/6 months to prove it–I won’t be a pain to manage; I’ll be agreeable with the senior staff; and I’ll work my ass off.”

      Then do it. At this point, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying.

      Oh, and I’d leave out the “I’ll even work for the same salary” bit. Managers often think people are motivated mostly by money, and if you have that carrot dangling in front of you, they may think you’re more likely to stick to your word.

      But if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, realize that you’ve blown it for good. There is no coming back.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        I like the approach of getting with your manager and your manager’s manager. Let them know that you want to succeed at the company and that you recognize that you may have been difficult to manage in the past.

        Being a good employee just doesn’t mean shutting your mouth when you don’t agree with something. It means trying to understand it from management’s perspective and executing your goals inline with theirs.

        I have a feeling you’re in IT and you think you know more about the nuts and bolts than your managers.

        1. Katie*

          It may not happen this time, but if the promised change actually takes place, it might happen the next. It’s never too late to straighten up a bad attitude, IMO.

      2. Anonymous*

        I agree.. if you want a shot at this maybe sit down and talk to them.. say what you wrote here. Give them examples of how you have worked on those issues etc… ask them to give you a shot.
        Oh and.. take the promotion AND money.

          1. Anonymous*

            Thanks for the many brilliant replies. I have considered the “turn over a new leaf” approach, but as you’ve rightly said, it’s a one-shot strategy and I’m not convinced that I can do it. If I don’t then I lose a lot of integrity. At the moment when my attitude comes up I’ve been likely to say something like “I’ll stop breaking the rules when you stop being a shit manager.” I have real trouble stopping what I really feel about an issue coming out of my mouth. My problem is that I feel that not saying my truth is equivalent to lying and I would hate myself if I started being a liar.

            The only way the new left strategy would work is if I did truly have a “come to Jesus” moment and really believed that being nice to my bosses was something I should do. I’m not there yet, but maybe one day.

            There’s a bit of ego on my comment about mediocrity but I realised that if I was going to be unwilling/unable to change the annoying part of my nature, I would have to be really good at my job to compensate. I generally decide my own work projects, when my boss asks me to do something I’ve usually already done it or something similar enough that makes it easy. Customers and other parts of the organisation know that it’s more efficient to come to me first rather than go through the hierarchy. I tend to come in at weekends to work on little side projects for other people in the organisation (my boss’s boss did find a reason to take away my office keys, but I’m friends with the reception and the security teams and they just lend me the spare set when I want them). My boss’s boss (who’s line managing me during the vacancy) has no idea what I do because I’ve seen no reason to tell her what I do most of the time.

            Really, I don’t hate managers, just end up in a collision course with anyone who thinks they deserve obedience just because they’re a higher pay grade.

            1. Anonymous*

              Oh, and this actually started for me in middle school (what you would call 6th grade). I stopped going to school much and hung out in either the reference library or the university library to follow my own path, turning up at school sometimes to take tests to make sure I wasn’t falling behind the other kids. I guess that I didn’t get the socialisation thing that school gives you because I was there less than a tenth of the time.

            2. anon*

              I’m pretty sure this is referred to as “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.” It’s legit, and maybe something you should look into.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I believe that you’re very good at your job, but based on what you’re describing, I think a promotion is probably unlikely to happen. You’re basically making a trade-off: you want to be free to voice opinions that are going to insult people above you in the company, and this is the price of that. Just be clear on the fact this is your trade-off.

              1. Anonymous*

                I’d probably go further than AAM. Promotion would definitely be unlikely, and if you were in my team I’d have to seriously consider whether you were someone we needed. Plenty of people are very good at their job – and lots of people can do that job without so much attitude! My organisation values behaviour and attitude as highly as task capability – task capability can be trained. The only way I could see you staying in a role would be if you were the only person who could do a certain task. And I’d make sure I got someone else trained.

              2. Anonymous*

                Wow, thanks Anonymous for the snap judgement. Hopefully you’re not next in my line manager’s position :-)

            4. Jamie*

              Wow – your keys were pulled and you circumvent that by borrowing others. For me that way outstrips the attitude in terms of problem employee.

              Most companies that alone would cost you your job – and perhaps those of security and reception.

  2. quix*

    Regarding question 3.

    Depending on the job, they may indeed have a draconian attendance policy. We just got a new one where I work, which is widely considered a thinly veiled attempt to prevent employees gaining too much seniority. The new point system can work out that if you’re absent 4 times (for any reason not explicitly required to be excused by state/federal law) in a 360 day period, you’re automatically fired.

