tiny answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Asking your employer to pay for your degree

What is a good way to approach asking your employer to pay for your MBA?

Show how it will benefit them, not just you. (And be willing to sign an agreement promising to stick around for several years after it’s completed.)

2. My salary requirements have changed

I applied for a government job with a salary range between $55k-85k. I have 5 years experience and a master’s degree, and when I applied I put down $60k (at the time I was making about $50k). The process has taken longer than anticipated and since I applied, I have received a raise that puts me at $60k in my current job. Also, the new job is an hour commute each way, and we are unable to move until my wife finishes her degree in 9 months. I am one of the two final candidates but am unsure how to approach the subject of what I wrote as a salary and what my new expectations are. Due to the commute and raise at work, I would like around $68-70k if I am selected. Is this too much of a jump? How do I approach this subject and what would the prudent thing to do if I am given an offer?

Nope, that’s not too much of a jump. If you get an offer, explain that you’ve received a raise at work since you last discussed salary, and you’re now looking for $68-70K to make a move. This is perfectly reasonable. (And depending on where you are in the hiring process, it might also be reasonable to give them a heads-up about the raise now.)

3. Asking questions your first week on a job

I recently received and accepted the offer for my dream job, and I am excited to begin work for them. It’s a larger organization, so there is a 6-hour orientation session for all new employees across all departments on your first day, covering issues like picking your health insurance plan. After that, you report to your supervisor. I found this in your archives, and while there is a chance that my department will have something similar (since our organization is so large), how would you recommend dealing with a situation where you’re the new employee but the employer has *not* created such an effective system? Do I save up all my questions and ask them at the end of the day, so I don’t pepper others with questions throughout the day? Should I bring my own checklist to make sure I learn everything I’d like to within the first week? I am in general too passive, and know that I need to step it up for my new job. Any guidance would be appreciated on how to get off to the right start with a new job!

For the most part, save your questions up in bunches. Keep a running list so that you don’t forget things you want to ask — but also give your manager time to work her way through training you. Don’t bombard her with every question you have on your first day — wait and see how things go. Besides, you’re not going to remember everything you’re told in your first few days anyway — so you might want to save a lot of the questions for week two, by which time some of them will probably have been answered and you’ll retain the answers better.

4. “We’ll keep your information on file”

I have had two interviews which have been unsuccessful, but they have said that they will “keep my details on file.” When a vacancy comes up that I would like to apply for, what should I do? Should I apply as normal or contact the HR people and ask them to put my details forward? Any ideas on how I should word it?

Apply as normal, and then email your contact there and let them know that you’re applying.

5. Taking time off from an unpaid internship

I recently finished a professional degree. I don’t have a job yet. My school offers a stipend for recent graduates to have internships while we keep looking for full-time work. The stipend pays for 25 hours/week. I will be interning at my dream job, and will probably end up actually working 35-40 hours/week. I can swallow doing the unpaid labor for now. I am hoping that either a strong recommendation or, ideally, a job offer will come out of this internship. However, I know that I will need to take 2 weeks off at some point for a family matter. It isn’t something that others would generally consider “serious,” but it is something that actually needs to happen (i.e. I can be flexible with timing it, but it has to get done and I can’t get out of it). So I have two questions:
1. Is there any way to take the time off with jeopardizing my reputation at the organization?
2. If so, how can I maintain my privacy? I would rather not tell anyone why I need the time off.

Absolutely. Tell your manager now that you will need two weeks off for a family matter at some point and ask how to best arrange to take it. It’s generally pretty easy to take needed time off when you’re not being paid, and you don’t need to go into detail about your reasons. If you’re asked, you can simply say, “Just a family issue I need to take care of.”

6. What kind of reference will my past manager give me?

I was just wondering what kind of information ex-employers provide to new employers? To be specific, I ended my last job on a really bad note. I made a stupid choice and was almost fired, but my ex manager mercifully allowed me to resign. Luckily I don’t have to mark “fired” on my job history, but I wonder how long this will affect me. For more context, this was an on-campus job. I’m now looking for more work on campus. So I’m wondering what kind of information do managers typically relay to one another? Will she get specific about the incident? Will she simply say she doesn’t recommend me? Or will she just verify that I worked there?

I know that my history at my last job will make it difficult to get another on-campus job, but I’d like a truthful and realistic understanding of the kinds of things that are informing people’s decisions on whether or not to hire me, and the kinds of things managers typically discuss with one another.

I’d assume it’ll probably be shared. While occasionally a manager will do you the favor of just confirming employment rather than sharing details about your performance and the fact that you were almost fired for “a stupid choice” (and there’s advice on asking them for that here), they’re less likely to do stay quiet when they all work on campus and are likely to know each other, or at least feel more loyalty to each other than if they were strangers.

