fast answer Friday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday!  Here we go…

1. Quoting from performance reviews in a cover letter

I recently went through some old glowing performance reviews from my past that I thought about incorporating into the cover letter in some areas. Comments on my reviews include examples like “His creative work is excellent and produced in a very timely manner. He works with me to enhance our overall production timelines for optimum short- and long- term scheduling.” and more like that. Would that be helpful to add in a cover letter, especially from someone I use in my references?

Generally speaking, yes. In fact, my sample cover letter here does exactly that. However … the specific quotes you’ve used here aren’t especially compelling. You only want to use quotes if they’re really sensational, or this can backfire on you. If you’re not finding really awesome quotes in your old reviews even though the sentiment is awesome, you can always paraphrase: “Previous managers have given me glowing reviews about my creative work and efficiency” (or whatever).

2. When to tell an employer about a disability

I have been on the job market for a while now, and I have one pressing issue that I’m always wondering when to pop. I lost a great deal of my hearing during high school, and since then, I’ve had a surgery – which has turned out to be pretty effective. My hearing is now back up to around 95%, but I’m always worried on when I should break it to my potential employer that I have a hearing loss. My concern is that there are times when people call me and I don’t hear them (this usually happens when they are calling from several cubicles away or from across the room). It doesn’t happen very often but in the past, people have guessed without me telling them about my hearing loss. If my employers have a high probability of guessing over time when would be a good time to tell them? I don’t want to make my employer feel like I tricked them into hiring me, but I also don’t want to be eliminated due to discrimination.

Don’t tell them until you’ve started the job, at which point you can mention, “By the way, my hearing’s about 5% less than what is should be, so I don’t always hear if someone’s calling me from a few cubicles away.” They’re not going to feel like you tricked them into hiring you. They’re not going to think much of it, in fact!

Employers are required to provide accommodation for disabilities unless doing so would cause them “undue hardship.”  In general, my advice is to hold off mentioning disabilities until you’re on the job (in order to avoid discrimination) unless you need to discuss whether accommodation is possible. But in this case, it sounds like you don’t even need accommodation, and it’s something minor enough that they’re probably going to forget soon after you tell them anyway!

3. Application process requires list of all positions I’ve held since high school

I’m applying for a company that requires a list of every position I’ve held since high school. I had a request before that was similar to this one and after calling several companies day after day, it was impossible to track down the info as most companies don’t keep employee records for more than about 7 years. I don’t remember more than half the names of mangers I’ve had. This position is very important to me and I would hate to include only first names for managers. What do I do?

This is a bizarre requirement. All you can do is list the information that you do remember, even if it’s just first names. You’re not going to be their only applicant in this boat, believe me.

4. Gift for a boss who’s leaving

My boss who was one of the original employees at my company is moving on. Is it appropriate to get her a gift from our team?

Sure, if you liked her and appreciated her work. But it’s also not obligatory. (And if you do it, make sure your team doesn’t pressure anyone into spending money they don’t want to spend.)

5. Doing manager work without being paid for it

I work for a grocery store. I’ve been working for the company since August 2008 (I am 21 at the moment). A little over a year ago, the store manager asked me if I could do him a favor and manage the front end for a day. At the time, I was a cashier and saw this as a great opportunity for advancement. They’ve been scheduling me as front end manager ever since that day without officially giving me the title or promotion. Every time I ask the manager when I’m going to get my raise/promotion, he says he is working on it. When I call the corporate office, they tell me that the store doesn’t have any manager slots available. I am far more competent and work more hours than some of the managers. Is there a way I can legally make them pay me for working as manager? How should I go about handling the situation?

Nope. But you can refuse to continue working as a manager without being paid as a manager. Of course, at that point you risk that they’ll fire you for not doing what they’ve asked. So you’d be gambling on the fact that they like your work enough not to want to lose you (as evidenced by the fact that they have you doing management work). A middle ground would be to say to your boss, “Look, I’ve been doing the manager job for more than a year without being paid for it. If I’m going to continue doing it, I want us to have a solid date by which my pay is going to reflect the job I’m doing.” And then insist on agreeing to a date in the near future by which it’ll be made official. If he won’t, then you need to decide how much you’re willing to push it (like with any push for a raise).

6. What can be done about my toxic boss?

I work for a large company. 12 years ago they outsourced most of two departments. After that, the person they put in charge turned into a toxic manager. People would leave the company right and left. When his management skills are presented to HR, the answer is always the same: “He is your boss.” Over 50% of the division has complained but nothing ever happens. One reason is that he is best buddies with the project Super. What can be done?

Nothing, apparently. You’ve raised the issues, and the company has told you that they don’t care. Believe them. Your choices are to stay and resign yourself to it, or to take a different job somewhere else.