    After I saw that monster, the no sick days for 90 days policy doesn’t seem too unbelievable.

      1. quix*

        My mistake, I overlooked vacations because I don’t get vacation days in my position. Planned vacations are excluded from disciplinary action.

        All other non-legally protected absences are not, planned or unplanned. If you don’t have a vacation day, you get a point.

        It’s especially ironic because they still have those flu posters up that say “If you have these flu symptoms, please stay home and don’t spread it around.” The subversive in me wants to tape on an addendum that says, “We’d love to mark an extra attendance point on your record.”

        1. Anonymous*

          Yeah well.. those flu posters are up there for the fun of it.. no one in my work experience EVER takes a sick person seriously.
          I came in a few times with bronchitis and ear infection!

          I would come in sick and make them send me home

            1. Anonymous*

              I work in MA, as related to that question… and we have the same 90 day waiting/probationary period as many Massachusetts employers do. At our company you can call out sick within your first 90 days but it is an unpaid absence. Issues only arise when probationary employees call out more than 3 times and cannot present legitimate doctor’s notes– this can lead to disciplinary action.

              1. Anonymous*

                Not MA based (UK in fact) but I’ve just signed with a company where you don’t get sick pay for six months. Then more than 3 individual absences and you are dropped from receiving sick pay for 6 months.

                (This is tempered by the fact that after 3 days continuous sickness you get Statutory Sick Pay of £10 or so a day in the UK via the government)

              2. JC*

                I live in Massachusetts as well, and I had the same thing happen at my job. No sick or vacation days for the first 90 days. I did get sick with a cold though halfway through and I was allowed to make up my hours (thus, I got paid) but I couldn’t just take the time off and expect to be paid.

  3. Rachel M.*

    Regarding question 12, your comments and link to a previous post helped clarify the expectation of confidentiality an employee has. I wish more HR personnel were as up front about how an issue will be handled.

  4. Anonymous*

    For #9 – during busy times it can take my hiring committee 2-3 weeks to find a time where everyone can meet, despite the fact that we want this to be done with as much you do.

    For #11 – I was in your situation, lots of education, no job experience. When I found my first job, it was very entry-level and paid very poorly (but I needed something). What I found though is that I was able to move up quicker, because I became for example really useful to my boss, then when something higher opened somewhere else, I was recommended to that position, then that experience led to a new job that was higher still (all this in about 2-3 years).

    The most important thing, having now managed people with degrees but little experience (just out of an MA for example), is your attitude. If you come in as resentful that some of what you have to do is “beneath you”, treat the lesser-degreed staff that actually knows how to do the job in a superior way, and so on, those things won’t help you, and they are visible to both your colleagues and management.

    Ask questions, learn, learn from your mistakes, offer your skills, do the best job you can.

    1. Carly W.*

      I would agree with this. I graduated with a Masters in summer 2008, just as every organization in my field implemented hiring freezes. I ended up taking an unpaid internship, that I then finagled into a full-time offer three months later (which came with an entry-level salary that would have been laughably low a year before, but hey, global recession, what can you do?) Three years later, I’ve been promoted 4 times and have doubled my salary. A lot of this has to do with the fact that while like many new grads, I started out at the entry level, with no relevant experience in my field to speak of, my graduate schooling added a few years of polish and maturity that meant that my bosses had to spend a lot less time educating me on office life and business etiquette (and writing skills!) This made it easy for me to move upwards quickly.

      All this is to say – don’t sneeze at entry level positions. If you get your foot in the door at an organization, then you have every opportunity to demonstrate that you are capable of handling more and larger challenges. But I agree with Anonymous – your attitude is just as important as your skills. Be willing to work your behind off and don’t be above any task, including things like making coffee, printing off documents, or binding presentations. That sort of can-do attitude will go really far in an economy where companies are trying to stretch their resources.

      1. Mephistopheles*

        The thing is, unfortunately, in this economy it seems like entry-level positions are becoming more and more scarce. As a recent grad, I would jump at any entry-level position, but they just aren’t there. I think a good majority of recent grads would be more than happy to “work the mailroom”, so to speak, but those positions just aren’t as prevalent.

      2. Anonymous*

        when you guys say low paying… what exactly is low paying to you? But i have to agree that getting your foot in the door is the most important thing… Try to learn as much as you can

        1. Carly W.*

          For me, low-paying was about $20k lower than what said was the median salary and $6k lower than the bottom tenth percentile for my education/experience level/geographic location in my field.