You don’t need to wonder though — you can talk to your previous manager and ask her.

7. Should I memorize the magic question?

I liked your magic question for interviewers, “Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?” Do you think I should memorize this question or can I read it to the interviewer? Sorry if this question sounds silly.

It’s fine to have your questions written down so that you remember what you want to ask, but you definitely don’t want to sound like you’re reading it word-for-word. The beauty of this question is that it sounds like you’re asking it because you genuinely care about being great, not just good — it loses most of its power if it sounds like a question you read somewhere, rather than your own natural curiosity.


{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric*

    Re: 3

    I’ve found that there is a nice little middle ground in asking questions.

    At the beginning of a new job there is so much to learn. Just accept that it will take 6 months to get up to full speed. However, asking follow up questions during training or just in general conversation around the office, especially with colleagues that you haven’t had much interaction with yet, communicates to them that you are genuinely interested in learning, which makes them want to help you and can greatly increase the morale for both of you.

    On the other hand, hammering out something you don’t understand can be frustrating. I’ve seen a bad manager or two snap at somebody trying really hard to learn something new who just asked too many questions. I’ve also had a good manager cut me off and move on more politely. I’ve resorted to the line, “Wow. That’s going to be an interesting challenge. I’ll definitely come see you for some help on this later.” when a topic obviously needs some experience on the job. I just recently came back to a colleague and told him, “You know that thing you told me in my first week, I had no idea what you were talking about until about 3 hours ago.”

    1. Anonymous*

      “However, asking follow up questions during training or just in general conversation around the office, especially with colleagues that you haven’t had much interaction with yet, communicates to them that you are genuinely interested in learning, which makes them want to help you and can greatly increase the morale for both of you.”

      That hasn’t been my experience in any place I’ve worked so far. Like in my current job that I’ve only been at for over a month, my coworkers do help me out with my questions, but on many occasions, I’ve overheard them say that I have “no common sense,” and that I’m “stupid.” I’ve heard these things after the second week of being here! I ask questions to make sure I’m doing the task right and that I don’t make a major mistake, and after the first couple of times, I get it and I don’t have to ask anymore. But since I’m not being trained by my director, but by my coworkers, I guess they’re just frustrated that they have to train a new person on top of their other responsibilities and they take it out on me.

      I think most coworkers aren’t that eager to train someone new or answer questions which they think have “common sense” answers because they’re already busy with their other jobs. So while it might be good, it might just seem more like a burden on them if you ask them questions. Then again, my situation is different, but I’ve noticed this kind of thing at almost every place I’ve worked at.

      1. Jamie*

        “But since I’m not being trained by my director, but by my coworkers, ”

        Director’s typically don’t train, unless you report directly to them and even then only for tasks which only she can train.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I think this depends on the coworkers’ expectations for the new hire. I have trained new grads and been their “peer mentor” or supervisor. I don’t expect them to know anything – from saving a file on our network, to doing the actual technical work, to finding pens in the supply room, I show them.

        However, I also trained a few senior level employees that my boss hired. There were a couple that I would have happily called stupid idiots to their face, if I were a different type of person. I expect we have different systems than you had at your previous job, but I expect you can pick up our systems easily, IF you’re a senior employee. I moved companies too, and I picked it up quickly. Nope, not these guys. I don’t mind coming over to show you something when you get stuck. Maybe you need to do A+B+C to get something to work right on the software and you were doing A+C+B – no problem, I can help. However, I’ve been in situations where on Monday I’d show them A+B+C. I’d let them spend a day or two on the software tutorial. I’d write detailed instructions for A+B+C. I’d patiently show them a few more times A+B+C. If I have to show you again though, yeah, I’m thinking you weren’t qualified for the job and you probably exaggerated your skills to get it. It’s probably not fair to the new hire, but that’s the way it is sometimes.

      3. Jamie*

        Your co-workers should keep their snarky comments to themselves, and the name calling is ridiculous among adults, but if this has happened to you every place at which you’ve worked there are some tips than can eliminate some of the frustrations of training:

        1. Write things down. If people come to me to clarify something we’ve gone over I’m happy to do so. If they didn’t write it down when I was training them and want to keep asking me until they remember…that gets old really fast.

        2. If asked to do things on your own, go off your notes and try. People rarely give you the reins to make a major mistake while in training. Trying and then asking them to check and verify that it was correct is fine. Wanting someone to sit with you for tasks they’ve asked you to try on your own is asking for more hand holding than people are wont to do.

