short answer Sunday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

I don’t know how you guys feel about two “short answer” posts in one weekend, but … It’s short answer Sunday!  We’ve got a leaked salary, an IT worker trying to figure out how proficient she really is, a requirement to work Sundays, and more…

1. My coworkers might know my salary

I have a feeling that some of the other coworkers may know my salary. But I didn’t tell them. It could be one of two people that had let this leak. I don’t know for sure, if it’s out there, but if it is, what now?

Nothing. Put it out of your head, since if it’s true, there’s nothing you can do about it and it doesn’t need to be a big deal.

2. How can I convey that my summer job had more responsibility than most?

While I was a student, I worked for my university in the same department for three summers as an assistant. During the second summer that I worked there, a member of the marketing staff went on an unexpected sick leave and, rather than hiring a new employee, my former boss chose to promote me to the marketing position for the summer and bring in a new person to do my assistant job. While I have permission from my former boss to use the job title of the marketing position on my resume for that term, I am unsure how to communicate the fact that the position was not a typical “student” position and that my former boss gave me a large amount of responsibility which I handled successfully with little experience. I know that this information can be highlighted during an interview, but I also think it’s something that, as a younger person in the work force, could set my application apart.

Yes, absolutely! Write something like, “promoted to __ when staff member went on leave; handled all responsibilities of regular staffer, including X, Y, and Z.”

3. What constitutes proficiency in I.T. skills?

I’m looking for a new job after budget cuts caused me to be laid off from my job in IT support. I was there for a year and acquired some more experience with software I already knew, like MS Office, but also FileZilla and Photoshop. I also worked with databases and SQL, as well as learned more basic HTML and CSS. My question is, how do I know how to list these skills objectively? I’m 25, quite nerdy/geeky and spend a lot of time on the computer. I tend to consider my skills as basic, but my boyfriend seems to think I’m the McGyver of computers (I’m not!).

I’d like to know if he overestimates me because I know a few things he doesn’t, or whether I underestimate myself because I’ve always been around people who are extremely good with technology. I want to make myself look as good as I can, but I don’t want to lie and be stuck in a role I’m unqualified for. Are you aware of any guide to gauge one’s proficiency with basic software? Something along the lines of ‘if you can do function X in Excel, your level of proficiency is Y’.

I’m not! But I bet a reader is, so I’m posting this in the hopes that someone can help you.

4. Can I skip some fields on a job application?

I am about to turn 61, look about 10 years younger due to some “help,” stay current with the world, and I’m having a second interview for a job this Friday. I’ve been freelancing (read mostly unemployed) for more than two years. I need this job and I think they might want me, but I’m petrified that my age will kill my chances. I I have major street cred in this industry – overqualified for this gig but would do it in a heartbeat. If I leave the birthdate/ss # blank on the application, will that be a red flag? I guess I can’t lop off ten years, huh? Thanks if you can help — they called me in 3 weeks earlier than they said they would, which is why I think they are interested.

They might not ask you to fill out an application at all since they already have your resume, so it might be a moot point. But if they do, it’s reasonable to skip that information and write “provided upon hire.” If anyone questions it, say that you’ve always been taught to protect your social security number to avoid identity theft. (Note that it’s harder to do this with electronic applications that may not let you skip the question, but since it sounds like you’re talking about an application that will be filled out at the interview, it’s probably paper.)

5. My old boss won’t respond to a reference request

I’m leaving my old company and I’ve handed in my notice. My new employer has sent the reference form to my old employer but I believe my old employer is going to give me a hard time. I think she will either not send my completed reference to my new employer because she will say that she never received it or she will take a very long time to do it. Is there a law saying that an employer has to provide a reference within a certain amount of weeks? And what do I do if she will not send the reference and keeps coming up with excuses? I have to start my new job straight after I leave my old one and I can’t if my new job won’t get the reference.

No, there’s no law requiring an employer to give a reference. And if you pressure her to do it, it may backfire by her giving you a bad reference. You have two options:

(1) Contact your old employer’s HR department and use these words: “I’m concerned that Jane may be standing in the way of me obtaining future employment.” The HR department is going to be familiar with the potential for legal hassles here (even if ultimately the company would win), and will probably speak to your boss.

(2) Tell the new employer that your boss is notoriously unresponsive to reference requests, but that you can supply other references who can speak glowingly of you (which hopefully you can).

6. Responding to vague job listings

What is the best way to tailor a resume and cover letter to a job description/listing that is extremely vague? For example, one job I’m interested in lists the job title, an email address for that contact and states the person needs to be a “skilled writer and meticulous.” That’s it. I can tell from the email address what company it’s with, but wouldn’t want to assume that I’d be working for X company without them stating that. So, what is the best way to handle nondescript job listings?

Well, if you’re interested enough to apply, you have reasons for that interest, right? So you might be able to do something with that, but if not, then you’re stuck writing a cover letter that’s still customized to YOU but isn’t customized to the job. And that’s fine — they’ve given you no choice. Just make sure you don’t use your cover letter to just summarize your resume; write about what makes you an awesome employee beyond that.