  5. Jamie*

    #6 – My advice would be to take what you’ve learned and apply it when/if you move on to another company. It’s a very rare circumstance where talent can trump a perception of being difficult.

    It’s just like when hiring from the outside – once it’s been established that the candidate has the requisite skills it comes down to who is the best fit, and frankly, who would they most want to deal with every day.

    Work related skills can be taught. People skills and interpersonal relationships come down to style and personality and change isn’t as easy.

  6. Jamie*

    #3 – I agree with Alison that if you were truly sick they probably would be okay with you taking a day w/o pay.

    To be honest though, if someone had issues with a 90 day policy until sick time kicked in I would see that as a red flag that there may be a problem with absenteeism. I think I’ve taken three sick days in the last five years, so that wouldn’t phase me…but I’ve worked with people who haven’t gone two months without a sick day ever. This isn’t a concern I would raise, if it were me.

    1. Esra*

      That’s always a bit dismaying to hear (I say as a person with a chronic illness that tends to flare up every 2-3 months).

      I think it’s a little… I don’t know, cruel? To hold up your own healthy privilege of rarely getting sick and actively punishing those who have concerns re: sick days.

      1. Jamie*

        I wasn’t clear enough about my concerns. The red flag for me would be that they would be one of those employees who uses sick days for four day weekends on a semi-regular basis.

        I certainly wouldn’t hold it against someone for getting the flu at an inconvenient time (and I am grateful when people keep their germs at home while sick.)

        Maybe it’s in how it would be addressed.

        Now, if someone had an illness that will flare up from time to time I would think it would be in their best interest to address that at some point – being proactive in working with your manager to minimize disruption while you’re out. It’s certainly workable – and I’m not even saying it needs to be brought up pre-hire necessarily – but I would think it’s incumbent on the person with the illness to bring it up before the manager wonders why you’re calling out every couple of months.

        There is no shame in being sick – and a company should accommodate that whenever possible. But clear communication would make sure you don’t inadvertently get lumped in with the slackers.

  7. Jamie*

    #8 – It’s possible that they don’t know how to reprocess your initial application through their hiring software so the quickest path is for you to do it yourself, to remain in the candidate pool.

    Believe me, there are people who are so ineffective with software that this isn’t that far fetched.

    My gut feeling is that if you were a really strong candidate and they were just casting a larger net for legal or as a formality they would find a better way to keep you in the game. It’s possible that you are still in the running if they don’t find someone better – but I would keep looking as a good fit on both ends has the best chance of ending up as a successful gig.

    1. EF*

      Thanks for the advice. That was my gut feeling too. I re-applied and will be meeting with the hiring manager for some feedback once the application process is closed.

  8. Jamie*

    #11 – People put a lot of time and money into their educations, and this isn’t an uncommon scenario where they then think an employer should pay more for that.

    Yes, if it’s relevant to the job – but not if it isn’t. A company determines salaries based on the value you add. This is true both of degrees which are irrelevant to the position (I’m in IT so if I had a PhD in Art I wouldn’t be worth any more to my employer) but even when it’s tangentially related:

    Someone with an MBA/CPA will make more money than someone with an AS in Accounting. However, if a company is hiring for an AP/AR clerk they won’t pay you CPA money because the advanced degrees aren’t needed to process invoices.

    Also – it’s a huge wtf to me that anyone goes into management consulting without having ever been in management. Practice and theory are different animals. I know it happens all the time, but I just don’t understand why anyone would pay someone to advise without real world experience.

    1. Anonymous*

      I know so many people I graduated college with who immediately went to graduate school to get MBAs simply because they couldn’t find jobs. Now they are graduating and still cannot find jobs because they have absolutely no practical experience and expect to have a high paying job because of their degrees.

  9. Jamie*

    #12 – HR is an excellent resource when you have questions about your benefits, FMLA rules, or if you need clarification on company policy. HR serves and important function and can be a good partner for managers when crafting fair policies and arranging training, etc.

    I think a lot of people confuse HR with the guidance counselor at school, or the assistant dean, where they think they are there to mediate personal issues or act as free on-site therapists.

    As Alison pointed out, HR exists to serve the company. Protect the companies from liability and make sure labor issues are handled in a legally compliant manner. Serving the company by crafting and enforcing fair and legal policies and being the contact point for employees about benefits servers both labor and management. So does effective hiring practices where they are helping get and retain talented people.

    What HR isn’t is your tag team partner when you have a grudge match against a colleague or management.

