fast answer Friday: 7 short questions, 7 short answers

It’s starting to seem like I could do a short answer post every day.  And so it’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. My boss and I are applying for the same job

I have an interview for a job coming up that my boss has shown interest in applying for. I am planning to bring my references to the interview in case they are asked for. Under normal circumstances, my boss would give my a great reference and probably still will give me a great reference. I am unsure of what to do because I feel like I am putting my boss in an awkward position by asking for a reference for a job that my boss also wants. My company’s culture is not great and I don’t feel comfortable asking someone else for a reference. I have other great references from previous positions. I also do not want to bring to my interviewers attention that my boss is interested in the job and that it might be a conflict of interest because I worry that will take me out of the running. What do you think would be the best way to approach this situation?

Won’t the interviewer know that your boss is applying too? I’d probably be straightforward about it and just say, “I think my boss will give me a great reference, but I feel a little awkward about it since I think he may be applying for the position as well.”

2. Declining a job offer but leaving the door open

I am about to start a new transitional-type job. The company has a top notch reputation, is a big name in the field, and offers training that will be extremely valuable to me over the long term. Before I signed the official offer from company #1, I was contacted by company #2 to apply for a position and I’ve received an offer. Company #2 is a completely unknown, very small (think <7 people) startup, but it’s in the field and type of position I ultimately want to end up in.  They tried rather hard to convince me to take the job, but it doesn’t offer particularly good salary or benefits and job #1 offers more stability and experience.  Essentially if this was 2-4 years in the future, I would take job #2 in a heartbeat.  Is there any way I can decline the offer from #2 while leaving the door open for reapplying in a few years?  How would I phrase it when I decline?

Sure. Tell them that you’d love to work for them at some point, but you’re not at a point where you can take the salary and benefits they’re able to offer — but that you’d love to stay in touch and hope that something might work out differently some day.

3. Online assessment tests

I was recently told by a prospective employer that I had been selected along with four other candidates to complete an online assessment. A few days after completing the assessment, I received an email that I would not be moving on to the interview stage.

What are your thoughts on online assessments? How can they know that I am a worthy candidate for employment by where I rank torturing a person or poisoning city water on a scale from terrible to more terrible? (The assessments were Innermetrix: the DISC assessment, and ExpressScreen, if you’re familiar with either of those). I am very disappointed, as the job description made no mention of doing sales work but one of the assessments was simply multiple questions about sales, prospecting, closing deals, etc. I was applying for a salary project manager position, not a sales position (of which they had several commission based positions posted online); might they have all candidates complete these assessments so that all employees are on the same page regarding the sales aspect of the company? I feel cheated out of an interview. How can they possibly know how awesome I am from an online assessment? I am much more awesome in person.

As for online assessments, some are crap, some are good, and some are good but misused.

But never think of something like this as being cheated out of an interview. You can’t be cheated out of something you’re not entitled to, and no one owes you an interview, no matter how awesome you are. If it wasn’t a weird assessment test keeping you from the job, it could have been an interviewer’s personal dislike of your tie or a candidate getting picked because she’s the CEO’s neighbor. Hiring isn’t fair, and thinking that it should be is a recipe for making yourself really frustrated.

4. Do resume PDFs throw off hiring software?

I have a question about formatting resumes. I have read from a number of places that if you submit your resume as a PDF, it will throw off the software the person in HR might use and thus not yield any results for you in your job search. However, I am a graphic designer, and we were always told to create a resume in design software and send as a PDF. I am sure that this would be true if the resume was going directly to the art director and not first through HR, but it seems like that doesn’t usually happen when you first send. So my question is, should I create both a PDF resume and a Word resume file and submit both just to be sure? I don’t want to ruin my chances with a company due to some software not being able to pick up on buzzwords because of a different file format.

Don’t submit both; that’s annoying because the person screening resumes ends up opening both and trying to figure out if they’re the same or not.

Unless the company specifies otherwise, it’s fine to submit a PDF. Better, in fact, because it preserves your formatting.

Update: People are correcting me about this in the comments. Apparently there are some electronic application processing systems that do indeed mess up the formatting in PDFs. I’ve only used a couple, but PDFs weren’t worse than Word docs in those. From other people’s experiences, though, it sounds like a stripped-down plain-text version is safest if you’re uploading. I’d still go with PDF if you’re attaching it to an email. Read the comments for a fuller discussion.

5. Applying for two jobs at one company

The question I have for you is related to cover letters. Typically we mention the position we are applying for. What happens when there is more than one position that appeals to me and that I feel qualified to apply for? Is it alright to say we’d like to be considered for both job openings, or must we choose one?

If the positions are closely related, you can send one cover letter for both. If they’re not closely related, send separate applications for each. (Although if you’re using an online application system, then you probably need to apply separately for each regardless.) Mention in your cover letter for each that you’re applying for the other, so that they don’t think you’re just resume-bombing and didn’t realize it. And make sure each cover letter is substantively different and makes the case for why you’d be great at that particular job.

