mini answer Monday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. How to respond to a rejection email

I am in the process of job searching and read your post “how not to reply to a rejection letter.” I would love to hear some ideas on how to reply to a rejection letter. I got a polite, form rejection email from a company for which I really want to work and I want to respond in a professional and polite manner so that they may consider me in the future.

Try something like this: “Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and for letting me know your decision. The process of learning about your company has solidified my interest in working with you, and I hope there might be an opening in the future that’s a stronger fit. I’ll be keeping an eye out, and meanwhile, I’d so appreciate your letting me know if something comes up that you think might be a match.”

If you can personalize it further with some reference to your interview that they’re likely to find gracious or humorous, that’s even better.

Of course, this assumes that you interviewed with them, even if only a phone screen. If you didn’t actually have any contact before the rejection, you’d modify accordingly. Oh, and if you interviewed with them and are genuinely hoping for feedback (not just asking for it because you heard you were supposed to), try this.

2. Other blogs

What blogs do you read? Any recommendations for those of us that already enjoy your blog?

I tend to find that most career/management blogs aren’t especially nuanced and/or are all recycling the same 10 topics and/or are writing from the perspective of how things should work rather than how they really do work. However, there are a few that I really love:

* Evil HR Lady by Suzanne Lucas. She’s awesome.

* Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home by Donna Ballman, an employment lawyer who explains what rights you do and (more often) don’t have in the workplace.

* Kerry Sandberg Scott’s Clue Wagon, back when she was writing about job search stuff. She moved on to writing about genealogy in 2010, but her job searching stuff is still archived on her site, right here.

* Corporette often explores interesting questions, like whether interns avoid carrying $9,000 handbags to work. There’s a lot of workplace fashion stuff on the site, which you may or may not be into, but some of the reader letters are really fascinating.

(Of course, if you want recommendations for sites on totally unrelated topics, I have a ton of those. But I assume that’s not what you’re asking and you don’t want to hear me rave about Carolyn Hax and Miss Manners.)

3. Am I being rejected after a great interview?

I am a regional employee in a company and went to final stages for a job at the head office. All signs pointed that they like me, including having a second interview with the executive director and my lead reference from another director checked. I sent the thank-you emails at each phase, and gave one email push 10 days ago (they thanked me for the inquiry and said the hiring process was on hold until the manager returned from vacation).

The company’s hiring system is powered by Taleo HR software, and my status just changed to “No Longer under Consideration.” No call yet, but I feel quite gutted and surprised by the potential NO–every stage of the process has been cheery and impressed feedback from them. Do I contact them, or resist the urge and leave it?

Well, first, never believe you’re going to get a job offer until you actually get one. You can do really well in the interview, have great references, and click with the hiring manager — but it’s still no sort of guarantee that you’re going to get the job. It’s not even a strong signal that you are. You might be fantastic, but someone else could be a better fit. Think about it — say there’s one slot and three great people. Two of those great people who had great interviews are getting rejected.

In any case, since it’s been 10 days, it wouldn’t hurt to follow up with them again to try to get a definite answer. I wouldn’t reference what you saw in Taleo (which could potentially be wrong); just check back in.

4. Out-of-town interview expenses when there are no local candidates.

This is an elaboration of a question you previously answered about whether employers should pay for out-of-town candidates to travel for interviews. I was just curious since my situation is a slight variation.

I am applying for a position that is a work-from-home with 25-50% of the time traveling. The company’s headquarters is not in the city in which I applied to work. So technically, there are no local candidates for this position, unless they are local initially but plan to relocate. In which, I’m not even sure if that’s common or not. So if you have a moment to answer me, I am curious as to what your opinion of this matter is.

It does change the equation a bit, in that it removes the argument that they have plenty of qualified local candidates, so they lack any incentive to pay to bring in additional ones from out-of-town. However, if they have plenty of qualified candidates who are willing to shoulder their own travel expenses, it might not change the final answer much. This is something that really will just vary depending on the employer.

5. Should I send a cover letter when the job posting doesn’t ask for one?

I’m applying for a job that only requests a resume. Would it be a complete waste of my time to write and send a cover letter, as it may not even get read? Or would it make me look better, as I put in extra effort to prove to them that I’m a good fit for the job?