  10. Anonymous*

    #9 First off, thank you for answering my question! And since emailing you my question about a week ago, I’ve received two offers from two other companies. I have tight time constraints to respond to both. I re-read your blog again yesterday and found where you mentioned a scenario like this. In your suggestions, contacting your first choice and letting them know immediately that you have another offer on the table but that you really want to work for them; but there are time constraints was something I did. So…I’m waiting to hear a response from them (the company I asked about in my original question) and hoping the other two allow me to review their written offers by Tuesday.

    1. Karen*

      I know, right? How rude!

      “I know I don’t know you, and I don’t feel like taking the time to read your free advice, and I don’t have any money, but can you do a favor for me for free?”

  11. Anonymous*

    Just a question about your old boss giving you a bad reference. Some companies are not allowed, to give any details about the employee. They just give the information about the dates of employement and the pay rate. So what should I do when the companies I apply for ask me “what would the old boss say about you?” They would not be able say anything about me personally, which I wouldn’t mind if they do cause I did a great job there, just that I wasn’t paid enough.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you’re asked in an interview what your boss would say about you, answer with what you think your boss would say if allowed to speak. (And she may speak anyway, because most people find a way to ignore those rules.) The interviewer doesn’t want a literal answer like “company rules would prevent her from telling you”; they’re asking what feedback she’s given you.

  12. Anonymous*

    # 14.. UH? You should search to see how much some companies and individual resume professionals charge for writing, fixing, and giving feedback . It is usually $150-450, if not more. Some charge extra for the cover letter, which is another $60 at least. (Sorry didn’t feel comfortable posting company’s website). So…. why should you get it for free?
    On that note, I’ve had a business communications class that taught me how to write a professional resume, interviews, follow up letters, correspondances,and other forms of business communications. Maybe taking a class like that (if offered) would help many students write their own resumes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha! She was very nice about it, but when I responded to her request by asking if she’d read the free advice in my “resumes” category yet, she said no. Which I find ridiculous.

  13. Erica*

    Too much! Too much!

    I want to savor and comment, and now the comment thread has me all confused. There’s so much comment gold in them thar hills!

    That whole “I know I’m a jerk, but I’m a PASSIONATE jerk” letter could be a two part series.

    1. Jamie*

      Erica is right – that was an awesome letter.

      I mean, who doesn’t want to promote someone who will tolerate their mediocrity?

      I prefer lazy jerks to passionate jerks…they tend to me much quieter. :)

      1. Elizabeth*

        I think it would’ve kept the comment thread cleaner if you’d just broken it up into a couple different posts. You could have put all of them up within minutes of each other. I personally don’t feel “too much”-ish about the letters and your responses, but the comments are a bit confusing since things are mixed up down here.

          1. Jennifer*

            I agree as well: I don’t mind having many all at once, but the comment thread gets too unwieldy when included in the same post.

        1. LP*

          That’s exactly what I was going to say. Definitely not too much in terms of content – I don’t think AaM could post more than I’d be happy to read – but it does make the comments section long and somewhat confusing. I think there would be more in-depth discussion on each question if they were split, even if they were posted on the same day

  14. Long Time Admin*

    #4 – If you had 40+ years of experience on your resume or application, then I think they rejected you in favor of someone younger. They probably think a younger person will be less expensive than an experienced person.

    Those of us who are getting closer to retirement age are not seen as assets to many employers. I’m 4-1/2 years away from my targeted retirement date, and I dread the day when I’m let go from my job. No one wants to hire an older admin.

    1. Joey*

      Usually it’s not about age. 40 years of experience doesn’t necessarily equate to 40 times better than a person with 1 yr of experience. In too many cases it means 1 yr of experience 40 times at an advanced level salary. Sorry, but years of experience alone rarely trumps skills. I see way too many older folks who still have trouble with technology. Almost every job even 5 years ago required a far different skill set than today. Gotta keep up.

  15. Anonymous*

    #3 – I took a job last year with the same policy. It was a corporate policy and at the time I didn’t think anything of it. As an odd aside, we have unlimited sick days. A month into the job, I got the flu. If you are sick, your boss doesn’t want you at work and mine didn’t either. They told me to stay home and it was a non-issue. If you’re really sick, I doubt your boss would have an objection either.

    1. Esra*

      That is a brilliant policy. I do the kind of work that you can easily do from home, and my previous employer was really on board with it. Honestly, my new employer is too, except for ONE director. Who I work under. Bummer. So you get to be the office pariah coming in with the flu, or eat up all your sick days (which he suggested be cut because they are “too generous” with our last HR manual update). It’s a depressingly unnecessary lose/lose.