(Also, read Suzanne Lucas’s great article today about the danger of applying for too many jobs at the same place; it doesn’t sound like it applies to you, but it’ll apply to others.)

6. Should I get a certificate in graphic design?

I am fairly new to the workforce, currently unemployed after a contracted position ended recently, and am now seeking work. In the meantime, I have been volunteering at a place I love that is in my field. My father suggests that I go to the community college to get a certificate in graphic arts, since I am in the communications field and a certificate in graphic arts would be useful in marketing or advertising. I have experience working in both fields, as my most recent job was in marketing, where I worked daily with InDesign to create marketing materials. I was the sole person in this role/department.

As I look at the courses offered for this certificate, I notice it will be quite pricey. It requires 6 courses, which tally to more than $2,100. A couple courses are introductory to things like InDesign and scanning documents into a computer. I am young and have grown up with computers; I know my way around computers as well as more complex things like design programs and HTML. I am looking to take maybe one of the classes to get more in-depth experience, but not all of them. I don’t want to spend time and money on something that I have workplace experience in, especially when it will cost me $500 or more to do so. So I have two options: get the certificate in computer graphic design, or take one course to refresh/enhance my abilities. I was wondering if, to a potential employer, it would be just as impressive to share my accomplishments in social media, marketing and design along with one additional course to show my experience, OR to put a graphic design certificate on my resume. Would a potential employer care if I got some certificate, or would the work experience speak for itself?

Employers rarely care about certificates; it’s the work product that counts, particularly in design. Have great work samples that demonstrate your skills, and that will matter far more than a certificate.

7. Schmoozing your way into an interview

A few months ago I submitted an online application for a marketing position with a travel company and did not receive a response. I also happen to subscribe to this company’s daily newsletter. Out of the blue today, I received an email from this company saying they saw that I use their site and since I’m local they’d like me to come in to meet with the Vice President and General Manager and participate in a study for their marketing team. I still see this as a company I would like to work for and they actually have a position available that would match my background. My question is how do I delicately/tactfully express my interest in the new position when I go in for the study? Or should I not wait (one week) until I go in and just email the Vice President with my resume? When I show up for the study would it be weird and tacky to have my resume and cover letter on hand in case they show interest in me as a candidate? I’d like to be forward but not pushy and I thought somehow slipping into conversation my interest and the position after the study might be my best bet. Interested to hear your thoughts.

Go, do the study, and establish some rapport with the VP and general manager while you’re there. Hang around after the event is over, and try to talk to the VP and/or general manager one-on-one. Tell them that you enjoyed talking with them, and oh, it happens that you recently applied for a job there as a ___. You’d love to talk with them more about it at some point, etc. And yes, have your resume on hand (not cover letter — that’s weird when you’re in-person) in case they ask for it.

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. Sophie*

    #6 – Spend that money on building your portfolio. A website would be great, but I have also found in some interviews for design-oriented positions, they wanted a hard copy portfolio as well, so spend some time on both. A portfolio is far more impressive in the design field than certificates, and is also expected. Don’t spend time or money on classes unless you would learn better from taking a class, but I don’t think you need to put that on a resume or in a cover letter (as in “I took such and such class for this…”). When I see a mention of coursework or certificates on a resume it doesn’t mean much to me, but a strong portfolio makes a great impression.

    1. Alisha*

      Exactly – portfolio is #1 in marketing, creative, even many hi-tech fields. As for successfully learning new skills, the key is to think about which skills you want to learn most, consider how you learn best, and choose your methods/training sources accordingly. You may find that self-paced learning works best for one skill-set you’d like to have, e.g. Photoshop, but that you’d really prefer the structure of a class for another, like analytics training.

      Oh yeah…just remembered as well that marketers are learning how to design websites and digital publications for tablet devices using InDesign, which the OP said s/he is good with, and this is a great skill to have too. and YouTube both look like they have some terrific videos if that’s something you’d like to learn. (I love this topic/field…buuuut, I’m gonna end it here ’cause otherwise I could go on all night!)

  2. Josh S*

    Regarding #2 (taking the stable position over the lower-salary startup):
    Alison is dead on. Tell them that you would love to work with them at some point in your career, but that you aren’t able to make the finances work at this time. (Or fill in any other legitimate, but maturing/time-will-take-care-of-it issues in that space.)

    Then, keep in touch. Seriously. As in, if you see a client that would be a good fit for them, send them referrals (barring any conflicts of interest with your current employer, of course). If you know of any journalists or relevant trade groups, talk up Company#2, and be sure to pass along YOUR business card with Company#2’s contact information on it to the person. Email Company#2 management from time to time and have lunch. See where they’re at. If you’re in a position to lend advice (expertise/conflicts of interest permitting), do so. Heck, liking them on social media and passing word along to friends/co-workers can be good enough.

    In short, be a (minor) advocate for Company#2 and when the time is right for you to move there, they’ll welcome you with open arms.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m in somewhat of a similar situation. Do you mean keeping in touch with the hiring manager or the company in general (such as social media, referrals)?

      1. Josh S*

        Yup, the more personal the better, especially in this case because it’s a small company. By the time that company gets bigger and wants to hire people, those original 7 people will be hiring managers for various divisions, and OP will have all the right ‘ins’.