7. Overcoming a history of short-term jobs

I have 20 years of administrative assistant experience; however, I have short term jobs (1 year to 2 at most) because of my husband’s consulting career and the need to relocate often. I am not receiving interviews and I believe it is because of my stops and starts in various positions. I am also a baby boomer, which could be another factor. I am so frustrated. How do I overcome these obstacles?

Well, the reason you’re not receiving interviews might be the same reason so many other people aren’t receiving interviews: a bad job market with six times as many job-seekers as there are open jobs. That said, you have the extra challenge of having a history of short-term jobs, so I’d recommend putting way more focus on networking — through past colleagues, LinkedIn, etc. If someone knows you, they’ll more easily get past your history of short-term stays.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Brad*

    Good advice as usual. I opted for this quote from a performance review: “Brad not only produces a high level of work for the magazine, he also completes a variety of assignments for other areas of the magazine. He has a very good grasp of available resources, which helps him complete a demanding work schedule.” This was used as an example of my productivity.

  2. Tech Chic(k)*

    I had a manager with minor hearing loss once. She wore her hearing aids – very obvious, bulky plastic things – regularly for the first couple of weeks so that everyone got the hint. After that she only wore them some of the time. Every now and then I’d say something she didn’t understand (usually due to background noise), she’d make the hand-to-ear “what was that?” signal, and I’d step closer and repeat myself. It was a total non-issue.

    Unless the job you’re applying for is heavily phone dependent and you struggle with that, I wouldn’t say anything until after being hired.

  3. Erica B*

    yikes- I’ve been at my job for 8 years (in January) and I haven’t had a single performance review and I work at a university)! Hell, I didn’t even have a formal interview at the time I got hired, but that’s because I knew my current boss before I was looking to work where I am. It never donned on me to include information from reviews in a cover letter.. I’m so screwed when it comes to finding a new job.. bad enough that my main boss (not my immediate boss) who is in charge of our budget didn’t realize that I haven’t had a raise in atleast 3 or 4 years, and thought I was in a union (when I’m not).

  4. Anonymous*

    I wonder if number 3 is applying for a job that requires some kind of clearance or something like that. That’s the only time I have seen a request for information that goes that far back.

  5. Joey*

    2. Don’t tell them about a disability unless it begins to affect your job. Your employer would rather not know.

    3. The only employer I’ve seen require this sort of documentation is the FBI which I can understand. But outside of jobs that require high security clearances. If you still have your old tax documents that can give you a pretty good estimate of the years of your old jobs.

    5. Keep doing the managing so when you apply to other grocery stores you can list the management experience.

    7. Consider going to a temp agency as a way to get a foot in the door.

  6. Lori*

    I’m in a similar situation. I have a form of epilepsy that is practically unnoticeable except to the trained eye (my own eyes flicker – looks like a nervous habit in most cases). My seizures are called absence seizures (formerly petit mal) and I don’t take any medication for it. The only consequences are:

    1) I can’t drive.
    2) I frequently double-check my work, because my seizures can last the few seconds needed to read/write a few words, and I may miss something important.

    When I’ve applied to small non-profits, where they may assume I have a license, I’m upfront about everything. Not everyone in tiny non-profits is trained well enough to ask about someone’s driver’s license, so I offer it up out of courtesy. I’ve had three positions in that sector.

    When applying to corporations, I don’t mention anything until after the fact, since no accommodations are truly needed and I do fear discrimination, especially when you’re trying to make your way through numerous hoops to get hired. I’m in my second position at my current company, and just let people know as I get to know them (also for first aid reasons – if I ever did land on the floor in a “stereotypical” seizure, they would need to call 911).

    1. ChristineH*

      Lori – I’m curious how you got around the driving aspect in your day-to-day work, especially in the nonprofits. I can’t drive due to a slight vision impairment, and have passed on otherwise great job opportunities because I see that a Drivers License and travel is required.

      1. fposte*

        I’d love to see AAM tackle this question. It seems to me that the actual need for a DL is going to vary wildly, and sometimes accommodations or alternatives might be possible, and that you don’t know that if you never apply. I’m in an area, for instance, where cars are the norm, but there’s actually quite decent public transportation–which people with cars often don’t realize.

        1. ChristineH*

          Me too fposte.

          One time, I interviewed for a family worker job with the Early Intervention program…I hadn’t applied, the woman had gotten my resume (but didn’t say who). I went, and the interview ended in two minutes because she described the nature of the work, and I disclosed that I don’t drive. So now when called to interview, I ask up front.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          fposte, I agree entirely with what you wrote — you won’t really know how necessary a driver’s license and care are until you talk to them. And if they really, really love you, it’s possible that they’d even be willing to shuffle things around a bit. So there’s nothing to lose by applying, but I’d also disclose the driving thing early on (probably first interview, not necessarily cover letter), so that you don’t waste too much of your or their time if a car is indeed a necessity.