  16. Wilton Businessman*

    1. Politeness works in two directions. If you don’t want the interviewer to blow you off in the middle of the interview, don’t blow him off.

    2. I agree, the trust issue is the most important thing to deal with.

    4. Let it go. You tried, you don’t want to be know as the PITA, especially if the circles are small.

    6. If you think you’re difficult to manage, what do you think they think? Management is more than managing the people below you.

    9. No job is guaranteed until you get it on paper. Keep interviewing. If you get another offer let them know that they are your first choice but you have to make a decision by X. BTW, a smiley face is not a contractual element.

    11. Ugh, another one. A Master’s Degree just means you went to school longer than other people. I try to tell every college student I know that internships are the key to success after school.

    12. I couldn’t have said it better myself. HR is there to protect the company not the employee.

    13. Sometimes a no is just a no.

    1. Katie*

      Regarding a master’s degree: it really depends on your master’s degree. If you have a master’s in, say, engineering or education, this usually means you have specialized knowledge in that field that a person with just a BA wouldn’t have. While it won’t trump someone with actual experience, a great interview, and good references, it may help you get higher pay (especially true in education) or help you gain consideration for a position for which you are slightly underqualified. Note the slightly. If the position requires 5+ years of experience and you have 0, you can forget it. But let’s say you worked 2 years in internship positions doing related work in engineering and you have an MA in engineering, they might consider you for the position, depending upon the applicant pool.

      If you have an MA in English, zero marketing experience, and are hoping to land a senior position at a marketing company, obviously you are being ridiculous. However, I have an MA in the humanities, and not only has it helped me be considered for positions for which I was otherwise underqualified, but it’s also helped me get higher pay. Some employers do value it, so it’s not a completely out there assumption to make. I think you just have to be reasonable about whether your specific MA is going to do you any favors when it comes to the specific position you are applying for.

  17. Savannah*

    Thank you SO MUCH for answering my question (#10)!!!! I ask about enthusiasm because a few of the tests have had essay questions about how I would handle customer service situations, why I am interested in the job, etc. These questions are in addition to the standardized typing, math, detail-oriented tests, so I guess I’m hoping that a 50 wpm typer with enthusiasm in the essays will get consideration next to 80 wpm typers that may not have detailed the essays as much.

    That being said, I’ve been practicing my typing daily. And applying to pretty much everything I qualify for. Also, I’ve tweaked my resume, and have been following the awesome cover letter advice that I’ve seen on this site!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on what they most value, but a lot of people would value personal traits over typing speed in that situation, as long as you have a certain minimum typing ability (which it sounds like you do).

    2. Elizabeth*

      If there’s an appropriate place to do so, I’d mention in the test or interview that you’ve been practicing the parts of the skill set that you’re weaker on (in your case, typing – though 50 wpm doesn’t seem shabby to me!). That demonstrates that you have a desire to improve and that you’re actually willing to work on it. That in itself is pretty valuable in a potential employee.

  18. Anonymous*

    I just want to make a point about getting a masters directly post college.

    For me, it was the best thing I could have done and was directly responsible for making my first job search pretty easy. The key was that a) my program gave us a ton of real world experience, working with real clients and b) my professors were all (former and current) big names in my industry, who acted as references for me and also directed me towards their contacts at companies I was interested in.

    The education was great, but grad school is really more of a fantastic networking tool.

    1. Katie*

      This reminds me of another thing. I really, really wish people would reconsider before they do online master’s degrees. They are expensive, but they don’t get you the same sort of boost in the real world that many of the programs try to claim, in no small part because of things like this!

      1. Lesley*

        I did a low-residency MFA program, which was an excellent program with a great reputation. It’s given me a small career boost, but just as you say here–not the same as being able to do face to face networking and connect with the community in a regular program.

  19. Gene*

    I apologize if some of these comments are repeats, but I have to go get some training set up (also, please excuse typos.)

    For a state-by-state overview of recording laws, go to .

    Re: the person being asked to resubmit everything; some organizations, especially civil service, have very restrictive rules for recruiting. I’ve worked in government since high school and every place I’ve worked required that a full application packet be completed if something was reopened.

    Three weeks is too long? Heck, once we get down to a list of who passed it may not get on the agenda for the Civil Service Commission for a month.