        3. You are correct most people aren’t eager to train someone new, although there are exceptions. So while it’s up to the person training to understand it’s not the new person’s fault that they need to be trained, the good will of being prepared, taking copious notes, and following directions when asked to work autonomously would go a long way in creating good will.

        I’m not saying you’re making any of the above mistakes, and even if you were it’s never okay to for people to call names. But if bad reactions happen to you more than once it’s just good to look and see if there’s anything you can do to help the situation.

        1. jj*

          “If they didn’t write it down when I was training them and want to keep asking me until they remember…that gets old really fast.”

          Yes, yes, a THOUSAND times YES!!

      4. AB*

        Anonymous, if that has happened to you at “almost every place” you’ve worked at, I’d ask a trusted friend to provide feedback to the questions you are asking.

        I’ve said “this person has no common sense” before, but never about someone who was asking legitimate questions. An example was when a new hire asked “should I send this directly to the CEO?” when requested to put together some notes for a response the department was going to provide the CEO. It was clear from the manager’s communication that he was supposed to just capture some of the data, so asking if he should send it directly to the CEO made no sense, thus my conclusion.

        1. Liz in a library*

          I’d like to add that the attitude of the person asking questions matters a lot, too. (Not implying this is true of Anonymous.)

          I have colleagues who I’m happy to show things to over and over, because they are nice about it, clearly ask questions that show they care and are trying to learn, and work along my schedule.

          I have one colleague who I’ve thought some inappropriately mean things about when she asks me questions, because it’s always a “Drop whatever you are doing right now to show me how to do this low-importance, non-time-dependent thing you’ve shown me 40 times before right NOW NOW NOW” scenario. All while making snotty comments about how ridiculous our process is, instead of constructive ideas of how to improve it (or just saying “Thanks!”).

    2. Jamie*

      “At the beginning of a new job there is so much to learn. Just accept that it will take 6 months to get up to full speed.”

      I see time lines of how long it takes to get up to speed posted on here a lot, there is no universal time which applies across the board.

      For some, especially highly technical jobs, or jobs which have different tasks at different times in the fiscal year – it could be longer than 6 months to fully own your position. However, if it took someone 6 months to get acclimated for a receptionist position I would say that’s usually a red flag.

      I’d just hate to see people new to the workforce think there is a magic date by which you “know your job” because there is so much variance.

      1. Lexy*

        I was thinking this… back when I was a receptionist I would get “up to speed” in 2-3 weeks really. The work is repetitive and the cycles repeat pretty much daily. That doesn’t mean I neer had questions after 2-3 weeks but I pretty much had the hang of it.

        On the other hand, when I first entered Auditing I didn’t feel like I had the slightest clue what I was doing until the end of my first year. Even then I still had TONS to learn but I had a grip on the overall process.

        So yeah… 6 months might be a median, but it’s certainly not a rule

        1. Jamie*

          Auditing? If anyone claims they have it down in six months they are either lying or they need some kind of Super Auditor statue erected in their honor.

          Seriously, you won’t even get through all of your most common root causes, let the alone the one-offs, in six months.

  2. Josh S*

    Re: #7 the ‘Magic’ interview question

    Here’s the thing. It’s gotta be natural, whether you read it from your page or ‘memorize’ it. Don’t use Alison’s exact phrasing. Make it your own. Figure out how you would ask that sort of thing in natural conversation. And then ask it that way.

    Whether you memorize Alison’s phrasing or read that phrasing off the page, it’s going to come across as being obviously not you, but rather that-thing-that-someone-told-you-you-ought-to-say. And it’s going to feel fake or forced or something.

    Make it your own.

    1. A Bug!*

      I’d say it in front of a mirror over and over. Try different inflections, try different phrasing, just ask over and over in as many different ways as you can while still getting the essence of the question across.

      If you’re too hung-up on the words themselves, you’ll set yourself up for a fall, because your delivery will probably not sound genuine.

      Just off the top of my head, two alternate wordings of the question:

      “Can you tell me what separates the good employees from the truly great ones in this position?” “Have you had anybody in this position that really blew you away? What did they do differently to make that impression?”

      1. simple simon*

        I asked this question at my last job interview and the interviewer said, “Wow, what a great question!” and I got a lot of very interesting information from the answer. Thanks AAM :)

  3. Mike C.*

    Regarding #1, I really find it surprising that so many businesses are unwilling to pay for any sort of education for their employees on the basis that “they’ll upgrade their skills and then leave”. Well two things:

    1. If folks aren’t allowed to advance themselves, they’ll leave because there is nothing left for them.

    2. Conversely, if there are opportunities for advancement, they’ll stick around to take advantage of them.

    I’m lucky enough to work at a place which will pay for education and certifications, and we have folks who stay here 20-30 years and have moved from turning wrenches to executive management.