        That becomes more important the bigger the company. If it’s a company of 1000, it helps to know/connect/build relationships with people who are currently in positions of influence in the areas you want to work in.

        But yeah, social media connections and more general boosterism can’t hurt in any case.

  3. Ariancita*


    Your portfolio is what matters, not a certificate. I worked in the design field for years and while having a degree from a university or art school is good, a certificate is pretty meaningless. Because employers want to see your proven capability. You can have a degree or certificate and be a lousy, slow, uncreative designer. You can have a degree in biology and have an incredible portfolio. Your work product and the role you performed in creating it will speak to your skill, creativity, and facility with the software. The only use a certificate will have will be found in the courses themselves; meaning, to teach you software that you don’t already know. The certificate as cultural capital in the working design world has little value.

  4. Liz in a Library*

    I had #1 happen to me exactly several months ago. I think it all comes down to how comfortable you feel trusting your boss on this. If you think there’s a chance he’ll try to sabotage you, then I would use other references. Keep in mind that he is your boss; there’s a chance they’ll call him anyway. If you can trust him, then do not worry. After all, it reflects badly on him as well if it comes off like he’s trying to sabotage his way into the position.

    My boss is someone who I know without a doubt would not throw me under a bus. When this happened with us, she told me she’d give me an absolutely stellar reference, or, if I was uncomfortable, she’d recuse herself and explain if necessary her relationship to the job at hand to the employer (if it came up). I chose to keep her as a reference, and I’m certain she gave me a great one.

    It was also pretty fun sharing interview experiences.

    I’m curious in situations like this how much credence employers give to a reference from one applicant for another. I’ve never had it come up as a hirer, but I imagine it would add credence for me to a positive reference (because the referer would be acting against their own self-interest). For a negative one, I think I might be a little wary unless other references told similar tales.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I’ve never had it come up as a hirer, but I imagine it would add credence for me to a positive reference (because the referer would be acting against their own self-interest). For a negative one, I think I might be a little wary unless other references told similar tales.”

      That’s exactly how I’d take it.

  5. Malissa*

    #1–If your boss is a stand-up person, you shouldn’t have too many worries. I’ve done a recommendation for a colleague when we’ve both applied for the same position. All was good in the end. My being able to give her a good recommendation actually benefited both of us.

  6. ITforMe*

    #7 sounds so shady to me…if someone just happened to have their resume with them, it’s obvious they have a hidden agenda. That means that virtually anything they’ve said as a member of the focus group is suspect. I’m not a marketer, but I think I’d be pretty irritated to know that I had gone to the time and effort to conduct market research only to find out it may not be reliable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it depends on how she goes about it. If it seems like she specifically brought it for that reason, yes — but if she happens to have a briefcase-type thing with her with all sorts of stuff in it, it wouldn’t be weird to happen to have a copy of her resume in it.

      1. Seal*

        I had a similar situation where a graduate student asked to interview me for a class project (along the lines of what type of work I did, how I got into the profession, etc). During the interview she all of a sudden mentioned that she’d applied for a job with our company, hadn’t heard anything and asked if I could put in a good word for her. She even had a copy of her resume with her “just in case”. Since the job she’d applied for was with a different department with which I have no input or authority whatsoever, there really wasn’t much I could do for her. Made the rest of the interview VERY awkward.

      2. Jamie*

        I agree – can’t hurt to just happen to have a resume on you.

        If you have a smart phone you don’t even necessarily need a hard copy, but make sure you’re resume in in your dropbox or whatever and you can email it to them then and there.

    2. Dan*


      Who carries around a copy of their resume everywhere they go? That’s weird and suspicious.

      If she is able to talk to the VP or hiring manager and establish a rapport, she could talk about how great it would be to work with them and how she recently applied. And if all goes well, she could then ask for an email address where she could provide them with a copy of her resume. It seems more spontaneous and less “I’m only here because I want a job”.


      1. #7 Update*

        I asked the original #7 question…I actually went ahead and emailed the VP beforehand with my resume and cover letter which did run the risk of making the survey awkward on their end. I would have completely understood either way and kept the two interactions separate. The study was just them observing me using their site and their competitor’s sites so not much room for bias. Nonetheless, the VP was surprisingly very nice about me “cold emailing” him. Unfortunately for me, the position had just been filled but he advised he would be happy to consider me for future roles and that coming in to meet everyone would be a good idea. I was a little early to the study so he showed me around the office and explained the company’s history. After the survey he introduced me to a couple people in different departments. We chatted for a bit and he told me of some of the companies where he knew people – one in particular that was hiring now. He also invited me to connect with him on LinkedIn and if I found any of his contacts who were hiring and whose positions matched my skills he would gladly make the introduction and set me up with an interview. Overall I was really blown away at how genuine he seemed in wanting to help me and think I’ve made a great contact!

        1. Anon.*

          Wow! DingDingDing!! Win. You didn’t get the job (right now) but you got way more than you expected.
          Good for you OP#7 :)

          If there is a follow up regarding any of the things you mentioned, please update us.