Always write and send a cover letter, even if it’s not specifically requested.

6. Do companies have to post their job openings internally?

Does a company have to post its job openings so current employees have an opportunity to apply for another job? If so, how quickly, and before the company advertises externally?

No law requires that a company post its job openings at all, ever, or even that they give current employees a shot at interviewing. Individual companies might have their own internal rules about this, but that’s up to them.

7. Writing letters of recommendation

I am in a position now where I am being asked to write recommendation letters, especially for interns. I, of course, will only write letters when I can honestly recommend them. Would you mind giving me some tips on how to write a great letter?

Don’t write recommendation letters. The vast majority of employers don’t care about them, since they know that no one puts critical information in them. Plus, when hiring managers reach the reference-checking stage of the hiring process, they want to talk to references — on the phone, where they can ask questions and probe for more information. They want to hear tone of voice, hear where people hesitate before answering, and hear what they say when asked about potential problem areas. Letters of recommendation are a waste of time for you to write, and a waste of time for your interns to send. Do them a favor and explain this to them, and offer to be a reference instead.

(I’m assuming you’re talking about letters for employment, not grad school. Letters for grad school are required and a different thing entirely.)

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. Janet

    In regards to your last one – there are a few jobs I see that actually specify needing recommendation letters. I just had to write one for an intern because she was applying for a job at a school district in their PR office and the job ad specified three letters of recommendation.

      1. Janet

        Indeed. I believe the poor girl also had to put a copy of her college transcript into the full application.

        1. Phyllis

          Transcripts are a pretty standard requirement for teaching jobs. Don’t ask me why. And we require three written references as well.

        2. Laura

          Management Consulting and investment banking positions a lot of the time require full transcript and sometimes SAT score (yes, SAT score!)

      2. Jessie

        A lot of first-time legal jobs also require letter of recommendation. Especially, judicial clerkships.

    1. Josh S

      I was going to say it might be worth it to do a really brief letter of recommendation that is mostly just a “You’ve got a great candidate here, so contact me and I’ll tell you all about her.”

      As in,

      “Dear hiring manager,

      I was Sally’s manager at SomeCompany from June-October 2011. She was a fantastic intern–she even went so far as to do OutstandingThingThatSetsHerApart.

      I highly recommend her as a strong worker. I’d be happy to share more of my impressions of her. Please feel free to email me at SomeEmailAddress and we can set up a time to talk more in depth.

      Thanks,
      Manager”

    2. Neeta

      For my current job, right after I was hired I had to bring some documents to my new work place. Among the was a letter of recommendation from my former boss. Not sure why they needed it… but it was there on the list of required documents.

  2. Elizabeth

    On the reference letters, I agree, except that if you know someone at a firm or organization where the intern is applying, a short personal email saying “hey, this person was my intern, s/ he was good, and I’d be happy to talk with you” can often move someone into the second look pile.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Definitely — if it’s a personal connection and you’re reaching out directly, as opposed to supplying a letter that they will use with people you don’t know.

  3. Tom

    Miss Manners! She’s one of the few other blogs/columns I read regularly. I love knowing that you read her too.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m totally obsessed with etiquette advice, for some reason. Old etiquette advice too — I have a bunch of really old etiquette manuals from the 1800s and early to mid 1900s and I absolutely love reading them.

      1. Andrew

        I love etiquette books as well.

        When I was a (very strange) child my absolute favorite book was the 1952 Amy Vanderbilt. I can still quote many passages by heart, and remember fondly how my cousin and I edited the chapter called “Gracious Living Without Servants” to read as “Gracious! Living Without Servants?”

        So it was a very happy day for me when I found a 1922 first edition of Emily Post on sale for 50 cents at a yard sale. Also recommended: “What Every Young Man Should Know,” from the 1880s.

      2. Mike C.

        APM’s “The Dinner Party” has a regular guest etiquette segment that is fairly amusing if you’ve never heard it before.

      3. Elizabeth West

        Oh me too. Also the “women’s manuals,” that covered everything from flirting to nursing. It’s hilarious to read some of the stuff in there and see how much has changed. Or hasn’t!