    1. Jamie*

      I don’t think #1 said they wouldn’t pay – just asking how to approach the subject.

      And a lot of companies do pay for further education, but that doesn’t mean a master’s should get an automatic green light. That’s a very expensive proposition and in my industry a master’s won’t add value to the company for most positions.

      I agree that if a company has the resources it is a good investment to help with tuition for those employees where it will benefit the company – but they should certainly get a commitment to staying for a length of time so they aren’t just subsidizing someone’s education before they get any benefit out of it.

      1. Mike C.*

        I was speaking generally, and I never said that any degree should get the green light.

        Also, I was speaking about all sorts of education. That includes training certifications, classes, maybe a book or two, company time for some free online courses, etc. There are tons of options out there for all sorts of budgets, and too many businesses refuse to allow anything at all.

        1. Jamie*

          Maybe I’ve just been lucky – but my company is big on training and development. For those who don’t ask for it will probably have something offered in their performance review.

          If you turn down training 100% company paid and on company time, that’s where it becomes a concern.

          I do agree that with the plethora of no/low cost training options I would be very wary of a company not willing to support that.

          1. Esra*

            That is lucky! Every organization I’ve worked for pays lip service to education/industry knowledge, but then refuses to pay for a single day conference attendance, let alone classes etc.

      2. SW Engineer*

        Tuition reimbursement is a HUGE benefit, not only for retention, but also for hiring.

        Management needs to remember that not everyone in the company is going to get up and get a Master’s degree. There will be some who will, but that number will be small relatively speaking.

        They might want to set limits on what constitutes what classes or degrees can be reimbursed. It would depend on the company, boss and what the degree is in. Typically companies require you to stay between 6-12 months after reimbursement for the previous semester/quarter. Some are longer, depending on the amount that they pay.

        I remember talking to a law firm at a student function who were looking for engineers for technical patent analysis, and they would fully pay your law school while you worked as a patent attorney assistant. What a deal. The problem is that I have no interest in law.

        Why more companies don’t do this is beyond me. I worked at a tech company some years ago and my boss signed off on any training related to my software development work. I took full advantage of it.

        1. starts & ends with A*

          You may also find that the tuition benefit you get is only the max non-taxable/year. It’s not that much. So it’s helpful, but don’t expect them to foot the bill anywhere near 100%.

    2. Judy*

      In one of my project management classes, the instructor said something like: ” If you train your team, there is a risk they will leave, but if you don’t train them, there is a risk they will stay and be untrained”.

    3. OP for #1*

      I’m the OP for #1. Thank you for everyone’s opinion. I work in with a small company in many roles. This has led to tripling the bottom line in the last 2 years. They appreciate what I do, but I think I may be coming up against a pay wall for the position fairly quick.

      I know that when they talk with the auditors yearly that salary needs to be below a certain level. I do not know the details of this number, but I wonder if it includes perks like health insurance, 401k, etc?

      Does anyone know how that part of the books works and how I might pitch increased perks like education instead of an increase in salary? Thanks.

  4. Suzanne*

    Thank you for #4!

    I’ve just been put in that situation. I was turned down for a position at a company I really, really wanted to work for because an internal candidate changed her (his?) mind at the last minute and took the job. The HR director was kind enough to call me with the rejection and the reason for it, but encouraged me to keep my eyes open for other positions as I’d already made it through the first hurdle. I’d been wondering how to go about applying when I do see another open position, but now I know!!

  5. AnotherAlison*

    #1 – Related Question

    Years ago (like 10), my much older & grayer coworker told me that if a company offered a tuition reimbursement program, they had to approve everyone no matter what course of study.

    Our company had a program, and I used it for an MBA but had been worried about them approving my application. He said that if I had wanted to study nursing, they would have to pay even though it was 100% irrelevant to our business because offering to pay for some employees and not others would open them up to discrimination claims.

    Any truth to this?

    1. Jamie*

      Every company for which I’ve worked has had employee reimbursement for tuition, but the criteria was it had to be in a course of study that would be relevant to the company.

      If I asked for them to fund my continuing education is Chocolate Teapot Design I’d be laughed out of my bosses office.

      Of course, I’m not a lawyer, but the policies at my companies were drafted by labor attorneys – so I can’t imagine this would be across the board.

      Is this one of those ‘only in California’ things?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Our official policy was similar to what you describe. His point was that they could write it that way, but that there was too much gray area for them to ever turn anyone down.

        A nursing degree paid for by an engineering company seems like a pretty cut-and-dry no, but I can think of some questionable ones. What if the procurement guy wants a law degree? (There was a cap on expenses, so at worst case, the company would only be out $10K, but would they pay it?)

