fast answer Friday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday! We’ve got a recent grad without enough references, a coworker badmouthing someone to their former employer, an employee asked to work as a secretary after being hired for a different job, and more. Here we go…

1. Is it ever okay to give a prospective employer a personal reference?

Is it ever okay to give a prospective employer a personal reference? I am currently in my first job after college and am searching for a new position. I don’t have a deep network of contacts at this point in my career. Is it OK to give two professional and one personal reference? The personal reference is someone I met in a student organization in college, so we have worked together in that capacity. However, we are very close friends now. Is this a big no-no?

Personal references are basically worthless; they’re people who can’t speak about your work and have a personal bias toward you. However, in this case, someone who you’d worked with in a student organization would actually be more of a professional reference than a personal one … but the fact that you’re close friends means you can’t use her (unless you’re positive that she won’t signal that on the call). Close friends, relatives, significant others — none of these are acceptable references. However, you’re in your first job after college and it’s normal that you’re not going to have a ton of professional references yet. If the employer — who must know that you’re new to the work world — wants more than the two you have, you can offer professors (although I personally find them useless for references), colleagues, etc.

2. Employer offered me one rate of pay, then lowered it a day later

I had an interview last night at a small company. The ad I answered said the pay rate was going to be $X-$Z/hr. It was on the lower side of what I had been applying to but figured I’d take the interview anyways and not poo-poo the job before knowing all of the in’s and out’s. I was offered the position on the spot and the HR manager that I met with told me that she was given (by the owner) a range of pay and was going to offer me the very highest amount because she really wanted me. Today, I received an email from her that said the owner told her he wasn’t willing to go that high… we’re talking a difference of a dollar/hour. This job has pros to it schedule-wise, but that’s about it. I know after looking for the past few months that jobs aren’t at all easy to come by at this point, but this company has the least to offer me of any other I’ve applied/interviewed with. How can I respond to the email and get that dollar/hr back? I feel since it was already offered to me, for it to be taken back is extremely unprofessional.

It’s definitely unprofessional of them to offer you one rate of pay and then change afterwards — although it would be far worse if more than a day had passed in between. You can certainly push back and negotiate for the higher amount, just like you might try to negotiate for more money in any offer situation, but ultimately, if they hold firm, you’ll need to decide what to do.

By the way, while you said that you feel that this job has less to offer you than others you’ve applied for, keep in mind that it has one thing that the others don’t: an actual job offer attached to it. Ultimately you’ve got to evaluate offers based on what the market tells you that you can get — so you’ve got to decide if the market has already spoken in your case or if you should walk away from this and hold out for something better.

3. Coworker is badmouthing me to my former employer

Is it a form of harassment for a fellow co-worker to go to your last employer and tell them how badly you are doing at your new job? Does foul behavior like this count when it’s outside of the workplace?

It’s not legal harassment, no. It’s really weird though. Why does either your coworker or your last employer care? More details please.

4. Appropriate gifts for a fantastic recruiter

I have been interviewing with a very large, global company. I had a phone screen with a junior recruiter from the company, then an interview with a senior recruiter who spoke with me in-depth and has since referred me to several hiring teams in the company, has answered numerous questions, set up amazingly well-coordinated interviews, done a lot of legwork and is just a very cool person all-around. Regardless of how this works out, I want to get her a gift. What would be appropriate?

Don’t give a gift. A gift in this context is inappropriate and will come across as if you’re sucking up (even though you’re just genuinely trying to give thanks). A much better response would be to write her a note and tell her how much her help has meant to you, and specifically what you appreciate about what she’s done. This is the type of thing that has way more meaning for people than a fruit basket or bottle of wine anyway.

5. Must a job seeker have a social media presence?

What if a hiring manager is searching for social media profiles for a candidate and cannot find any? I can only assume that some individuals might see this as a negative but wonder how those who do not use Facebook, Twitter, etc, are commonly perceived. As you might have guessed, I do not have any social media accounts and would only do so if it became professionally necessary. I am currently taking a break from work but may begin searching in a few weeks.

Fear not. It’s not at all mandatory unless you’re applying for jobs in social media. I’ve written on this here.

6. Asked to work as a secretary after being hired for something else

I am a newly hired employee for a certain position. But after my training, the secretary of one of the bosses decided to resign. My mind is already set on the position I applied for, but suddenly I was to become a secretary (temporarily) for the VP. How am I supposed to deal with this? I am not complaining about the work because I can do it. I just don’t know how to deal with my disappointment. The VP said that it would just be temporary. My original position was supposed to be a Quality Coordinator.