7.  Employer wants to make me work Sundays

I am a Team Leader and have worked at the same place for 25 years. About 3 years ago, the MD told us (the production managers) that we needed to cover Saturday working with no extra pay, and that instead of overtime pay, we would accrue the day instead. I felt forced into that but when ahead anyway. Now they want us to work Sundays and I am refusing. Any advice would be appreciated.

Whether or not to pay overtime may not be up to them; if your job is non-exempt (which is determined by labor laws, not your employers, and is based on the nature of the work you do), then they’re required to pay overtime if you work more than 40 hours in any calendar week. (If you don’t work more than 40 hours, or if your job is exempt, then they’re not required to pay overtime.)

In any case, they can indeed require you to work Sundays. The only way around this would be if you have a genuine religious objection to working on Sundays, in which case you can ask for religious accommodation, which they’re required by federal law to provide, unless doing so would be an “undue hardship” to the business (for instance, if key activities can only take place on Sundays). Your other alternative would be to simply talk to them; explain why your weekends are important to you, suggest alternatives to achieve whatever it is that they’re trying to achieve through this, etc. It won’t necessarily work, but at least you’ll find out through that conversation where things stand (i.e., are they willing to lose you over this).

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. Nancy*

    Alison, a sincere thanks for answering the question about putting a birthdate on an application. You give real world answers and it’s invaluable. I’ve subscribed, and will be a reader from now on. I was stressing over this and now I feel comfortable about handling it. Really good stuff.

    1. JT*

      I have the impression that the dates someone went college indicate their likely minimum age, so even without a birthdate an employer can get a sense of the age of an applicant.

        1. Anonymous*

          I find this so annoying. When I’ve had to interview someone (group interview) who left the dates off, I use Google to get the information. I might not get the exact year, but I can get a pretty good idea.

            1. Anonymous*

              There are a few reasons; the one that generally pushes me to look is if the candidate has a graduate degree. I want to know if they went straight from undergrad to graduate, or if they worked in between. I want to be prepared to interview, and I would ask different questions depending on the answer.

              The other reason I have searched is when a candidate attended a program where I know/knew people, or if it’s a program I know that had serious issues/now has serious issues.

              I’ve only had to Google about four times – generally speaking there are always clues in the rest of the resume. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker for me, but it could be the difference between the first and second call for interviews.

              One of those people is now one of my assistants. Once they were hired, I asked why, and I pointed out that it didn’t stop me from getting the information. (took a guess that we knew a mutual person) Apparently the career center at their school recommended it – though my assistant thought it was a little strange.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                In my experience, you see this a lot with older candidates who are understandably trying to avoid age discrimination, so that’s something to factor in.

      1. JT*

        Nancy – sorry if my comment sounded abrupt. Just pointing out something I worry about as someone perhaps changing careers at an “older” age.

        One other thing. I’m surprised when I hear about application systems asking for social security number and birthdates for all new candidates. Are companies really running credit or other background checks on many applicants early in the process? If they’re not doing that, why are they collecting the information? It results in their having a large amount of private information, which creates a reputational risk if their system is every compromised. It seems to me that prudent systems do not collect information that would not be used (and I suspect that in a large organization that has legal counsel or records or privacy-related staff thinking about these issues might not less likely).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          As best as I can figure out, they’re collecting it up-front because it’s one less thing for them to go back and ask for at the end of the process, when they need it. But of course that minor time-savings should be balanced against the incredibly privacy violation it represents for the large number of applicants who will never get to that stage.

          1. SalesGeek*

            I’m sorry but this is very naive. It’s a lose/lose situation…either the potential employer is using this for a background check or they are just accumulating information that would be perfect for identity theft with little idea how tempting a target that makes for criminal hackers.

            I’m in IT and have been for close to thirty years so handling sensitive personal information like this makes me nervous. I am uncomfortable with any undisclosed background check (NOTE: I have complied with a full background check for security reasons but this was done with my permission). I am *really* uncomfortable with how some companies handle sensitive personal information. Properly run companies guard this jealously and the first rule of keeping it safe is not to ask for it unless and until it’s needed.

        2. Rana*

          My guess is that they’re collecting the information out of some misplaced idea that it will be more “efficient” and aren’t really thinking about it at all.

          That is, they believe it will save them the effort of asking for it when they’ve narrowed down their choices and are ready to offer the candidate a position. So they program their software to require unnecessary information (because they can and then they don’t have to think about it later) and they don’t stop think about the risks.

          It’s like the forms that ask you for your high school GPA when you’re applying to a position that requires an MA or PhD; rather than tailor the forms to the specific position, they take the form that’s used for the lowest-skill position at the company and make everyone fill it out. It’s lazy, is what it is.

            1. Anonymous*

              Just you know it’s not always laziness. We need your social pretty early in the process, usually after the first contact so that we can check to see that you actually have the required clearance. We used to collect it upfront on the app but now collect it later in the process for the concerns others have listed. The trade off is that now rather than you inputting it into a password protected system, the recruiter may be asking for it over the phone and jotting it down on a sticky at their desk, which is obviously far from ideal. Just wanted to point out their are valid reasons for collecting it early.