        1. Jamie*

          Makes me wonder if this is the kind of thing done by companies who operate in fear of spurious lawsuits. Those who won’t fire someone for cause just because they are in a protected class, or won’t give any reference and will only validate employment because they misunderstand their liability.

          Or maybe you’re onto something with the international laws – I don’t have any idea how that changes things.

        2. Liz in a library*

          Our company limits tuition assistance to those degrees that have a direct impact on the job, but they also say that any request will be evaluated individually based on the needs of the business. I was turned down one year for tuition assistance towards my library degree, when I was already working in a position that required it. Two years later, when the company was doing better financially, I was approved for a MBA that was not remotely required for my job.

          If the wording is vague enough, my guess is that they can get away with being extremely selective. I really doubt that they couldn’t turn someone down for a non-required degree.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        And no, it wasn’t in California. (Although that makes me wonder if an international company has problems with these types of policies.)

      3. KellyK*

        My company is pretty generous in this regard. Even if your degree is completely irrelevant, you can still use your yearly tuition allowance for your general education courses. For example, if you don’t have a bachelor’s and want a bachelor’s in art history, they will pay for all the math, science, English, etc., requirements of you getting a bachelor’s degree, but not for your art history classes.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This isn’t a legal requirement. It sounds like something the company decided to do to avoid potential legal hassles if they approved it for one person but not another, and that person happened to be a member of a protected class. They don’t want to open themselves up to charges of treating different races/religions/genders differently, so they came up with that policy to protect themselves from it — both in order to fend off frivolous lawsuits and also maybe to ensure they don’t end up truly discriminating. But it’s not a legal requirement.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        This is what I thought, but he had been insistent that it was a legal requirement. Thanks for confirming.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I think often stuff that is rooted in desire to avoid legal hassles but isn’t actual the law ends up getting mangled in the retelling until it becomes “this is the law.” (See, for example, all the people who believe it’s illegal to give a detailed reference or to fire someone without two written warnings or whatever.)

    3. Anonymous*

      It’s true where I work, but then, I work for a university. We can take any course or program we want – as long as it’s through the university.

    4. Josh S*

      I once worked at an outsourcing place that administered benefits for a Fortune 5 retail/home improvement company. One of the benefit programs we administered–and that became my ‘baby’–was tuition reimbursement.

      The rule in the benefits handbook was that the degree or course had to be related to be approved for tuition reimbursement. But the corporate HR was very broad and vague about that when they gave us the spec for the reimbursement guidelines, and since I was in charge, I basically said that if you can figure out a way to make it relate to your job selling lumber and tools and stuff, it’s good.

      And basically, everything counted. Every once in a while we’d get a call from someone who would escalate in order to get a straight answer, “Will my _______ Major toward a BA degree be approved?” Like, arts degrees (lots of home decorators were arts/design majors once upon a time), PoliSci (interpersonal relations…right), etc.

      My standard line was “so long as you’re not majoring in underwater basketweaving, you should be all right.”

      I don’t think we ever denied a reimbursement based on that.

      1. Dan*

        I love all of the “my coworker is a slacker” questions, because in my office, we can roll in a 11am for no good reason and nobody bats an eye. And there are *lots* of people who do it. One of my leads hates any meetings before 1pm.

  6. Jamie*

    #3 – I’d definitely follow the advice to write your questions down and go over them at a time where you can address them.

    That is one of the biggest frustrations for me in training, when people keep sidetracking with questions when the answers will be covered next.

    That doesn’t mean training shouldn’t be interactive and if you miss something critical you should certainly ask for clarification – but be judicious about it.

    1. some1*

      “That is one of the biggest frustrations for me in training, when people keep sidetracking with questions when the answers will be covered next.”

      This frustrates you, really? How are trainees supposed to know what you are covering next?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’ve had this frustration too. If I’ve made it clear that I’m giving you structured, well thought-out training, and I’ve told you a couple of times in response to a question “we’re getting to that soon,” then yes, it can be frustrating if someone won’t just wait for the process to play out.

        I’m not talking about someone who asks a couple of questions — I’m talking about someone who’s peppering me with them while I’m methodically taking them through something, and who seems not even to be listening to what I’m saying because she’s thinking about a whole different topic.

        1. some1*

          That makes a little more sense. However, if I am being trained on a task, I’m the type of person who likes to (politely) interrupt with a relevant question if possible, instead of writing it down so I don’t miss anything that’s being shown to me.

          If I was showing someone a detailed procedure and they interrupted to say, “Hey, do we have a Christmas Party here?” I’d be annoyed, too.