  4. saro

    Hi, I’m the potential reference writer. Thank you for taking my question!

    I work with people from other countries (Middle Eastern, Asian, European) and for some reason, they all want it. I have asked them to use me as a reference for job applications for the future instead but they still want it. It is difficult to write a general letter and I don’ t know how helpful it is for them.

    1. Charles

      Here’s one “trick” that may or may not work.

      In some parts of Asia it is the usual custom for the student to write their own letter of recommendation, then simply ask the teacher to sign it. (The theory behind this practice is that the teacher is too important and too busy to have the time to do such a “menial task”!) When I lived in Asia, it took a lot to convince my English students that this was a practice that was not done in the US and that it would be much better if I wrote the letter, in my own words, for their graduate school applications. And, still, they would provide a letter!

      What I usually ended up doing was taking their letter and putting it into my own words (and typing it up in the process as their letters were usually hand-written; the hand-written word was more highly valued in their culture than the typed).

      So, here’s my “tip” – ask them what you should say.

      It might be a bit much to ask them to write their own letter (especially if that custom is as strange to them as it is to us Americans); but, you could ask them what they would like you to say. Once you have done of few of these you will then have some practice under you belt and it should be easier. I hope that helps!

      1. simple simon

        In Canada I’ve asked interns to write their own letter of recommendation before and then edited it. Saved me tons of time! Unfortunately, since they could see the final product, some of them were less impressed with how much I might have downplayed what they originally said about themselves – although I often added more practical examples that they really liked. So, yes, ask them to write their own!

    2. AD

      Try to write about objective accomplishments, and use numbers wherever possible, e.g. “Suzie was in the top 10% of interns I’ve had in three years of supervising summer employees”, or “Suzie completed project X that saves us over $300/month”, or whatever.

      1. saro

        Thank you all. I ended up writing letters for all of them but reiterated that if they applied to jobs the U.S. they could list me as a reference. Or if they applied for graduate programs, they should ask me for a specific recommendation letter.

  5. Diane

    In academia, reference letters should be more than “Call me for a great reference.” They’re often considered before bringing candidates in for an interview and are part of the whole elaborate package (cover letter, CV, teaching philosophy if applicable, writing sample, transcripts, answers to supplemental questions, blood type). I know, I know . . . . it’s a ridiculous amount of information to ask of any person or to review. But with so many highly educated, qualified candidates for so many jobs — not all of them as faculty, even — them’s the rules.

    As for a letter of recommendation, it should be about a page, should encompass the key job requirements, and it should warmly and genuinely provide examples of the candidate’s awesomeness and fit.

    1. Student

      Exactly this. Reference letters are needed to get into grad school. Once you’re in grad school, you’ll also need reference letters to get a postdoc job. After that, you’ll need more letters for an academic position. The letters are not optional, and they are used before interviews as a screening tool rather than after. There are a bunch of politics that go into these letters, too. If you have a grad student interning for you it’s easy to understand why they’d want you to write a letter.

      It is normal (but not universal) for academic letters to be sent directly from the reference to the institution that the intern wants to work at. It’s usually acceptable to email them. This is supposed to assure that the reference is confidential and thus more honest. Of course, you should still only say things you wouldn’t mind the intern finding out about.

      1. Rana

        Some candidates also make arrangements with an online reference agency, too. It allows references to upload letters (either general or tailored for specific positions, as needed) and these can then be sent by the agency to the would-be employer, without the candidate ever seeing them.

  6. MentalEngineer

    An anecdotal counterpoint to #7’s answer: my girlfriend worked briefly at an overseas embassy as an assistant to the ambassador. He wrote her a glowing recommendation letter which played a role in her getting a position as an executive assistant here. Admittedly, this is probably somewhat of a special case, since we live in D.C. Overall, my limited experience has been that *most* recommendation letters will be useless, but occasionally the *right* letter will be quite helpful.

  7. GradGirlUK

    regarding #6 In the UK certainly jobs have to be posted internally before they are advertised externally. I think it’s a legal requiremnent here accross the pond.
    I guess it changes country to country

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      There’s no legal requirement in the U.S. I’m always only citing U.S. laws here, as I have no idea what the laws are in other countries and even if I did it would be pretty onerous to list all the differences each time.