              Oh and one other reason. We use socials to confirm if someone is eligible for re-hire. If John Smith who used to work for the company applies we would rather know before we reach out to them if that person is on the no-go list. Again, I get the points listed above, but you can’t assume their isn’t a reason behind it.

              1. Natalie*

                That may be true for you, but I’d venture that the majority of jobs requesting an SSN early in the process don’t require security clearances.

                The ideal thing would be for a company with a legitimate reason, like yours, to just say why you need it.

            2. Joey*

              Ill second that it’s not usually laziness. In my experience its usually an off the shelf HRIS thats a few years old and still requires those fields. Most small to medium sized companies dont have customized HR software. It gets the job done and isn’t outdated enough to justify the cost of an upgrade.

          1. JT*

            OMG – do forms actually ask about high school? I’d have not ability to answer that question. Have been out of school too long.

            1. suzanne*

              “OMG – do forms actually ask about high school?”
              Yes, they really do and often. Do I have a clue what my HS GPA was 30 years ago? Do I do not. So, I make something up. I also love it when the form asks what course of study you followed in HS. Heck, back when I went, you just went. There were some classes recommended for pre-college, but nothing formal. You went, took classes, and got a diploma. There weren’t diploma levels, so I make something up for that question, too.

              Another reason I despise the online forms…they make me make things up because the real answer isn’t one of the choices.

              1. Anonymous*

                I have the same thing with online forms because I in a creative field and careers can progress differently. I appreciate the comments, but the bottom line is that I have probably aged out and it’s a bad situation. I will let people know tho- one day you’ll be there too! So SAVE safely and wisely – we were almost there and the recession killed us. And don’t assume that some extra years make people disposable or useless, please !

  2. Dawn*

    RE: #3, listing software skills on a resume

    If you’re applying for a job that doesn’t require specific proficiency in any of the MS Office suite stuff (like Excel, Powerpoint, etc), then just put a little line at the bottom of your resume indicating that you are capable of handling yourself if you have to use Word/Excel/etc. In this day and age pretty much every employer (at least all of the ones I’ve ever worked for) expects their employees to know how to use Word, Outlook, and Excel at a basic competency level. If you’re really, really good at Excel then highlight that.

    As far as listing proficiency in software X, there’s a huge difference between “I’ve seen this stuff before and would know my way around” and “I would be the hero of the office if the server blew up and I had to hard-code it from scratch myself”. If you’re more of the former, just list “working knowledge of software X”. If you’re more of the latter, make it a separate bullet point and list specific parts of that software you know like the back of your hand (like functionality in Photoshop, etc).

    That’s my $0.02, coming from having a multimedia degree, multiple levels of experience in all kinds of software/coding languages, and a string of jobs in the technology/computer sector.

    1. Nathan A.*

      Dawn basically hits the nail on the head here.

      If you want to demonstrate some level of proficiency in software, try to explain what you do with it. In a general sense, there is a way to tell those who are more proficient (the terminology used and projects undertaken), versus those who are not as proficient.

    2. LovelyLibrarian*

      Working in a tech shop, and having seen a lot of tech resumes, I can say that both this comment and the one below from Nathan A. are good. I would add that depending on where you apply you might not even need to list “Microsoft Office proficiency” on your resume: if you are applying to my tech shop in the first place I’m going to assume you have that.

      I would add that you might want to have a section highlighting special projects that you did with each software / technology. As Nathan A. says below, those familiar with the software will be able to know from your description how proficient you are. For example, if you say something like “edited tables in SQL using PHPMyAdmin” that’s a different level from “created a relational database in MySQL and an accompanying web report generator in Apex”.

  3. Steve*

    As per #2, I am curious how other readers do this when they already have years of experience, and what their thresholds are for gross above-and-beyond performance in their industries. For example, even in the crazy energy trading world, the hours doctors and nurses work would be considered above and beyond. So someone in my industry can get extra points for working early and 11 hours a day, where it would probably be odd if a doctor brought that up in an interview…

    1. fposte*

      It’s probably better to talk in terms of achievement anyway rather than duration–we’ve all known people who do less in more time than anybody else :-).

  4. Ask an Advisor*

    Re: 2. How can I convey that my summer job had more responsibility than most?

    This is also fair game for your cover letter, as long as your cover letter complements your resume and doesn’t repeat it.

    I love seeing when students/applicants can concretely connect these types of experiences to the position I am hiring for–that’s what makes an application stand out in my book!

    1. Julie*

      I love you so much for using the proper “complements” here. Thank you for reaffirming my faith that some members of the human race can use homonyms correctly on the internet.

  5. Rana*

    #3 There are some sites that offer online proficiency testing so you can test yourself and see how you compare with others. ODesk (which is sort of an online temp/placement agency), for example, has a lot of these tests, for all sorts of skills. It’s free to sign up, but you do have to create an account with them. I would imagine that other large temp agencies might have similar tests. (I did some in-house with Manpower once, for example.)