        2. Jamie*

          That was my point as well.

          And if I’m training people in the manner I’m talking about, they will have an outline of what will be covered because I’ve given them written materials to go over.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Not to long ago, I attended a big group training 3-day session on a new program we were rolling out.

        One particular person kept popping her hand up in the introductory session to ask questions. This was the part of training where they’re giving the whys and whens, not the details. Everyone was completely annoyed with her interruptions to the flow of the session. The person with “common sense” thinks perhaps I’ll make note of my questions I have right now, and if they aren’t answered by the end of Day 2, I’ll be sure to ask.

        You don’t know what topics will be covered, but you do know that a lot more is coming and you’ll have additional opportunities to ask questions.

        1. some1*

          I wasn’t thinking of Group Orientations, yes, I’ve been through that, too, and it was one guy who just kept offering his opinion on what we were being told about.

          I was more thinking of when one employee is training the new employee one-on-one.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I think the same applies to 1-on-1 training. (I’m thinking specifically in a professional, non-entry level job, where you know you’ll have about a week of dedicated training. Not where the trainer will sit and hold your hand all week, but you will get a couple hrs a day 1-on-1, time to practice and try on your own, and a little leeway to interrupt her more than normally acceptable during non 1-on-1 time with questions.) If you have all week to be trained, let her do the formal explanation first. When people interrupt me, I forget what I was saying, so as the trainee, you might miss out on something important because I am old and forgot.

        1. Jamie*

          Not at all – clarification is important. And it’s hard to describe in a comment the difference between legitimate questions which are fine in training and peppering someone with random queries which derail the training because they are jumping ahead.

  7. Ellie H.*

    I asked the “magic question” in an interview last Friday, paraphrased, and my interviewers really liked it, I think – I was offered the position (though I think I may have been anyway) but declined it yesterday because they wanted a two year or beyond commitment and I have been planning to apply to graduate school this fall (plus a few other reasons). I’ve been obsessing about if this was the right choice . . . it’s especially confusing because I am actually working in the same office, temporarily, on the same kinds of projects. But I don’t have a “real job,” everything is unsettled, and I’m feeling like I maybe shot myself in the foot and it wouldn’t be so terrible to wait another year and get more money. Blech. But the upshot is that my interviewing and job search has been going really well which I credit to putting to use all the wonderful advice I have learned from this blog.

  8. Dan*

    #1 FWIW, I think the standard commitment isn’t “several years” just 1. At my current place of employment, we only have to commit to six months.

  9. Dan*

    #2: I have to wonder if you’re selling yourself a bit short in the $ department. Usually, you want a big jump in $ for switching jobs, and then you pad it a bit more for your commute, although your employer won’t care too much about the later.

    I live 10 minutes from my office, and it would take a lot more than a $10k bump to get me to commute one hour each way. Here’s why:
    1. $10k annually is about $7500 after taxes, less if you’re dual income. This comes out to $625/mo. If you’re driving 10 miles like me, a one hour commute is probably 30 miles. Figure an increased gas bill of $150/mo. Now you’re down to $475/mo. Your commuting expenses are more than just your gas bill — wear and tear, more frequent oil changes, etc. The IRS reimbursement rate for business travel is $0.51/mile. Using that figure, your commute costs you $428/mo. Your gas costs alone are $0.15/mile for an economy car, so let’s use $0.25/mile as a bit more conservative number. You’re still talking $210/mo in commuting costs, and that’s if you don’t have to pay for parking at your new office.

    Is an extra two hours per day worth an extra $400 in your pocket? You’re selling your time for $10/hr.

    I’d wait until you get to the offer stage to let them know. Government agencies move notoriously slow, and you wouldn’t want to give them reason to kick you out of the running. Second, because they move so slow, if they turn you down, they’ll have to start *all* over again, and they may not want to do that. So you could have some leverage.

    1. Jamie*

      Dan – you’re awesome.

      I love the breakdown of what additional compensation really means – I love it so much I do it all the time. I think my boss hates it, because other people get all giddy and misty and I’m calculating and deducting the taxes in my head even as I’m saying thank you.

      1. Sophia*

        Agreed that this is useful. Also shows how crazy it is to commute for a low paying position. I used to have about a 1 hour commute each way and would go through about $50 in gas a week just for work. That’s $2,600 a year on gas plus an additional 2 hours added on to my work day.

        Advice for long commuters though: Audio books are wonderful. It almost makes you look forward to the drive.

        1. Other Jamie*

          Audio books!!! Audio books, oh man. And podcasts, there’s so many wonderful podcasts… I found that listening to books or podcasts reduced the stress of commuting SO much… I drive about three hours per day — before I got an ipod, I would get angry at traffic and really nutsy sitting in the car. Now the podcasts occupy just enough of my brain so I don’t get so frustrated. It’s a lifesaver!