      1. Anna

        And even within the U.S., doesn’t it vary to some extent by state? Some things are federal, like the ADA, but many states have their own minimum wages (for example) that are higher than the federal minimum.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Minimum wage laws do vary by state, but there’s no state that requires that certain groups (like current employees) be given special access to job postings.

          1. ARS

            I was under the impression that if you had a US government contract, you were required to post the job positions publicly.

  8. blj531

    Other internships may require letters of rec. Every internship I had and the internship program I helped manage asked for letters. The thinking behind it was that you’re typically hiring interns for only a short period, and already plan on giving them training. Checking 2-3 references per applicant every semester simply wasn’t a good use of our time, but if someone couldn’t manage to get 2 well written rec. letters from someone, that was a red flag. Also, interns come and go so quickly that schools often advise you to get a letter before you leave the internship because people may forget who you are…

      1. Mike C.

        I applied for a lab position that *changed their job posting* after I had submitted an application to require three letters of rec. Yes, let me bother people for letters on such short notice for a one in a 100 shot at making your cut.

        WTF.

    1. KayDay

      I, too, have seen letters of rec asked for at the internship (and sometimes entry-level) for ngo jobs. Not very often, but sometimes. I know at least one of the internships I applied to required them. I think it’s more like the employer thinking that it isn’t worth the time to actually speak with the references for someone so low-level =\

      1. Anonymous

        I can see that. Especially if the intern is unpaid, you’re losing so little if they are just horrible and you have to boot them the first day. Wouldn’t exactly call it best practice, but I can see not bothering with a real reference check and weeding out applicants who simply can’t get two decent letters (or doesn’t want to go through the work).

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Except that it’s incredibly rude to ask that of all applicants up front, since you’ll be making hundreds of people who will never be interviewed spend their time and their references’ time that way, when they won’t even pass the initial screening.

    2. Liz T

      Yes, in theater internships are often like this. Sometimes they only require one, but it’s still maddening.

  9. Anlyn

    Re: #6…some unions require that jobs be posted internally before they can be posted externally. If no one in the union applies (and gets the job), then it can be posted for external employees.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Right, but that falls under the “individual companies might have their own internal rules about this, but that’s up to them” part of the answer.

  10. Lilybell

    Regarding #3: I help with recruiting for internal openings in my division, and we also use Taleo. I can’t tell you how many times people get randomly marked “no longer under consideration” for absolutely no reason. (it doesn’t affect anything – I just ignore those check marks). I never even use those pull-down menus but they will still mysteriously end up checked. Taleo is pretty glitchy.

    1. AD

      This is great info! I wonder if there is some kind of time trigger that might be set up, like “no activity for three weeks – flip to no longer under consideration”.

    2. bob

      Taleo may be a good backend system but in my experience the sites managed for most companies end up looking like complete hack jobs so I rarely trust anything beyond what I entered and even then it gets jumbled sometimes.

    3. Marie

      I used it at my old job, and Taleo tends to decide things for itself… I would not worry about that status.

  11. Anonymous

    For those with monitoring at work, Corporette was reported as “adult” in my monitoring system, so save that one for at home.

    1. EM

      Ha! I remember interning at a large corporation that had an internet monitoring system in place. One day, when doing a web search for something I was working on, I was horrified that a banner ad on a page I was looking at was blocked (I think it was for a dating site). I got paranoid that I might be monitored more closely because of an ad that I had no control over. :)

    2. Anonymous

      I am surprised and a little amazed at companies that do not have monitoring in place yet. We have very strong filters: we teach your kids and you would be shocked at what your little miracles try to get away with. No, really, more shocking than what you just thought of.

      I should think within five years every company of any size will have monitoring and filtering software in place.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Have filters gotten any better are not filtering out stuff that shouldn’t be filtered out (like sites on breast cancer, for instance, which was a common example I used to always hear cited)? If they’re filtering out Corporette, I’m thinking they’re still not functioning well.