    1. Rana*

      I will warn that the ODesk tests are primarily text based, and can be harder than doing the task in real life would be. If you’re like me, a lot of your computer mastery is related to knowing how to find new information or functions quickly, which isn’t the same thing as having those functions already memorized (which is what the test assumes). So if you do reasonably well on their tests, you can be confident that you’ll do well when confronted with an actual task.

      1. Laurie*

        I second this. Elance has tests too, but from my perspective, they tend to have a lot of ‘gotcha’ questions that test functionalities that are barely used in real life. But, they are a good way of gauging your knowledge of a particular software, and an objective test you can list on your resume.

        An informal way of testing this is to compare yourself to your coworkers at your workplace / classmates at university etc. If you find that most of your coworkers end up coming to you regularly for questions they have about a particular software, you can confidently claim geek status in that software.

        Another couple of things to consider:
        – Your ideal IT job must have a few software that they need you to be an absolute rockstar in. Why not make sure you are the expert in it by taking classes, or training up on it in your spare time? That way you don’t have to worry if you are misstating your expertise. It doesn’t matter where you got the expertise, only that you have it.

        – Since I’m the unofficial Excel guru for 90%+ of people I know or work with, I can tell you that knowing Excel 2010 with pivot tables, lookup formula, data tables makes you a star. If you know VBA, statistical add-ins, database connectivity, and like to write letters in Excel, then you are the next Excel god in that company. At minimum, you should know your way around Excel 2010 ribbon menus, be able to format a table and write an IF or a VLOOKUP formula.

        – All that said, geek status in a particular software is extremely hard to convey on paper. Even when your future employer reads the phrase “Excel God at my current workplace”, they’ll take it with a grain of salt and mentally translate that to ‘better than average’. Even if you’re that great at a software, they want to know that you are good with your coworkers, lead well, collaborate well, are resourceful / creative etc. It’s often the soft skills-related achievements that’ll get your foot in the door.

        1. Rachel B*

          I agree with Laurie’s Excel breakdown (I spend about 90% of my day using Excel/VBA). I would also be much impressed by someone who could show success and staff buy-in on the job (ie “used VBA to cut reporting time by 50%”) than a hobbyist. Look for opportunities to apply your skills.

          Another option is to take the Google Adwords/Analytics tests. The exams are affordable and passing them shows knowledge of Google products and general digital marketing concepts (ROI, etc).

        2. Jamie*

          Excel experience at the level you noted is well beyond 90% of office workers. For non-IT positions seeing specificity about pivot tables and VBA would move you to the top of the pile, especially in smaller companies where staff runs lean. For some reaosn it generally falls to IT to train to fill in the gaps and someone coming in that strong is huge and well worth noting.

          It’s the flip side of all the resumes claining “proficiency in Excel” and then they need instruction in how to resize a column or basic sorting

          I’ve often lamentanted the lack of a univerally accepted definition of “proficient” when used on resumes.

          1. Anonymous*

            The thing which really wowed me a few months ago was when a colleague showed me how to do pointers in Excel :-)

  6. Mike C.*

    Regarding the question about salary information, the OP has a right to be worried if someone in HR is leaking personal information of course, but I’m not sure if that’s the real concern here.

    I work at a company where we can see the salary range of a given job down to title, level and location. I know within a few thousand how much my coworkers make, how much my managers make and how much I would be offered if I were to transfer to a different position. Sure, there is room to reward hard workers via other incentive programs and promotions to the next level, but we all have a pretty good idea where we stand. And it’s a good thing.

    It means that if someone is given an unusually large or small raise, the managers have to justify that with hard data. No more handing out huge raises for playing golf with the boss on weekends or stuff like that. No more lowballing employees who spend more time being productive than “selling themselves” or whatever bullshit the business books are selling these days.

    There’s still room for a judgement call and there are plenty of incentive programs for employees who go above and beyond (and systems for employees who just suck) but having that salary information is a *good* thing and companies who hide it need to stop treating their employees like children. If an employee wants to make the big bucks, they should be able to see the people who already do so they can work to emulate their skills and productivity.

      1. GeekChic*

        I so agree about the usefulness of salary transparency. Every position I’ve held has had the salary information available to both staff and the public. I honestly do not understand why salary should be hidden.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          One of the guys at work was fired several months ago for opening someone else’s paycheck stub (he was a well know snoop). It is expressly prohibited here to discuss salary and merit raise amounts.

          And they’re not kidding.

      2. Mike C.*

        I remember catching that and it’s a great read. The complaint that, “oh, employees will just complain that they aren’t paid as much as so and so” really reveals the attitude of the company in question – they see their employees as children who either cannot understand that there will be differences in pay based on market/achievement/etc and thus this must be”hidden”. Either that, or they don’t understand that when they are asking why they don’t make as much they are asking either why their hard work isn’t being rewarded or what they need to go to take home a larger paycheck.