      2. Dan*

        Thanks. People might look at the IRS reimbursement rate and say that’s kind of high, and not a good measure for true commuting cost. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing that I’m dealing with right now is my ’99 Chevy with 138,000 miles on it. I’m pretty sure I can nurse that thing along forever. I’m looking at putting $2500 in repairs into the car at the end of the year. Sure, it’s a good chunk of money on an old car. But if I can get 20,000 miles out of those repairs (not unlikely, although nothing is ever guaranteed), that will last me *5 YEARS* on my current commute. (I really do put only 4,000 miles per year on that car.) If I had a one hour commute, I’d seriously look at replacing the car. That will cost me at least $300 (if not $400) a month for the next 5-6 years. Not to mention the increased insurance expense. With this rationale, I could actually make an argument that the OP needs to be in his new position for many years to make the increased commute worthwhile.

    2. Question Asker*

      Dan, thanks for your comments. One main reason for switching is the possibility of advancement is non-existent in my current job but would be at the new job. Because I wrote down $60K on the application, what do you think, based on your own calculations, would be an appropriate amount to ask for?

      I don’t need the new job so it’s not a do-or-die thing if they don’t meet my new expectations.

      1. Dan*

        If you don’t really care if you get this new job, then you can play hard ball. As another poster commented, I’m curious how much wiggle room you have — governments may have very rigid rules about what they pay based on education and experience.

        I’m pretty sure you’re not apply for a federal government job. The pay range you list doesn’t match up well with any of the GS pay grades. It spans the GS11, GS12, and GS13 ranges. I’m not an expert at fed jobs, but I don’t think there’s any way you could get GS13 pay if you’re only qualified at the GS11.

        I can’t answer the question you asked, because I don’t think it applies in this situation. What you might consider doing is doing a bit more homework on the agency you are applying for. Get their pay grades and their qualifications, and figure out where you fit.

        What I’m doing at my current job is building as much technical and lead experience as I can. Even if my raises suck and there’s not a lot of upward mobility, I’ll be able to build the experience I need to make a huge salary jump. I honestly won’t take less than a $20k bump for my next job, which represents about a 25% increase from my current pay. And if I can’t get what I want elsewhere? I’m happy enough to stick around until something better comes along.

    3. Other Jamie*

      So many people forget that time is money! That’s not to say you need to sit there with a stopwatch and cut your friends off if your coffee date goes too long, but… spending extra time costs you money, wears down your car, means you have less time to yourself at home…

      Thanks for the breakdown! The extra bits such as tax rates and milage costs are helpful.

      1. Dan*

        Thanks. I rent an apartment 6 miles from my job and drive a beater. These kinds of things make my head hurt. Sometimes the conversation centers around getting a new job. Other times, it centers on buying a house (which won’t be as close to work, given the market around here.) When I actually dig into what a $250k house will truly cost me, *all* things considered, it makes my head spin.

        Boy does renting an apartment six miles from work make for a much simpler financial life.

        1. Other Jamie*

          I’m sort of afraid to know how much owning a house costs — living at home and seeing what my parents shell out for is mindblowing. (Even though we do preventative maintenance that lowers the costs in the long run, etc.) Even for being so careful, it boggles me even more how much people aren’t even aware of hidden/secondary costs. I’m confused by people who will buy a “cheaper” and bigger house further away from their job, but then don’t factor in the commute and stress and lost time. Especially in Los Angeles! It’s probably not worth the commute…

          I’m envious of your 6 miles! It’s great you can save on car wear and tear, and it must be so nice to just leave work and be out of the work day mindset! I hate the cost(s) of my commute, but I sort of have to think of it as my commute is my rent… I have an 18 month job in an extremely expensive area, and I live with my parents 50 miles away… rent’s SO insane near work, it’s also not worth schlepping my stuff and paying the costs associated with an apartment, and I’d still have to pay for gas, and still have a decent chunk of commuting time…

          I used to drive 500 miles a month, now I drive 500 a week! So right now, I get gas every three work days, get oil changes and stuff more frequently… the one thing I didn’t realize was that I probably will have to up my insurance this period since I’m driving more than …12,000 miles/year or something. I will NEVER be doing this kind of commute again, especially driving it myself. Maybe if I could take public transportation that was subsidized by my work, I’d reconsider. Los Angeles is a commuter failboat.

          1. Dan*

            Ha. I lived in LA for three years. I moved out there to go to a community college after I got my BS. I didn’t have a job lined up, and had to rent a room from someone because I couldn’t afford rent on my own.