        2. Alisha*

          Awesome! Very inspiring story…and a great example for those of us also on the market.

  7. Mike B.*

    I’m not sure I understand the problem with #1. Few hiring managers will expect to see a recommendation from the current employer in the first place; everyone understands that it would put applicants in an untenable position. It would also not be any kind of conflict of interest as far as the new company is concerned, just for the two applicants (and only then if the boss is asked for a reference).

  8. Charles*

    #6 – Certificates in Graphic Design. I’ll say this as a software trainer. Unless you are looking to take classes in those specific softwares they really aren’t worth your time and money. They get folks like me to teach them. (Hey, I can say that – everyone else keep quiet)

    Seriously, as AAM says employers do not care about these types of certs (government required certs, like for healthcare, maybe; community college certs for this type of stuff, no).

    Also, the school may or may not have someone good teaching the courses – they do usually do not have “regular” teachers doing these classes. If you get someone who knows how to teach and knows the software – great. If the school gets someone who knows the software but hasn’t taught before – it sucks rotten eggs. And since such courses do NOT pay well – which do you think they are more likely to get to teach the course?

    My local community college pays $25/hour. But, that is only for the actual hours taught, it does NOT include prep time. Quite frankly, I cannot be bothered teaching one class a week for just 2-3 hours. The time involved for prep work, the time involved for travel, money for gas, etc., just isn’t worth $50-75/week before taxes. Oh, and after preparing for a course (the semester’s agenda must be presented beforehand) if enough folks do not sign up you do not teach and therefore do not get paid!

    Instead, if you really want to take a course, I would suggest that you head on over to your local (and free!) library to check out their books and see if they offer any courses (which are free!) I, and other software trainers, volunteer there sometimes.

    Lastly, AAM’s suggestion about having a portfolio is the best solution – make it online with a classy website that you designed yourself.

    1. Sophie*

      Great suggestions, and I would like to add that there are many websites, blogs, online magazines, etc., that will teach many of the things found in these courses. And of course, just looking at inspiration and then trying it yourself is a great way to learn. Then you can come up with some wonderful things to put in your portfolio. Employers really need to know what your style is, and if it’s going to be compatible with their goals – a certificate does not inform them of this.

      1. Charles*

        ” . . . I would like to add that there are many websites, blogs, online magazines, etc., that will teach many of the things found in these courses.”

        Shhh! You’re giving away my secrets for putting together my classes!

      2. Ariancita*

        While that is good, OP also needs to do small freelance jobs or pro bono work to fill out her portfolio, because besides talent being important, she needs to show she can work within deadlines, budget, and other client restraints. Projects done only for yourself (or for school in many cases), while looking great, don’t typically carry as much weight. Talent and style are important, but mostly in relation to time, resource, client, and budget restraints. The products a designer has from real jobs are what is important.

      3. fposte*

        Also good: Some stuff there is free and some isn’t, but it’s been found so worthwhile that our university has gotten a subscription.

    2. Charles*

      One more thing worth mentioning.

      My local community college does allow the unemployed to take these types of classes for free.

      But, you have to be eligible for unemployment, and paying students get first dibs; which means if the class fills up the unemployed get bumped. Still, it might be worth checking out though if you can get into the courses for free. (being unemployed you have time; just not money right?)

    3. JT*

      Friends rave about to learn design software. I was lucky to learn Quark Xpress in a class my organization paid for, then have picked up other stuff like InDesign, HTML/XHTML via online tutorials, books, etc. If you learn well in classes and can find one where the teacher has good reviews, by all means take one. But there are so many good books and online resources for self-directed study nowadays.

      1. Alisha*

        These are great suggestions all in all! One thing I’d caution for any web design class or book (and it applies to my posts just as much) is how current it is and what it teaches. When I first set out to become a better web designer several yrs. ago, I visited my local library and used book shop, and while their offerings were awesome for HTML basics, the early 2000s publication dates meant the mark-up, stylesheet, and scripting protocols were terribly out-of-date, i.e. focusing on frames, inline CSS styles, Flash/ActionScript 1.0 where jQuery would work better, etc.

        Thus, you definitely want a publication date of 2009 or later for any book, and you want to avoid any instructional material that emphasizes designing in Flash, tables, and frames – especially frames, which date back to the 90s, and are structurally insufficient for a web marketer hoping to design sites that rank in search engines. Since class/seminar quality varies so widely, consider calling ahead of time and ask a couple ?s before making a decision – especially what textbook and/or courseware it uses and what web design concepts are covered.

        1. Charles*

          Out of date material – OMG, Yes! This is true for anything; but especially true for web design as standards have changed so much and so fast in just a few years.

          Also, if the OP does put up an online portfolio it is wise to check how the webpage/portfolio appears using different web browsers. While the web page might look good in Mozilla Firefox, in IE it could look kind of crappy (or vice versa); and you never know which browser an employer is using.

          (I know, I know, the OP probably knows this already; please somebody shoot me, for I cannot find my trainer-mode off switch!)