Talk to your boss and tell him that you understand the position the VP is in but that you were excited to get started at your new job and you wouldn’t have taken a job as a secretary if you’d known that’s what it was going to be. Say that you’re glad to help out temporarily, but you want to make sure it’s going to be short-term, and that you’re both on the same page about what “short-term” is going to mean in this case. If you start to get the sense that this is open-ended and you might still be doing this work in six months, then you’ll need to decide if that’s something you’re willing to do or not. But I’d push very hard to get a firm date by which you’ll be back to the job you were hired for.

As for dealing with the disappointment: See what positives you can get out of the experience. Can you build a relationship with the VP that will help you later? Will you learn about different areas of the company that you wouldn’t have other been exposed to and build connections that you wouldn’t have otherwise built?

7. Should bosses care if you’re unhappy or bored at work?

Do bosses care (or should good managers care) if you are unhappy at work, unchallenged and bored, etc?

Yes, good managers care if you’re unhappy and bored. That doesn’t mean that there’s always going to be something that they can do about it — sometimes the job is simply not that engaging and there’s no natural slot for you to grow into, for instance — but they’d certainly care about it, acknowledge it, and be honest with you about what can and can’t change. And the really good ones will talk to you about where to go next in your career, even if it’s not at their company.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks so much for your speedy response! I tried to negotiate for the higher amount but they did stick with the lower amount. I have a follow up interview with another company that offered me a better position, pay and benefits. I’m still on the fence of whether or not to accept the offer given last night, so I emailed the second interviewer today, explained my situation and asked if the second interview was something I was asked to do alone or if it was something they’ve asked a bunch of others to come in for. Keeping my fingers crossed!

  2. Joey

    7. In most circumstances yes, but most managers won’t have a lot of sympathy for you if they can say “but you knew what you were getting into.”

    4. If possible write an email to the recruiters boss. Bosses love getting this stuff just as much as the person you’re complementing.

      1. Emily

        That IS a good idea about the email to the boss! I was going to suggest writing a LinkedIn recommendation, but I think email to the boss is better. You can also say “thank you” by remembering the recruiter if you are ever in a situation to help her out – if you know someone who is a fantastic candidate for a job she is trying to fill, etc.

        1. SrRecruiter

          I think that posting a recommendation on LinkedIN is a great way to show your appreciation to the Recruiter. Not only will she know you are appreciative, it will actually help her continue to do her job well.

          1. Holly @ Carousel

            These are all great ideas! Recruiters often get both thank you notes and gifts. The other day a bottle of wine came into the office for one of the recruiters. Another one received a silver ring that had been made by one of the candidates she placed (the woman designs jewellery in addition to her day job).

            If the recruiter is on LinkedIn, I think that a recommendation there would be your best option. That way she can see it, her boss can see it, and so can everyone else who views the recruiter’s profile. It’s got extra value to it, and the recruiter will probably be quite pleased.

  3. Riki

    5 – ITA with AAM. The only time a recruiter pressed me about how involved I was online was when I applied for a job at Twitter. You’re actually better off not being on Twitter, Facebook, etc. because you don’t have worry about anything embarrassing popping up if a hiring manager does a Google search using your name!

  4. Wilton Businessman

    1. I’d argue that she’s a professional reference.
    2. Walk, just on principal alone.
    3. Who cares?
    4. If you’re talking about an external recruiter, they will get paid handsomely. If you are talking about an internal recruiter, it’s their job and they’re really good at it.
    5. Depends on the job.
    6. Tough call. You want to appear to be a team player but at the same time you want to do the work you were hired for. This association with the VP could help you along at some point.

    My wife worked for a fortune 500 company a while ago as a software developer. After she was there for about three years, the company went through some restructuring and she got shifted to “third level support” or basically working with customers on the phone that were having problems. The experience she gained there was invaluable for the rest of her tenure with the company. When things turned around, she had her pick of where to go and it turned out to be the best move she ever made. Make the most of every opportunity.

    7. They should care. A lot don’t.

  5. Ornery PR

    #5 – I currently work as the social media administrator for my company, and when I applied for this job, I didn’t have a facebook account or a linkedin account. I’m naturally skeptical of these types of tools because they aren’t concerned about your privacy or protecting your personal information. Plus, if you’re using an online “tool” that you’re not required to pay for, you’re the one getting used and you’re the tool. That being said, obviously I got the job, and do a great job for this company in the social media realm. Some employees will see the skills regardless of which tools you personally use (or don’t use).