            One thing you cannot do out there is get someone to rent to you if you don’t have a job. And you can’t line up an entry level job until you live out there. Nice chicken and egg thing. I finally found a place who was desperate to fill a room. School was in Walnut. Room was in Long Beach. I finally found a job in Van Nuys. Needless to say, I didn’t live in Long Beach for very long…

            1. Anonymous*

              Ouch. I don’t know how people from outside the area even survive moving here… it’s annoying enough being native. That commute sounds horrible, and hopefully the second place you lived was more central (or at least logical!). I can see why you’d leave after a few years! My current job is in Malibu, which is beautiful, but it takes forever to get anywhere. I live just a hair southeast of Pasadena. It’s a nice straight shot on the 210/134/101, but… ugh. The fun never stops. :P I wish the types of places I want to work weren’t primarily on the west side — too crowded.

  10. Other Jamie*

    re: #2 — Government Jobs

    I’m not the expert here (and I’m definitely one of the people who would probably never have really known I could negotiate salary until I read AAM) on government jobs, but…

    Is the range actually a range? (Maybe it depends on the agency?) In my experience applying for government jobs and having a few interviews…it seems the posted “range” is just the salary range for that entire GS level the job is advertised at, and you automatically start out at the first step on that level (the lowest amount) and only move up in steps for every year or whatever period it is, up to the 10th step.

    For some of the jobs I applied for, having a bachelor’s would start you at GS-7 pay, and having a master’s would start you at GS-9 pay, regardless that it’s the exact same job post/description. (Maybe they’d give you different tasks once you got the job, I dunno.)

    Locality pay might help, but it depends.

    Can anyone else weigh in? I feel like I don’t really have the whole picture. Can you negotiate?

    (For example — http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/324993800 That job lists it as a grade 7 or 8, depending on your experience. Using the calculator — http://www.fedsdatacenter.com/gs-pay-calculator/ — the lower $ in the range is the base pay for GS-7 step 1 with locality pay for Washington DC, and the higher $ in the range is just GS-8 step 10 with locality pay. Would you be able to argue for a certain step within either GS-7 or 8, or do you always start at step 1?)

    1. Chrissi*

      You always start at step 1. The steps are “quality increases” which are based on years of service. The grade range listed for a job is rarely negotiable. The only part that is sometimes negotiable is the initial grade. For instance, in my position someone with a Bachelor’s starts at a GS-7, but if you have a Master’s (not required for the position, obviously), you start at a GS-9. But both employees top out at a GS-12 in that position. So if the letter-writer is applying for a federal position, they will find that salary is non-negotiable for most positions.

      1. Other Jamie*

        Thanks for the clarification! It’s also interesting to know about your position and if you have a “bonus” master’s, you get to be GS-9 even if the job was listed as a GS-7. Alright, I’m glad I (mostly) have the process worked out correctly. :)

  11. Liz in a library*

    7 – Incidentally of nothing, I used that question recently and actually had the interviewer stop, blink, and say “Wow, that’s a great question!”

    I think I said something like: “So I know this is a brand new position, but if you looked at your [department] staff generally, what traits set apart the people who are truly great at their jobs from those who are good?” Or something like that. Definitely don’t read word for word — make it conversational.

    1. Jamie*

      “7 – Incidentally of nothing, I used that question recently and actually had the interviewer stop, blink, and say “Wow, that’s a great question!””

      My son recently used it, too – when he got his first job. He’s in high school and I was coaching him for his first job interview (food service – part time, obviously) and gave him the question. He said he wasn’t going to use it, because he’d feel stupid. Then when she asked if he had any questions he did use it because, and I quote, “I couldn’t think of any thing else to say.”

      He came home and was shocked she was so impressed by that question – she said no one had ever asked her that before.

      So it works at all levels.

      1. A Bug!*

        He was just shocked that sometimes parental advice is relevant and useful instead of out-of-touch and so totally embarrassing Ialreadyknowthismomanddadimnotakidanymorejeez.

    2. starts & ends with A*

      I used it too once, and the interviewers response was that it was a great question.

  12. Anonymous*

    Re #6 – Not saying this is true everyone, but in my experience there is a lot more communication (or just downright gossip) between different departments in higher education than most other jobs and people in the same department definitely will talk about any person who leaves, doesn’t matter the reason why. And depending on what your offense was, the HR at that uni may have you permanently blackballed you. You may have burned that bridge.

  13. Asked a Question*

    I followed the advice given to speak with my old manager about my employment history. After talking candidly, she agreed to give me recommendations for future work.

    Moral of the story– talking with your old boss about a poor recommendation may be uncomfortable, but it’s worth a shot!

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