        Those two questions are fair questions to ask and if the management is mature they should have reasonable answers to those questions.

        1. Anonymous*

          My experience has been that often, especially at smaller companies (3-10 people), many of the employees figure out roughly what others are making anyway, and trying to hide it just backfires. I had a boss a while back who repeatedly reminded us that we all made the same amount, because he didn’t want us to feel like anyone was “better” than others, and he used that as a reason to not give raises or bonuses, and also as a reason not to hire in more experienced people (like an IT guy that was really needed but was out of that price range). Someone made a comment one day about how hard it was to live on $xx, (and didn’t think about it, since we all thought we made the same amount), and it quickly came out that that was NOT true. When we realized that there was a 20k+ difference in salaries (and top pay was 72k, so a pay range where that’s a HUGE difference), there were a lot of hurt feelings, and half the staff left within 4 months. The guy who was making the most totally deserved it, no one had a problem with that – it was just the blatant misinformation that led to major trust issues with the boss (and of course, resentment over, in some cases, years without even a cost of living raise for a reason that wasn’t even true).

          1. Julie*

            Wow, that’s pretty horrid. The boss actually said you were all making the same salary when there was a 35% discrepancy? And didn’t think you guys would figure it out? The mind boggles.

    1. anth*

      I’ve worked several places where budgeting for grants/proposals requires you to see other employees salaries. That’s the way it goes.

  7. nyxalinth*

    I got screwed out of a job back in June because of #5. My previous supervisor said that his supervisor–the general manager–had laid down a rule about potential employers could only contact him–the GM–for references.

    The problem was while the interview went great, the GM wasn’t returning their calls for a reference! He finally got off his butt and called them back two weeks later, but it was too late. He also ignored all of my calls as well.

    He eventually did call and apologize–and no, he wasn’t on vacation, no emergencies, etc.–it apparently just wasn’t a priority to him, and his apology didn’t get me a job. I was nice about it though, since I still need him as a potential reference, poor follow-up not withstanding.

    1. Anonymous*

      Did you offer your potential new employer other options for references? If your potential new employer dinged you for something that is completely out of your control, you probably dodged a bullet here!

      1. nyxalinth*

        It wasn’t an option, only because they were bound and determined to talk to every single person or place I’d listed on my resume. No compromises, nor other options, were permitted. So I would have to agree with you on this! Besides, I now work in a place i love and I am very happy, so it all worked out in the end. Mind, five extra months without incomed sucked rocks, but I made it.

    2. Anonymous*

      I’m very concerned about references, as well. I work for horrid, horrid people who I know will not give me a positive reference. I’m now scrambling to find coworkers who are willing to act as references for me. I have some ex-coworkers who are, but I need people from my current staff.

      My current supervisors are just monsters. :(

  8. Gayle Laakmann McDowell*

    #3 — Listing I.T. skills on a resume

    You should have a section at the bottom (or top, but I prefer the bottom) of your resume listing your skills. You should separate them by category (SQL and HTML should be listed separately from Photoshop). You can also put parentheses afterwards to indicate how proficient you are at a particular skills. For example:
    * Java (Proficient), SQL (Beginner) …

    There are various tests you could take, but they don’t do much good because recruiters / resume screeners won’t understand the scores.

    The best way to show off your skills is to focus on your accomplishments. What have you done with SQL?

    — Gayle Laakmann McDowell
    Author of The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any Top Tech Company

    1. Christopher Allen-Poole*

      Also, if you can create a portfolio (especially for HTML/CSS/Photoshop), DO IT. An especially useful skill is translating a psd into HTML/CSS. If you can’t manage to find someone to pay you, work on it anyway.

      I also recommend getting serious reputation on the Stack Exchange sites, as that has given me “in’s” into interviews and consulting work in the past. If you are serious in IT, and you can manage it, get a profile. The people you will be working with will appreciate being able to see that.

  9. bob*

    Re: #7: It wasn’t clear whether the company is requiring Saturday AND Sunday as unpaid work now or if it was Sunday instead of Saturday but if it’s both I would expect that company to be doing some hiring real soon for several positions. I can’t really imagine a company making it’s employees work 7 days a week but maybe they’re cheap and clueless.

    1. SAN*

      If I’m reading it the way you are, the company has just increased your working hours significantly. And also the chance of a major screw-up since most people don’t work that well 12/7. As far as “accruing” the day, does the OP ever get to draw on that extra day? or is a mythic beast.

      1. Tami*

        From what I understand, under the FLSA, it is illegal for non-government employers to allow non-exempt employees to work overtime and accrue comp time. IMVHO, it sounds like perhaps this OP has some research to do.

        If OP’s position is non-exempt under FLSA, the employer can require you to work any day of the week (provided you don’t have a valid religious objection), however they do need to pay you time and a half over forty hours. If this is indeed the case, you can bring this to the attention of the HR department, and allow them an opportunity to correct it before you approach the DOL. DOL is all over FLSA issues right now. If this is reported to them, they will not only research OP’s hours and pay, but everyone in a similar position. Additionally, the DOL can make the employer pay up to 3 times the money due the employee for damages. This includes if they have allegedly already compensated the employee via comp time, as comp time is only legal for government entities (unless it is used within the same pay period…it cannot be accrued).