  6. RecentInterviewee

    Alison, great collection of questions for “fast answer Friday.”

    Ornery PR, I’m inclined to strongly, but respectfully, disagree with your comment regarding question number 5.

    All the interviews I’ve had over the past four years in the fields of marketing, public relations, community outreach, and communications have asked me about my knowledge of new media websites. I’ve interviewed with universities, community colleges, public schools, large and small nonprofits, science and manufacturing businesses, and marketing companies.

    The interviewers specifically wanted to know about my experience and comfort levels with Twitter, Facebook, Blogspot, LinkedIn, and most recently, Google+. To fully prepare myself for any questions about these websites, I have opened accounts on each of them, built up a network and even read books about how to best use them for professional development.

    I’m not terribly concerned about privacy issues because I use the websites exclusively for connecting with former colleagues and others in similar fields. No personal information beyond my high school, college, and work experience is available. The decision to highlight my educational and professional accomplishments for anyone to see leads me to view the websites more as cheerleaders that allow me to control the message.

    The websites provide options of making the account personal in nature, but as the account holder you have the option of declining to input the data or keeping it under virtual lock and key via the privacy settings. If users read the terms of service and become educated about the assumed risks and limitations of social media websites, then they will be less likely to be “the tool.”

    Although I seriously doubt that my limited job hunting experience reflects everyone’s, I sincerely believe the more you know as a candidate about all the communication avenues available the more viable you appear to perspective employers.

    1. Ornery PR

      ^I agree whole heartedly. Obviously I am in the same field as you, Recent Interviewee, and I also know how to use all existing, and am constantly researching new social media channels. And I was asked about those skills and knowledge in interviews. But before I was required to for work, I chose not to use them personally, even as a communications major.

      Though I agree with AAM that interviewers may ask you to, say, show them a blog if you’re expected to write one for their company, my employers did not require me to show them my klout score or provide details about twitter followers in the interview. I realize I may be a special case, but I was simply trying to illustrate that no, it isn’t necessary to have a personal facebook account in order to get a job, even if that job entails managing a corporate facebook page. It’s not about using the tool, it’s about being able to create a compelling message that people will respond to. The tool is secondary. It’s not a skill.

      And I stand by my statement that social media is scary and site owners don’t care about your privacy as much as they care about using your personal info in market research and to generate ad dollars.

      1. Avril

        OP for #5 here. Thank you, AAM, for your quick reply. Ornery PR’s view of social media closely matches my own. Use it if you enjoy it, or if it is necessary for some reason. But beware of enthusiastically providing info about yourself (or your friends) and believing no harm can come of it. There is a reason that some of the social media sites are so valuable, yet cost nothing to join. In my next career, I could see myself working to help people protect their privacy.

    2. GeekChic

      I agree with Ornery PR. I’m in IT and used to work in senior management and have never had an account on any social networking site. I manage the various technical aspects of my employer’s presence on such sites as part of my current job – but I don’t have a personal account.

      I can know quite a bit about the various “communication avenues available” without participating personally.

      1. RecentInterviewee

        Wow, several more people have joined the discussion about question number 5! It’s great to see so many opinions on the subject of social media usage being added to the comments section.

        Regarding GeekChic’s posting, I take issue with two items:

        First, I find your initial argument specious in that you currently hold a position in IT, not communications, marketing, or public relations. This means the set of interview questions you were asked and the expected knowledge and usage of social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging resources) is different than those for people in the communication field. Projecting your IT position’s job responsibilities onto those in communications appears, to me, to be a logical fallacy.

        Secondly, you pulled a partial quote from my lengthy post, but declined to credit me for it. Instead, you named Ornery PR at the beginning of the comment, and summarized a similar point of view regarding social media usage; meanwhile, your final statement makes an awkward transition to my opposing viewpoint without providing the reader sufficient understanding of the source.

        I disagree with your logic, your writing style choices, and the attitude that I believe permeates your writing; however, you are entitled to your own opinions. Just as I am well within my rights to see the issue in an entirely different light and submit posts reflecting that.

        Well . . . to each his or her own, I suppose.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Hey — there’s no need for this kind of thing. No one should be taking this topic personally, and I didn’t see anything wrong with what GeekChic wrote; she shared her own experience, as others have done, and it was hardly inflammatory!

  7. Anonymous

    Regarding #2 (Employer offered me one rate of pay, then lowered it a day later):

    I agree that it is a red flag that they offered one rate and then lowered it the next day. Having said that, if you need a job I would take it with the idea of continuing to look. As AAM said this interview does have the added benefit of an actual job offer, not just a good schedule.