        2. Alisha*

          Hehe, IE is the bane of my existence every time I update my portfolio pages. It hates all the cool HTML5 and CSS3 tricks, except for IE9, which uses those elements well, but most local shops are still on IE7 or 8.

          Now for happy news: W3C says that < 17% of the US public uses any IE browser, and IE6 is used by just 0.6%. WOO-HOO! I do NOT miss hacking fixes into really nice designs so they would degrade "gracefully" in that piece of [expletive] browser!

          1. Charles*

            ” . . .that piece of [expletive] browser!”

            Hehe, I think I used to work with you!

            A portfolio messing up is one thing – it really sucks when an online course explodes because of the [expletive] browser!

  9. Student*


    AAM, if you have access to the online systems that screen resumes, I’d be really curious as to whether you’ve actually tested this or not.

    I submitted my resume as a PDF to a number of places with these “applicant tracking systems” recently. Every single one took the PDF input, reformatted it for the system, and in the process utterly butchered it. Bullet points didn’t turn out, line breaks vanished, certain letter combinations got changed for no obvious reason (I had particular trouble with the letters “fl” in fluorine for some reason). When I could see the reprocessed output, PDFs were always much worse than Word documents. Many sites didn’t let me see the reprocessed output, though, so I have no idea what those ended up looking like. Web searches suggest this problem is common to all major applicant tracking system software vendors. It’s a laziness thing – there’s no programming-related reason for it, but the vendors aren’t pressured by their clients to add PDF support to the document parsing that the software uses.

    From my experience with it, I’d strongly suggest sticking with *.doc or *.docx files instead of PDFs. If you’re sending the resume as an email attachment to an actual hiring manager, a PDF is probably great (as long as you’re safe assuming a minimal level of technical competence, either by company IT or by the manager, since nearly every computer has support for Word by default but free PDF reader aren’t always installed by default). I’d love to hear otherwise from someone with real access to typical screening software, though.

    1. Charles*

      Yep, just about every place that I submit a PDF to will turn around and request that I resubmit it as a Word file.

      1. Anonymous*

        I had that happen once – it was a bit of a pain. I had to track down something which could actually save into Word format, and paste the PDF into it.

    2. Joey*

      Mines widely use in big companies and basically converts your pretty resume (in just about any kind of file) into very basic text. All of the extra stuff gets turned into random text. For example dashes between dates turn to a question mark. Managers understand this and reach out to candidates if they want something more. The only time .pdfs are a problem are when it’s a scanned copy of a resume.

    3. Blinx*

      I was surprised today, when I uploaded a PDF into an applicant system, and it kept it intact and showed me what it looked like, and had me approve it! This system also allowed me to apply, using my LinkedIn profile. It still had some glitches that I had to correct.

      When I first started applying through the online systems, I was banging my head against a wall! Some of them will only upload very small file sizes. I converted my fancy PDF into a Word doc, which had some graphics on it, but it was still too large. Now I have a stripped-down version that still looks nice, but the file size is minute.

      I still don’t trust the upload/convert methods, and prefer to cut/paste from my resume onto the online system. Much less editing/corrections needed later.

      Other jobs I applied to were directly to art directors, through email, so I attached a nicely designed PDF.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve only used a couple (I hate them), but PDFs weren’t worse than Word docs in them. But from other people’s experiences here, it sounds like a stripped-down plain-text version is safest if you’re uploading. (I’d still go with PDF if you’re attaching it to an email.)

    5. Kat*

      I would suggest if you have anything other than Adobe Reader (Adobe 8 or 9) that if you have to submit a PDF, make sure it is OCR’d. At the very least, the company’s software will be able to search the document for specific wording.

      1. IT Person*

        +1 for this.

        Some “Convert to PDF” services turn your document into one giant, unsearchable picture. For example, if you scan it using a multifunction printer or a photocopier, or use some freebie services, it just takes pictures of your document and doesn’t make the text recognizable to the computer.

        The best way to test your PDF to see if it will work OK with any online application service is to copy the contents of the PDF and attempt to paste it into notepad (or the equivalent, extremely basic text software on a Mac). That is basically what the application service does before it attempts to parse your resume.

        I’ve seen resumes go into the system and come out with all headers stacked at the top and no idea what the bullet points are referring to. Our applicant software allows you to go back to the original version of the PDF if it’s garbled, but I don’t know if all of them do.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          CutePDF Writer will convert it and it does come out a full-fledged PDF that can be copied from. It’s free too. I found out about it from Exjob’s IT analyst, who recommended it to me. In fact he ended up putting it on everyone’s machines.

    6. Anonymous*

      *.doc then. There are some people who still don’t use the current Word package and *’docx is either un-openable or can also corrupt formatting on being opened.

      1. Jamie*

        MS provides free viewers – so there is no reason someone shouldn’t be able to open a .docx properly, regardless of what version of Office they are still using.

        1. Anonymous*

          I’ve worked places where they just won’t install those converters and it does cause a problem. Its a shame but it does happen.

          And even where they have I’ve seen the converters cause some really odd formatting changes to happen.