      2. Lori*

        Granted, if the job description did say a license was required, I never applied. Okay, not true. One job description said that “occassional driving may be necessary.” Interestingly enough, that was the third job description for that position in 7 months (thanks, Google cache), and the previous ones didn’t have that requirement. So I was honest and disclosed the disorder (I don’t call it a disease – I’m not dying or in danger of dying) and tried giving it a positive spin (“I know what students may go through to hide their differences”). In that case, I didn’t get the job (though I may not have been totally qualified either).
        But for the other positions, I was downtown in my city and could get where I needed to, and driving was not an issue. (I was in theatre, not social work, which I imagine would make a huge difference.)

  7. Christy*

    5. I was in this boat for over a year – I was a Level 1 (Entry level) for several years, and had – for the most part – done mostly work of a level 2. This was discussed before with my boss and it was always considered “working on my development.” I finally received the promotion at my last performance appraisal and was given the explanation that raises and promotions happen only once a year. The last time around, I had only been doing some of the work for a couple of months, so I was not seen as ready quite yet but was on the right path with great work ethics and performance. When the next year came around, I was ready and they were able to promote.

    Basically, it was bad timing. The good note was that I had performed the job for so long, I was extremely adept and given wonderful reviews for doing work above and beyond my position – which resulted in a very nice raise, and close to mid-range of the position’s pay instead of the min.

    It could also be true that they don’t have a position open for you right now, but performing the duties can put you at the head of the running when the position does finally open up – you’ve done the job and can present yourself as the obvious choice for the position.

  8. ChristineH*

    #2 – The advice is spot-on. Disability disclosure is very tricky (I can vouch for this on a first-hand basis!), so that sounds like a good rule of thumb: If accommodation is not needed/can be easily self-implemented, it’s best to wait until the hiring stage or once you start a job to mention a disability.

    P.S. I’m a nerd when it comes to disability topics, so I’m tickled to see a disability-related question here :)

    1. littlemoose*

      I agree with waiting to disclose disabilities. I have a chronic GI condition, and my strategy has been to have a short, private talk with my supervisor shortly after starting, just to apprise them. I let them know that I generally do well (thanks to meds), but I sometimes need more bathroom breaks, etc. My supervisors have always been understanding, and I feel like letting them know ahead of time means that they’re not caught off guard if issues do arise.

      I also think that a post on this from AAM might be great – sounds like a lot of us readers have issues like these.

  9. Elizabeth*

    #3: It sounds like they are doing a background check for this company. I work in HR at a University and we often get employment verifications from government offices (FBI, yes, and I got one recently from the Navy…) for students. Often the students list information that is slightly inaccurate or I do not have any record. Both are understandable, if say, they worked here for 2 months back in 2005. I think they are just trying to make sure you didn’t commit any crimes and are generally honest. If you are couple months off on your student job from college, or get the title slightly off, I really don’t think it will matter.

  10. Anonymous*

    #7: I have the same problem, and I was wondering if creating a functional resume instead would help?

  11. karen*

    On the hearing loss – if it’s really that minor – don’t mention it. I have a soft voice and a former colleague who had minor hearing issues told me that sometimes my register is outside her hearing range. I have other colleagues who never hear someone calling them from a few cubes away. It’s not a big deal – we all have phones at our desks.

  12. Frank*

    @ #2 – How do you handle a possibly law-ignoring employer? My girlfriend has the starting signs of an auto immune disease that she has been constantly going to the doctor for tests (and subsequently using sick days, but not going over her allotted amount), but her employer doesn’t know that she is sick. She said that they fire people who are sick like that, or fire people for using too many sick days. We all know it’s illegal, but what is legal and what is done are sometimes two different things.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      How many employees does her company have? That’ll determine what laws are in play. If she IS covered by the ADA or FMLA and they violate it, she should absolutely have a lawyer ready to intervene on her behalf. The key is, ideally, doing it in a way that gets the job done but doesn’t destroy the relationship with the employer — a tricky balance, but one that’s in her best interest to try to navigate.

      1. dradis contact*

        But doesn’t the girlfriend have to ask for ADA/FMLA accomodation first? From the post above, I can’t see that the employer is indeed acting illegally. Firing people for using too many sick days may be caddish, but not illegal, and firing ‘people who are sick like that’–does that mean employees who have asked for accomodation, or not?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I got the impression (possibly wrongly) that it was a situation where an employee would get, say, cancer and the company would quickly find a reason to fire them. As opposed to it necessarily being linked to a request for accommodation. But maybe the original commenter (OC?) can clarify.