        1. Anonymous

          They are getting much better, but how good depends on how much you are willing to pay. We use Lightspeed, which I believe is actually reviewed and tagged by humans. Also, the employer selects the criteria to filter on. So, I am pretty sure if Corporette is filtered, there’s a reason. Remember, we are education…

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Corporette is pretty damn tame though. It’s fashion and professional advice, targeted at women in law but generally relevant to most professions.

            1. Anonymous

              Now that I am home, lol:
              “How to Dress Professionally with a Bubble Butt”

              Boom. Blocked. Profanity. AAM’s foot is also blocked, to be fair.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                See, that’s my objection. Plenty of perfectly clean sites for adults use words like “butt.” That’s hardly porn or something objectionable for work.

                1. Anonymous

                  EDUCATION. Can you imagine what a room full of second-graders can do with that word? lol. Plus we also run prison and youth-camp (juvie) programs. We have our filters set to max, but as I said, that’s decided at the employer level. As you know, always consider your audience. Mine is pretty juvenile!

        2. Jamie

          “Have filters gotten any better are not filtering out stuff that shouldn’t be filtered out (like sites on breast cancer, for instance, which was a common example I used to always hear cited)?”

          It depends on the filter and how it’s implemented. If you get a basic filter and just hit categories, then there is a big chance of draconian overkill. A little human oversight and common sense and you can filter without completely shutting out the outside world.

      2. Esra

        Blech. As someone who works on web teams, I’m so glad the companies I’ve been with don’t use filters. I’m a big believer that if your people are messing around on Facebook (or whatever) and not getting work done, the problem isn’t Facebook. None of the teams I’ve worked on have ever had trouble without filters, although I guess web teams are a pretty different animal when it comes to this sort of thing.

        1. Lils

          Agreed, and legit science searches (even ones appropriate for the young learner) are constantly blocked.

        2. Jamie

          I agree with you in areas where there is an expectation that people are tech savvy enough to be responsible.

          I’m a fan of web blocking when there are end users with very limited knowledge who still click on spam links no matter how many times you tell them the IRS will not request their SSN via email, nor will Facebook email them demanding they reset their password.

          In cases where many of the users have issues with understanding safe browsing then blocking protects the network and saves IT from racking up a lot of comp time cleaning the system.

  12. Anonymous

    In terms of other advice columns Ask Amy has the old ‘get an offer for more $ to use to negotiate a raise at current position’ today.

    1. The IT Manager

      It was a “good” letter too. The full-time paralegal was upset and confused that the part-time lawyer makes more than her. The words delusional and clueless come to mind. I do think Amy was half-right in her response relating to the letter writer’s self-importance, but I noticed that the second part about getting another job offer to show her boss what she’s really worth contradicts Alison’s, IMO, good advice on not to do that.

      1. AD

        I think Ask Amy is the absolute worst advice column out there. A few years ago, a teenage girl wrote in to ask advice on the fact that she feels attracted to other girls more than boys, and Amy told her that she was too young to have sexual feelings. I pretty much decided she was a total hack right then, and haven’t read it since.

        (Sorry, I’m way off-topic)

        1. Lilybell

          Boy, do I agree. Amy is the worst. Dear Prudence is almost as bad; she tends to choose questions based on how many puns she can work into her answer. No one holds a candle to Carolyn Hax for non work-related advice.

          1. Esra

            Whenever relationships or sex come up, I find myself thinking ‘Man, Savage would have a field day with this.’

            Dear Prudence is not very good with non-heterosexual/nuclear family/etc issues.

        2. Rana

          Agreed. I remember one column where some woman wrote in about being raped and Ask Amy’s response was basically “It’s your fault, you know.” Horrid.

        1. L.A.

          My favorite was when someone wrote in complaining about how whenever they go to the movies someone always sits near them who is texting, answering their phone or talking to their companions and asking how they could politely get them to stop doing this. Amy’s advice was in essence “suck it up, they paid to be there, they have the right to do whatever they want while they’re there. And how DARE you say you might go tell the manager on them. You should probably wait to watch movies on DVD because you’re a horrible person!” I stopped reading after that.

        2. Anonymous

          Amy Alkon, Suzanne Lucas, and Penelope Trunk are my top-three, all-time most hated bloggers. I don’t like their writing styles, I don’t like their opinions, I don’t like their personalities, and I don’t like their advice. Alkon sucks up to MRAs, Lucas sucks up to crony capitalism, and Trunk sucks up to anyone who will provide her with an audience for her malignant narcissism.