  20. JustMe*

    For #9 and anyone else who thinks a week is too long to wait for a decision…

    Several years ago I interviewed for one of those coveted dream jobs. I loved the company, the location, everything. The interview went fabulously well, and the executive who interviewed me told me that she would get with the director and “see about getting you in here to work with us.” I sent my follow ups and waited, and waited. After a few weeks with no response, I called and sent a follow up email reiterating my interest in the company. No response. I started interviewing with other companies. Eight weeks after my interview I still had not heard a single peep. Then I got a call back and an offer from another company with which I’d interviewed. I called and emailed my interviewer for the dream job and reiterated again my interest in the company and let her know that I had received another offer and asked if I was still in the running for the job. No response again. Finally after putting off the job offer as long as I reasonably could (I was their top candidate and they needed an answer), I accepted the position and started the next week. TEN FULL WEEKS after my initiate interview I got an email from the dream job executive asking me to come in and meet with the director to outline the specifics of the job, etc. If I had received one single scrap of “your still in the running” feedback during that ten weeks I would have continued my contract work and waited. Obviously, their timeline for developing the job roll and hiring for the position was completely different than mine as a job seeker, and that lost opportunity still smarts.

    So, to answer your question, one week is not too long to wait for a response – especially in this job market.

    1. Anonymous*

      My question was not about a one week wait. It has been in total been 5 weeks and the HR manager gave a new timeline that would add another 3 weeks to that 5; which makes 8 weeks. I just wanted to clarify that because I think that was misinterpreted some how.

  21. Bob G*

    #3. I’ve been at my job for 15 years and still don’t have any sick days. If we are sick we have to use vacation days or take the day without pay. If someone has just started and hasn’t accumulated any vacation days and they are sick we allow them the day off but it is without pay. I would be very careful about inquiring about this policy because as a hiring manager I would get the feeling that you may be someone who has a lot of call outs.

    #11. Most people have already made all the comments I could on this one. I have to point out that the comment “my family circumstances kind of warrant my earning a certain level of income” really came across badly. The company MAY hire you at a more advanced pay rate or position based on the degree/education you have but it most certainly will not be based on your “family circumstances”.

    1. Lisa*

      Agree on 11. In a charitable reading ‘warrant’ is a poor word choice and they just mean they need a certain level of income but it still comes across entitled. A company will pay what an employee is worth to them, it won’t make an offer based on that employee’s expenses.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it was just a bad word choice — I don’t think she meant that her family situation warrants employers paying her more, but rather than her family situation requires her to find higher-paying work.

    3. Anonymous*

      As the person who originally asked #11, Alison is right that I was using “warrant” to mean “require” or “provide sufficient reason for” my finding a higher-paying job. I guess it was a poor word choice, but I wasn’t using it in the sense that I felt entitled to a higher salary just b/c of my family situation, and I definitely wouldn’t say that to a company!

  22. Anonymous*

    #3. I once had a job where PTO didn’t kick in until the second year of employment. Of course you could take time off if approved by the boss, you just didn’t get paid until after you completed one year of employment with the company. 90 days sounds dreamy in comparison.

    #11. This will probably go against most places of employment, but the system is flawed, what can I say? I currently work for a place that values a master’s degree over experience. If there are two candidates and “A” has a BS plus 25 years experience, and “B” has an MS and 2 years experience, “B” will get the job every time. Pay is never negotiable though.

    1. Anonymous*

      Haha, wow, I wonder which company you work for? I know there are definitely some countries out there that value academic degrees more than experience, but I’m realizing that jobs in the US are all about experience.

  23. Cassie*

    #10: there are test preparation books for civil service exams that you can buy or better, check out from the library. I’ve taken a couple of these tests for open positions – one was for a typist clerk position and was very basic (as long as you are familiar with alphabetizing and simple math). The other one was for an admin assistant position and required a bit more skill in data analysis. I don’t think I did too well on that test – would certainly have helped if I had see a sample test for that second test.

    #11: I don’t think someone should get higher pay just because he/she has a MA or PhD degree – assuming that we’re talking about clerical or administrative positions (not managerial). Especially if the degree is in a completely unrelated field. Even if I had two candidates – neither with experience, one with a bachelor’s, one with a master’s – why should the one with the master’s get higher pay? Getting a master’s degree (again – if we’re talking about in an unrelated field) does not mean that the latter candidate is more motivated than the former or will be a better employee or anything. So why should I give you more money just because you have more student loans to pay off? (This, of course, is not applicable to STEM fields since many positions require higher degrees).