    Maybe a negotiation tactic would be to accept the “lower” rate with the understanding that it would be raised to the “offered” rate in a set amount of time?

    Keep in mind that $1/hr is $40 a week, after taxes probably more like $30/week. If I really needed a job I probably wouldn’t walk for $30/week, but I would be suspicious if anything else they promised started to change. If you think the pay offered is ridiculously low for the work involved then don’t take it.

    1. Mike C.

      If it’s only $30/week, why can’t the business pay it?

      Secondly, accepting the lower rate with the understanding of a raise later is a recipe for becoming a doormat. They negotiated in bad faith and what are they going to take away next?

      1. Elizabeth

        Because it isn’t $30/week to the employer. It’s $40 to the employee, plus the increased employment taxes that are percentage based (Social Security & Medicare) plus any other benefits that increase with salary. So it’s probably more like $50-60/week to the employer. $50/week = $2600 per year.

      2. Kim Stiens

        I actually think that it’s an excellent negotiating strategy. Employers love to give you the impression that you’re getting a raise (ie the presumed morale boost and greater productivity) when they don’t have to actually pay for one immediately (like, getting that extra buck in 6 months on good behavior). Sure, some employers will renege, but I would guess that most won’t (I mean, they’re basically doing you a favor by agreeing to a salary restructure beforehand, so if they know they’re aren’t gonna do it they probably won’t offer), and even if they do, you’re still no worse off. I think it’s almost always worth a shot.

  8. Just Me

    #7 They should care. Yes that is what you signed up for but that doesn’t mean that is your ” sentence” forever. How does anyone know if they will be bored until they do the job for a while?
    Maybe you catch on quick and it is no longer a challange.

    But maybe there is nothing that can be done, but it is worth putting out on the table. Maybe the manager will say…. well, there is nothing I can do about “this” part of the job but… I have a task that needs to be done daily which will take 2 hours.. do you want to do it”? It eases of your boredom and helps out others and the manager is happy. Yes I am speaking from experience.

    Maybe the manager might not have anything for you now or ever but if they at least knows you are interested in discussing other areas or whatever, you have put it out there so they know.
    I would think that there are a lot of workers out there that have gotten other jobs, promotions etc simply by talking to the managers about goals and so on.

      1. Piper

        I’m curious about this, too. This is something that’s often feasible at smaller companies, but larger, more corporate (and often more bureaucratic) companies tend to like to keep folks in silos and not let them do much work outside of their job description. So, there comes a point in time where you’ve outgrown the work and it’s just boring. If there isn’t anything more they can give you, it’s time to move on.

        1. SAN

          For larger companies, even “siloed” departments can offer opportunities for growth. Your manager might have a couple of smaller items on their desk they can pass to you or a couple of intra-department issues that need meetings, etc… to resolve. Just ask and talk – it worked for me (company with 15K employees). Just be sure that your basic day to day duties are under control and well done.

          1. Just Me

            That is what I am saying. And my real duties were never in danger of not getting done. As a matter a fact, the change in my routine helped me be motivated to get it done, make double sure it was perfect to move on to my next project.
            Sometimes just a couple of hours of a change of routine relieves boredom.

        2. J_Mo

          Exactly. That’s where I’m at right now, and that’s why I am trying so hard to move on.

          My managers know, and they don’t care.

      2. Just Me

        approx 2000 plus employees….

        The point is that the employee needs speak to the manager and show an interest. Non-complaining, simply have a conversation.
        Regardless on the size of the company, interaction between employee and manager is needed.

        I also was given responsibilities outside my job duties in another large company as well, that was driven by a conversation I had with a director. That one I was not seeking anything but she had asked some questions that I was answering. She obviously liked my answers and boom, more things to do.

        All I am saying is just talk…….

        1. Piper

          I agree that you should just talk and see what happens.. I’ve experienced it both ways in large companies. I’ve been able to get more interesting work and at other companies, I haven’t. It’s all about the culture. But I’ve also worked at very small, agile companies, and trust me, it’s much, much easier (in my experience) to work cross-departmentally in those kinds of companies.

          That said, I still outgrew my job(s), even when I was working on other projects and there was nowhere to promote me to officially because of budgets and bureaucracy, and so I moved on after a few years.

  9. Piper

    #6 – Something similar happened to me. I was hired to work on high level work, as per my job description. I was super excited about the work, the company, and the career boost it was going to give me. I was there for a few weeks and none of the duties in my job description were happening. When this was still happening, a month later, I realized it was a bait and switch (I do believe an unintentional one, though). I was relegated to a job way below my skill level and not even close to what I want to be doing as a career. It sucks and I’m hoping that one of my recent interviews will result in a new job.