          On a happier note, I can’t recommend Nick Corcodilios (Ask a Headhunter) enough. His advice is fabulous and has helped me excel in my career. My only complaint is that he doesn’t write frequently enough, but we’ve begged him to, so he’s posting more often these days.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Wow, I really like Suzanne, both personally and professionally, so please be polite to her here. I also agree with her on nearly everything.

            Nick C. is great, but his advice tends to target a very specific level/type of job seeker so I don’t recommend him as widely (although I do when I can).

            1. Anonymous

              Rest assured I have no reason to interact with her or mention her again. When I find that a blogger’s presentation style is not a fit for me, I don’t read them anymore.

          2. Anonymous

            Oh, I forgot another, albeit newer favorite: thecynicalgirl (dot) com. I love her writing style and the design of her blog, and she often chooses really interesting topics. I heard a rumor that she used to be called PunkRockHR, which is really fun. She has an awesome sense of humor too, and her photo w/ the cat is just adorable as all get-out.

  13. Lils

    AAM, I never miss a day of you or Carolyn Hax. You’re both at the top of my reader. :D Keep up the great work!

  14. Elizabeth West

    #3– Ugh. I had that happen once. The HR lady liked me, the interviewer liked me, and the interview went splendidly. Then, rejection. I did ask the HR lady if there was anything I could do in the future to improve my chances with other positions. She said she didn’t know, since she wasn’t the one that interviewed me, but she said I had great credentials and great presentation and Interviewer had said good things about me. The only thing she did (or could) tell me was that she thought it might have been a time factor, and he just picked someone randomly and said, “Check this person out” and that’s the one that got it. She said it never got to checking with my references. It might have been that someone was pushed at Interviewer, also. I never did find out. I swear I took a shower that day!

    #5– I’ve been doing cover letters, unless it’s an online app that doesn’t have a space for one. Most of them do. Yesterday, I filled out one that had just a box for extra information, and I pasted a short cover letter-type thing in that.

  15. Steph

    #7 – Letters of recommendation. Can anyone offer an explanation or reason why they are required in academia? Is it because it is official or permanent? The letters do seem not very useful, assuming that any one you ask to write one will write a glowing one, akin to personal references. I understand the speculation about why employers might use letters instead of phone calls for very short-term or low level positions; curious to hear reasons about why they are required in other situations.

  16. Alisha

    Well, first, never believe you’re going to get a job offer until you actually get one. You can do really well in the interview, have great references, and click with the hiring manager — but it’s still no sort of guarantee that you’re going to get the job. It’s not even a strong signal that you are. You might be fantastic, but someone else could be a better fit.

    To add to this thought, never assume you have an offer until you get it in writing – and have a plan for your first week, a start date, etc. I hate to be a pessimist, but in this economy, offers can even be rescinded during this stage, or later. I’ve been on the market since late last year because I left a job I’d worked for many years to accept an offer that was rescinded during my training period.

    Fortunately, I left my old job on good terms, so if a position opens up there that needs my skills, I can go back, but my situation is a perfect illustration of why it’s so, so important to resign with grace, and never burn a bridge. I gave my former employer over three weeks’ notice, which he appreciated a lot, and it gave us time to develop an exit strategy and hand off all my work product to my replacement.

    (The good news is, I’ve been going on tons of interviews over the past two weeks. I was sabotaging my job search before because, as my husband pointed out, I really wasn’t ready to work, mentally. Now I feel totally recharged and eager to jump back in the game, and it shows – in my resume, cover letters, communication with prospective employers and my network, and so on. If you ever get laid off, take time to clear your head. Heck, take a month if you need it to put the past behind you and develop a strategy for moving forward!)

  17. Anon

    Re: #2 — AAM, I would love to know what other blogs you read that are NOT workplace related! Of particular interest to me personally are “home/life-skills” related blogs — meal planning, financial planning, and stuff like that. Also blogs about mental health. And webcomics. But really, I’m just totally interested to hear what are your top 5-10 favorite non-HR-related blogs.

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