          1. NicoleW*

            Agreed. When docx was relatively new, my ancient computer had to jump through hoops to get the converter to work. And I’m the tech-savvy one in my department!
            Now we all have the free converters and it usually works okay, but still occasional formatting weirdness.

  10. Anonymous*

    I so much agree with Alison on #7. I am realizing just how competitive the job market has become. I am not a person that is a user or feels comfortable making anyone feel I am using a situation to my advantage. In this situation though, I think if the opportunity presents itself it is fine to let them know how much you respect this company and would love to be a part of it. I think genuine interest and respect and appreciation would let them know what a dedicated employee you would be. Good luck to you. I hope you get the opportunity to let them know this.

    1. #7 Update*

      Hi, I asked the original question. Posted the update a in the response chain a few posts up. I didn’t get the job but I did make a great connection and had a favorable response. I do think that Alison’s advice was better than what I ended up doing since I could have made the surveyors uncomfortable if they didn’t appreciate my email. I also agree with you that it’s not appropriate to use people or send solicitation emails to people I’ve never met. But I’ve wanted to work for this company for so long and thought this was such a bizarre coincidence, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

      1. Anonymous*

        I hope you can still end up working for them. Sometimes coincidences can become the best opportunities. Take it from someone that has goofed up a bit, it is hard to sometimes just want something so hard. I wish you the very best luck.

  11. JT*

    On PDFs and design software in #4. I’d be wary of how a system will interpret the layout, particularly the order of material. If you’re putting different pieces of text in different frames/boxes/objects, at a minimum I’d try selecting all the text in the PDF and pasting it as plain text into Word or a text editor. Check if the text is in the right order. If it’s not, I think that’d be a problem.

  12. JT*

    Re graphic design certificates. I think it’s useful to be able to say you have the skills, but I doubt certificates mean anything. Actual degrees such as bachelors and masters degrees are a different story.

  13. ChristineH*

    I had #1 happen to me a couple of years ago. I was in a contract job with my professional association, and I’d applied to a research assistant position. When I approached my supervisor for a reference, it turned out that she applied for the position as well. I don’t remember if she told me right away, but she agonized over it for several days about whether she should withdraw her application or not. I felt so bad!!

      1. ChristineH*

        Neither of us got the job (I don’t remember if my supervisor rescinded her application). It was actually a friend from my association who was involved with the hiring, and she didn’t think I’d be happy with the position; I think she felt I was overqualified.

  14. Esra*

    #6 As a graphic designer who went to school to get a diploma in graphic design I would say: don’t go halfway.

    If you feel like you can build a strong portfolio with the skills you have now, put your time and money into that. As has been mentioned here a few times, it all really comes down to the quality of the pieces in your portfolio.

    A lot of design job postings I’ve seen recently look for a diploma/bachelor/3-4 year program etc in graphic design. A certificate isn’t enough. I’m not saying it’ll hurt, but I think you’d be better off going to school part-time, or taking classes that will specifically bolster areas you are lacking in rather than aiming for a certificate.

    1. Jamie*

      I’ve been involved in hiring a web-designer more than once and I’ve never asked about certification. The only thing I cared about were samples of their work. Period.

      Maybe it’s different to get hired into a design firm, but as far as the clients go I would assume most are like me – just interested in the end products.

      1. Esra*

        My last two jobs and current job all required a 3-4 year program in graphic design. These jobs included major corporations and non-profits. Definitely places will make exceptions for applicants with a stellar portfolio, but this is what I’ve found to be the case while job hunting and looking at job postings for agencies, smb, large corporations, and non-profits. The jobs are more graphic design and less web design, although a lot of them involve having skills in both.

      2. Alisha*

        When I’ve hired for technical/interactive design teams, I’ve focused on portfolio first, then resume. Degree, not so much – I had people with AA thru MA/MS degrees on my team, and not all of them majored in the field they wound up in. Maybe ad agencies are stricter in NY, Chi, LA, etc., but in my region (midwest), you don’t need a design degree to work in ad agencies, either, as long as your portfolio is good. On the other hand, our friend in Brooklyn is a creative director, and her BS was in biochem with a minor in painting.

        If you already have a bachelor’s degree, it’s worth deciding how much/if a 2nd BA in design will pay off.Or maybe you’re better off doing a master’s at a top design school, like Pratt, Parsons, RIT, CMU, etc. Or, maybe you can fill the gap with a couple classes, online tutorials, and some freelance work. Earlier in your career, not having the exact degree may exclude you from certain jobs/companies, but at mid-level, experience counts far more than your undergrad degree, and by the time you get to management, college never comes up. (My husband told me to try leaving my graduation date off for this round of searching, and it’s worked – I’ve gotten way more calls, and no one’s been asking me about college either.)

  15. Alisha*

    #3: It may help you to keep in mind, speaking from personal experience, that a candidate may pass an online screening test with flying colors and still be the wrong person for the company’s needs. My job that didn’t work out had an intensive, four-round interview process, including an online pre-screen. The executive who administered the test, loved my in-depth business plan (which I’d modeled on Nick Corcodilios’s advice), hired me, and ultimately told me to GTFO said my score showed all the traits looking for in the new position he wanted to create for me. Ironically, those traits did not match the strategic vision of other executives, who preferred to hire more introverted, less change-oriented staff.