        However, like AAM said, if you are salary exempt, the employer can basically make you work any days/hours they want. If this is not acceptable to OP, then perhaps it is a good time to begin looking for another job, because there is no other legal recourse.

  10. Anonymous*

    Re: 1. My coworkers might know my salary

    Well, what your co-workers know might not even be an exact figure or they might even have it all wrong. So they can’t be all too sure as well.

  11. Henning Makholm*

    #3 — the great technology divide is not about knowing this or that piece of software; it is between those who need specific formal training to learn to use a new tool (or an old tool for a new task), and those with the courage and smarts to teach themselves by experimenting with its features. The OP’s description sounds like she’s soundly on the latter side of the divide, which is infinitely more valuable than any amount of unthinking “experience” is in one who doesn’t have that meta-skill.

    So the trick is to get this fact to reflect in the resume, without sounding braggy or elitist. Do list the various things you’ve worked with, to show breadth more than for the sake of keyword-matching employers. But don’t sweat too much at assigning specific proficiency levels to each tool; there’s no standard to adhere to anyway. If possible try to sound a bit blasé about the individual items in your tech portfolio. The point is not that you already know so-and-so much of SQL; it is that you’re the kind of person who will pick up a bit of SQL as a matter of course if that’s what the task at hand demands.

    1. Karthik*

      Absolutely this. Some companies (especially in engineering and science) work with software that’s way too field specific for people to use in their private lives, and way too expensive for most schools and some smaller companies to purchase. So what’s important isn’t knowing the tool coming in, but having a mindset which allows you to dive in, look around, and learn on your own.

    2. Julie*

      I definitely agree with the idea of “learning by experimentation” as a wonderful meta-skill. The way I sometimes explain this on my cover letter or in an interview is: “At previous jobs, I was the go-to computer person. My boss might ask me, ‘Julie, how can I do X in Y program?’ To which I’d reply, ‘No idea. Give me ten minutes and I’ll tell you.’ And within ten minutes, I’d have an answer for them.”

    3. KayDay*

      Exactly. (I’m coming from a non-IT/non-hard science background). Also, if candidates can show that they have learned to use similar software quickly (and at a high level), in many situations that should be reasonable level of skill–especially if you are talking about a highly customized application or database, where even if they had used it at another company, there would still be some company-specific training necessary.

  12. Anonymous*

    Short answer days are good. You are helping people even when they do not have these long juicy stories to tell, and for all you know, you might be helping someone with a similar situation. I don’t see a problem with having two within a weekend.

  13. Jamie*

    Regardng the IT skill question:

    Definately list the software and your proficiency level. If applying for jobs where they arent required, it can’t hurt and can be a plus to show you’re interested in different software/technology.

    Based on this letter, I’m assuming you aren’t applying IT jobs. If you are applying to jobs where a proficiency in SQL is required, for example, you need to be far more specific. Run queries, create tables with syntax statements, develop reports, etc. If you just used software (ie an ERP) which used SQL that’s not experience with SQL without backend relevance.

    That you know what CSS or HTML is makes you more tech savvy than most non-IT applicants…however, lumping Office, Photoshop, and FileZilla in with SQL would be a red flag for me. Those aren’t IT skills.

    I’m a Director of IT and do have input into non-IT candidates and I would be more interested in the applicant who had some of the things you mentioned, because anything besides basic computer skills is kind of rare. And everyone thinks they have basic computer skills, even when they don’t know what to do when asked to reboot.

    Non-tech people tend to think anyone who can do anything they can’t with a computer is a guru. I hate that word – but you can’t base your skills on a layman’s opinion. If you have a friend in IT who can look at your resume and ask some follow up questions about the level of proficiency you will get a better feel for it.

    If you don’t know someone personally, I’d be happy to do it. If you are interested Alison has my email addy.

    1. Anonymous*

      If you are applying to jobs where a proficiency in SQL is required, for example, you need to be far more specific. Run queries, create tables with syntax statements, develop reports, etc. If you just used software (ie an ERP) which used SQL that’s not experience with SQL without backend relevance.

      A simple test…. show people this cartoon and see who laughs.

  14. Jamie*

    Working Sundays: If they are allowing you to accrue the days you work on the weekend, it sounds like it’s a schedule change where you can still have two days off…just not the weekend.

    If it’s working weekends and it’s hard to take the time, then I think it’s very shortsighted from a business standpoint. The limit in which you can expect people to buck up and pull in 7 days weeks without a day off is short. Turnover will increase fast, and if they do the math they’ll see how much it costs to replace people.

    I know some states have laws about requiring days off every so many days, but I don’t know if that applys to salaried people or just hourly.

    As an aside. my personal limit for time worked without a day off is 21. I head into Monday with having worked the last three weekends without a day off and I take up residence in the land of disgruntled.