  24. Sharon*

    I’m the boss that gives a bad reference! I fired a guy from my work due to performance issues. The thing is, he told me he wanted to get fired so he can avoid paying child support!! When he was leaving, I was asked to be his reference for future jobs. I said sure. I never said it was going to be a good reference. 3 years removed from the job I still get referal phone calls for this person. The recruiters are almost shocked when I give the negative reference. What was this person expecting? Just because he is not ethical doesn’t mean I will follow.

    1. Anonymous*

      Can you actually do this? You are basically preventing someone from getting a job. People DO change, and three years is a long time, you do not know him as a person he is now. You do not know if he is ready to pay child support. What you are doing basically is letting government pay for his portion of childsupport while he is not working. I think it’s better if you consult someone about giving this kind of review before he consults a lawyer.

      1. Sharon*

        The only person who preventing himself getting a job is himself. The recruiter is well aware that he is 3 years removed from this job. What is my alternative? Plead the 5th? That would raise more questions. When the recruiter asks me if I would ever hire him again, my answer is always”NO”. Why should I compromise my standards and ethics.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s perfectly legal to give a bad reference as long as it’s honest, so I don’t think she needs to worry from a legal standpoint. And I don’t really think she needs to worry from an ethical standpoint either, assuming her reference is honest; this is a guy who asked for help in avoiding child support payments!

  25. Tristan Pillips*

    For #2: A person may tape a conversation if they desire, and in most states may not have to tell anyone about it.

    There are two different kind of states with regards to taping conversations: “two-party” and “one-party”. Two-party states require that when a conversation is recorded that all parties involved in the conversation be notified and agree. In one-party states so long as the recorder is a participant/part of the conversation they may record without notifying anyone.

    For example: in New York, a one-party state, I can stand next to a group of people having a conversation and record it even if I don’t say a word. Being present during the conversation makes me a party of the conversation and allows me to record it how I wish. On the other end in Illinois there are several felony court cases against people who have recorded police officers out in public doing their job.

    That doesn’t address any non-legal or corporate policy issues, but one should keep in the back of their head that the chance of being recorded is extremely high, and the probability it’s legal is also high. The real questions should be: if one is doing their job within the law and corporate/public policy why is there a concern of being recorded?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Right, it may be fine from a legal standpoint. But the manager could/should legitimately feel that she doesn’t want customers being taped without their knowledge (that’s not a good business or PR practice, should it come out). And as for taping coworkers — there’s obviously an issue that’s driving this person to do it, and they need to figure out and resolve whatever that is.

    2. Laura*

      “The real questions should be: if one is doing their job within the law and corporate/public policy why is there a concern of being recorded?”

      Mostly because it’s an invasion of privacy. It’s not unreasonable to have an expectation of some amount of privacy in business meetings (or other conversations) and part of that expectation is that the conversation won’t be recorded.

      Additionally, recording makes an otherwise impermanent communication permanent.

  26. Anonymous*

    Re. question 2, legal or not, someone taping a conversation without the prior permission of everyone concerned is a gross invasion of privacy and constitutes gross misconduct according to my company’s policies. In my company, the employee would be fired on the spot.

  27. dradis contact*

    I think #6 should be given a chance, because then we can set up an office pool and wager on how quickly they would be fired! Seriously, to the poster, you will never be considered for a management position when you don’t know how to communicate in a professional manner. You are a loose cannon–no way will they put you in a situation where you could meet the CFO or CEO and tell them what a bleepity-bleep they are. Unless you make major changes to your attitude and communication skills, a management career is not for you. There is a reason your co-workers were promoted and you weren’t.

  28. Anonymous*

    Hi there, thanks for the advice – I’m not really regularly badly behaved as much as I appear. But whenever I get told that my behaviour’s improved I try and reassert the fact I’m a loose cannon. I’ve already had that difficult conversation with the CEO, in public too. The CFO used to be my line manager and in a huge exception to my usual perception I think she’s terrific, I would walk through fire for her. She really is that talented. There’s four more at Board level that I deal with regularly.

    Promotion wouldn’t mean much more contact with the Board, but would mean more dealings with customers. With customers I’m always on my best behaviour, because if I don’t then it might impact the bottom line. But I can understand that my bosses would be worried in case that wasn’t the case.

    1. Kat*

      So why is it that you know your attitude toward customers impacts the business bottom-line (good attitude = more customer loyalty/bad attitude = customer loss) and you clearly can conform to that, but when you know your attitude towards your higher-ups impacts your promotionability (good attitude = possible promotion to prove yourself/bad attitude = you stay where you are) you are not willing to conform?