    More recently, I completed one for a mobile design director position (it was more of an essay style test), was told my answers were great, was brought in to interview for the position, and then I never heard from the company again – 2 out of 2, and I take pre-employment tests with a grain of salt. (They’ve since hired several programmers, designers, and QA people, but the team has no leader, as per their website “About Us” page, and they’ve neither filled nor are hiring for the position – story of my interviewing life.) For a more in-depth perspective of how some of these tests work in a retail environment – which is way different from an office setting, but gives you some ideas about how employers think – check out Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. I suggest it regardless, for anyone working in America today, actually – it’s an eye opener, and will make you laugh, cry, think, and want to write your representatives in Washington all at the same time.

    (Part 2 to come…I have a lot to say today…)

    1. NicoleW*

      Not sure yet what your Part 2 will be, but just wanted to chime in that “Nickel & Dimed” is a great read.

  16. Alisha*

    #4 I prefer PDFs as a candidate and hiring manager for the same reason mentioned in the OP. I’ve noticed that resumes render differently in Word 2003, Word 2007, OpenOffice, Google Docs, etc. so PDF feels safest to me. Most candidate tracking software worth its salt is really good about scanning info accurately from PDFs nowadays.

    #5 I’ve always felt that as long as I’m applying for jobs that I can realistically claim experience in, it’s okay to apply for 2 or 3 jobs at the same company. I have been brought in to interview at two large companies where I applied for multiple jobs. One declined me, and I declined the other’s offer. It never came up in the interview either time.

    #6 I’m going to offer a slightly different perspective to the answer here, because in this economy, most marketing positions have moderate to heavy amounts of design work, so I think you do need to build skills in those areas. Print design certs are a waste of money (and so are certs generally), but if you’re out of work and looking to fill a resume/skill gap, consider taking just 1 or 2 classes at your community college. A web development class, especially one that teaches you to code to modern W3C standards, and perhaps a first-level digital design class (focus is generally on Photoshop, maybe a bit of Illustrator) would help get you up to speed and lend you some portfolio pieces which, as a new grad, you need if you want to go into marketing.

    If your local CC doesn’t have great design offerings – and some CCs don’t – check out online branches of ground universities, like RIT, Harvard, and UCLA, since they’re reputable schools and offer great online course work. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is another decent option (with tons of courses to choose from!) if you just want to take a course here or there, but be forewarned, they’re pricier, so you may want to save them for when you have a job. If the analytics or user experience side of marketing interests you more, look into Bentley U. – they have standalone classes in those areas. Avoid U. of Phoenix, Full Sail, and the Art Institutes at all costs, as all of them are scams, aren’t fully accredited, and look horrible on a resume.

    If money’s an issue, consider learning web design for free at W3C Schools, and/or enroll at, which is a design/web development tutorial courseware site, that will run you a very small monthly fee (8-9 bux/month?). Also, Aquent (a creative staffing agency) is offering a free mini-course in HTML5 this month, running from July 23 to August 23, so there’s another free option if you want to try web design. This mini-course looks really exciting because the description says it’s going to teach you in an accelerated way and give you portfolio pieces. No matter what you decide, try to pick up a bit of freelance work to build your portfolio, even if you need to do it for free, barter, or a stipend –portfolio is critical in marketing. But if you have to pick just one area of design to focus on, I’d make it web/digital, since as a marketer, that’s where the money/opportunity is. Best of luck, and I hope you let us know how it goes!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Whoa! Thank you!

      I’m going to check out some of the free stuff and see if I like it. I’m currently just beginning a plan with Vocational Rehabilitation (I have a math learning disability that is keeping me from jobs that do any bookkeeping). If it’s not something I can handle, then I don’t have to waste any money on classes, or get off-track with their recommendations for me. I’m pretty good with computer stuff if it’s not too math-ish, as long as it’s explained in plain English (NOT like Access help!).

      It can’t hurt to try. And it gives me something to tell Unemployment when I have to go in to justify why I’m on the extension. :P

      1. Alisha*

        Elizabeth, I have ADHD, which comes with some dyslexia and coordination issues for me, so I empathize. Also agree that if we choose careers that are suited to our talents and strengths, and avoid tasks that butt up against our learning/cognitive processing challenges, we can be really successful. As long as I avoid anything requiring skill with repetition (Excel/Access especially), or top-notch motor skills (like waiting tables), I’m okay. It sounds like you know yourself well and what your ideal career path looks like and are being really proactive about your next steps. It’s always helpful for me to have some strategies, work-arounds, etc. for whatever challenges I face day to day, too – have you also found that to be the case? Like, I get majorly distracted by ambient noise, so good headphones are my lifeline at the office.