  15. EngineerGirl*

    I’m a little flummoxed by the IT question. Office, SQL, etc. aren’t IT skills. They are computer & database skills, but not IT. IT is “internet technology” – about networks, nodes, timing, etc. IT is the guts, not the application. HTML & CSS are web skills, but again not IT. Just mentioning it because real IT folks will make a huge dinstinction about it. It could hurt you on your job application if you misrepresent it. You’ll come off as clueless.

    1. Anonymous*

      Hi Engineer Girl
      Could be a common language thing – in the UK, IT generally means Information Technology, and is an astonishingly non-specific catch-all that covers anything to do with computers. In a large, non-IT / internet company you are likely to see an IT department which covers the hardware, support, database management and development etc. It may also cover the tech side of the internet, or you may have a separate Internet department, which covers tech and content. If you call IT, you’re generally calling the helpdesk because your computer’s knackered again. It’s not the case everywhere, and may well be different in tech companies, but I’m reasonably certain the distinction remains valid.

      1. JT*

        I’m in the United States and have a similar experience. In my organization IT means “information technology.” And in general, I’ve heard that far more often than it meaning “internet technology.”

        1. Jamie*

          IT is information technology and the accepted definition can encompass anything from swapping out some RAM to configuring the network to admin on the software.

          I’ve never heard it defined as Internet Technology by anyone in the field.

          IT is a really broad term and is comprised of many specialties. DBAs are IT. So are System Analysts, Network Admins, hard ware techs, and programmers. They are not interchangeable positions (although some may be proficient in more than one area) but they all fall under the IT umbrella – as do many other areas not noted.

          The rule of thumb for me, and many IT professionals, is that using software isn’t an IT skill…but if you are administrating licenses, configuring, or deploying based on policy it is.

    2. KayDay*

      While I do agree with you about the “guts” vs. “application” part, I think it’s used as a catchall term by most lay people. I work at a small company and when we call IT, it could be for any computer or software problem. I realize that those guys spend more time making sure the server network is a-okay, but they also are generally able to help us not-so-computer-inclined folks with a variety of application problems. I’ve also noticed that because I am reasonable young and can do (sarcasm here) “advanced skills” in Office, such as advanced formatting and making charts in Excel, the senior staff often think that means I understand why the server is down or their email doesn’t work, or why a document won’t print. But I don’t!! *sigh*

      1. Michael*

        If you’re subscribed to the Information Technology side of the argument then it is all encompassing. Over the last 8 years I’ve only had 2 positions where IT and software development were actually separate. Otherwise both functions have had the same boss.

    3. Jamie*

      I agree that the distinction needs to be made – I made the same point in a comment below…I do disagree that SQL isn’t an IT skill, though.

      No, if you’re just using software with a SQL backend it isn’t – I’m not a mechanic just because I can drive a car. But if you can run queries and write SQL statements against the raw data that is an IT skill. I’ve never seen a company where anyone outside of IT would even have the access to the databases to do that.

    4. Laurie*

      I’m in the US too, and IT has always meant Information Technology to me. Never heard of Internet Technology.
      But, to your point, I wouldn’t list HTML/CSS as “IT Skills” either. IT to me does mean the technology that your network and databases run on. I would list Excel as “MS Office” skills and HTML/CSS as “Coding:” or “Web Development” skills and so on. I second Gayle Laakman McDowell’s comment above.

  16. Long Time Admin*

    AAM, your “short answer” posts STILL have more content than most other business blogs that I read. And you make more sense than most of them, too.

    Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’.

  17. Michael*

    To #3: Simply list your experience on your resume and if you go to an interview answer any questions honestly. That’s honestly the best advice I can think of. Unfortunately, there’s no math equation here to rate efficiency. You say you had some experience with SQL, HTML and others but your proficiency is dependent upon how quickly you picked up the concepts behind those skills. The quickest, and most public, way I think that you can demonstrate your skill with these tools is to create a web site and have it work as your technical portfolio until your resume can stand on it’s own a bit more, so to speak. Incorporate every bit of knowledge that you know and also take it to pick up a few more things that you don’t. Good luck and success to you.

  18. Jamie*

    “I want to make myself look as good as I can, but I don’t want to lie and be stuck in a role I’m unqualified for.”

    I know I’ve already hit my comment quota for the week – but I wanted to reply to this.

    There is very little danger of this happening if the company is not run by wolverines.

    Skills are easily vetted between IT and non-IT. Sometimes vetting the level of skill is more of an art than a science – and I agree 100% with many of the commenters above who noted it’s aptitude more than specific software that should really matter – but in a couple of questions even a lousy interviewer can vet the category of skill.

    Personally, I would prefer someone who loves technology and is not only eager to learn but has a track record of picking things up quickly and accurately over someone else who may happen to have a little more experience with a particular application.

    I can teach someone with a strong background in Oracle how do do the same in PSQL in a matter of days…but I can’t teach someone to be a fast learner, logic, or technical inclination.