  29. Lisa*

    But whenever I get told that my behaviour’s improved I try and reassert the fact I’m a loose cannon.

    Ouch. It’s good that you recognise that you’re doing this but I think maybe you need to decide what’s more important to you: your self-image as a loose cannon or moving forward in your career into the management position you want, and behave accordingly.

  30. dradis contact*

    With customers I’m always on my best behaviour, because if I don’t then it might impact the bottom line

    This does not help your case. You are admitting you behave better only in certain situations. You cannot treat your internal customers so disrespectfully (and yes, your manager is an internal customer) and expect a promotion. Your identitiy seems pretty tied up in this idea that you’re a straight shooter/loose cannon–why not learn how to communicate your concerns and issues effectively? There are ways to disagree with proposals, point out concerns or problems, without being labelled as difficult to manage.

  31. From Michigan*

    Thanks for your quick response to my question, #7. I used the phrase you suggested. It felt kind of weird to address that question days later, but I gave it my best shot. Wish me luck.

  32. Effective management*

    #4. I agree with others that after 2 attempts to get feedback, you should let it go. There is some reason (lack of openness, desire not to hurt feelings, legal, etc.) that is preventing the feedback. too bad but time to move on.

  33. Anonymous*

    I’m the person who originally asked question #11, and I just wanted to thank everyone for their comments and advice. I found the advice about maintaining a nice attitude and working hard at whatever task you’re given to be especially helpful and encouraging. And just so that people know I’m not completely crazy, my master’s is not completely unrelated to the field I’m interested in (let’s just say there are tons of people w/ prior experience in my educational field who are now working in the field that I want to work in–although a lot of them don’t have advanced degrees since the industry doesn’t require it). And while some people may be wondering why I made the decision to go to grad school when I did, I can tell you that it’s so much easier to make such decisions when you don’t have people all around you (esp. your family) telling you every day that you need to get an advanced degree since everyone seems to have a bachelor’s nowadays (I know, it sounds crazy, but there are a lot more people out there in the world who place such a high value on advanced degrees than you may think. The US, even though it provides some of the best graduate education in the world, doesn’t seem to place as high of a value on its own graduate schools or students, interestingly enough.) But I definitely don’t regret going to grad school–I learned a lot and am thankful for the network of professors and students I got to make, and I’m sure my graduate education will pay off in the long run. At the very least it will gain me some more credibility when I’m in some other countries. :)

    Sometimes I wish that more companies in the US would just let you take some tests to measure your skills and/or let you work in the position for an x number of days to determine whether you’re truly qualified for the job instead of just demanding to see more experience. Here it seems to be more about networking and who you know and your experience level rather than your actual skills and overall ability. And I think that’s part of the reason why so many of my peers are in/looking into management consulting (and telling me to look into it)–since it’s one of those few industries that really value your educational background, don’t require much experience, test your abilities, and pay you more than enough so that you can actually survive in the city. Companies hire management consulting firms all the time and pay them to do work that in the end often proves to be of little use (echoing another poster’s point about the work being good in theory but not in practice). Seems silly to me too, but I guess that’s how the system works.

    Sorry to come across as being long-winded and rather cynical, but just blame it all on this job-seeker’s frustration. :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Part of it is that for a lot of jobs, skills don’t tell the complete story — it’s how you apply those skills, which is why they’re looking at what experience you’ve had and your track record there. I’ve seen lots of people with the raw skills where it just didn’t translate into on-the-job achievement, for whatever reason.

  34. Jamie*

    “Sometimes I wish that more companies in the US would just let you take some tests to measure your skills and/or let you work in the position for an x number of days to determine whether you’re truly qualified for the job instead of just demanding to see more experience.”

    About tests – I don’t think testing would add any value to the process*. I’m great at testing – with a little prep I could test into jobs I have no business even applying for. For the concrete skills one needs – between the interviews (if done properly) and background checks you should be able to weed out those completely unqualified.

    To your second point about a trial run…a lot of companies do that. My company does that. We hire for permanent positions (advertising for candidates, interviewing, etc.) ourselves, but everyone has to do their first couple of weeks here through a temp agency. If at the end of two weeks either party is one the fence the trial period can be extended – if not either an offer is made or not.

    It’s not a perfect system, you can’t tell everything in a couple of weeks – but it’s a version of the trial system to which you were referring.

Comments are closed.