        Going to VR sounds like a great strategy as well…I wish I’d been less slacker-ish and checked it out before our new governor cut the budget for everything. I wish you best of luck, and am keeping my fingers crossed that your state VR program works out awesome for you. : )

  17. Alisha*

    Whoops, forgot one more thing: the interwebs has a treasure trove of free design tutorial sites. I like Smashing Magazine, Photoshop Roadmap, and WebDesigner Depot, but if you just Google “free design tutorials” or “best online design tutorials,” you’ll be able to sort through tons of others and choose whichever suit your needs. Have fun!

  18. JT*

    One other thing – there is so much more to design than using software. If you’re teaching yourself, read a lot of design books/blogs/articles, not just software info. And get in the habit of looking for good (and bad design) and trying to figure out why something is good or bad.

    There are fundamentals concepts in design – such as contrast, hierarchy, consistency, etc. And there are fundamental design processes – at a minimum design work should start with an understanding of a problem or a goal. Understanding those things isn’t something you can put on a resume, but you can’t do good work without such an understanding.

    1. Jamie*

      This. Software is the easy part – tell me what you want and I can make a website obey. But tell me to design one from scratch and I’ll tell you to find someone with design skills.

      I have none. It’s kind of like the difference between a house painter and an interior decorator. This skills to paint a room properly are very different than the skills to know which color paint would work best with the curtains and the carpet.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I just want to learn the software part. No one expects an administrative assistant to have design skills, but I’m seeing composite jobs where they want you to use the software.

        1. Charles*

          ” . . . learn the software part.”

          This is a smart thing to do. So many companies have cut back on staff that it is very valuable if an admin asst. can open up a file, whether it be a simple PPT or a more complex Illustrator, Photoshop, HTML (or whatever) file, to do a simple edit rather then trying to schedule time for the “specialists” to do it.

      2. Alisha*

        Well, the cool thing about most of the web resources I mentioned is that you can choose what you want to focus on – software, technique, special effects, typography, etc., etc.. Same deal w/ courses, free and for-fee: you can sign up to learn Photoshop, or sign up to learn the principles of visual design. Etc. Just in the past few years, the number of web resources for learning pretty much whatever you want has exploded, so Elizabeth (and anyone else who wants to check it out), you pretty much have your pick!

  19. Anonymous*

    In regards to #5, what about applying to the same type of job in multiple locations (like both Austin and Dallas)? Does that look terrible?

  20. Anonymous*

    I’ve actually applied – through a recruiter for both a Sales Ledger and a Purchase Ledger position at the same time.

    Walked into an interview informed I was up for the former and actually was interviewed for the latter. No problem as I mentioned most of the skills were transferable and I got the job.

    I’ve done it before where I have emailed one week about a S/L job and the following week a P/L job has come up and I’ve phoned them, spoken to the hiring manager and mentioned I would be interested in that too. Not paid off for me under those circumstances though.

  21. ThomasT*

    Is it just me, or does it seem like questioner #5 needs to seek help for MPD, or perhaps abdicate, before submitting these multiple applications?

  22. Henning Makholm*

    For #1, I wonder what the proper etiquette would be for the boss if they are actually contacted for a reference.

    “Oh yes, she is brilliant and hard-working and clearly deserves better than her current job. You totally should hire me so that she can be promoted into the position I’ll leave.”?

  23. Anonymous*

    Re #1: My boss and I ended up in this position recently. We were upfront within reason–we didn’t tell each other our full strategies for trying to land the job, but we told each other when we were called for interviews, etc., and let each other know how the company was presenting the job. It helped that we both respect each other and could each honestly say “If I don’t get it, it should definitely be you!” Still, there were some really stressful moments–I ended up being a front runner for the position while my boss was ignored, but in order to get a reference for me without insulting him, the company decided to act like he was still being considered for the position, and then ask him questions about how his team operated. This white lie would have been okay for either of us if we weren’t in close contact, but knowing that one of us was being deceived was a very stressful position for both of us, and led to many long conversations where we tried to figure out where things actually stood. I ended up getting the position and he has since found another job that he is happy with, so in the long run, it didn’t hurt our friendship at all, but it was not an experience I’d particularly like to repeat!

  24. Max*

    3) “How can they know that I am a worthy candidate for employment by where I rank torturing a person or poisoning city water on a scale from terrible to more terrible?”

    That actually sounds like a very important question for certain positions which might relate to risk management, health, or safety, especially if hazardous materials are involved. I’m sure there’s a lot of other positions where it’s useful to know, too.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      Nah, it’s just another of those “torture the job candidate with impossible-to-get-right” questions.

  25. Anonymous*

    I’ve always absolutely hated it when I had to open a candidate’s resume and it was a Word document. PDF all the way. PDF are meant for reading. When you open a Word document, there you sit with a blinking cursor for you to edit it. And all the product names and technologies, not to mention the candidate’s name are usually underlined in red as potential typos. It’s ugly. Usually on job sites, I have seen options to upload a document, in which case I’ll upload a PDF… or else I will see a place to paste in a plain text file. I haven’t maintained a Word document in years. I don’t know if I’d even want to work for a company that doesn’t know how to handle a PDF properly and demands a Word document version.

Comments are closed.