    FWIW a lot of people in IT got their start by being the go to computer person in the office and got lucky enough to have a mentor in the company who saw some skill and taught them on the job.

    I will make all the time in the world to work with someone who has genuine interest. Conversely, I have very little time for people who ask the same question 100x while stating that they have no interest in “that computer stuff.” Funny how that works.

  19. JPT*

    “Whether or not to pay overtime may not be up to them; if your job is non-exempt (which is determined by labor laws, not your employers, and is based on the nature of the work you do), then they’re required to pay overtime if you work more than 40 hours in any calendar week. (If you don’t work more than 40 hours, or if your job is exempt, then they’re not required to pay overtime.)”

    Not entirely true… some employers offer compensatory paid time off in lieu of working overtime, and it’s completely legit. In my last position I had to work weekends. Didn’t earn a cent, but got time and a half comp time. So if I worked 8 hours on a Saturday, no extra money, but 12 hours of time off.

    1. Jamie*

      Employers sometimes cut deals outside of labor laws. They can offer you comp time – but that doesn’t make it legal.

      The exact language in the FSLA:

      “FLSA overtime pay is due on the regular pay day for the period in which the overtime was worked. The overtime pay requirement may not be waived by agreement between the employer and the employee. The overtime pay requirement cannot be met through the use of compensatory time off (comp time) except under special circumstances applicable only to state and local government employees. ”

      DOL website has the full text.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m not an employment lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt: Comp time is allowed as long as it’s with in the same week, so if a non-exempt works 10 hours on Monday and leaves 2 hours early on Thursday, they are okay. (But I don’t think that’s what’s being asked by the OP here.)

        1. Anonymous*

          I don’t think that counts as comp time. In that scenario your still not working any overtime in that pay period/week, your just changing around your shift. I believe overtime kicks in after 40 hours in a week, rather than 8 hours in a day. For instance, working a 4×10 doesn’t create a requirement to pay overtime pay.

  20. Anonymous*

    Alison – Thank you so much for answering my question! (Question #2) As someone who is new to the professional work force I’m finding your blog extremely helpful. I’ve struggled previously with wording my experience properly on my resume since it always seems (to me at least) like I think I know more then I do. I’ve had a lot of great work experience throughout my University career, but I also acknowledge that I’m young and have a lot to learn. Now that I know how to properly communicate my experience without sounding pretentious, my resume is looking a lot better!

    Thanks again!

  21. Wilton Businessman*

    1. Who cares? Do the best you can and you will be compensated appropriately.

    2. Yeah, you’ve got to get it on there somehow. But realize that a lot of people will think you’re trying to blow smoke because summer people don’t typically do that kind of thing.

    3. Any IT shop worth their salt will test you on your knowledge. Besides, what you may think of as “basic” may be the type of experience they are looking for.

    4. Ugh, I don’t know. I can see it both ways.

    5. Your old boss is a jerk (although you probably already knew that). I had a similar situation. I left a consulting company with customary notice (2 weeks), but left in the middle of a couple big projects. My boss was Pissed with a capitol P and vowed to never talk to me again. About a year later, I was refinancing my mortgage and they called my former employer. Apparently he lit into them about how I was a horrible person and I couldn’t be trusted. The mortgage company told me “We see why you left, that guy is a jerk.”

    6. A vague jobs posting probably tells you they don’t know what they are looking for or are looking for a jack of all trades. Highlight what you think are your strongest strengths (like writing a decent job spec) and that’s all you can really do. Be cautious.

    7. Do you work at my company? Sometimes extra effort is required. You are doubly screwed if you are an exempt employee because you are giving away your time for free. Suck it up, you might be recognized as a team player.

    1. anon*

      “…Do the best you can and you will be compensated appropriately…”

      This has not been my experience, or the experience of anyone I know. Most people are conpenseted with as little as a company can get away with giving them before they leave or burn the place down.

      You get what you fight for. Just don’t come off as a fighter, because that will tip them off and they’ll probably let you go.

  22. JessB*

    @Question #3

    Sorry, haven’t had a chance to read the comments yet, so I hope I’m not repeating anybody when I suggest using a website to test your skills.
    I’ve just finished a course, and I knew there was a computer skills test you could take before you started if you wanted to make sure you were up to the necessary level. I never used it, but it looks okay, and the course was great, so hopefully it helps:

  23. Amanda*

    What constitutes proficiency in I.T. skills?

    Don’t look for an overview, but be specific to what you can do.

    Word: Use styles, manage themes, create basic macros
    Excel: Strong graph and reporting skills, designing effective spreadsheets
    mySQL: Create new databases and schemas, code queries

    Everyone says they are good or proficient – What specifically can you do? Using the right words will also show your skills well

  24. Jen M.*

    RE: #6-If I come across an ad like that and I think there’s even a remote chance I’d be interested, I simply send them a brief introductory note and say that I’d like to apply, but I would like to know a little bit more about the position.

    I don’t always get a response, and sometimes when I do get a response, I find I’m not interested in applying after all. I figure it never hurts to ask, if you really think you might be interested.

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