    Which brings me to:
    #7 – My boss knows how unhappy I am with the way things have turned out at my current job. He knows I’m bored. He feels like a shoe for how it all turned out. But unfortunately, there’s not much he can do about it. He’s tried to give me some tasks that sort of remotely (in an alternate universe) might resemble my job description, but the writing is on the wall here. And he’s more than willing to help me get a new job. For all the crap I’ve dealt with at this job, I have to say, this guy is a good manager. One of the best I’ve had, actually.

  10. Beth

    #6 I would be very careful about accepting a Secretary’s job even temporarily. At some places that is how people will continue to see you even when you finally do the job you were hired to do and this may undermine your credibility/clout (yes, I work at a place with nasty people and the bias against secretaries is totally unfair – I speak from experience, something similar happened to me). Depends on the culture of your organization.

    1. ThatHRGirl

      Am I the only one that shudders at the term “Secretary”? Must be the millenial in me… or the obsession with Mad Men’s upcoming new season :)

  11. Kim Stiens

    To #6: I would just do it, at least for a couple weeks, before you start asking about a deadline. You’ll be more flexible (I was going to say that you’d appear more flexible, but it’s actually just demonstrating a desirable trait, not trying to create an image of it), and the commentators who note that it could create valuable relationships with higher-ups are absolutely right.

    Plus, if you ask them right away, they’ll have a timeline for when they hope to have another secretary, but it’s gonna be sketchier and while you’ll be counting the days, they could be having issues that makes the hiring process go slower. Give it a week or two, and maybe it will resolve itself quickly, and if it doesn’t, they’ll have a clearer idea of what the real timeline is, and you haven’t been making yourself a bother in the meantime (and in fact will having been kicking ass and helping out in a pinch).

    1. Kim Stiens

      Wow, I can’t believe how many commenters are in the same situation where they just got stuck with crappier jobs. I still think it mostly goes fine, but it’s still surprising… I wouldn’t blame you for wanting an end date sooner!

  12. Scott Woode

    1) Speaking as someone who didn’t “just graduate” from college but who has had three different careers in entirely different professions (teacher for 2 years, waiter for 3, now a receptionist), I can understand the desire to put down a personal reference when no other name in the rolodex will do. I would hasten to add that if you had any work-study positions during your undergraduate career that now would be the perfect time to use them.

    I did have one query, AaM: what specifically about the student/professor dynamic leaves them all-but-useless as references? Thinking back to my time in university, there were three professors with whom I had an exceptionally close personal and professional bond (went to office hours every week, took 2-5 classes they taught, had them as readers for my thesis, etc.). I have used them as references before and no one has said word one about it to me. Should the new graduate just be exceptionally picky about which professors they choose (i.e. one that knows them and their work very well) or, as a whole, should they be disregarded as viable references unless you’re pursuing a career in academia?

    4) I’ve always sent a thank you card to the recruiter (and if I’m really impressed by their professionalism and work ethic, a letter to their supervisor). This rule has always treated me well and often (especially in the case of the letter) leads to an ongoing professional relationship that further expands my network.

    6) Honestly, OP, I think that you should stick it out as the secretary but only for as long as you feel comfortable doing so. You’ll demonstrate flexibility (mentioned above), but also that you value teamwork and have a positive attitude about pretty much anything work-related (and by extension, depending on how private you are about your personal life at work, life as a whole) which most people prefer to be around and work with. Ultimately, no, being a secretary was not what you applied for and not a job you’re happy taking on for an extended period of time, but if you’re willing to help them out and then later on discuss the move to what was promised, I feel like they’ll be more inclined to acquiesce to your request after you’ve obviously shown your dedication to the VP, the team, and the organization. So I say, stick it out and “make it work” to your benefit.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I discount references from professors because who you are as a student can be very different from who you are as an employee. There’s some overlap, of course, but so often someone can be a great student and mediocre employee (or vice versa). So I’d rather talk with past managers.

  13. Maggie

    #6 – I would be concerned about this scenario in certain situations. Years ago I worked for a law firm that had a number of paralegals. One of them went to law school, passed the bar, and applied for an attorney position that was open and was not hired. She was told it was because people at the firm still thought of her as a paralegal rather than as an attorney. Totally crappy, but it happens.

    Also possible is that the person turns out to be such a good secretary that there becomes a disincentive for the VP to let her move on to her other job.

    I would be careful about this situation.

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