          1. Frank*

            Hey everyone. I don’t have many details, and she has not been at the position for very long (a few months), but the gist of what she said was that the company tends to fire people for getting sick often, or using the sick time often (or at all, from what it sounds like). Nothing has happened yet, no one knows of anything, except my girlfriend taking sick days to get tests run at doctors, and a few comments about her taking time off too much. She hasn’t been officially diagnosed yet with anything, but all of the signs are there (Lupus, just for the record.. she has quite a few of the symptoms, and her blood is saying she is positive, but her first doctor won’t officially diagnose, she is seeing a second doctor now). I am just looking ahead :) If she gets diagnosed and has to use her time, or ask for accommodations, I got the idea from her that other people have needed the same and got let go. Of course, they can say it was for other reasons, but who knows.

            Her company is large enough for FMLA, but again I am just looking ahead.

            Happy holidays, everyone.

            1. Anonymous*

              I was treated similarly when I was having tests run and then needed surgery. Due to financial hardship, I have stayed with the company, and they have backed off of me. They definitely skirted the “harrassment” line, though.

              I just wanted to say I’m sorry to read about your girlfriend’s illness. :(

    2. Natalie*

      No matter what, document whatever you can! Universe willing, you will never need it, but better to have it and not need it that vice versa.

  13. Kim Stiens*

    My advice to #7: I think 20 years of on and off jobs would be enough to make any employer think twice (and you should definitely be honest – in your cover letter or resume or somehow- with these potential employees about how long you’ll realistically stay in the job if hired. But I think you can really make this into a good thing. For admin type jobs, having continuity in learning processes is good. However, since the basic tasks in these jobs are done mostly the same way, just with different tweaks across most businesses, you’ll learn more and more about, say, Quickbooks, or document retention laws, or whatever, over time regardless of what particular job your in. But job hopping then offers a specific advantage: you’ve familiar with more of those tweaks and random idiosyncrasies in different businesses. And one or two years in a job is enough to see most of their bureaucratic idiosyncrasies.

    Just tell a couple stories in your cover letter that illustrate how experience with one business helped you in another business. Show them that the diversity of your experience is beneficial to them as well as demonstrating that you have a depth, as well as breadth, of knowledge. Good luck!

  14. Anonymous*

    I’d be interested in AAM’s take on when you should disclose that you do have a major disability that requires some accomodation. I’m what I like to call functionally Deaf where I can lipread extremely well and I generally do pretty good. I do have limitations with the phone and that’s where accomodations come in for me. I’ve noticed that if I disclose I’m Deaf, I’m less likely to get an interview, and when I don’t, I almost always get an interview, but I never get hired once they find out I need accomodations. I obviously can’t call them out for discrimination because they simply could say they didn’t hire me for another reason, but being deaf my whole life has given me a very finely tuned radar for when people are counting me out because of my deafness. I’m obviously not applying for jobs that I know I cannot do, I know my own limits, but I’ve always wondered when to disclose, because I cannot hide it.

  15. Another Anon*

    #3: I interviewed for a large electronic-related manufacturer that wanted every job since high school on the application. I was not prepared for the interview questions. “Why did you choose to work outside your career field washing dishes? Why did you leave that job after only nine months? Describe your work there.” We spent more time scrutinizing minimum wage jobs I held thirty years ago as a student than on my years of IT experience. My advice: be prepared to use your long ago past, as well as your recent past, to show your initiative, work ethic, emotional maturity, and so on.

  16. Natalie*

    #4 – when my boss left we got her a card and passed the hat to buy her a gift certificate to a spa she likes. The “hat” was a plain envelope with everyone’s name written on it and it went around with the card. Each person crossed their name off as they signed the card and maybe contributed cash. I started because I had no qualms with anyone knowing how much I was giving, and the average gift ended up being twice what I contributed.

    #7 – definitely look at temp agencies. Your experience in a lot of different jobs will be an asset. And, a lot of them offer temp-to-hire gigs.

    1. Anonymous*

      Seconded about temp to hire roles.

      I got my current role as a temp to hire as they wanted someone who could do the job straight away and if they turned out to be the right fit* then the job was theirs. If not they would get another temp in after a couple of months (which they had just done – I was the second temp to get a chance at the role). My eclectic CV definitely helped me get this role.

      *Our office is slightly boisterous and you need a strong backbone to do the role. It does have to be balanced though – you can’t exactly be a Shrinking Violet but you can’t be too rude and rough with people!

  17. Kandi*

    #3 Reply. Thanks for all the answers and advice. The job im applying for is in law enforcement so it does require an extensive background check.

  18. Jen M.*

    On Question 2: YES! My boyfriend is deaf, and he is now on disability, because once he disclosed to prospective employers that he’d need an interpreter for an interview or would need to do the interview by IM or something like that, they would stop talking to him. Trouble is, you can’t prove it’s discrimination, if you don’t even get the interview. In his case, we KNOW that’s what it is, because up until that point, he’d be told how impressive his resume was and how interested they were in talking to him.

    Save it for when you are established on the job. Congrats, BTW!

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